June 29 to July 2 – Dutch Harbor ferry trip, Part 1

I returned home from Anchorage Audubon’s great ferry trip to Dutch Harbor on the night of July 3rd. Because there was no Internet availability on the boat, I am finally able to blog about the trip.

Almost all day long for the long days of the whole trip the birders and our leader Aaron Bowman stared out across the waters looking for, and often seeing, pelagic birds. The morning of the first day was a bit rough and rainy and I was concerned that while this might increase the number of bird species, we might all be too sick to see them. The rest of the days were wonderful and not rainy  however, although we did have periodic high winds.



Our trip left out of Homer about at dawn (4:45 am) on June 29. For a little while, we just saw the usual Homer birds, such as Glaucous-winged Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes.




Then we started seeing many, many SOOTY SHEARWATERS. Soon, there were Tufted and Horned Puffins, at least one Rhinoceros Auklet, Red-necked Phalaropes, Common and Thick-billed Murres, light and dark Northern Fulmars, a few FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS, and a few BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSES.

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About 2:30 we reached Kodiak where we had a few hours on shore to bird and then we were off for Chignik which we reached about noon on June 30th. There were the same birds as before plus a Parakeet Auklet, Pomarine and Parasitic Jaegers, at least three CASSIN’S AUKLETS and three Black Oystercatchers (shown). Late on the 30th we reached Sand Point and saw a few Arctic Terns and Bald Eagles. At numerous places along the route we saw Pigeon Guillemots, particularly near the harbors as shown.



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Early on the morning of July 1st we reached King Cove on a beautiful clear day. Walking around there I saw a Belted Kingfisher, Golden-crowned Sparrows and more Bald Eagles, and heard a Hermit Thrush and Yellow Warblers. Later in the morning we were in Cold Bay, where due to being one of the people to win a lottery on the ferry I went on a bus to Izembek NWR. Highlights there were a fox, a couple of Northern Wheatears, Lapland Longspurs, a Semipalmated Plover parent and chicks along the road and Bank Swallows. In the early evening we reached False Pass where there were Harlequin Ducks, Wilson’s and Yellow Warblers, and Savannah (shown below), Fox and Golden-crowned Sparrows, plus fields full of purple lupines. Before it got dark (midnight or so) we saw Ancient Murrelets and more Northern Fulmars.

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On Saturday, July 2nd we stopped briefly in Akutan before reaching our Dutch Harbor destination about 10:00 am. On the way we saw large numbers of puffins, Northern Fulmars, three Kittlitz’s Murrelets and our first WHISKERED AUKLETS (pictures will appear in Part 2). I also will talk in Part 2 about the wonderful charter boat that six of us went on later on July 2nd (another six went on July 3rd) and the land birding with Suzi Golodoff.

282 species seen for the year by the end of the ferry ride (see report above); 283 species seen by the end of the Dutch Harbor trip (report will be written tomorrow); and 284 species seen by the end of July 3 (report coming soon)

PLEASE NOTE: a current report of all birds seen to date this year can be found on lynnbarber.com

June 28 – Homer and Soon on the Ferry

This morning I took a flight from Anchorage to Homer, as did at least two other birders, Kenna Sue Trickey and Sue Westervelt. As part of an Anchorage Audubon field trip, the three of us will be joining other birders on the ferry tomorrow morning with a scheduled very early departure time of 4:45 am. The motel that I am staying at tonight is within walking distance from the ferry terminal so my roommate and I will lug our scopes, boots, and gear for 6 days over there about dawn tomorrow.


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This afternoon the three of us birded in Homer, primarily along a lovely woodland trail, the Calvin and Coyle trail. We also went to the Beluga Slough Overlook and drove out to the east from town with lovely views of water and mountain all along the way. The birds were very vocal, adults singing and fledglings calling. Birds included Fox, Lincoln’s and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Pacific Wrens, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers, Varied, Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes, American Robin, Red-breasted Nuthatches (young being fed and shown in picture sun-bathing on a stump), Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees (young shown in picture), Gray Jay, Common Redpoll, and Alder Flycatcher. No new birds (and none were expected).


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The ferry trip is 4 days/3 nights with mostly brief stops on various islands as it heads generally westward until it reaches Dutch Harbor, As noted earlier, I’m not sure if there will be wifi on the ferry, but if not, I will still eventually post about the trip and its birds. Of course, it is also possible that I will be seasick and will not feel like staring at a computer screen to post until after we reach land for good.

277 species so far

June 27 – Really Close, But…

Not close enough.

Louann Feldmann and I went to the Goose Bay refuge where at least one male Wilson’s Phalarope had been reported. It was a beautiful morning but for about 2 of the 2.5 hours that we were there, all we saw were yellowlegs (both), Least, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Sandhill Cranes (10), Bank Swallows and Alder Flycatchers (on the way out to the wetland). No phalarope.




On our walk back to the car, suddenly a fatter, larger phalarope-like shorebird flew past us over the wetland and landed in the open water of the inlet. Excitement! Our first views showed a lot of white on its neck and did not allow a good look at its breast, which led us to our first (erroneous) identification of the bird. It must be a Wilson’s Phalarope, since there had been one reported, but ours was clearly a more colorful female.

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After we started reviewing our pictures, however, we realized that it really was a Red-necked Phalarope. Great disappointment, but as I am always saying, no one can stay a birder for long if they can’t get past being disappointed periodically. We realized that when we had seen it fly, there had not been a white rump, which should of given us a clue that we did not have a Wilson’s Phalarope. We are thinking of going back and looking again when we both are back in town, because the wetland is huge and a little Wilson’s Phalarope (or two) could easily hide there.

Meanwhile, I’m about packed for my flight to Homer tomorrow morning. A couple of us will bird there and then try to get to bed early because the ferry from Homer to Dutch Harbor leaves just after 4 am on Wednesday (6/29). I’ll try to post from the ferry but if that’s not possible will do a summary post after we reach land.

Still at 277 species

June 25 – Another Anchorage Stroll

Today’s stroll was during the noontime period on the Potter Marsh boardwalk, followed by a drive and stroll at the back side of the marsh along the old Seward Highway. At the boardwalk in addition to the Arctic Terns and distant gulls, there were a few yellowlegs (seemed to be mostly Greater), about eight Green-winged Teal and about nine very flighty Least Sandpipers.

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Along the road behind the marsh was a constantly singing Alder Flycatcher and a couple of noisy Northern Waterthrushes.


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Tomorrow I will be getting ready to go on Anchorage Audubon’s trip on the ferry (over 3 days) from Homer to Dutch Harbor and the charter boat out of Dutch Harbor after that. A few good (read: new) birds are possible. I’ll fly down to Homer on Tuesday for a very early Wednesday morning ferry departure out of Homer.

It is possible or maybe even likely that it will be difficult to post to the Internet on the ferry, but I’ll do what I can, and in any case will take pictures for ultimate posting.

277 species so far

June 25 – Anchorage Birding Stroll

It was very nice to have a day to catch up on a few things at home and to have a relaxing stroll at Westchester Lagoon and the Chester Creek Trail. It was almost at high tide and the Short-billed Dowitchers were loafing on mudflats right next to the busy bike/hiking path Hidden in their midst was a Northern Shoveler. Both kinds of yellowlegs were there, mostly loafing too. Somehow I usually get more pictures of the Greater Yellowlegs than of the Lesser.

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The pair of Sandhill Cranes that has been on the mudflats for many days was still there. Nothing remarkable about that, but when I returned along the trail, they apparently had taken a bath and were dripping wet. I was sorry to have missed the sight of them bathing, which I have never seen happen.

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There were also a couple of Mallard families and a few Green-winged Teal lurking in the greenery.

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The “wild” flower patch along the trail wasn’t as wild as the tundra flowers of yesterday but they were still very beautiful. Altogether a pleasant walk.


277 species so far (see lynnbarber.com for a complete list of species seen to date)

June 24 – Denali Success

My goal today was Smith’s Longspur. I was desperately in need of sleep, however, so I didn’t get on the road in Glennallen until about 6:30 am. Just about 2 hours later, I arrived at the mile 13 hill on the Denali Highway, a traditional site for these birds but that in recent years has been a bit sparse. Having no better ideas of where to look I chose that route. I had climbed part way up the same trail yesterday, not realizing how much farther was needed. After nearly another 2 hours of slow walking up the gentle flowered slope I reached the top where all sites on the hill were below me or at my level.



On the way up I had a fly-by plain buffy bird making little dry rattle calls that I thought was probably my goal bird, but I needed better views. At the top and periodically as I walked down I heard little “zweep” calls down below me somewhere but could not see any birds. Soon after I decided to slowly work my way down I was briefly distracted from my quest by a mother ptarmigan (probably Willow) and her batch of about 6 chicks. They sneaked away rapidly even though there was little cover for them and I continued down a bit more.

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At a site that was more out of the wind than at the top, I sat down on a rock and waited and listened. After about 15 minutes a small brown bird flew past just below my seat heading east. In another 5 minutes or so, it flew back, again low to the grass, rapidly. I could see that it had white outer tail feathers, some white on the wings, and some white patterning on the face. The back and forth flights were repeated another 15 minutes later. Periodically I also heard the dry rattle sound from somewhere, and saw one of these birds fly off up the hill twice. I stayed in the area for nearly 2 more hours but did not get any better views.

I have no idea of all of this action was one bird or more than one bird, but I have concluded that it/they was a SMITH’S LONGSPUR by the location, the sounds, the appearance, the behavior. At no time did I hear any singing of the longspurs, and I learned later from someone more familiar with the birds than I am that it is likely that the birds were now nesting, and possibly what I was seeing was birds flying back and forth to feed young.

As added support for this conclusion that I was seeing and hearing Smith’s Longspurs, as I was about 2/3 of the way down the incline, I heard a different sound just below me and saw two Lapland Longspurs on the ground. I had been concerned that maybe that was what I had seen up higher, but now I could rule them out. None of the sounds made by the high-elevation birds was like those of Horned Larks either, another possibility that concerned me.

So, another year-bird. Probably I won’t find any more until the Anchorage Audubon ferry trip from Homer to Dutch Harbor next week. But I’ll keep birding, every day if at all possible, as I’ve done every day this year so far.

As I drove the Denali Highway back to mile 0, I heard many Arctic Warblers, Fox, Savannah and White-crowned Sparrows, and Common Redpolls, as well as a few Gray-cheeked Thrushes.


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277 birds so far (see lynnbarber.com for the daily lists and the complete information on birds seen to date this year)

June 23 – Solitary and Ruddy

Although my birding has been solitary lately and my face is getting ruddy from all the exposure to sun, that’s not what the title is about. It refers of course to birds.

My first new bird of the day was a SOLITARY SANDPIPER. I had gotten up very early to look for Great Gray Owls, without success, and then headed northwest to Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks. On the drive there were beautiful mountain views. Along the way I watched an American Robin attacking an Amerian Kestrel but otherwise did not see very many birds as I drove rapidly along. My goal was a Solitary Sandpiper, which I had read nested there (at least in the past). I went first to the wetland, not being quite sure where to look. At the wetland were numerous duck families – Mallard, American Wigeon and Bufflehead (shown). Warblers, including Yellow Warblers, were singing around the wetland, but no sandpipers.


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I checked one of my bird-guide apps and learned that I should be looking in boreal forest wetlands for the sandpiper. And then I noticed that Creamer’s Field has a trail that it states goes into a boreal forest. I began walking on that trail and immediately on the wet mud near a little bridge found a Solitary Sandpiper! I spent a bit more time there litening to the woodland birds and then decided to continued birding elsewhere.



My plan was to go to Kenny Lake, but on the way there I received a text from Steve Heinl (who knew I’d been up in Fairbanks) reminding me that I was near an area where Smith’s Longspurs are found. So I spent some time on the first 20 miles of the Denali highway, hearing many Arctic Warblers and White-crowned Sparrows, seeing a single American Tree Sparrow, and walking upper tundra areas, but no longspurs. I plan to go back tomorrow.

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I was feeling tired, however, and decided quit birding to go to my motel in Glennallen (relatively near Kenny Lake where I had intended to go during the day as I knew that it was sometimes possible to find Ruddy Ducks there). After checking in, I felt a bit revived so headed to Kenny Lake in the early evening. After a drive of about 40 miles, I reached Kenny Lake, got out my scope, walked to the lake edge, scanned around and found two RUDDY DUCKS! There were quite a few other ducks there, some with young, and Horned Grebes and their young.


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Today was my third day in a row driving over 4o0 miles – today about 475 miles. Seems a bit like my Texas big year lately with all the driving.

276 species so far (see lynnbarber.com for the complete year list)

June 22 – Delta Junction and Chicken

It’s not what you might think – I did not add a chicken to my year list today. I went to Chicken, Alaska. But before this trip of about 200 miles each way from Delta Junction, I did some exploration to try to find an Upland Sandpiper. Following the advice of Jeff Mason for most of my birding today, I went south a few miles out of Delta Junction in the area where I had found Sharp-tailed Grouse earlier this year, and was delighted to hear the distinctive wolf-whistles of an UPLAND SANDPIPER! The sandpiper only called for about 15 minutes way out in the field and then was silent, and I was never able to see him.



About 8:30 I started the drive to Chicken where Jeff had seen a Mountain Bluebird a week or so ago. After about 125 miles heading east toward Canada, I drove 66 miles north-east to Chicken, a small tourist town based on its gold-panning and dredging history. The most obvious birds there were Cliff Swallows, which had built nests on and were swarming around various underparts of a big gold dredge. Finally I saw a pair of MOUNTAIN BLUEBIRDS hanging around the gold dredge, and then I noticed one of them coming out of a pipe, most likely its nest spot.



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On my way back to Delta Junction in the mid-afternoon, I drove Barley Way again hoping to see a Upland Sandpiper. Instead, I had a female Sharp-tailed Grouse on the roadside that was very unhappy with my presence.

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After getting back to Delta Junction, I consulted again with Jeff about ideas for where I might look for some other birds, and tomorrow expect to drive to Fairbanks and explore.

274 species so far (see lynnbarber.com for detailed list of species seen so far)

June 21 – Anchorage to Delta Junction

It was a drive of 330 miles heading north and east of Anchorage done with numerous stops in exactly 8 hours. Along the way I mainly stopped at bogs, seeing Lesser Yellowlegs, Barrow’s Goldeneyes and various other ducks, thrushes, sparrows.


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After I checked in to my motel I drove out the Alaska Highway toward Tok to Sawmill Creek Road and then Barley Road heading back toward Delta Junction – another 50 miles or so for the day total. My main goal birds, Upland Sandpipers, were nowhere to be seen, so I will try again tomorrow. Alder Flycatchers were plentiful as were White-crowned Sparrows. I saw numerous American Kestrels, including a nearly grown fledgling. There also was a small flock of Sandhill Cranes in the distance.


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272 species so far

June 20 – More Babies and Potter Marsh Excitement

Before I went to Potter Marsh, I checked out the Westchester area again. The western island in the lagoon was laden with dowitchers and scattered Hudsonian Godwits as well as Mew Gull and Arctic Tern families. Along the trail were multiple Canada Goose families of different ages of goslings. A couple of non-breeding plumage Northern Shovelers as well as a couple of American Wigeons were interspersed among the many Mallards.

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Also along the trail was a family of at least three fledged Black-billed Magpies begging for food and periodically being fed.


Once I got to Potter Marsh, I had a brief look around, including at the Tree Swallows, before the excitement began. I noticed a crowd of camera-carrying folk excitedly gathering to take pictures of a moose that was very close to the boardwalk in the brush and ultimately went under the boardwalk to the open marsh area.

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After I passed that area of the boardwalk, I heard frantically peeping Mallard ducklings and saw two of them scurry across the water, calling the whole time. Immediately a Bald Eagle swooped down at the ducklings, and a female Mallard came at the eagle quacking madly. The eagle’s talon dragged in the water and it pulled out, not a duckling, but a dark brown something that turned out to be a piece of wood. It was sort of fish-shaped, so probably eagle error. The eagle sat on a small island next to the wood, with the Mallard mother making loud splashing runs at the eagle across the water. The ducklings made a sound and the eagle came at them again, maybe 20 feet from me and the other avid watchers on the boardwalk. The eagle missed, the mother Mallard kept attacking, and eventually the eagle departed to roost up by its nest. I learned later that before what we witnessed, the eagle had carried a different duckling to the nest to feed its two young. Usually we miss seeing the daily struggles that occur in nature whether or not we are watching. It all helps me understand why Mallards need to hatch out so many eggs.

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Tomorrow the plan is to go to Delta Junction (about a 6-hour drive northeast of Anchorage) to try to find at least a couple of the birds that I am missing this year.

272 species so far