November 30 – Yard Birding Between Trips

I just did yard birding today to give me time to do chores, unpacking, laundry, and repacking for tomorrow’s trip to Nome. Today’s temperature started out below zero but slowly made it to 10 or so as I recall. Although there were not many birds in the yard, the ones that came were eating up a storm. The Steller’s Jays emptied the peanut jar a couple of times.



The Pine Grosbeaks visited the porch, the seed on the ground and the seed in the feeders.


The Black-billed Magpies seemed particularly hungry hopping on the porch and on the ground for seeds that fell or were thrown there, visiting the mealworm feeder, and trying to get seeds from the covered little feeder where they really are too big to fit.


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306 species so far


November 28-29 – Bunting Hunting


I am back from a 2-day trip to the far west of Alaska. On Monday (Nov. 28), Laura Keene and I flew from Anchorage to Gambell with a 3-plus hour stop in Nome. In Nome, we hired a cab and went looking for McKay’s Buntings. We checked out an in-town spot, added seed to the place where these buntings have been seen in past years, and waited. Nothing. We then went to Round the Clock Road, another place for them, and soon saw a flock of about 30 buntings, may of which were very white – MCKAY’S BUNTINGS! They did not stay around for photos, however, so we spent time driving around, trying to figure out where they had gone. Just before it was time to get on our plane to Nome, we found one female bunting and then two more joined it on Round the Clock Road north of town. Our photos show at least one of these last three birds was light enough to be a McKay’s, but it is possible there was/were 1-2 darker Snow Bunting females too. Since I am scheduled to go back to Nome tomorrow, I hope to get better views and photos of males then.



So, we arrived in Gambell just before 4 pm, when it was already past sunset and into twilight. After hurriedly putting our belongings in the lodge, we walked fast out to look for our goal bird. Clarence Irrigoo, who had originally found it and Brad Benter, who had come on our same flight, were out at the site, and as we arrived, we too saw the PINE BUNTING, a VERY RARE bird for the continent! Until it got dark we followed it around as it mostly hopped on the ground, ate wild seeds, and did short flights. Clarence had put out seed in the area, which it visited at least once. The only other birds seen were Common Ravens and gulls (seemed to be mostly/all Glaucous Gulls).





The next morning at about 10:30 am, before dawn, we were back out there and so was the Pine Bunting, and a few more birders who had come in on an early morning flight.





Other birds seen included thousands of very distant eiders (believed to be mostly Spectacled), Long-tailed Ducks, Black Guillemots, Glaucous Gulls, a couple of Crested Auklets, and Common Ravens.



It was a beautiful day, about 20 degrees, with periodic snow showers. Because the sun was so low, whenever we could see the sun, it seemed like it was about to set.





THANK YOU CLARENCE for a spectacular bird find and for letting us all know about it!

306 species so far

November 27 – Yard Bird Reprise Plus

I saw ten species of birds in our yard this afternoon. The usuals were: Black-capped (2) and Boreal (1) Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches (2), Black-billed Magpies (2), flyover Common Ravens (2) (no photo), Steller’s Jays (3), Pine Grosbeaks (10) and Common Redpolls (25).









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I was delighted to add two species that were new for the season to our yard: American Robins (8) in the backyard trees for awhile (photos even fuzzier than the above redpoll picture), and Bohemian Waxwings (45) flying over and briefly landing in our backyard trees and then flying past our neighbors’ spruce trees.


Tomorrow I leave Anchorage to bird, and am not sure whether I’ll have wifi access, so may not do a post for a day or two.

304 species so far

November 26 – Anchorage, Ship Creek

After watching my yard birds such as the Hairy Woodpecker, and continuing my photo sorting from earlier this year to begin to prepare for next year’s talks on Alaska birding, I took a trip to Ship Creek north of downtown Anchorage.

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I first checked out the area where the creek drains into the inlet, but the only bird that I saw there was a raven (not photographed).


I then went up toward the bridge area where a Bald Eagle was watching over everything.

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After photographing the eagle, I wandered upstream a bit and immediately spotted first one and then two Killdeers, which I know had been previously reported.

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It was also no surprise to see a couple of Mallards.


It was a surprise, however, to see a Wilson’s Snipe probing the icy mud along the icy bank. I’m not sure I’ve seen a snipe in the northern winter before.

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The final bird of my trip was an American Dipper, which was actively diving and swimming around in the icy water. Brrrr.

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My future birding plans are up in the air – I’m being drawn in at least two directions, and decisions must be made soon.

304 species so far



November 25 – Anchorage

Today in addition to watching my feeders, I checked out Spenard Crossing and the neighborhoods around Airport Heights. My feeders were visited by five Steller’s Jays all at once, four of which are shown below (our neighbor’s yard is in the background). Although there were more than 30 Common Redpolls flying around and over the yard and visiting the birch trees, only a few came down to the feeders while I was watching.



At Spenard Crossing, most of the creek and lagoon were frozen over and the bird numbers were way down. I only saw a couple of Common Ravens, a single Black-billed Magpie, six Black-capped Chickadees and fewer than the usual number of Mallards, which were either crowded into the small remaining open water areas or sitting on the snow, waiting for handouts near and in the parking lot.





The same bird species were in the Airport Heights area plus there were also a couple of Boreal Chickadees and Common Redpolls. One of the Common Ravens was the only bird that sat still long enough for me to photograph it.

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304 species so far

November 24 – Anchorage Robins and Redpolls and Waxwings

I was going to call this post “The redpolls are coming, the redpolls are coming”, because today a large flock of them arrived in our yard and just stayed around much of the afternoon. As far as I could tell none of them were Hoary Redpolls.

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Earlier in the day, when the temperature was still at 2 degrees (it got to about 11 degrees at our house today), I headed over to the Turnagain neighborhood where a flock of American Robins was seen yesterday. They were still in the same area, usually high up in trees and often silhouetted or lurking under spruce trees. Also flitting about were Bohemian Waxwings, European Starlings, a few White-winged Crossbills and a Black-billed Magpie. Some of the waxwings were working a rooftop, apparently eating the frost, as were a couple of the redpolls in our yard this afternoon.





In our yard, in addition to a couple of Steller’s Jays, eight Pine Grosbeaks, a Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black-capped Chickadees, a Hairy Woodpecker came to the peanut butter log on our porch, the second time I had seen one there.


304 species so far

November 23 – Colder Yet in Anchorage

This morning the temperature hovered around 4-5 degrees (F), finally getting up to 19 degrees by mid-afternoon. Although I did have to leave the house for non-birding things, I didn’t do any birding except in our back yard. It was very busy in the yard, with Pine Grosbeaks being the most evident. Usually there was at least on at one of the feeders and every now and then there were 7-8 in the yard.


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Of course, the Steller’s Jays made their usual regular trips to pick up peanuts, sometimes from my hand, and then leave with their beaks full, probably mostly hiding the nuts and not eating them. They seemed to be particularly puffed up to stay warm, especially Beaky.  Other birds in the yard were Black-billed Magpies, Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees, a Red-breasted Nuthatch and a single Dark-eyed Junco (first that I’ve seen in the yard since summertime), and Common Ravens as usual periodically flew over the yard.




304 species so far

November 22 – Palmer Birding

I visited the Palmer area today, including the Matanuska Townsite Road. and Matanuska Lakes area. There were only three birds at the Townsite Road: Black-capped Chickadee (heard), perched Black-billed Magpie and perched Bald Eagle right next to the road, quite close to the tiny area where there was open water.






The Matanuska Lakes had scattered Black-capped Chickadees, a few Pine Grosbeaks, and a perched immature Bald Eagle. Then, all of a sudden in a brushy yard with a mountain ash laden with berries, there were birds everywhere – Pine Grosbeaks, Bohemian Waxwings, a Hairy Woodpecker and an American Robin. I tried for awhile unsuccessfully to get a picture of a Bohemian Waxwing that was not lurking behind branches so I’m just posting the best I could manage.






When I got home from my trip to Palmer and pulled in the driveway, I could see a shrike-shaped bird over our garage in the back yard, a bird rarely (or maybe never before) seen in our yard. Also in the yard was a flock of Common Redpolls in the same tree as the shrike and the largest flock of Pine Grosbeaks so far for the season – 11 female-plumaged birds, all on various feeders in our yard.

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304 species so far


November 21 – Wild Egret Chase

Yes, I did try for the Great Egret that was found in Larsen Bay (Kodiak Island), but it appears to be gone, not having been seen since Friday, or perhaps Saturday. Still, I did try and I’m glad I had the adventure of my last-minute trip, flying from Anchorage to Kodiak very early this morning and then after some delays due I guess to too many hunters wanting to go where I was going, eventually a half-hour flight on an Island Air tiny plane to Larsen Bay. While I waited to fly with three other passengers to Larsen Bay I looked at a Song Sparrow out the window in the rain, stared at the stuffed Kodiak brown bear and did a jigsaw puzzle that someone had started on the table in the waiting area.


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It rained all day at Larsen Bay, but I had all my rain gear and wandered the coastal and marsh areas where it had been seen for just under 5 hours. I then took another little plane (2 passengers on this, including Olaf Danielson) back to Kodiak and a big plane back to Anchorage.




Birds seen and photographed included a large shorebird flock (Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, Rock Sandpipers, with Northwestern Crow), Barrow’s Goldeneyes and Harlequin Ducks, American Dipper, and Song and Golden-crowned Sparrows. There were also, of course, Bald Eagles, Glaucous-winged Gulls (I believe), Common Ravens, Black-billed Magpies and Pacific Wrens.








I also photographed the areas where the Great Egret HAD been seen, but no egret appeared.



304 species so far



November 20 – Crispy Cold Anchorage

It seemed even colder than the 22 that the thermometer showed this afternoon, at least under cloudy skies at Spenard Crossing.


Other than the Mallards huddled together on and near the open water, the American Robins were the most numerous birds around. There were a few Black-billed Magpies, as well as Black-capped Chickadees, Common Ravens and two Bald Eagles flying around with the ravens. It seemed pretty birdy for a cold afternoon.




304 species so far