January 1- Looking Back & THANKS!

This is the first of two blog posts today.

I don’t often spend much time looking back – it’s too much fun to plan things (like big years) and look forward! But today, I want to thank those who have helped me and who have birded with me this past year. I am including pictures in this post of those I was able to photograph, arranged in random order (by WordPress). I also thank others who have helped me, welcomed me to their part of the state and encouraged me. I know I will leave out many including of course all those whose pictures I did not get, but THANKS TO ALL of you who were part of my Alaska BIG year and to those who followed it on my blog and on Facebook!

As far as I (and others) know, 287 was the previous record of number of species of birds seen in one year in Alaska, but I understand that the people who have done previous big years here have mostly not been quite as intentional/fanatic about it as I was. My total for the year was 307 species. I could not have done it without a lot of help from a lot of people. Now I challenge you other would-be big year birders in Alaska – get out there and beat my record! I’ll help you if I can. You have 364 days left if you start right now!




December 31 – The LAST DAY

My Alaska big year is over! I love planning and taking trips, and it will be hard to cut back and be more “sensible” about chasing birds in the new year. But, now that I have again begun to accumulate more miles on Alaska Airlines, I do hope to add a few more birds to my Alaska list in 2017 even though I definitely will not be doing another Alaska big year.

I did bird today on the last day of the year, walking the woodland area at Spenard Crossing.

The creek was mostly frozen and I figured that dippers, which I look for every time I go Spenard Crossing, must have been somewhere else where there was more open water. I walked the snowy side path to where we once (not in 2016, however) had Cassin’s and Purple Finches. After hearing a distant Black-billed Magpie, I was delighted to have a Pacific Wren scold and flit across my path. Although I got to see it a few times as it ducked under and around the low fallen branches, I was never able to get a photo. It still made my day. Who needs new year birds anyway? I walked on and saw a few magpies, a Common Raven and a couple of Steller’s Jays.

As I walked back along the creek to my car, I was very happy to see an American Dipper had appeared and was on the ice near one of the small areas of open water.

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I took a couple of videos of the dipper as it went in and out of the water. This is the best one; watch it eat the little fishy thing found in the freezing water:

When I got home from a music rehearsal this afternoon our yard was full of birds. In addition to the nearly ever-present Common Redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks, for the first time there were two Hairy Woodpeckers going back and forth between the various suet feeders and the seed feeders.


A great way to end the year!

Tomorrow I plan to post photos of many of the people who have helped me this past year, so check it out to see if you, or anyone you know, is on the page.



December 30 – Birdy Yard

Overnight we got about 6 inches of snow, covering the feeders and the feed spread out on the flat feeders. Everything was beautiful.






My first chore this morning, after I shoveled the driveway, was to clean off the feeders and add more feed. At first there were not many birds, probably because it was not very cold out, but by afternoon the birds were there. They were all the usual ones, Black-billed Magpies (eating everything especially suet mix), Steller’s Jays, Pine Grosbeaks (eating seeds with redpolls and scrounging in the snow on the porch for fallen seeds), Common Redpolls (eating seed everywhere there was seed), a Common Raven, Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers and overhead Mallards and Bohemian Waxwings (latter six species not photographed). The raven actually came down to our neighbor’s yard (they usually fly over), dug around in the snow and picked up what looked like a hunk of snow and flew off.

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307 species

December 29 – Cold, crisp and a Few Birds

I checked out the Ship Creek area in north Anchorage today. At the mouth of the creek, ice was flowing past in the inlet as the tide changed. Big chunks of ice lay on the tidal flats. Other than the ever-present (but not officially countable in AK) Rock Pigeons, the only bird was a single Common Raven that flew low over the road.



Up the creek a bit where the footbridge goes across I walked up along the creek hoping for an American Dipper. I was not disappointed.  As I peered through the snow-covered branches at the rapidly flowing water, a single dipper was swimming madly around, mostly underwater, only rarely hopping up on the ice along the river. Brrrr!




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There were also a couple of Black-billed Magpies, and two Common Ravens flew over (photo looks almost like the stylized birds we used to draw as kids).



I thought that would be it but on my walk back along the creek to my car I saw two Common Mergansers in the icy water, their beaks adding almost the only bright color today.


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307 species for the year

December 28 – Lazing Around Anchorage

It’s about done, this big year, with little hope of a last-minute new bird. So, I spent much of my time today going through hundreds of slides from the year (today I just did slides taken from mid-May to early June) picking and choosing those to use for my upcoming presentations to classes and bird groups. All day long it snowed gently and the birds came and went from the feeders. The Steller’s Jays came to the peanuts and mealworms, the Pine Grosbeaks to the various seed feeders (which I kept having to clear of snow) and the Black-billed Magpies scavenged mealworms from the feeder and below the feeder under the porch. A good day all things considered.

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307 species for the year





December 27 – Birding by Ear

It was so very quiet at the Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area today as I walked the trail with very light snow coming down and beginning to pile up on branches, grass, the ground, the tidal flats. Every now and then I could hear a distant dog bark or a car or a plane, but mostly it was quiet. Soon after I started on the trail a Black-billed Magpie called briefly and then a Common Raven and it was again silent. When I was about a third around the loop trail, I heard a flock of Common Redpolls overhead somewhere, then silence. On the woodland trail there were no sounds as I walked down the trail but when I returned back to the loop trail there were two fairly distant Pine Grosbeaks musically calling to each other off in the woods to the east of me, and then an unseen Northern Shrike sang for awhile, moving around from tree to tree apparently. As I neared the parking lot and my car, a couple of Black-capped Chickadees started talking to each other and I thought I might finally see a bird, but no, they were high up in some spruce trees, invisible. It was a very lovely walk even though no birds were visible. I love a gentle winter day!









307 species so far

December 26 – Anchorage Neighborhoods

I drove slowly through some Anchorage neighborhoods today. I was mainly looking for flocks – flocks of Bohemian Waxwings just because I love to watch them and flocks of American Robins because I was hoping that a stray non-robin thrush might be hiding among them. I did find both species but no strays. I also found Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies of course.



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It was a mild day today, mid-20s. Meltwater was accumulating on some of the ice. It was cloudy, with the sun was mostly shining on faraway locations and not where I was. It continues to be beautiful wintertime.




307 species so far


December 25 – Christmas Day in Anchorage

Not so oddly, the birding today seemed pretty much like a non-Christmas day at two of my usual winter haunts. First was Spenard Crossing, where highlights were the color contrast of the slightly melted stream flowing through the ice, a noisy Hairy Woodpecker (or maybe two), Black-billed Magpies squawking at something that I could not find, and the ever-patient Mallards waiting for handouts. Also, a very cute squirrel munching contentedly was fun to watch.




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I again drove out by the airport, where the scenery was the highlight – very few birds.



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PS. Please note, that I know life goes on after a big year, and so will this blog (as you can see by my changed title on the blog pages), although I undoubtedly will not be posting so regularly. The blog will also, of course, not be my daily reports on my big year once January arrives but will be about what I’m doing next year. What I expect to be doing is painting (birds mostly), doing PowerPoint presentations for the 8 classes I am doing on Alaska birding areas (the weekly classes beginning on January 12 are offered through the adult continuing education program here in Anchorage, called Ole!) and for the talks I will be giving on my Alaska big year beginning in February, and on progress that I hope I will be making on the book I hope to write in 2017 on doing big years in Alaska and Texas. I’ll be busy!

307 species so far (and one more week!)







December 24 – Wandering Western Anchorage

Today I just drove the road past the airport a couple of times and wandered in the Turnagain neighborhood to see what birds were around. Not many, at least when I was there. The trees continued to be gorgeous. In winter here, it’s easy to shift from being a birdwatcher to being a treewatcher.





Out by the airport the only birds I saw were a distant perched Northern Shrike, a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos and two Bald Eagles, one of which I photographed. In the neighborhood there were a few each of Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, a little flock of Common Redpolls, a Common Raven, and White-winged Crossbills.

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At home the only bird I photographed was a Hairy Woodpecker eating peanut butter on our porch. I can never figure out how they find peanut butter no matter where you put it.

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307 species so far


December 23 – Frozen Potter Marsh

I ventured forth today, with the temperature at home being about -4 degrees at just before noon. The temperature at Potter Marsh, about 8 miles south of home, was a whole 8 degrees higher, at a whopping +4 degrees F! There was no open water at all, which is rare there, the mountains were hidden behind low clouds/fog, and at first there were no birds.





But then a single Common Raven flew over (not photographed). I walked to the end of the boardwalk and took a picture of the snow-covered eagle nest, but then spotted the two Bald Eagles nearby. At first they sat near each other in a tall tree but after awhile they flew along the woods edge, probably looking for something to eat.


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I did not stay long after seeing the eagles and hurried back to warm up in the car. I did pause on my run back to the car to take a picture of the snow-covered boardwalk that formed a pleasing pattern.


At home, the birds had all decided they needed to eat madly before it got dark. The Black-billed Magpies spent most of their time on the ground eating mealworms that fell from the feeder, or trying valiantly to perch on the swinging much-too-small mealworm feeder, which is more commonly used by the Steller’s Jays that had to wait their turn when the magpie was there.



Rarely have I seen a Common Raven land in our yard, but one did this afternoon, carrying some sort of living prey. The magpies were very interested in what the raven had, but the raven managed to eat it all up without letting the magpies have any of its meal.

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A couple of Black-capped and at least one Boreal Chickadee were periodically at the suet feeder out under the birch tree, but never at the same time.

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There were about 20 Common Redpolls, landing on everything, eating everything, including seeds at each feeder and even suet.

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About 3:30 pm the southwestern sky turned gently pink, and the sunset, officially at 3:40, came soon thereafter.


307 species so far