October 20 – Fall/Nearly Winter in Anchorage

For the last week or so, my only birding has been to two trips to Potter Marsh, in our yard, and to various Anchorage lakes today on an Anchorage Audubon field trip.

Potter Marsh, still open since we have had few days even close to freezing, still hosts various ducks and about 20 Trumpeter Swans. Shown here are scenes (some leaves still on trees on October 11) and Common Mergansers and Trumpeter Swans.

At home, the yard is usually empty of birds except for the usually-present Steller’s Jays and Black-billed Magpies. The skies are now wintery, often cloudy but sometimes the sun does show.


The home birding highlight is that Mallards (up to 22 at a time, so far this fall) have started to drop into our yard once or twice a day to scavenge under the bird feeders and eat the little bit of cracked corn that I periodically strew in the grass and put in a dog dish. Often a magpie hops close to them, apparently trying to figure what they are finding to eat. This is more than two weeks earlier than they began to come last fall. If they behave as in the past couple of winters, they will become more and more regular and more and more numerous in our yard until the snow disappears in spring.

Today I joined about 12 other birders on the annual fall field trip, led by Andrew Fisher, sponsored by Anchorage Audubon to Anchorage lakes. It was a nice day, low 40s, but the chilly wind across the lakes made me realize how close we are to cold weather.


While there were plenty of ducks (both goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, Buffleheads, a few Canvasbacks, a few Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, scaup (mostly Greater), the clear highlight of the trip was two (!) Northern Goshawks, an adult and an immature, hunting the lakes. The latter almost got to keep the gull it caught and tried to take off the lake. The adult sat high in a large tree far across the lake after we saw it hunting.

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The immature (gull hunter) perched in a closer tree at another part of Westchester Lagoon at Spenard Crossing.

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At Spenard and Hood Lakes there were mainly Common Goldeneyes and two White-winged Scoters far across the lake. Instead of trying for pictures of them, I took some pictures of the recently whiter mountains.

I  finished the trip by taking a short video of a plane taking off. Soon the lakes will be frozen and they will need to put on skis on the plane.

October 9 -Drive on Arctic Valley Road (Anchorage)

It was a cloudy morning as Dave and I drove up and down Arctic Valley Road today. The mountains, as always were beautiful. They still had some yellow colors and some of the mountain tops had sprinkles of white “termination dust”. We stopped every now and then for photos. The sun did appear briefly a couple of times, changing the lighting on some of the mountains.

There were very few birds on the trip (about 14 miles round trip) – 2 Black-billed Magpies, four Black-capped Chickadees, one Boreal Chickadee, a small flock of Common Redpolls, a Common Raven, and a Northern Flicker, a bird I rarely see around here. The flicker flew past at one of our stops, briefly landed on a spruce top and was gone.

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October 3 – Falling, Fall – or Going, Going, Gone

It is that time, once again to realize that maybe the season of Fall has to do with falling leaves (if you live in a place with trees with leaves). This is clearly the case at Campbell Creek Estuary Natural Area (Anchorage) where I walked a couple of days ago (and where I fell off the trail (don’t ask) and skidded and ran down a steep hill and then fell, like the leaves, to the forest floor and rolled to a stop at the foot of a lovely birch tree; my body, though not visibly seriously damaged, still aches all over).


Yesterday I drove to Lakes Hood and Spenard, where the most evident birds were small flocks of Greater Scaup (no photo) and Common Goldeneyes, soon to be going, going, gone when the lakes freeze over, as will the single Red-necked Grebe that I saw (the dot to the left of the plane is also the grebe shown in the photo to the right of the plane photo).

For those not familiar with these two lakes and how ducks (and other birds) and planes coexist there until the freezing of the lakes causes the waterbirds to leave, I am including the following video – note the ducks flying by at the beginning of the video and the ducks on the water behind the plane at the end of the video, never leaving, just moving as necessary when the planes get too close:

While the “termination dust” (first snowfall) is not yet staying on the mountain tops that we can see from our house, soon when I look out my window I will not see yellows. They will be gone, replaced by white. Of course, it will still be beautiful.

September 27 – Anchorage Birding

We had all these beautiful sunny days recently (many temperature records broken in September due to much higher than usual temperatures), and I was lulled into thinking we’d have more of them – until this morning when a light rain started. Then I raced out to Potter Marsh to try to squeeze in some birding before the heavier rain. By the time I got there it was raining, so I birded by car along the road for a half hour. After seeing some Mallards, I saw two white lumps out in the water and at first was in horror at the thought that it was two dead swans.

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But, no they were alive, two adults, foraging underwater. Later there were four more adults and two young swans.

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I was glad I had driven along the marsh because when later when the rain essentially stopped and I went to walk along the boardwalk, I could not see the swans that I had seen when I drove along the south end of the marsh.

In addition to swans, there were a couple of dozen Mallards, a dozen American Wigeons and a few Northern Pintails (not photographed) seen in the marsh as I drove along the road.

Along the boardwalk I was surprised to see that there were still 14 Greater Yellowlegs and a single dowitcher around in addition to a few more Mallards, a Green-winged Teal and a Common Merganser.

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The biggest surprise, however, was the perched up bird along the boardwalk that turned out to be a Townsend’s Solitaire, my first for the year (admittedly most of the year my birding has been in Nome). As I was taking its picture, it dove down into the brushy saplings and I did not see it again.



September 26 – Nome Miscellany – from Roads to Rainbows (9/17-9/21)

…and things in between.

In my first post about this trip I showed scenes along the three main roads leading out of Nome, but very little of any of the three main roads themselves was shown. So, below are representative photos of what some of the roads looked like, some smooth, some littered with little or big depressions, some seen through raindrops on the window or disappearing into clouds ahead, none paved. Some of the most curved roads are not shown – I dared not stop to take pictures through the window or to get out.

Along the roads, in addition to trees and mountains and birds, sometimes there were mammals to be seen and photographed, which on this trip was limited to a few distant ground squirrels, reindeer and musk oxen:

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The next group of photos is of rainbows. While not much rain fell on me or my vehicle during this trip, there was often rain all around, and the sun was visible, resulting in rainbows, some very beautiful. These photos are of the most brilliant rainbow on the trip. It was fun to play around with camera settings in my attempt to maximize the colors that could be seen in the pictures as well as to show the scenery.

I was going to end with rainbows, but I’m going to throw in a few sunrises for good measure:

My next trip isn’t until the end of October, when I will certainly find that things have changed dramatically, both the scenery and the birds. I will be giving a talk there on November 1st about my Alaska big year of birding.



September 23 – Nome Birds 9/17-9/21

As expected bird numbers were down, way down from a few weeks ago. Most noticeable was the nearly complete lack of little birds – no warblers at all were seen, and only a few sparrows (American Tree and Fox) and a few small redpoll flocks. There were a few Northern Shrikes around, and on the last day I saw a few Snow Buntings. At Council there were a few Boreal and Black-capped Chickadees.

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Also nearly completely disappeared were loons. I found one Common Loon adult on Safety Sound struggling with and presumably trying to eat some sort of critter, one parent Red-throated Loon and a single chick on Kougarok Road, and a pair of Pacific Loons and their two youngsters in the Safety Sound area. When I returned to each of the areas later on my trip, the adult birds were gone, as was one of the Pacific Loon youngsters.

There were a couple Long-tailed Duck sightings.

There were increased numbers of a few duck species, American Wigeons being the most prevalent, as can be seen in some of the swan photos that I am posting. Other ducks that were around were Northern Pintails, Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, and Red-breasted Mergansers.

Common Eiders were in low numbers in the ponds, but perhaps there were more offshore.

There were also a few groups of Harlequin Ducks.


Most spectacular were the numbers of Tundra Swans when I first arrived (over 1000), followed by the apparent departure of most of them the next couple of days (down to about 300, then up to 750, and back down to about 75 (of course this is just counting what I could see; there could have been many, or none, beyond my range of view). I do not know if they come in waves, or if this big push was it for the fall. I need to read up on it, or just move to Nome and watch all of the time.

As before there were only a few raptors – a Gyrfalcon, a few Peregrine Falcons (two perched on same building at dusk, one of which flew off before I thought to get a picture of the building with them on it), and a handful of Rough-legged Hawks on both Teller and Kougarok Roads.

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Gulls, primarily Glaucous, were around in large numbers, working the major rivers and loafing on the shore areas. Also seen were a couple each of Glaucous-winged, Herring and Mew Gulls, and a Slaty-backed Gull.

The Nome-area Sandhill Cranes were all gone, but for a few glorious moments on Kougarok Road, there were hundreds calling and circling above me, slowly rising out of sight. No others were seen or heard on this trip.

Shorebirds were scarce, with only sightings a couple of times of small flocks of Dunlins, and one sighting of a small flock of small yellow-legged brown peeps (presumably Least Sandpipers but too far away to see well).

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On my last trip I had only seen a few ptarmigan, but on this trip there were a couple of families of Willow Ptarmigan and most that were on the road were reluctant to leave it.



September 23 – There’s Gold ON Them Thar Hills (9/17-9/21)

As expected, Nome landscapes on this trip were very different in appearance from Nome landscapes in August, and even different from Nome a couple of weeks before in early September. It seemed like the whole place glowed golden, even when there was mist all around or light rain. I was very lucky that except at the very end of the trip, there was only light rain, and not very much of that. As I came back to Nome however on my last day of the trip, there was the only heavy rain of the trip. I had been up in the hills near Council, where there was frost on some of the hills (photos below). Even then the golden hills and valleys, often interspersed with numerous patterns of reds and greens and browns, were still amazingly beautiful.


Following is a selection from the very, very many photos that I took of the scenery as I drove the three main roads that lead out of Nome:

Kougarok Road scenes:

A few closer views of the colorful vegetation along Kougarok Road:

Teller Road scenes:

And some closer views:

Council Road scenes:

Views of frosty plants on the morning of September 21:

Of course, I again need to post photos of fireweeds (one of my favorite plants). They long ago ceased blossoming and they no longer have brilliant red leaves, but the remaining touches of red on the leaves and the white fluffs are still striking:

My last set of photos shows scenes of what I saw when I looked away from the hills out to sea, the colors changing to blues instead of yellows. Whenever I was on my way somewhere and the ocean was in view, I usually stopped to take a photo:

I will soon post photos of birds, mostly big birds, as most of the little birds have already flown away to escape the coming winter, and also photos of some of the mammals seen on this trip.

What is called the first day of autumn in the Lower 48 is for all practical purposes the first day of winter here in much of Alaska. I’ll be back to Nome at least one more time this year, probably needing to wear my heavy parka and tall boots, as I see which birds are still around. Sometimes I do miss the warmer climes, but there is very little that I have seen elsewhere that can begin to rival the natural beauty in Alaska.


September 16 – Home, not Nome, on the (Moose) Range

I’ve had meetings and projects lately, so have mostly been around home in Anchorage. A few bird photos from our yard follow, of squabbling, eating Steller’s Jays and a Dark-eyed Junco on a seed feeder.

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The most exciting thing about our yard lately (until this morning) has been watching the fireweeds gradually turn a fiery red. The photos below were taken each day from Sept. 12-15, the first two days not being sunny, so the lighting also affects how red the leaves are. It is clear, however, that there is more red and less green in the leaves.


This morning’s excitement was invasion by the two neighborhood moose, mama and half-grown young, which munched on trees and sadly, on fireweed, in the back yard. We would never have noticed them in the middle of the night but our dog heard them and let out a curdling whine/bark at 3 a.m. I closed all the blinds and the windows that had been open so he couldn’t see or hear the moose and eventually he settled down and we went back to sleep. When we got up at 7 a.m., the moose were still there, visible in the half-light, munching some more before hopping the fence to browse on a neighbor’s bush.

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I went out on the front porch to get a few pictures as they munched a few minutes later.

The mother then wandered into the street, followed by the youngster. It turned out the youngster was interested in something to eat besides vegetation so there was a brief feeding interlude out in the street before they both wandered farther down the road.


Tomorrow I’m again heading off to Nome for a few days to see what it’s like at this time of year. I expect that most bird numbers will be way down, but hope that there will still be ducks and geese.


September 8 – Nome Birds and More (Aug. 26-Sept. 1)

Finally I’m getting around to posting more bird photos from my last trip to Nome. Although in Alaska most little birds have raised their babies and fled by now, the loons (Red-throated and Pacific) were still around Nome often with flightless young in tow.

Same thing with Common Eiders, some of which had very tiny young.

Same thing with the ptarmigans that I was able to see along Teller Road, but the young I saw could fly, and did.

The flocks of geese were gradually increasing – just a few Brant, but larger flocks of Cackling and White-fronted Geese were around.

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I did find a couple of my hoped-for Nome birds for this trip – Boreal Chickadees (3-4) in the spruce trees near the end of Council Road (near Gray/Canada Jays, new for the area on my last trip), and Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (with similar Pectoral Sandpipers) on Safety Sound.

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The main non-bird activity around Nome was musk oxen, all over the place, and not just in the places that I had found them earlier.

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September 5 – Nome Roads in Late August (Aug. 26-Sept. 1)

As far as I know the temperature had not yet dropped below freezing before I arrived in Nome on August 26th, but many areas were showing signs of colder weather. Fireweeds were mostly done blossoming but their red vegetation brightened up many vistas as I drove along.

Before I get to the pictures showing the beauty along the roads, in an attempt to tell a more complete story of my trip, I guess that I should mention a not-so-beautiful fact of Nome life in August. In many waterways, it often was not so beautiful in the water, and the surrounding air was filled the smell of rotting fish, presumably mostly salmon, that had spawned and died at the end of their long swim inland, so that their species might be replenished.


Most of the time, however, the air was crisp and clean, and the dead fish were easily ignored and forgotten. The following scenes are along Teller Road on August 27th, when the road periodically went through clouds and rain, followed by a few closer shots of fireweeds:

Scenes along Kougarok Road on August 28th follow. First is the picturesque often birdy old house that was even more picturesque with the red fireweed leaves, followed by scenes along the road, including fireweeds:


Scenes along Council Road on August 29th follow, including Safety Sound, the beautiful greenish yellow marsh vegetation near the Bonanza Bridge, and the spruce trees near Council, and of course a few more fireweed pictures:

A few times, I stopped the truck and got out to wander on the tundra, where the color that was beginning to appear was mostly limited to leaves and not flowers.

On my last day in Nome, September 1st, when I drove much of Kougarok Road again, I was delighted to see that a few fireweeds were still in full bloom. I’m sure that will not be the case when I return in a couple of weeks.