October 31 – Merganser, Mallards and More

As expected days are getting shorter and darker, but there still is much of beauty to see.


Since the Mallards reappeared in our yard on the 28th, they have been back each day at random times, anywhere from a single duck just hanging out awhile to 15 of them, sometimes just wandering around for a few hours. Most of them are very tame, undoubtedly spending much of their time at the local parks where they are used to being fed by people bringing bags of bread.

Although Canada Geese have not ever landed in our yard, they do fly over periodically. All over Anchorage flocks of geese have been gathering before migration. On Sunday, some of them even visited our church yard.

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Pine Grosbeaks have also been around each day, anywhere from one to eight at a time. There is much color variation, with obvious males sporting bright rosy-red to paler splotchy reds, and the others having golden-brown, greenish-yellow or orange color highlights.

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Yesterday I spent about an hour at Potter Marsh – on the boardwalk, driving the highway along the marsh, and driving the old highway behind the marsh. Yellow leaves were no longer visible on any of the surrounding trees.

Over the marsh, the sky was lovely, with many “fish-bone” clouds (not a technical term I’m sure, but seemingly appropriate to an area where recently there were many dead salmon lying in the water).

Highlights at the marsh were three Rusty Blackbirds that flew to a treetop and stayed about a minute before disappearing.

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The only ducks visible from the boardwalk were three Mallards and a single young Common Merganser that was busy bathing and diving enthusiastically. There were a few other Mallards seen from the road, but no swans or other ducks out there.

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There were a couple of Common Ravens around, one of which was periodically plummeting downward (the picture really is of a raven).

The only non-human mammal species I saw was muskrat, at least five of them swimming around near the boardwalk.

Although I had only seen one Bald Eagle briefly while I was on the boardwalk, behind the marsh I was able to see both Bald Eagles through an opening in the trees.

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October 28 – Winter Yard Birds

While it was still quite dark this morning (8:53 a.m.; temperature just under freezing), I glanced out into the back yard and thought there seemed to be something dark in the feed dish on the grass where I periodically put cracked corn. My binoculars revealed a Mallard eating corn, and then I saw that there were more, 8 more to be exact, out in the grass. They had been gone since early summer when ducks were nesting, food was plentiful elsewhere and water was unfrozen. The young ones can now fly, lakes are freezing and the ducks are looking for food sources. The first I ever had them in the yard was midwinter earlier this year when the snowbanks were high. It may be a mixed blessing that they have re-discovered the yard so early in the winter, because they will probably bring their hungry friends as it gets colder. Note: the white circle on the ground in the picture below is frozen ice that I removed from a water dish a couple of days ago when the temperature was in the high 40s, which is unlikely to occur again until April or later I expect.

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The Pine Grosbeaks that returned recently are still around periodically most days. Yesterday morning there were six (3 females, 3 males), and yesterday afternoon there were four females and one male. This morning there was a pair.

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There are fewer woodpeckers around now than in the summer, but today there was a Hairy Woodpecker and two Downy Woodpeckers. I managed to catch one of each in a couple of photos.

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Not all birds returning to my yard for the winter are deemed equally welcome. After the Mallards had departed (about 9:25), I was looking around and saw that two of the many starlings that were around in great numbers before summer were back. They snarf up everything and seem to be impossible to discourage.

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October 25 – Amazingly Warm

It’s 46 degrees and it’s not yet the “heat of the day”!

Yesterday was just above freezing and that seemed warm enough, considering it’s Alaska. The “sunrise’ was beautiful but nothing like it was a couple of days ago.


There were four Pine Grosbeaks in our yard yesterday, first two males and later two females.

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In the above photos where the ground can be seen, one can see that yesterday the snow mostly remained. Now (10:30 a.m.) it looks like this:


Rain, daily rain, is forecast, I understand. The ground is now frozen so driving and walking may be grim soon. And then, more snow will surely come to cover the ground again – for many, many months no doubt. Sometimes it’s rather nice to NOT be doing a big year. There’s no need to get out there to chase a bird or to hunt for new birds for the year. I can just look out into the yard and see what there is to be seen.

October 24 – Bohemian Waxwings Are Back

Yesterday afternoon I went out to street in front of our house to see if we had any mail, and I heard the wonderful high-pitched trills of Bohemian Waxwings. I looked back over our house toward the sound and saw the flock perched high in a birch tree in the back yard. I raced inside, grabbed the camera and was able to get a few pictures before they flew off. They returned later for another short visit. They are one of my favorite Alaskan bird species but I never see them in Anchorage except in winter and early spring as they wander around the city looking for berries.

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October 23 – Here Come the Sun

Sort of…



The photos were taken out our living room window from 8:53 to 9:15 this morning, mostly to the east and east-south-east. The sky was spectacular as the sun tried to appear over, under, around the clouds. But by 9:45, the sky was pale gray to pale blue with just a few bright highlights at the tops of the clouds. A winter morning, quite mild, at 24 degrees.
























October 22 – Snow!

Yesterday was a noteworthy day! When I left the house in the morning to go to a 4-plus hour handbell workshop, there was a bit of show on the road pavement.  It was the first snow of the season below the mountaintops. When I left the wonderful note-full workshop after 1 p.m. , it was snowing quite heavily. The snow continued until past dark. The snow now covers most everything, and is something over an inch deep. I shoveled our driveway this morning in the dark so my meteorologist husband could go to work without packing down the snow in the driveway. The blue picture below was taken this morning in the predawn and shows my tracks where I had gone out to put birdseed out. Winter is truly here.


Bird-wise, I haven’t done anything but yard-birding. There were Pine Grosbeaks here each day from October 16-19, sometimes with American Robins, but if they have been around since then, I was too busy or gone and did not see them.

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On the 19th, there were two Common Redpolls high in one of our birch trees, the first in our yard since the masses of them left in the spring. I have seen them around in the woods but not here.

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Our Steller’s Jays are regularly around. Yesterday four of them were eating peanuts as the snow fell all around.

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October 18 – Engrossed in Pine Grosbeaks

As I posted yesterday on Facebook, our first two Pine Grosbeaks of the fall were at our feeders the evening of October 16th. Yesterday, a day that began at 19 degrees in our yard, there were more – one female and three males at one time, and at other times there were 1-2 males, possibly the same ones. Some winters we have very few, but a couple of winters ago we had up to 15 Pine Grosbeaks regularly coming to our feeders. I hope very much that this is another such winter, but we shall see. They are just so beautiful, with such distinctive warbley-whistle calls and songs, and they definitely brighten up a cold, mostly dark winter day!

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October 16 – Hint of Winter, Potter Marsh

This morning our thermometer showed it to be 20 degrees at our house. As has been the case for the last few days, the skies were mostly clear and there was a thin layer of frost on everything. Out at Potter Marsh, the water was starting to freeze over (see line across water below).


From the boardwalk, I could see small group of dozing Green-winged Teal and a Mallard in one of the open water areas, and Common Ravens and Black-billed Magpies flying by.

There were still some yellow leaves on the trees between me and the snow-capped mountains, but nearby there were few leaves on the trees.

When I drove the road along the marsh, I found that there were still two Trumpeter Swans there, a sleeping white adult and a gray-brown non-adult swimming slowly nearby. The young one called a few times, confirming the identification, but the adult never lifted its head from under its wing.

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There also were over 60 Mallards and a few American Wigeon spread out in the open areas.

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Finally, I drove the Old Seward Highway behind the marsh, where the only birds I found were two Black-capped Chickadees and a perched Bald Eagle.

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October 14 – Anchorage Audubon Field Trip

This morning we woke up in Anchorage to the first below-30 degrees weather for the fall. At our house it was 27 degrees and the weather was crisp, and there were scary areas of black ice on the roads for a few hours.

At 8:30 about 15 of us joined Andrew Fisher on a field trip to a number of Anchorage watering holes (for birds, of course). We met just north of Cuddy Pond and walked over there to see what was around. Waterfowl included about 75 Canada Geese, about 50 Mallards, a Common Merganser and about three American Wigeons.

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At Spenard Crossing were more Mallards (of course), Gadwalls, Greater Scaup, Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes (and possibly a Barrow’s), and Northern Shovelers, plus a few gulls (Glaucous-winged type plus Mew). In the woods there were Red-breasted Nuthatches, Black-capped Chickadees, a Downy Woodpecker and a Brown Creeper. Similar waterfowl were at Westchester Lagoon.

Our final stops were along Lakes Spenard and Hood. In addition to the usual lake ducks, highlights there were a Long-tailed Duck and a Northern Shrike.

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It was a great trip, but unfortunately we ran out of time before we could check out other lakes and creeks. I guess I’ll have to go back soon to see what’s around at the other places before things start freezing over.


October 13 – Typical Anchorage Fall

A couple of days ago I went to a few of my favorite Anchorage sites to see if there were any remaining migrants. Almost all of the deciduous trees were bare of their leaves, and for much of the time gray clouds obscured many mountain tops – it is fall.

Most bird species were quite low in numbers, but there were some birds around. At Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area, there were just one or a couple of each species: Mallards (probably more in the distant mudflats that I could not see), Red-breasted Nuthatch, Boreal and Black-capped Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, and Glaucous-winged Gull. There were, however, many (estimate 300) Canada Geese on the flats and flying around and honking noisily.

At Jewel Lake and at Lakes Hood and Spenard were a number of duck species: Common Merganser, Common (many) and Barrow’s Goldeneye (few), Bufflehead (seven at the airport lakes), and Mallard (just a few).

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I headed downtown, planning to quit birding for the day, but as I drove north on Minnesota Drive, I saw that there were swans at Spenard Crossing. I rarely can resist swans, so on my way back south, I stopped to look at them, as well as the few gulls (Mew, Glaucous-winged), Gadwalls, a few gulls, Buffleheads, and Common Mergansers and Goldeneyes at the lake, and the usual begging Mallards in the parking lot as well as others on the lake.

Since then, my begging Steller’s Jays have kept me amused out the back door, and out our front door, the snow on the mountains has been steadily increasing. It may still be fall for a while on the calendar, but real winter is not far away.

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