I spent Dec. 4-7 in Nome, where, as I expected, there were few bird species around. Unexpectedly, however, the Nome harbor area was full of gulls. This is apparently very unusual, and every time I tried to post my sightings on eBird, I was asked the same thing: was I really sure that I had seen this many gulls? The video below shows one pan of just one of the gull flocks, so you can get an idea of what fun it was to try to count them.
Gull species were mostly Glaucous, but there were also multiple Glaucous-winged and Herring, a Thayer’s or two and two Slaty-backed Gulls. Below are some pictures of scenery and birds (gull, Gyrfalcon (2 different birds, at least) and buntings, mostly McKay’s Buntings and a couple of Snow Buntings) taken during that trip.
My kind hosts, Remi & Igor, shared their home and wonderful meals with me.
Since I have been home, it has finally become winter, evidenced by yesterday’s 5-6 inches of snow and another inch or two since then. We now are a 2-snow-thrower family, the “his” version being shown below.
As is often the case in summer, highlights at these two lakes were loons. There was a Common Loon floating along and preening.
I saw a Red-throated Loon fly in on the north side of the lakes while I was on the south side. It was at one of its two “favorite” sites, along Floatplane Drive, when I got around to the north side. As last year, it was very tame. After I watched for a short period, it lowered its head and began to make its lonesome calls.
Raptors seen were a Bald Eagle and an Osprey (the latter photographed nearly over my head through the car windshield).
There were also at least two Red-necked Phalaropes bobbing in the bumpy waters on Lake Hood.
The yellowlegs there seemed to be only Lesser, as far as I could tell.
A single Spotted Sandpiper called from near one of the planes.
I also saw distant ducks (Greater Scaup and Barrow’s Goldeneyes) and photographed Northern Shovelers that were somewhat closer.
Tomorrow I have a few other things to do than bird, so I’ll need to refrain from birding all the time.
There have been mostly rainy days lately. Most of my birding has been in my backyard, where the usual juncos and siskins have predominated. I was able to see a first-for-our-yard Savannah Sparrow briefly in the area of our lawn that I am allowing to go wild, but it disappeared soon after.
The snow is gone from the nearby mountaintops where it made it look like winter was here, and today it actually got to near 70 degrees at our house. Maybe we will have more non-winter days for awhile.
On August 18th I went to Spenard Crossing to see if there were any interesting woodland birds around. A highlight was two Northern Waterthrushes.
I also photographed a distant Belted Kingfisher and a Glaucous-winged Gull eating a dead salmon.
Today I went to the Potter Marsh boardwalk. The water was very high, probably due both to the recent rains and it being near high tide. Although at first it looked like the sun would appear, for most of the time I was there the clouds were coming in.
Both the Wilson’s Snipe and the Greater Yellowlegs were having difficulty finding a place to stand in the deep water, but it was fine for the ducks, the Belted Kingfisher on a snag and the Yellow-rumped Warblers in the brush along the boardwalk.
I’ve not birded as much as usual lately due to rain and manuscript rewriting and other commitments. On Saturday (8/12) I did spend some time at Potter Marsh, where Great Yellowlegs were the predominant bird. There were also a number of Wilson’s Snipe flying around and sitting down next to the water every now and then.
Although they were not doing anything spectacular, I took a video of a few Green-winged Teal that were dabbling in the water.
Today I drove up Arctic Valley Road. Although it started out quite cloudy, by the time I got to the top there was some blue sky.
For the first couple of miles the number of bears equaled the number of birds (2 each), but eventually there was a small number of each of 17 species. Highlights along the road were a Varied Thrush hidden in a berry bush and a small flock of Gray Jays.
I walked up the trail at the end of the road for a while. There were about ten berry pickers up there. I munched a few blueberries too and got pictures of a Fox Sparrow, a Wilson’s Warbler, and a White-crowned Sparrow before heading back to my car.
I also spent some time photographing flowers and other vegetation along the path.
At home the Pine Siskins are becoming more numerous, with over 20 around much of the time now, eating at my numerous feeding areas. There are up to 10 Dark-eyed Juncos eating feed too, and of course always Steller’s Jays. Most of the jays are either scruffy-looking juveniles or scruffy-looking molting adults. At least three of the jays are becoming quite accustomed to eating out of my hand but they prefer to get peanuts out of the jar that we have fastened to the porch (note: all that stuff in the background of the jay video is in our neighbors’ yard, not ours).
The highlight this afternoon was Sandhill Cranes calling as they flew high over our house. I believe that I hadn’t had any for our Anchorage yard list before these.
Yesterday Yve and I and Peter Burke (from Colorado) finally saw and photographed the Pied Wheatear.
Today we did the strenuous climb for Bristle-thighed Curlew and eventually had two of them circling and calling allowing more great photo ops.
Because there is basically no wifi here I really can’t post photos. Maybe Sunday.
Yve Morrell and I are in Nome trying to get her some new birds for her big year and trying to get a Pied Wheatear for both of us, a seriously rare bird that neither of us has so far been able to see. But we keep trying. It has been great fun and good weather and great birds so far though. Best bird of the day – Bar-tailed Godwit.
Yesterday I birded with Carolyn Noble and Susan Roy before their scheduled birding trip to Nome. We visited some of my favorite spots, including Hood Lake, where the well-known and often-photographed Red-throated Loon came within a couple of feet of me. It is a very odd experience to be standing on shore and look down at a loon and then be splashed when the loon dives.
We also went to an area along the lake where there were five Spotted Sandpipers all displaying and calling (not all are shown in the picture), while a Savannah Sparrow steadfastly kept up his song.
We also went to Westchester Lagoon and the nearby coastal trail, where there were five Sandhill Cranes very near the trail.
Today I drove up Arctic Valley Road nearly becoming part of the Arctic Valley Run that I had not known was going to be there. There were five arctic hares spaced out along the road, a couple of which stayed on the road as I drove by.
I also was able to get my first-of-the-year photo of a distant Townsend’s Warbler and another of a perched up Fox Sparrow.
I did have time before the run was to occur to walk along the trail at the top of the road, where a few flowers were in bloom.
Back at Hood Lake, which is becoming nearly a daily destination for me, there were at least four Red-necked Phalaropes, one of which tamely swam right next to me on the shore and another one of which seemed to be keeping company with a Least Sandpiper.
I really enjoy just going out and birding wherever sounds like an interesting place to bird without worrying (very much) about whether any “new” birds will be around.
Yesterday, a gorgeous sunny day, I drove south of Anchorage to Girdwood and ultimately walked for a while along the Trail of Blue Ice that goes out of the Moose Flats Day Use Area on the Portage Highway. The photos (yes, they all are right-side-up) show scenes along the way including two Trumpeter Swans at the foot of an avalanche from last winter.
At the Girdwood gas station, a Northwestern Crow was sunning itself on the roof.
In the marshy area just south of Girdwood I pulled over to see what was around and immediately heard a Red-winged Blackbird. It appears to be a young male, and I may also have seen a female dart into the grasses.
There were also Cliff Swallows dipping down to the water and flying low around me.
On the Trail of Blue Ice, warblers were singing everywhere – Northern Waterthrush (photo) and Yellow-rumped, Orange-crowned, Wilson’s and Yellow Warblers as were both Varied, Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes. There also was a Rusty Blackbird off in the marsh.
On the way back I found a couple of singing Song Sparrows along the highway between the Portage Highway and Girdwood.
I drove over to Alyeska and walked the trail (Winner trail?) for a while. There I found the usual Pine Siskins and White-winged Crossbills, and both of my goal birds, Townsend’s Warblers and Golden-crowned Kinglets (photos).
Back in Anchorage I checked out Hood Lake and found that the Red-throated Loon was more cooperative than it had been recently. The Red-necked Phalaropes were also still there hidden in the vegetation at the edge of the water, and of course Red-necked Grebes were around.
Today I go birding in the Anchorage area with two birders from California.
I’m not sure what the Mallards are up to. I had thought a single pair was coming to our yard, but now I’m not so sure. A first pair was there for about 15 minutes last night when another pair tried to land. The first male took off from our yard, maybe to chase them away or maybe to join them, leaving the first female alone. After about 20 minutes another female arrived and the two females munched on the food mostly ignoring each other. Then the original female flew away after quacking loudly and looking around, and then after about 10 minutes the second-arriving female flew away. About half an hour later a pair arrived, and then quickly left, and after 15 minutes a single male arrived and left 3 minutes later. It occurred to me that one could write an adult novel about these ducks, weaving a tale around their intrigues, or maybe not.
Today I drove to Portage, about 50 miles south of Anchorage, birding on the way down and back. Potter marsh was full of Mew Gulls plus a handful of Arctic Terns.
At the Bird Creek campground I found a sparrow hotspot with both singing Lincoln’s and Fox Sparrows.
At Girdwood just after I pulled to the side of the road, five Greater White-fronted Geese arrived, but they were gone later when I came back past there. Among the 20 or so Canada Geese there were at least three very small Cackling Geese (not much different in body size from the nearby American Wigeon and Northern Pintails; too distant to photograph well). Nearby were a couple of Barrow’s Goldeneyes (one went down just before the photo).
At the Moose Flats area on the Trail of Blue Ice (although the first part of the trail was clear, there was still much snow on a later part of the trail) there were many singing Varied Thrushes, as well as a noisy Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a couple of calling Wilson’s Snipe (no photo), and singing Fox Sparrows (a couple of short videos included here so the beautiful song of the Fox Sparrow can be heard).
There are three reasons (at least) why things are ducky here.
First, it’s actual ducks. The huge flock of Mallards that had been coming to our yard had dwindled to a pair before we went to Texas. That pair was still around when we returned on Sunday, but yesterday, only a female arrived and then today we’ve only seen a male. Does that mean they are nesting somewhere and taking turns or are we just getting the unpaired birds now? In any case, it’s been fun to have them around because most of the wintering passerines are gone or greatly diminished in numbers in our yard. When the ducks are here they seem to make themselves at home, eating, drinking, resting, hanging out, sometimes for hours, and other times just for 15-20 minutes. The first picture shows the pair as seen from our porch.
Second, things are ducky because tonight I get to fly to Ketchikan, and tomorrow night will give a talk there on my Alaska big year. I gave a talk yesterday afternoon and another this morning in Anchorage to non-birding groups about it. I just can’t get enough of talking about bird-stuff.
Third, this morning I emailed my manuscript to Texas A&M University Press for my third book, which I’m currently calling “Big Years, Biggest States: Birding in Texas and Alaska”. I’ve really enjoyed writing it, but I’m glad it’s on to the review and revise stage and I can concentrate on figuring out which photos to use and can do some more bird painting.