July 21 – Potter Marsh Boardwalk

In preparation for a church nature walk that was held this morning, I have recently gone to Potter Marsh boardwalk a couple of times. Things are usually pretty slow at this time of the year, with few birds singing, and most birds having fledged their young, but it is still fun to see what might be around.

A week ago I photographed a few of the Canada Geese that were around and Black-capped Chickadees. It was interesting that there were a couple of Tree Swallows still feeding young in one of the bird houses, but most were gone.

Yesterday was a very foggy morning when I came back to check one more time before the nature walk.

I could hear Alder Flycatchers through the fog. The Canada Goose family was there, way out in the long grass, and Yellowlegs were beginning to gather on the mud.

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When I drove along the highway, I could see that there were two distant Sandhill Cranes. There were also two Trumpeter Swans out in the marsh. I don’t recall every seeing them there in summer, and am not sure whether they nested there or not this year.

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This morning for our nature walk was gorgeous and clear and warm, for Anchorage (over 70 degrees), with a slight breeze. A beautiful day for a walk, and great people to walk with!

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Alder Flycatchers were still noisy, with a family in the trees around the parking lot, and others along the walk.

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There were more Yellowlegs at the water’s edge today, mostly sleeping, probably waiting until the water level went down enough for there to be exposed mud along the edge.

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Other visitors to the boardwalk informed us of a moose that was down toward the end of the walk noisily munching on the very deep grass, so we quickly went down there. While we were there we also watched a bald eagle carry a stick into a tree a long way from where their nest was this summer – maybe practicing for next year.

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Down toward the other end of the boardwalk where the river flows out of the marsh, we could see a few different types of fish, little troutlike things to quite large salmonlike things, but not being fish-experts, we did not attempt to identify them.

 

 

 

July 17 – Nome Worried Wagtails, etc.

Following are a few more things from my July Nome trip. I need to finish this, because I don’t want to get behind. I’ll be in Nome again in early August, and hopefully will have more pictures to show.

I had never before this trip seen wagtails, so close-up and personal and in my face. It clearly was wagtail nesting time, and they were not happy anytime I came near or through their territory. I saw them a number of different places, but the two places where they seemed the most worried are mentioned and shown below.

On July 7th I went to Teller. Birders usually go to Teller to see the White Wagtails. I was about 25 miles away from Teller nearing the bridge over the Bluestone River, and not expecting to see wagtails for another hour or more, however, when two very upset White Wagtails came at my car, and at me when I got out of the car. They perched on the bridge sign, one at each end sometimes, on the road, and on the bridge itself. They seemed unhappy no matter which end of the bridge I was at, so presumably they had hidden fledglings out of the nest that they were feeding. I did not stay long enough in their territory to look for their youngsters, but drove on to see the less-concerned White Wagtails in Teller.

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Later that day after returning to Nome, I went out a short distance on Council Road and birded in the Hastings Creek area. To my surprise, there were at least two Eastern Yellow Wagtails diving at my head there, also clearly feeding youngsters. I tried to walk away to an area less of concern to them, but they followed, so I just left so they could settle down.

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In an area near the Yellow Wagtails, there was still a large snowbank remaining. It turns out that a number of birds were wandering around on the snow, apparently finding things to eat on it. These included American Pipits and a Western Sandpiper (I believe).

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I also walked along the beach near the Safety Sound Bridge toward the end of my trip on July 10th. Although it had been quite a shorebird hotspot a month earlier, it was now a bit slow, with noisy Arctic Terns overhead, and only a Lapland Longspur and a Semipalmated Plover photographed.

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The flowers were beautiful, and mostly different than those photographed earlier at the higher elevations.

I realized before I ended I should also post a picture of my birding vehicle for the last couple of trips. It stayed muddy and dirty while I was there, even though the rain washed some of it away. Although a smaller vehicle would probably handle better in some cases, especially when trying to make U-turns to chase shearwaters (see previous post), this sturdy truck had good clearance, drove well on the bumpy roads and had plenty of room for my gear.

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July 17 – Nome – Council Road (July 8)

I’m finally getting back to writing about my most recent Nome trip. I’m blaming the delay on the everyday (today is the third day in a row) moose activity around here in Anchorage, which is so distracting.

On my third full day in Nome, I drove to Council, my second trip there ever. Scenes from the first 50 or so miles, along the ocean and to and along Safety Sound, follow.

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After Safety Sound the road heads away from the ocean upward and then downward to the village of Council, for a total of about 72 miles.

Highlights between Safety Sound and Council included a very obliging Say’s Phoebe on the sign at the bridge over the East Fork of the Solomon River.

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Nearer to Council, in the same area as on my last trip, a Whimbrel was not happy with my passing through its territory.

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Council is the only area on the roads around Nome where there are extensive stands of trees, including many spruce trees. I had heard about this, and had pictured deep forests near the road; however, they are mostly quite spread out and not thick near the road. Bird species that inhabit wooded areas are more likely near Council but are unusual in the rest of the Nome area.

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Both on the way to Council and the way back, Yellow Wagtails around Solomon were noticeable by their constant scolding.

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The highlight of the day, however, occurred in late afternoon about 3 miles outside of Nome, near the end of my Council Road trip. I almost missed it, thinking my birding trip was about over and not paying attention to my surroundings. Suddenly I noticed an unmistakable shearwater flying along the shore and the road, and very close, maybe 50 feet from the shore. It was flying toward me, and then past as I began to slam on my brakes to check it out. Before I had time to believe what I had just seen, another shearwater coasted by. I came to a screeching halt, did a turnaround with my truck, and raced back toward where I had just been and where the shearwaters had gone. I kept going past them, and came to another screeching halt, hoping to photograph them as they came by me, but I missed them. So I again raced down the road, past them, and rapidly got out of the truck. One of them had apparently veered off and was no longer visible, but the other one did an abrupt turn as I watched and landed about 100 feet out on the water. I got a quick photo of it in flight and then many of it on the water. It turns out others had seen them too, and we all independently determined them to be Short-tailed Shearwaters by the shape of bill and head, and  range (others also noted the under-wings). These were definitely unexpected rarities for Nome, usually found way out in the ocean and not near the mainland, but we had had wind and rain the night before that probably brought them in (note waves in morning pictures above). They were clearly the rarest birds of the whole trip.

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July 15 – Before, During and After

Backstory: we have a patch of fireweed in our back yard, which I carefully protect from moose each summer by putting some stuff around them that usually contains blood-meal and is supposed to keep away deer, moose, rabbits, etc. It’s not always successful, with the moose generally nibbling off the buds before the plants bloom. But this year, the moose were kept away and I HAD a beautiful little patch. Thank goodness, I took pictures yesterday:

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This morning we were awakened by our dog going nuts as he watched two moose strolling down the road in front of our house. When they disappeared, I looked out back. Yes, they had already been in our yard, but I did not dare to go out in the yard or to let our dog out again. Time passed, and when I thought the coast was clear, I let our dog out in the back yard. Nope, they were just hopping over the fence back into our yard! A wild time ensued with our dog darting up to the moose, and the moose, both of them, attacking our dog, who just barely eluded them. Finally they had our dog cornered under the back porch steps, and then they wandered back to graze some more. I finally got our terrorized dog back in the house. And the moose grazed and grazed and grazed some more. They also loved our little “forest” of saplings that I’ve been allowing to grow in the yard.

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Eventually, tummies full, they left (I always wondered how the youngster made it over the fence; now I know – with difficulty).

And the flowers now? A few remain (undoubtedly the moose will be back for more):

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Sigh. We Alaskans do love our moose, but still…

July 12 – Nome – Teller Road (July 7)

Unlike Kougarok Rd. (earlier post today), I had once before driven all the way to the end of Teller Road, which ends about 72 miles from Nome at water’s edge in Teller, northwest of Nome on the Seward Peninsula.

The trip began just after 6 AM with a small herd of musk oxen on the street in Nome.

Driving slightly faster than yesterday’s snail pace, in less than two hours I had gone the first 20 miles.

In another 1.5 hours I had gone the next 40 miles.

I got to the Teller area about 5 hours from when I started. A couple of times there was almost no visibility as the road ascended into the low clouds and there were periods of light rain, but when I descended things cleared out and visibility improved.

Teller’s population is in the low hundreds, but I expect it increases substantially when fish numbers (mostly salmon, I understand) are high.

On the trip back, I continued to take photos. As usual on the three Nome roads, around every corner and over every hill, there seem to be scenes that demand to be photographed, no matter how many times the road is traveled and no matter the direction of travel.

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Birds photographed on Teller Road include Long-tailed Jaeger, Red-throated Loon, distant Sandhill Cranes, Willow Ptarmigan (shown below, plus those with babies, posted yesterday), Arctic Tern, Cliff Swallows and a Wandering Tattler shorebird perched on a rooftop.

The most interesting/exciting mammal experience was the sighting of two large grizzly bears about mile 27 on Teller Road on the way to Teller. They periodically looked down the hill at me, as they wandered along the hillside and I watched from the safety of my rental truck, but they mostly ignored me, eventually drifting down into brush that hid them from my sight.

On the way back, I saw a red fox, probably out hunting.

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As on Kougarok Road, there were beautiful flowers along Teller Road.

On July 7 I also had two interesting wagtail (birds) mini-adventures, and saw some other birds after my Teller road trip, but I’ll wait until another blog post to tell about them.

 

 

July 12 – Nome – Kougarok Road (July 6)

I had never driven all the way to the end of Kougarok Road, and wasn’t sure what was at the end of the road, if anything. The farthest I had been was at mile 72, where the traditional hike begins for the Bristle-thighed Curlew that nests there (I was there in early June this year). Finally, on July 6th, I was determined to drive the whole way. My trip was VERY slow, however, because I decided to do a mile-by-mile bird count for the whole road. What this meant was windows open, slow driving and stopping to listen and look and write down EVERY bird I saw/heard for each mile of the road. I also took pictures frequently of the surroundings. Following are many of the photos of the trip, so you can get an idea of the terrain for the whole road. Next will be some of the bird and flower photos taken.

The first set of pictures was taken along the first 20 miles of the road (3 hours):

The next set was taken the next 20 miles, until just before Salmon Lake (another 2 hours):

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The next set begins near Salmon Lake and goes to about mile 60 on the road (about another 2 hours):

The final 25-mile stretch to where the road ended at mile 85 was driven in a speedy 1.5 hours. And there I learned that the Kougarok Road ended, for all practical purposes, at the Kougarok River. Beyond the sturdy but frightening bridge the road became only usable by off-road vehicles or others having high clearance, sturdy vehicles, such as people who still are looking for and sometimes finding gold there.

A few photos on the drive back showed views not visible or noticed on the drive there, including the beautiful mountains that had been behind me, views of trees and some remaining snow, and of the road itself (mostly not too bumpy).

I didn’t get many close looks at birds along the road. Most that I could see were singing on distant branches or flitting by. Because I was so busy noting all the birds, I also neglected to photograph many of them by the time they had departed or disappeared into the bushes. Along the road, I got my first look for the year at an Arctic Warbler, a bird easy to miss and difficult to find even if you can hear it singing, unless of course it is accommodating enough to sing from a line.

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Following in no particular order are some of the other birds seen along Kougarok Road – Wilson’s Warbler, Bohemian Waxwing (normally very unusual in Nome, but this year it is common), White-crowned Sparrows, and Savannah Sparrow:

At a few sites were American Golden-Plovers, including at least one youngster (omitted from yesterday’s “baby bird” blog post)(the tiny white dot in the lower right quadrant of the mountain scene is a plover shown in its habitat):

I saw only a few mammals along the road, including a distant small herd of musk oxen and as single one later, and a few ground squirrels (and very few humans):

The flowers along the road came in just about every color:

All-in-all it was a great day of learning about Nome’s Kougarok Road in early July. I’ll try to do an account of the other whole-road road trips next (including my grizzly bear sighting).

 

 

 

July 11 – Nome Baby Birds

I just returned from my 6-day trip to Nome, and I have over 2000 photos. I’m not sure how many I will attempt to share, but after going through all of them just now, I knew I had to go with “cute” first. It is clearly baby bird season there, and I had the opportunity to photograph some of them, and in one case I did not see the pale gray baby and did not know I had photographed a baby bird along with its parents until I just now looked at the photos taken July 6th of the Pacific Loon pair on Kougarok Road:

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The Northern Pintail ducklings were more obvious a few miles later:

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On Teller Road the next day, I only saw one Willow Ptarmigan family. The ptarmigan chicks definitely exemplified “cute”:

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Not so with the Common Ravens that were later along Teller Road:

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I only saw one Whimbrel youngster partly hidden in the grass near its very unhappy parents:

On July 8th, I went to Council. A shorebird baby (Semipalmated Sandpiper?) was up on the Safety Sound bridge, presumably far from where it was hatched:

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Tied for most cute in Nome (in my opinion) were the two baby American Dippers and the Northern Wheatear. I saw the dippers under the Penny River bridge on Teller Road on July 9th. At first I was so delighted to finally see a dipper in Nome, and then two of them, that I missed the one, and then two, fledglings on the shore. I watched one of the youngsters be fed a fat, juicy worm. I do not understand why some birds bob up and down but it definitely adds to the cuteness. For awhile they seemed to be trying to bounce in unison.

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The Northern Wheatear baby was perched on a rock near the intersection of Teller Road and the road to Wooley Lagoon. I only saw the one parent and one fledgling:

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The last baby bird that I saw on the trip was a Semipalmated Plover, running along the edge of a stream. Its worried parent was closer to me and the road.

I have plans of posting scenic shots (probably over the course of many days) from each of the three main Nome roads, as well as pictures of some of the many flowers and of a few mammals, and of course, more bird photos. Nome is definitely a great place to visit, especially in July.

 

 

 

July 4 – Hot Times in Anchorage

For Anchorage, the temperature has been sweltering, particularly indoors where we have no air conditioning and inadequate air circulation. At our house the daytime indoor temperatures have been between 78-85. Hot. Outside with similar high temperatures and where there’s usually a breeze it’s quite pleasant to go birding.

Yesterday morning I birded for a couple of hours with Kenna Sue Trickey and Louann Feldmann.

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We went to Westchester Lagoon and Lake Hood. Although things were a bit slow, at Westchester Lagoon, we had great views of dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs and Red-necked Grebes, as well as ducks of various kinds.

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Lake Hood had a few birds, but in the morning the Red-throated Loon was not seen. Kenna Sue found it in the afternoon.

At our house, both Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers are bringing their young to our peanut butter. The former are shown below. Other youngsters around our yard are hordes of starlings, plus Black-capped Chickadees, Black-billed Magpies and Steller’s Jays. A fun time of year, with all the fledglings making up for the lack of very many rarities.

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Tomorrow I will be flying to Nome for another of my periodic trips there to see what birding is like throughout the year – primarily aimed at the regular birds, but of course a rarity or too while I’m there would be appreciated.