December 28 – The Redpolls Are Coming, the Redpolls Are Coming, Again

Yesterday and the day before there was just a single Common Redpoll briefly at our feeders. Today there have been anywhere from 20-30 of them the couple of times that they were around. Usually they only have stayed less than 15 minutes before all taking off. Last winter, their numbers in our yard increased to about 300 at times, and then in spring precipitously dropped to 80 and then 2 and then none. I hope their numbers are huge again this winter, so that they again cover all available surfaces upon which I have put seed. It’s looking good so far.

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Often when the redpolls were around today, the Pine Grosbeaks were too, up to 8 of them.

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And of course, the Mallards continue to come. I have to be careful to only put out food for them after we’ve gotten our dog back in the house. Otherwise, he munches up all the duck food.

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As is clear from some of the bird photos, the feeders and trees are beautifully covered with rime ice from yesterday’s fog. Each of the last two days has begun at a 1 degree temperature, without much improvement during the day. Winter is definitely here (but I understand that Rapid City, SD, where we used to live is even colder than here in Alaska!).

 

 

 

December 27 – Hairy Critters

I’ll get to the hairy critters, but first, there are the usual feathered critters of winter around the yard too, including Pine Grosbeaks.

A single Common Redpoll has been coming to our feeders. I’m hoping it is the advance scout of a whole flock of them as we had last winter.

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But now, let me tell you about the hairy critters. The first, of course, is our newly adopted part husky, Caster, who is definitely hairy, leaving hair everywhere he goes. He is very loving and although he pays attention to everything we do, he is mostly not demanding, and is a good companion. When not cuddling up to us, he spends time playing with his numerous toys, lying quietly on the rug, or checking to see if there is anything interesting out the front window.

The other hairy critters have been moose, at first two of them. Last night Dave went to take Caster out to the back yard before going to work on his midnight shift (I might normally have taken Caster out, but I have a bad cold and didn’t feel up to it). As Dave was walking across the back yard with Caster pulling ahead on his leash, Dave suddenly noticed in the darkness a large darker blob on the ground toward the back of the yard, a resting moose, and then he noticed another moose lying down just outside the side gate, even closer to him and Caster! They appeared to be the mother and yearling moose that have periodically been around the neighborhood. Caster was not given any more time to do his business, or to investigate the two exciting mammals, but was hustled back into the house. The two moose stayed until some time after I went to bed. I finally got to sleep in spite of Caster’s continuous whines and eagerness to go back outside.

Then this morning, just a little while ago, I looked out the front window and there was an adult bull moose, the first we have seen in our neighborhood. He was munching on our neighbors’ bushes. Caster could see him too (both the back of the moose, visible over our neighbor’s ladders, and Caster’s ears are in the first photo below). I went outside and got a few more photos before the moose went out in the road and trotted off. Not quite a typical Alaska day, but not unusual either.

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December 23 – Minute-by-Minute & Sharp-tailed Grouse

Since I last wrote two days ago on the Solstice, we have gained a whole minutes of daylight. It will be awhile until days are noticeably longer. Although the days have been cloudy, the sun has periodically peeked out and has illuminated things, especially the clouds.

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The bird highlight of the day (and week) that I finally was able to see and photograph is the Sharp-tailed Grouse first identified a week ago on the Anchorage Christmas Bird Count. It was on the same street as previously reported and sitting on a snowy fence right along the road when I arrived. It later flew up to a crabapple tree where it also has been regularly seen. While this bird is apparently a first ever record for Anchorage and therefore new for my Anchorage list, I have seen them on their normal Alaska stomping grounds near Delta Junction, and of course, they were common birds in and around Rapid City where we lived before moving to Anchorage.

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December 21 – Solstice Stuff

Officially the sun rose in Anchorage at 10:11 this morning and set at 3:38, but in reality I never saw it at all this cloudy day, except the clouds did go wonderfully pink about 9:30. Now begins the slow day-by-day increase in minutes of daylight.

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Birds around our yard are the normal winter ones. Photos below are of some of the 4-6 Pine Grosbeaks that have been periodically in our yard, one of the Red-breasted Nuthatches that is often on our porch, and one of the Steller’s Jays gorging itself with peanuts. The end of the video of the jay is blurry but you can still make out the jay’s picky process of peanut selection.

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The final photo is of my newest prayer shawl, which has remarkably similar colors to the sunrise pictures shown above, although not once when I was working on it did that thought cross my mind.

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December 16 – Anchorage Christmas Bird Count

Today I birded an area for the CBC that I did last alone year (near Chester Creek), but this year I birded in the morning with a visitor from the Cincinnati area, Rick Dunning. It was a very pleasant day, about or above freezing and no noticeable wind, with the only problem being very icy trails. We walked along the south side of a portion of Chester Creek, plus birded some nearby neighborhoods.

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We began the day with the usual Mallards, at first the only duck species of the day.

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Highlights for me included a flock of 7 Golden-crowned Kinglets (not on the checklist for the count but seen by many people today) first heard by Rick. It was still quite dark then, but I was able to see the top of the head of a couple of them, which does not show in my partial, crummy photos of their tummies or of them flying.

Another highlight was three American Dippers (1 in the morning, 2 in the afternoon). I took a number of videos, even though the dippers kept diving and disappearing up or downstream (so some of the videos end with a habitat-view and no birds).

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We were glad to add a Northern Shrike about 11 a.m.

In the afternoon I went back to the creek trail and found a Common Merganser and a couple of Pine Grosbeaks.

Also seen/heard but not photographed were Rock Pigeons, a Downy Woodpecker, Common Ravens, Steller’s Jays, Black-billed Magpies, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, European Starlings, and Common Redpolls.

I added Bohemian Waxwings to my personal day-list in the afternoon but this species is only countable for the Anchorage CBC in the morning (which is also the case for Common Ravens, Rock Pigeons and Mallards).

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At the countdown dinner, attended by over 65 people, I learned that others in other parts of the count circle had also seen about 15 other species including Sharp-tailed Grouse (apparent first record for Anchorage), a number of duck species, Three-toed Woodpecker, and Townsend’s Solitaire. A total of about 50 species (quite high) and 10,600 birds (very low) were seen in the 15-mile diameter count circle today.

 

 

 

December 15 – Dog Decreases Darkness

Not really – no matter how much fun it is to play with Caster, our new dog, nothing can change the fact that today there were exactly 5.5 hours between sunrise and sunset. But the fun and demands associated with a new dog can certainly make one forget how dark it is most of the time. Caster has taken up much of my time lately – watching him, walking him, playing with him (he is VERY playful), trying to keep him from lunging at the backyard Mallards, saying “no” to him as he thinks of new things to chew or do that we don’t find acceptable, and repeat. He is settling in to our lives though, the pluses usually outweighing the minuses.

Birdwise, things have been slow. The weather has been breaking high temperature records, most snow in our yard and much of it on the mountains melted and then was covered by only a thin layer yesterday (though more is forecast). Many days have been cloudy but the sun does appear every now and then.

The woodpeckers are infrequent at the suet and also at seeds, and the Pine Grosbeaks have been rare. The chickadees, magpies and jays are regular but less common than in colder weather.

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Of course, the Mallards are very regular, no matter what the weather. As I drive around our neighborhood, it appears that the ducks are also spending time in the yards of a number of our neighbors.

Tomorrow is the Anchorage Christmas Bird Count. Hopefully there will be birds somewhere.

December 8 – Dog, Ducks, Disputes

The biggest dispute, oddly enough, was not between our new dog, Caster, and the Mallards. Until this morning Caster had not even met our ducks as I had deliberately not taken him out to the yard when the ducks were around. But this morning, the ducks were waiting to be fed out on the backyard snow when I got up, and Caster needed to go out. So, with him on a short leash, we made it down the back stairs and out to the side fence for a brief stop. The ducks, in alert mode with their heads high in the air walked toward the back of the yard but did not fly. We went back up the steps and I put food in Caster’s bowl and went back out to feed the ducks, and they came in rapidly to gobble up the food. Caster was eager to go back out into the yard, so we went back, and the ducks ignored us as we passed quite close to them to the other fence. Suddenly Caster had had enough and he made a sudden lunge on the short leash, and off went the ducks. They came back later when we were in the house and could be seen by Caster from inside the house through the porch railing.

Caster is a very nervous high-strung dog most of the time but sometimes does stop running around to investigate something and even sometimes goes to sleep, when I can finally get a few pictures.

It has been close to freezing and raining lately so everything is coasted with a light layer of ice. Mostly it has been overcast, but every now and then the sun has peaked through and lit up the mountains.

Birds other than ducks were mostly not around until late yesterday and this morning. A Downy Woodpecker and two Hairy Woodpeckers have been to the feeders after a bit of absence.

Steller’s Jays (2-3) have periodically stopped by for peanuts as usual.

Unfortunately for them, the local red squirrel that is mostly not around, has developed a love for the peanuts in the peanut jar too.

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At the peanut jar is where the most active disputes have occurred lately (you can hear the bell on Caster’s collar jingle in the video).

 

December 3 – Dog Daze

I’ve been a bit distracted from birds and birding the last two days, even though I have remembered to put out feed/seed, and even though it’s been weird to have a porch-Mallard lately, eating dropped bird seed.

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The reason for the distraction is our brand new dog, a part-Husky named Caster (was “Castor” at the SPCA but we’ve changed slightly to be “Caster” as short for forecaster). We adopted him yesterday. He is about 1.5 years old and very alert and friendly to us and other people, although he apparently needs help in being dog-friendly. We’ll be taking him to classes in January to help with that. Now he and we are dealing with his having just been neutered and needing to wear a big white cone-collar when we aren’t watching him to keep him from biting and licking at his stitches. Pictures and videos of our new family member follow (please note, one of his toys, not a dead rat, appears in the first video, as does my swinging camera strap at the end):

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I’m sure Caster will appear again in my mostly bird-related blog in days to come.