Mar. 31 – Driving and Birding


Not much more to say – drove to Girdwood as the sun rose, birded, drove to Kenai, birded, drove to Anchor Point, birded, drove to Homer, birded, returned to Kenai and birded until 9:45 pm. No new birds. Birding highlights: Bald Eagles, of course, Northern Pintails, Trumpeter Swans, and Eurasian Wigeon among the American Wigeons.





Nonbird highlight: two moose splashing in the water where I usually have been seeing Trumpeter Swans.




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Mar. 30 – South of Anchorage

As promised I did not spend time today at Potter Marsh, except briefly along the highway to once again photograph the Trumpeter Swans, and to photograph the Mew Gulls that have arrived there.



Then I resolutely drove south to Girdwood with the wind whipping up all sorts of little things and hurling them at my car and threatening to blow me off the road. My goal was to check the roadside wetlands for ducks or shorebirds or something new. Mostly there were Bald Eagles and Common Ravens, and more Trumpeter Swans.013





By the time I got to the turnoff for Portage, it was mostly pouring rain. I took a few short wet walks but mostly just drove there and back. There was a pair of Barrow’s Goldeneyes at a pond along the Portage road where I often saw them last year.


I returned to Anchorage and went to Spenard Crossing on my way downtown to get our mail. The two Gadwalls that had been there a couple of weeks ago (or two others, I guess) were there, as well as over 30 Common Goldeneyes and some Barrow’s Goldeneyes as well. A single Bufflehead male dove continuously, and of course there were Mallards.



Tomorrow I’m heading even farther south, unless we get a blizzard or the pass is impassable.

124 species so far

Mar. 29 – Potter Marsh Yet Again

004I keep hoping for new birds to arrive, and I keep thinking that Potter Marsh would be a really great place for them to arrive. But not today.


Today was a nice day at Potter Marsh though. There were a few Black-capped Chickadees calling, a flyover Bald Eagle, a pair of Mallards and three Common Mergansers. One of the Black-billed Magpies approached its huge nest from below. My picture shows how tiny the bird is compared to the nest above it.


The three Trumpeter Swans were still at Potter Marsh. Just like with Bald Eagles, there is something about Trumpeter Swans that makes me take nonstop pictures of them. I think it’s the gracefulness of their necks and their graceful movements, at least when they are on the water.




Tomorrow I have to think of somewhere else to bird, however. Although the birds somewhere else probably will also not be new for the year, maybe I can choose a new place, or at least a place that I don’t bird every other day.


124 species so far


Mar. 28 – Palmer and Anchorage Wandering

The plan for today was to go up to the hawk watch about 120 miles north-east of Anchorage. Louann Feldmann and I drove about half that distance this morning in the rain before we ran into heavy snow with very little visibility. Realizing that the rest of our trip would be further into the snowstorm, higher up into the mountains, we decided to turn around and try for hawks and Golden Eagles another day when we had enough visibility to see a flying bird.

When we got back to Palmer (about 50 miles from Anchorage) we explored a couple of areas, including various fields that sometime harbor Sandhill Cranes when the cranes have come to town. No cranes today. After that we drove the road where I got my first (and only, so far) Northern Harrier for the year. Today there were at least two immature Bald Eagles that seemed to be aerially playing when they weren’t being harassed by a noisy Northern Shrike.


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There were also at least two Trumpeter Swans that flew around and finally landed near us.



We then went to Reflection Lake, which I had never visited and which, although still mostly icy had reflections in the water pooled on the ice. We walked the trail around the lake and I got to view the vastness of some of the Palmer Hay Flats from the high observation tower. We were very lucky that the rain stopped just long enough for us to do the walk and then started up again when we got back into the car.


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After I dropped Louann at her house, I explored a couple of areas in Anchorage. At the Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area it was quite windy but again the rain stopped long enough for me to walk all the trails. There was another Northern Shrike there, plus the usual Common Ravens, Black-capped Chickadees, a Bald Eagle and a distant gull. When I checked out Lakes Hood and Spenard I found that they are still completely frozen over, so no waterfowl there.


On the road near Point Woronzoff and past the airport, there was only a single Common Raven and a single Bald Eagle, both of which were sitting soddenly as the rain poured over them. My view of the city of Anchorage across the inlet as I ended my birding for the day was a bit obscured by the rain.


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124 species so far

Mar. 27 – Easter Birding

Although we actually had a gorgeous sunrise at our Easter Sunrise Service this morning, the clouds came in and the day got windier later.


When I walked the boardwalk at Potter Marsh early this afternoon, I first thought that there were no birds around at all. I could not see any eagles near or on the nest. Then I noticed two soaring Bald Eagles high overhead, an adult and an immature. Two Mallards were spooked up from the marsh when one of the eagles came down toward the marsh.



That was it for the birds seen from the boardwalk. Because the temperature has mostly been above freezing lately, the amount of ice has been gradually decreasing and open water has been increasing.


A quick drive on the highway along Potter Marsh revealed that there were now three Trumpeter Swans in one of the relatively new open water areas. At the south end of the marsh, there was also another Bald Eagle perched high in a tree.


124 species so far

Mar. 26 -Foggy Owl Hunt & Home Again

I was back on Buoy Avenue in the Kenai area this morning before dawn and stayed about 2.5 hours. It was a very foggy morning but in theory I could have seen a Great Gray Owl if it had flown within 50-100 feet of me. Shortly after I arrived for the owl hunt, I was joined by Toby and Laura Burke, and for a while by their daughter Grace and their dog. They and their children have seen the owl on and off for a couple of months but irregularly and not on a daily basis. This morning was not one of those days. We drove the road and walked through the spruce trees but did not find any owl


About 9:30, with the fog still there, I decided to leave and on my trip back to Anchorage check out some traditional Great Gray Owl sites that the Burkes told me about that are off the highway. I did check each of the three roads, all of which seemed to hold great potential for these owls, but it was still quite foggy along some of the route and I did not see any owls. At least I know areas to keep checking in the future.


The trip back was beautiful as I left the fog. The mountains were decorated with what looked like newly blown snow and the sky was blue between the clouds with only a few raindrops and temperature above freezing.




After I came down from Turnagain Pass I came to the area where there had been a swan gathering yesterday. The swans were fewer (I only saw 7 today) and were calmly preening today rather than interacting.


At Girdwood, where our team in the spring bird count last weekend could not find a single Northwestern Crow, today there were two of the crows cawing at each other. One of them appeared to be gathering dried grass near the gas station parking lot.


When I reached home the only yard birds were about 20 Common Redpolls, which as usual descended upon the yard and all its feeders at once.




124 birds so far

Mar. 25 – Swan Lake & Short-eared Owl

I drove to Kenai/Soldotna today, arriving about 2:30 pm after a pleasant though somewhat rainy drive. Although the roads were clear of snow and ice, the mountains were still wintery snowy.


On the way, there were two Trumpeter Swans at Potter Marsh. After I saw a Bald Eagle posing for a picture, in the vast open water just past the road to Portage Glacier were two more Trumpeter Swans that were joined in rapid succession by 8 more swans. Each time new swans landed there was a noisy greeting ceremony, lots of wing-flapping, and eventually a tight little powwow as they all gathered together to talk things out. On the same lake were another four swans feeding peacefully.

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I figured that swans would be the main emphasis of my post today until I was driving toward the end of Cannery Road in Kenai at about 5 pm and was delighted to find my first SHORT-EARED OWL of the year. Although it was quite far away and it was quite cloudy out I was able to obtain a few pictures that at least showed I did indeed have a Short-eared Owl.

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After that I spent about 5 hours driving back and forth and sitting in my car on Buoy Avenue where a Great Gray Owl has periodically been seen. Not tonight, however. I will be back there tomorrow morning.

124 species so far

Mar. 24 – Bathing Beauties

I only had an hour or so to bird today. I went to Spenard Crossing, not expecting anything new and not finding anything new. Along the path and along some of the river the ice is rapidly disappearing or has already disappeared.


The Mallards were right where they have been for months, on the ice and in the water next to the ice. There were Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneyes, as well as the usual chickadees.



Although the presence of multiple Black-billed Magpies was not new, the frenzy with which four of them were bathing was remarkable and I watched and photographed them for much of the time I was at Spenard Crossing. They were beautiful before, during and after their splashing.

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I’m hoping to head south for a short trip tomorrow, so maybe I’ll find something interesting to write about.

123 species so far

Mar. 23 – Potter Marsh Signs of Spring


I spent about an hour this afternoon at and near Potter Marsh. Only a little snow remained of the big snowfall that we had on March 19th.

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A soaring Bald Eagle high above welcomed me as I approached the boardwalk.


Along the boardwalk, a Black-billed Magpie was making little purr-like sounds as it worked on its bulky nest (visible as a dark pile of sticks through the branches of the trees near the boardwalk). I also noticed a few pussy willows along the walk. The only other birds along the walk were Black-capped Chickadees and a pair of Mallards swimming in the expanding area of water in the marsh.

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When I drove the highway along the edge of the marsh, I was able to see three distant moose off to the east grazing at the edge of the trees, as well as a little speck perched out in the marsh that was a Northern Shrike.


The biggest surprise was about 40 Herring Gulls on the ice, calling and flying around. There were no gulls seen by us on the Anchorage Audubon big day just 4 days ago, not at Potter Marsh and not in all of Anchorage. Today the gulls appeared to be standing out on the ice just waiting for spring. Note: gull experts, feel free to tell me these are not Herring Gulls or are hybrids.



123 species so far

Mar. 22 – Another Vigil

When one becomes a nutty birder and when one does a big year, one often does more and more chasing of birds. “Chasing” implies movement, even rapid movement. But lately my chasing has been mostly a stationary thing, a waiting for a bird, a vigil at the site where the desired bird has recently been seen and where I hope it will appear again.

Unfortunately, recently my stationary chasing has not produced the desired result. Three vigils for Short-eared Owls (as well as the earlier walks for them) and three vigils for Cassin’s Finch (one today and two some weeks ago) did not yield either of these birds.

Today I waited at a home in Palmer where a beautiful male Cassin’s Finch was seen yesterday. There were a few Common Redpolls that showed up periodically during the 3.5 hours that I was there. I understand that redpolls have previously been seen with the Cassin’s Finch, but I did not see the finch. Some of the redpolls were quite colorful, but definitely not as red as a male Cassin’s Finch, and others were quite light, possibly Hoary. It is possible that I heard the Cassin’s Finch, however, but I am not sure of that. 003aA


I was happy to see a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Downy Woodpecker, Black-billed Magpies, a Bald Eagle and Black-capped Chickadees while I listened and watched for redpolls and the finch.


For the next couple of days I have a few commitments that will likely keep me in the Anchorage area and I have no chases or vigils planned. So, my birding will likely be plain old ordinary short birding trips to local spots to see what I can see. As the weekend approaches, however, I have a couple more chases in mind, and maybe some vigils.

123 species so far