May 22-26 – Nome, Part 4 (final): Other Critters

We come now to the final blog post on my May 22-26 trip to Nome, just in time for me to head there again in two days. This post is about “critters” – non-human mammals from my trip to Nome. If mammals were as prevalent and easily seen as birds, I might be more of a mammal-watcher and less of a birdwatcher. Nearly every time I see a mammal I drop my birding and watch and try to photograph it. Some of the results follow:

Some type of seal on the ice at mouth of the Nome River:

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Arctic ground squirrel (I believe that is what the Nome animals are called):

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Reindeer, mother and young, seen a couple of days out on Safety Sound:

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Musk Ox, seen every time I drove Teller Road, often very near town; there was at least one herd with mothers and young and elsewhere there were individual animals, probably males:

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Moose, one seen this trip on Kougarok Road, coming up onto the road, leaving the road, running alongside the road, returning to the road and running for over a mile ahead of me as I drove extremely slowly before it finally left the road so I could drive on. The second one was out Teller Road:

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For added measure, following are a few pictures of the two moose that make my birding interesting this week, taken in Anchorage on my last Birds ‘n’ Bogs survey at Oceanview Bluff park:






May 22-26 – Nome, Part 3: More Birds

In my first two Parts in this series of blog posts, I covered scenes from my recent trip to Nome and large birds. This post will cover more birds that I saw and photographed, mostly smaller ones.  The birds are more or less in taxonomic order with related birds grouped together.

Red-breasted Merganser:

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Harlequin Duck:

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Black Scoter:

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Steller’s Eider:

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Pacific Loon:

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Red-necked Grebe:

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Semipalmated Plover:

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Black Turnstone:

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Wandering Tattler:

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Red-necked Phalarope:

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Sabine’s Gull:

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Arctic Tern:

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Short-eared Owl:

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Northern Shrike:

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Lapland Longspur:

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American Pipit:

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Orange-crowned Warbler:

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Yellow Warbler:

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American Tree Sparrow:

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White-crowned Sparrow:

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Fox Sparrow:

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Golden-crowned Sparrow:

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Savannah Sparrow:

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My fourth and last post from this trip to Nome will be about the non-bird “critters” that I was able to photograph there. And then it will be time for my next trip to Nome!


May 22-26 – Nome, Part 2: Larger Birds

This post will just be a sampler of some of the larger birds seen and photographed in the Nome area on my recent trip. See Part 1, published yesterday, for pictures of scenes in the Nome area.

Tundra Swan:

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Snow Goose:

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Emperor Goose:

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Eurasian and Common Wigeon:

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Willow Ptarmigan:

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Rock Ptarmigan:

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Bar-tailed Godwit:

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Wilson’s Snipe:

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Long-tailed Jaeger:

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The next post will be a sampler of some of the other birds seen and photographed in the Nome area.

May 22-26 – Nome, Part 1: Scenes

This blog post will show what it looked like as I drove around looking for birds during my recent trip to Nome. Because I took so many photos (about 4000 in 5 days), it is taking awhile to go through them all. I will try to be somewhat selective and will not show them all (my vast selection of scene photos below really is a tiny subgroup of the whole). I will cover birds and animals in my next blog posts, hopefully later today and tomorrow, but possibly after that.

It was clear to me as our flight arrived in the Nome area on May 22nd that it still was a cold world down there.


Most days while I was in Nome the temperature stayed just above freezing, with the temperatures mostly hovering about 34-39 degrees, only getting above forty degrees by late afternoon a couple of days. The last day it was mostly just at 32 degrees most of the day. There was some melting occurring, and probably the snow was also subliming (I think that’s the word) while I was there, and the snow and ice gradually decreased, especially near the coast. Many of the ponds and lakes were still partially or fully frozen over and some smaller streams still flowed beneath the snow, but grassy and rocky areas were cleared or clearing and the larger rivers were mostly open except along some of the edges. Salmon Lake was still completely frozen over. The ocean itself was mostly cleared of ice except for periodic small bergs drifting by and ice covering small bays and some shorelines. Except in the mountains on my last day, it did not snow (or rain) on me for the whole trip. It varied from sunny to cloudy, usually with a moderate to strong wind.

The road crews were out removing snow, but by the end of the trip I was still never able to travel the full length of the roads. Of the three main roads, I was able to go about 50 miles out on Council and Kougarok Roads (of the over 70 miles of road for each) and about 63 miles on Teller Road (of the 71 miles of road stretching from Nome to Teller), before I was halted by impassable roads. Many areas that I did drive through were mucky, icy, slushy, and/or slippery muddy, but I was finally stopped in each case by extensive areas of increasingly hard-to-drive road surfaces, where I slid and oozed my way slowly along the roads. In the case of Teller Road it snowed a bit on my drive out there on May 26th and I was stopped by snow banks still over the road that were being slowly cleared by a bulldozer. If it had been urgent, I probably could have gone farther, except on Teller Road, where no one had yet gone through since the most recent snow/drifting. I will plan to do the full drives on my next trips to Nome in early June and July.

Below are sample scenes showing the terrain and the extent of snow and ice cover during these days. The photo groups are in chronological order and are not individually labeled as to the particular road. They are grouped generally by date.

Tuesday, May 22, evening after my flight arrived in early evening, Council Road:

Wednesday, May 23, Teller in morning and then Council Road to the mostly frozen over Safety Sound:

Thursday, May 24, Council Road most of day; short drive up Kougarok Road in early evening:

Friday, May 25, Kougarok Road most of day; short drive on Council Road to Safety Sound in early evening:

Saturday, May 26, Teller Road most of day; very short drive on Council Road before my flight in the evening:

Please note: the last picture above is of a car that is hanging off the edge of the road and is NOT my car , but shows what can happen if you don’t pay attention to the road conditions.

I will be back to Nome very soon, participating in a Wilderness Birding Adventures trip there from June 1-4 and staying to do some more exploring from June 5-7.


May 17 – Encounters with BS and Rattled Raven

Bear Spray, that is. A few weeks ago, I accidentally discharged a can of bear spray in my birding vest pocket while it and I were in my car. Very unpleasant, obnoxious and memorable. Today while doing my second Birds ‘n’ Bogs survey I got to smell that nasty smell again. At least it was outside the car and intentional. Early in the survey I had noticed a moose along the edge of my walk down to the bog.


The moose seemed uninterested in me, so I walked down the other side of the big open area that goes down to the bog. It was a lovely though cloudy day, with everything turning green.

When I got down to the bog, the moose was no longer visible. I watched and listened to birds, all the while keeping an eye and ear out for the moose. After about 20 minutes, the moose appeared, having risen from its nap, and walked down to the bog to drink.

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I have no further pictures of the moose, because then it proceeded to walk straight toward me, calmly, but steadily toward me. There was nowhere for me to hide, so I just watched and tried to move out of its way. I fumbled with the new can of bear spray (now in a plastic bag because I definitely never want it to accidentally discharge again), and did a trial squirt to be sure it worked). It seemed that whichever way I tried to ease out of the way, the moose seemed to aim in that direction. Eventually, the moose passed by me, maybe 15 feet away, and kept going, and I didn’t have to find out whether bear spray would deter a moose. Shaking with relief, I walked in the opposite direction as the moose, only to walk through droplets of bear spray that remained suspended in the still air. It took more than an hour for my lips and face to stop tingling from the oily pepper spray, but all’s well that ends well.

Birdwise, the survey was uneventful, except for the  constant bombardment of Wilson’s Snipe (can be heard in the moose video).

Yesterday’s birding at Lakes Hood and Spenard produced my first Horned Grebes, Pacific Loons and Bonparte’s Gulls of the year (in Alaska), along with the usual scaup and goldeneye, Northern Shovelers, and Red-necked Phalarope.

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Again, the Red-throated Loon was the highlight, coming right up to and within 3 feet of me on the shore.

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I ended yesterday by watching a very rattled Common Raven that appeared to be upset about everything. Some days can be like that, but not recently.


May 12 (Part 2): Potter Marsh

After doing my Birds ‘n’ Bogs survey (blog post Part 1), I drove the road along Potter Marsh and then walked the boardwalk there. In addition to Sandhill Cranes calling and flying into and out of the marsh, the usual spring birds were about.

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Mew Gulls and Arctic Terns flew over the marsh usually calling loudly. Some were spread out across the marsh, probably staking out their territories.

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Along the nearby water’s edge there were at least five Red-necked Phalaropes hunting for food, and sometimes interacting as shown in the video (this is all right next to the highway and the sounds of cars and motorcycles predominate).

Miscellaneous ducks dabbled or dove, including American Wigeons, Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, Ring-necked Ducks, Greater Scaup, Mallards, Northern Shovelers and Green-winged Teal.

A single dowitcher (presumably Long-billed?) probed the mud.

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Four Red-necked Grebes swam about and gulped down little fish.

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Two Trumpeter Swans swam slowly along, periodically upending themselves to feed.

From the boardwalk, Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers, Lincoln’s Sparrows and Black-capped Chickadees could be heard singing and sometimes seen, but were not photographed. Tree Swallows flitted about. Those sitting along the boardwalk only moved when someone walking by them got very close.

There was at least one Greater and one Lesser Yellowlegs around and calling periodically. I believe my photo is of the Lesser:

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Part 3 will be of birds found at Lakes Spenard and Hood.





May 12 (Part 1): Anchorage Birds ‘n’ Bogs

I surveyed Anchorage’s Oceanview Bluff Park for Alaska Audubon’s Birds ‘n’ Bogs program this morning. It was windy and a bit chilly at 45 degrees. Of the target birds, I saw both Tree and Violet-green Swallows fly overhead, and a single Greater Yellowlegs displayed in the distance. This is the “early early” survey of the site, with three more to follow in the next few weeks.

There were Mallards and Green-winged Teal, distant calling Sandhill Cranes, a fly-by Northern Harrier, singing Orange-crowned Warblers, White-crowned Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, as well as American Robins, Black-capped Chickadees, and Common Redpolls.

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Highlights for me we the usual displaying Wilson’s Snipe (at least three), the most noisy birds of today’s survey. One of them hurtled down and landed in the wetland right in front of me, sit still for awhile, and eventually started feeding and calling (see video).

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May 11 – Warblers and Much More – Ohio

I have just returned from just over 3 days at the Biggest Week in American Birding in northern Ohio, where I was part of a panel on women in birding, in particular those who have done big years across the U.S. and Canada (ABA big years). It was wonderful to talk and bird with new and old birder friends.

Strangely enough, very early in the meeting a highlight was a Snowy Owl that was still around after having gone south for the winter. When we saw it, it was sitting on a wood pile way across a field. I’ve now seen them in Wisconsin, Texas, South Dakota, Alaska, Minnesota and Ohio, plus Newfoundland (in this photo it looks sort of like a carved owl, but it was real).

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The other owl highlight was an Eastern Screech-Owl in the woods near the festival headquarters:

The woods that we birded were full of warblers, often easily visible in trees that were much less leafed out than is usual for this time of the year.


Following in no particular order are photos of some of the warblers seen while I was in Ohio:

Northern Waterthrush

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Yellow Warbler

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Common Yellowthroat

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Prothonotary Warbler

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Northern Parula

Bay-breasted Warbler

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Blue-winged Warbler

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Cerulean Warbler

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Black-and-White Warbler

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Black-throated Blue Warbler

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Tennessee Warbler

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Blackburnian Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

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Cape May Warbler

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Warbler-like Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were common:

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Also seen around the festival headquarters were Purple Martins, and Tree and Cliff Swallows:

The woods at Magee Marsh, while mainly birded for their warblers, also had a few American Woodcocks that created quite a stir when found, either sitting quietly or slowly feeding in the dry leaves. You’ll have to look very carefully to see the bird in the first of these pictures, but it is there. The video shows the bird feeding, which I have never before seen until this trip. I certainly did not realize that, like Wilson’s Snipe and Jack Snipe, when woodcocks feed they bounce slowly up and down.

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Other birds seen and photographed included Red-winged Blackbirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Great Egrets, Canada Geese already with goslings, Baltimore Orioles, and Black-billed Cuckoos.

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It was great to see birds of spring, especially the 24 warbler species that I saw, many of which bird species I saw as I was growing up in Wisconsin, and most of which do not make it to Alaska. Now back to seeing what’s around my Alaskan home.

May 5 – A Bit More of Anchorage Spring

I spent a couple of hours this morning briefly checking a few more Anchorage birding areas. I started at Spenard Crossing but not easily finding anything new, went over to Westchester Lagoon. There, new year-birds were a single Northern Shoveler and five Arctic Terns (at least) near to and on the closest island to the parking lot with Mew Gulls and Canada Geese.


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At the boat dock area on Ship Creek, there was a single Sandhill Crane grazing and three swans (presumably Trumpeter) far out on the mud. The latter flew off soon after I arrived but the crane stayed. Also there were five Green-winged Teal, Canada Geese, and miscellaneous gulls.

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I walked upstream a bit on the sidewalk, where many of the plants were budding out.

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There were three Common Mergansers in the stream, two of which engaged in a bit of X-rated activity.

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Nearby there was a noisy altercation among three Mew Gulls.

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The highlight for me, however, was a small bird that flew high into a sapling and stayed there. It surprised me to see that it was a Merlin (it had seemed much smaller).

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I won’t be able to bird for awhile in Anchorage (or Alaska) as I will be on my way to see Lower 48 spring warblers in Ohio and be on a panel of women birders at the Greatest Week in American Birding next week. It will be fun to immerse myself in birds, most of which I will not ever be able to see in Alaska.




May 4 – Lakes Are Open, Loon Is Back, Life Is Good

I began this morning birding along the roads on both sides of a very wind-swept Potter Marsh, now totally ice-free, where most of the activity was noisy Mew Gulls.


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On Old Seward Highway behind the marsh I found a young moose, and one of the Bald Eagles on the nest.


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At first I was going to quit birding because it seemed like there were no new birds around and the wind was so strong, but then decided to go over to Lakes Spenard and Hood, which had still been ice-covered the last time I looked. I was delighted to find that they were open, the only remnants of ice being a few small piles on the shore.


I was even more delighted to find that the (presumable the same) Red-throated Loon was back. It was not particularly friendly but did allow a few photos before swimming farther away.

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I drove to Floatplane Drive, where in addition to both Goldeneye species and new-for-the-year Greater Scaup, there was a dozing Red-necked Grebe, and a single feeding Red-necked Phalarope (photo). Maybe the phalaropes will nest there again this summer.

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Last year this lake area became one of my favorite spots to bird because of the quite tame loon and the phalarope family. I’m looking forward to a re-run of that this year.