alaskabirder

It's a Great Day to Bird

Grand Canyon

Jack and I decided to go to the Grand Canyon for the day.  I think several thousand other people had the same idea.  The Grand Canyon typically gets over 5 million visitors a year!  We left Sedona around 7:00 a.m., and arrived at the Grand Canyon around 9:30 a.m..   We parked near Mather Point and proceeded to walk 2.5 miles along the scenic Rim Trail to Bright Angel, then back.  When we first started out I would say about 75% or more of the people wore masks (even though we were outdoors, when on the narrow paths you often walk within six feet of people especially once the trails got busy).  However on the return trip back to Mather Point I would estimate that it was the reverse – only about 25% of the people wore masks.  My biggest frustration were those groups of two couples, without masks, who decide to take up the entire trail.  What arrogance and conceit, regardless of Covid.  If we didn’t have Covid,  I would have stopped in the trail to make them walk around me.  And surprisingly many of the people without masks were older people more susceptible to Covid.  I don’t care if you don’t have any regards for your own health and safety, but come on and be considerate of those around you.  Like I said, selfish individuals.  Masks don’t make you weak, but not wearing one does.   I noticed that most of the license plates were out-of-state.

Despite the inconsiderate people, the views, as always, were stunning.  The day started out sunny, but the clouds and wind came in around mid-day, keeping the temperatures comfortable.  There were a lot of birds out, and I was surprised that we were able to see 18 different species – with such high elevations and lots of people about.   We kept a close look out for the California Condor, and at one point I thought I had spotted a condor on a cliff face, but it turned out just to the a shadow (a candor shaped shadow no less).   So unfortunately we left Condorless.  We have seen them here before, and in fact once we had them flying overhead and we could see, without binoculars, their wing tag numbers.

Nuthatches were everywhere and we got to see all three nuthatches (Red-breasted, White-breasted, and Pygmy), along with four different woodpeckers (Williamson’s Sapsucker, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, and Red-naped Sapsucker).  Lewis’s Woodpecker is also found here, but unfortunately we didn’t see one, although I would have loved that more than the condor actually.   We were rewarded with several mixed flocks that kept us busy watching birds as others were watching the scenery.  Ah you’ve seen one rock, you’ve seen them all right?  Ha ha, except for the Grand Canyon…

Despite my bewildered frustration with maskless idiots, it was nice to be outdoors enjoying the magnificent scenery and the great birds.

When you see the Grand Canyon, in all its glory, you can understand why it is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World

There is never a “Bad” view

Western Bluebirds were abundant here

Miles and miles of canyon

A White-breasted Nuthatch taking advantage of the snow on the ground – life saving water

Here dipping its beak to get at the water pooled underneath the snow

It only took 6 million years to create this natural wonder

The trees are gnarly

Plenty of vista points along the Rim Trail

Jack, with his mask on, checking out the birds or the scenery. Moxie patiently waiting. She is such a good dog.

Beauty abounds

I’m surprised there is no one on the rock on the left. People will climb out to precarious locations. Not me. I stay well back.

Northern Flicker

Williamson’s Sapsucker. Wow, two in one month. I’m surprised.

Mountain Chickadee with his “eye” mask

The canyon is deep & HOT (especially at the bottom during the summer)

Pygmy Nuthatch. These were busy, busy birds. Always on the move. They would come fairly close to humans. More so than other birds. Cute buggers.

Clouds coming in, which mutes the amazing shapes and colors

And the canyon is  – wide.  Feel adventurous?  Do the rim to rim hike, but allow plenty of time (we are speaking days)

And hiking to the Colorado River and into the canyon is available

White-breasted Nuthatch – we saw a fair number of these birds

A nice place to stop and contemplate Nature

I wonder what it was like to discover this beautiful area. I’m sure not much has changed since then – except for development.

Deep canyons in the deep canyon. They don’t call it Grand for nothing.

Millions and millions of years old – rock layers

And you can see for miles

I wonder which woodpecker created this hole?

Okay, this is what I thought might be a California Condor – black in the middle of the photo. It looked like a bird had done a face plant on the rock with its wings spread. But, alas just a shadow.

Jack and Moxie on the trial

Bird on everyone, bird on … Happy Turkey Day … and remember …

IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

November 1

We decided to get away from the election rat race (okay not totally) for some camping and birding .  We left Sedona in the early morning (for Jack anyway) – 7:45 a.m.  I had been up since 5:00 a.m.  getting the last minute items into the van for the trip.

Our first stop was Catalina State Park near Tucson Arizona.  When we made reservations the Tuesday prior to our trip, the campsite spaces on either side of us and across from us weren’t taken.  I chose spot A-44 and once we arrived I realize it isn’t quite like the photo on the state park website.  Very misleading.  The photo on the website looks like there is some shade.  The only real shade we got was from our van.  We were so happy to have that shade as it got up to around 88 degrees F  both days.  Wind was in the forecast and we had it on most of the drive, but not at the campground where we desperately needed it.  This is a very popular campground (those three vacant sites were filled when we arrived) and often it is difficult to get a site without a reservation.   We plan to return in January and when we made reservations back in mid August all sites for February were full and we could only find one site that had two consecutive sites in January.  I think people like it because you feel away from everything (adjacent to a National Forest) but just outside the park is a big mall – Walmart, Best Buy, movie theaters, and more.

We sat behind the van in the shade and read until late afternoon as it was too hot to walk until then.   As we were sitting at our campsite, a neighboring camper called out a Greater Roadrunner.  Sure enough the Roadrunnner was hoping from campsite to campsite.  Crazy bird.  Then about a half an hour later, a Cooper’s Hawk came flying through and landed in a nearby tree where the Roadrunner was earlier.

Around 4:00 PM we did walk the trail from the campground to the main trailhead parking lot.  We only totaled 9 different bird species.  Not good.  We did have a Pyrrhuloxia.  Jack and I call it the pyrex bird.  Easier for us to say and we know what we are talking about.  We also saw another Roadrunner.  Yay!!!  Some nice birds, but a lot fewer than two years ago when we were here last (December 31 (2018)/January 1,2019) and it snowed.

We haven’t been at this campground in November before so I’m not sure what the bird life is like this time of year.  All I can say is that it is slow – not many birds.  Maybe its the heat, lack of food, lack of water.  I don’t know and I don’t like it.  Our bird life is in peril from so many fronts:  habitat loss, climate, window strikes, CATS, wind power, cell phone towers, and the list goes on.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

Tail and crest up

Copper’s Hawk

The “Catalinas” – nice view from one’s campsite

That is a lot of arms … and one old Saguaro cactus

Lots of Mesquite Trees

I like this barrel cactus. It’s almost like it has the shivers

Memorial to someone’s pet

Despite all the trees, there isn’t much shade on the trails

Okay … looks like someone doesn’t like this person (William Barr???). Photo is in behind some animals scat.  We saw this on the trail.

Moxie panting in the shade

Beautiful clouds with the sun coming through – better in person

Sunset

November 2

Despite having been in the high 80s yesterday, it was quite cool in the morning, but pleasant.  The clouds help.  The pleasant temperatures lasted until about 9:00 a.m. when it felt like someone turned the heat up high as the sun broke through the clouds  We were out on the “Birding Trail” at Catalina State Park when the heat increased.  We walked to this trail from the campground, so all told we walked a little over 6 kilometers (3.6 miles) roundtrip.  And when the temperatures increased quickly we were half way through our hike.

Once we got back to the campground off the the store we went to go buy ice for our cheap cooler.  In this heat, the ice doesn’t last long.  We have our new Dometic refrigerator for the van, but right now it can only be powered by a small battery we have in the car.  This battery charges when we operate the van so sitting in the campground for several days does not charge the battery.  I think having the battery available for our fans is more important than to keep food cool.  We can buy ice daily if necessary.   I didn’t bring down our electric fan so couldn’t take advantage of the electricity available at the site.  And our refrigerator cannot be connected to a 120 V outlet.  The goal is to buy a battery that will power the refrigerator and other items for several days before needing to recharged.  We are looking at a Goal Zero Yeti 1500x.  Expensive, but with the camping we do we need power.

We saw a lot more birds this morning than we did last night.  In total, we’ve had 25 different species at the park, of which 6 are FOYs – first of year.  None are life birds.  Tomorrow we venture over to Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, Arizona to look for the Eared Quetzal.  Fingers crossed.   I haven’t decided whether to bird along the way or just make a beeline for the canyon.  We’ve been there before and  love the area.  Generally we visit there during the winter months and freeze.  I wouldn’t mind some cooler weather, however.   It’s so nice to get outdoors, camping and birding again.

While we were eating lunch, Jack saw a Greater Roadrunner in the campsite across from us.  We lost track of it, but then I saw it under our picnic table.  This is one brave bird.  They are so fun to watch as they run, stop, lift their tales and their crest feathers, and look around.  Then off they go again, some times very short distances, other times much longer, and then repeat the process all over again.

I love Indian food and there was a place nearby – Flavor of India – so we got take out.  While the food was plentiful, the flavor was lacking.  At least with my dish.  I would not recommend this restaurant.

Sunrise

The trail from the campground to the main trailhead parking lot

Canyon Towhee

Beautiful Mosaic – Friends of Catalina State Park. Near the trailhead.

A portion of the Birding Trail burned recently, however, the mesquite looked very healthy. Maybe with its long taproot  there is less competition for limited water resources???

Rufous-winged Sparrow

I suspect water (lack of) causes the cactus to grow like this???  Or maybe the fire???

The Saguaro cactus burned except for the very top. It is still green.

This one definitely burned in the fire

November 3

Today was a driving day.  Luckily we had to travel near Ina Road, where a Northern Jacana (rare bird in the U.S.) has been seen, to get to our final destination of the day – Cave Creek Canyon near Portal, Arizona.  We did see the Jacana!  It was feeding on some vegetation near a bend in the Santa Cruz River (not much of a river – so dry here).  I didn’t have my camera with me so no photo.  I did walk back to the car (some distance away) to get my camera, but when I got back the bird was a no-show.  Two birders said the bird flew closer to the bridge, but I couldn’t find the bird.  It must have walked into the reeds.  Oh well.  This is not a life bird for me.  We had seen the bird before in the U.S. when it made a brief appearance in Texas one year when we were driving through.  Still these are great birds and so worth the short detour to see.

We continued on to Cave Creek Canyon.  We love this area, but haven’t been here during November so not quite sure what to expect – both in terms of weather (pleasant) and people camping at the Sunny Flat Campground.  There are only  about 13 camping spots, and only half were full when we arrived.   They are first come-first serve – so no reservations.  You take your chances when coming because it is a popular campground.  The cost is $20 per night and they have restrooms and water available.

We were here last in early 2019.   Then with the old geezer pass it only cost $5.00 a night to camp (50% off).  The price has doubled (now $10 per night – old geezer pass), but still very reasonable.  We picked site #2 because it is heavily treed and we wanted to make sure we had some shade.  We’ve had this site before during a winter visit and we had snow.  In the winter, the sunny, open campsites are preferable.

On the way to Portal, we make a quick stop at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area near Sierra Vista. This is a favorite place to bird.  You drive past the area on your way to Portal via historic Bisbee and Douglas, Arizona.  There is a large old tree outside the visitor center where there is usually a Western Screech Owl.  The owl was a no show this visit.  We did walk to the river.  Hot, with no water in sight so we gave up birding the greenbelt .  Again, a very dry year.  Of course we did get here around noon.  Despite the heat I was surprised at the number of cars in the parking lot.

On the bridge  to check out the Northern Jacana I spotted this dead bat

This is the bridge from which you search for the Northern Jacana.  Luckily there is a pedestrian walkway.

San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area – Lincoln’s Sparrow at a feeder

Canyon Towhee

White-winged Dove

Pyrrhuloxia – or the pyrex bird as Jack and I call it

Trail leading from the parking lot to the riparian area

There are several big trees near the parking area/visitor center – the Woodpeckers and Flickers love these trees.  So do I when it’s hot outside.

Once we got settled at Sunny Flats campground I walked up the road (FS42) in search of the Eared Quetzal that has been here for about the last five weeks or so (at least that is what we told).  I didn’t see the bird on my walk as I didn’t walk far enough.  On eBird, the sightings mention a bridge.  I never saw the bridge so when I got back to the campground I got in the van with Moxie (Jack stayed back) and went in search of the bridge.  I drove to the bridge and saw several cars parked along the road with people standing in the road with their binoculars looking up at a tree.  I got out of the van, quieted Moxie, and looked up into the tree.  There was the bird!  Unfortunately it had its back to me.  I saw it for about 5 minutes before it took off.  Most e-Bird sighting of the bird were between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m., so I didn’t expect to see the bird – there is actually a pair, and possibly a second male.  Hopefully I will get a better view tomorrow.

Cave Creek Canyon

This is such a beautiful area – fall colors were great

The stream bed was dry, dry, dry

Lots of beautiful rock formations

And plenty of Acorn Woodpeckers

And a shy Eared Quetzal

November 4

Nighttime was comfortable – unlike at Catalina State Park where it was much warmer.  Since the Eared Quetzal had not been seen before 9:00 a.m., we decided to start out about then and walk up to the bridge.  The walk was pleasant and we birded along the way finding a large flock of about 20 Western Bluebirds in the trees hanging over the road, and a large flock of about 10 Wild Turkeys.

Once at the bridge we did hear the bird, but didn’t see it.  Another couple had arrived shortly before and they too heard the bird.  While we stayed near the bridge searching in the Hackberry trees, that couple walked down the road.  When they didn’t come back, I decided to go in search of them.  When we came around a bend in the road, there were about six masked people looking up into a tree.  A branch hung over the road and a male Eared Quetzal was sitting on the branch.  Everyone got great views of the bird.  I decided to get closer for a better photo and I unfortunately flushed the bird (dang).  Luckily the bird didn’t fly far, but it did have its back to us.  We stayed about ten minutes and then headed back down the road.

The star of the show – a male Eared Quetzal. We never did see the female.

We’ve been at Cave Creek Canyon at least four different years in the past. This is our first time seeing Wild Turkey.

They camouflage well when in the forest

Mexican Jay

There is private lands adjacent to the road. This landowner warns  people with this hilarious sign.

After a brief snack, we then walked up the canyon road (FS 42E) about a mile where it dead-ends and becomes a trail up the south fork of Cave Creek.  There were a few places where there was water in the creek, but not much.  We did see a total of 15 species.  I was happy to see several Brown Creepers and Canyon Wrens.  Boy are those birds vocal – Canyon Wrens.  One was real close and I got some decent photos.  Wrens are probably my favorite group of birds.

Forest Service Road 42E – leads to the South Fork trailhead. A great road to bird (about a mile long).

We got to see several Canyon Wrens

What beautiful and loud little birds

And I head to look straight up to photograph this Arizona Woodpecker

These birds have brown rather than black feathers

We walked the south fork trail a short distance and encountered a fair number of Poison Oak plants immediately adjacent to the trail. Easier to see and identify with their fall colors.

Lots of interesting rock formations.

When we got back to the campground it had filled up so now we have tent neighbors.  At least there is more vegetation here between campsites than at Catalina State Park.  Actually the neighbors were quiet for the most part.  Always nice.

Mid afternoon we made a visit to Cave Creek Ranch located nearby.  This is a private ranch with about 12 guest cabins, but they open up the area to birders from 10:00 – 4:00 p.m.  They do request a $5.00 donation per visitor.   We got to the ranch around 3:15 pm and proceeded to the feeders.  There were a few birds at the feeder.  It is generally much busier in the morning (we’ve visited the ranch during our last trip to the canyon).  We did have two Blue-throated Mountain Gems (aka Blue-throated Hummingbirds) come to the feeder.  I got a decent, but slightly unfocused shot of one of them showing off his beautiful blue throat (not the photo in the blog).  Great birds.  A Greater Roadrunner crossed the driveway to the main feeding area coming within several feet of two people watching birds.  That bird didn’t seem to have a care in the world, at least with respect to people.

A blue-throated Mountain Gem (aka hummingbird).

November 5

We broke camp around 8:00 a.m., headed up the road to see if we might see the Quetzal again – no luck.  We then said goodbye to this beautiful canyon.  About four miles down the road, we stopped at Bob Rodriquez’s place, a former Alaskan who keeps several feeders going.  I swear there were over 50 Gambel’s Quail feeding at one time, and more in the adjacent vegetation.  We’ve seen some good birds here in the past, including a Streaked Oriole.

Welcome Signs at Bob Rodriguez’s place

Scaled Quail

Black-throated Sparrow. Such a smart looking bird.

Gambel’s Quail

They really liked this rock. We couldn’t believe how many there were. We’ve never seen this many at once.

Anna’s Hummingbird

After Bob’s place, we headed to Madera Canyon via the backroads.  We probably should have gone via the freeways as we might of have gotten a campsite within the Bog Springs campground at Madera Canyon.  It only has about 13 sites, so they fill fast.   Since the campground was full we went to a dispersed area and dry camped nearby.  Luckily we could park so we had some shade as it was quite warm and sunny out.  Bog Springs Campground is shaded; the dispersed campground area is pretty open.

Campsite #1 – Proctor Road Dispersed Camping Area

Jack’s reading in the shade next to our van

Before setting up camp, we did stop and check out the feeders at the Santa Rita Lodge.  Lots of feeders and birds to entertain us.  There were at least three species of hummingbirds: Rivoli (formerly known as Magnificent), Anna’s, and Broad-tailed.  There was also a Red-naped Sapsucker in a shrub about ten feet from where I was sitting.  This is always a fun place to sit and bird.

Anna’s Hummingbird

This hummingbird feeder is within feet of the benches the lodge has available for visitors

This Red-naped Sapsucker was in a bush adjacent to the viewing area

Red-naped Woodpcker

Yellow-eyed Junco. It was hard to capture a decent photo of these birds as they are always moving.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

And speaking of Hummingbirds, on our way to Madera Canyon we stopped at Paton Center for Hummingbirds only to find it closed due to Covid-19.  I think they could open the center and allow limited entry since the viewing areas are outside.    At Patagonia village, the Gathering Grounds café and coffee shop was so busy people were spilling out the door.  Crazy.

Dispersed camping area – gravel road, rough in places. That is why we chose the first camping spot. Surprisingly the area filled up by Friday night.

Dispersed camping area – very dry

I do love cloud formations

And the sunset was beautiful. This photo does not do it justice.

November 6

Got up early and headed up the nature trail (from the Proctor’s Parking Lot to Santa Rita Lodge) to bird.  For the first twenty minutes it was pretty quiet – did see or hear a single bird.  As we got closer to Santa Rita Lodge the bird species started picking up.  A woman birder asked if we had seen the Williamson’s Sapsucker.  I said no, but luckily on our way back to the van we did see the sapsucker.  This is only my second sighting of this bird – period.  The first time was at least ten years ago on a trail outside of Sedona.  Nice to see the bird again.

Sunrise

Sunrise

Sunrise

Love the clouds

A portion of the nature trail is handicap accessible – paved

We did see a fair number of deer, which captured Moxie’s attention

And this squirrel

The woodpeckers like this bench

Falls colors

We did stop off at the Santa Rita lodge again to bird.  This is a favorite spot for photographers – they especially love to photograph hummingbirds.  I bet this place had at least 7-8 hummingbird feeders out.  I heard several guys talking and one guy said he flew in from Georgia to bird.  He had already seen the Jacana, the Quetzal, and a Rufous-backed Robin.  We didn’t try for the robin as we’ve seen it before at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  That had to have been over ten years ago because we still had our dog Cody, who died in May of 2011.

Rivoli’s Hummingbird (previously known as Magnificent Hummingbird)

Even the bears wear a mask

A Williamson’s Sapsucker in there somewhere

Surprisingly there weren’t too many people on the trail.  Overcast skies and windy, so not that hot.  Also helps that we are up in elevation here.

We spent the afternoon at our campsite.  Luckily there was a breeze that kept it comfortable.  Before it got dark we decided to go for a short walk on the nature trail.  Again, not crowded, which was nice.  On the way back I heard a bird song that sounded somewhat familiar.  Then into a tree flew a Painted Redstart.  This is a favorite bird (yes, I have a lot of favorite birds).  Jack had decided before going on the walk not to bring his binoculars.  He said I would see more interesting birds that way.  He was right.  Thanks Jack.  I had so wanted to see this bird on this trip.

More clouds

Large, smooth boulders along the stream.  This really is a beautiful area.

Another beautiful sunset

November 7

Our goal today was to return home, but with a stop along the way to bird – the Santa Cruz Flats. This area is north of Tucson about 50 miles (and on the way home).  However, Mother Nature had other plans.  There were strong winds, which in the “flats” results in nasty dust storms.  Not so bad that we couldn’t see to drive, but enough that we couldn’t roll down the windows to see the birds or hear their calls or songs.  So instead, we kept heading north to Sedona with high winds and threatening weather.   Luck was on our side as many people decided not to venture north for the day or weekend.  Traffic was normal and not the steady stream of Phoenix area residents trying to cool off for the weekend.  Rain and snow are predicted over the next couple of days.  The precipitation is badly needed so no complaints here.

I’ve heard there is a Ross’s Goose at a pond near a local golf course here.  I need to go check it out.  Remember …

IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

 

 

 

 

 

 

October – when the birding can be scary … okay maybe not

Hard to believe that October has come and gone.  I’ve been busy tending to my father who has been hospitalized for two months following surgery for mouth cancer.  His hospital stay was much longer than was anticipated, but considering his age (90) probably understandable.  He did stay almost five weeks at Select Specialty Hospital.  Neither my dad, nor I were happy with his care there.  While the nurses were good, trying to communicate with his doctor and case manager proved difficult at times.  After his first week, I had a conference call that included people from different specialties – therapy, respiratory, pharmacy, etc..  They talked about their goals for my dad during his stay.  We were supposed to have follow-up conference call in the third week to talk about progress but that never happened, not without lack of effort on my part.  Very frustrating.  Needless to say, he did not reach the goals identified in the first conference call.  I could never get information as to what was happening, although the nurses did say they all loved him.  He was finally released, at my insistence, and transferred to a skilled nursing facility.  Otherwise, I think he would still be in the hospital.  The communications with staff at the skilled nursing facility is a 180 degrees different from the hospital.  They contact you whenever there is a change in condition.  I’ve probably spoken with 7-8 different staff members about his care in the past week.   So different than what I experienced at Select Specialty Hospital.  These last two months have been very trying.

Clouds one morning on my neighborhood walk.  I do love clouds.

We actually had a day of rain – badly needed

A giraffe head I painted. I have it hanging on the living room wall. I love giraffes.

Also painted this Carolina Wren. Fun to do. Painting has helped my sanity.

And I also painted this Black-capped Chickadee.  My other paintings have been more abstract and loose, so haven’t included photos of those.

When I was able to get out and bird I returned to my favorite spot – Bubbling Ponds.   During most visits I generally saw a new bird (new for the year  – FOY – First of Year) – Yay!!!   Jack and Moxie came with me on some of the visits, sometimes I went alone.

Believe it or not, there is a Great Blue Heron at the top of the tree in the middle of the photograph

A closer view

Great Blue Heon

Not much color change yet

Moxie – everybody thinks she is such a pretty dog. I agree. And she is a really good bird dog. She doesn’t chase birds or bark at them. She sits quietly at my side when I stop to check out a bird.

Hooded Merganser – male

Habitat along Oak Creek

Black Hawk Trail

Jack checking out the birds at one of the two viewing platforms

Oak Creek – there is a large tree out-of-view that generally hosts a mixed flock of birds when we come by.  Fun!

With migration pretty much over, the number of birds observed at Bubbling Ponds has dwindled somewhat.  Still, it is always fun to bird and walk the area.   The birds we are always guaranteed to see are ducks (lots of Mallards, American Wigeons, and Ring-necked Ducks right now), Black and Say’s Phoebe, House Finch and Lesser Goldfinch, Belted Kingfisher (sometimes only heard), Great Blue Heron, Great-tailed Grackles, and Abert’s Towhee.

At home, we keep the feeders filled and have mostly House Sparrows.  Occasionally a Bewick’s Wren or two appear (one of my favorite birds) to check out the suet feeder or grab a drink of water.  A Ladderback Woodpecker likes the suet feeder also, along with a Ponderosa Pine in the yard.  The suet feeder is also favored by a large flock of Bushtits (another favorite bird).  Fun to see about 6-7 Bushtits all on the suet feeder at once.  And I added a new yard bird – a Eurasian Collared Dove.

We do have a neighborhood cat that we have to chase off regularly.  I keep thinking (okay hoping) the coyotes will get it, but no luck so far.  Saw it with a squirrel in its mouth the other day.  Oh was I steamed.  Damn cat.  Please people keep your cats indoors for their protection and for the protection of wildlife.

We did finally hike a trail near my father’s house.  The weather cooled down somewhat so off we went.  This trail – Baldwin Trail – was quite popular for a weekday.  The Sedona area has lots of trails and this is one busy area, especially on weekends.  The traffic coming up from the Phoenix area is heavy on weekends especially, even during times of Covid.  People are pretty good about social distancing on the trails – we always move off – and wearing masks.  Not everyone though.  While some people think it shows weakness if you wear a mask, I think it shows weakness if you DON’T wear a mask.

Views from the trail. You can actually get to the base of these rocks from another trail.

Those same peaks

Western Bluebird seen along the trail

This is definitely Red Rock Country

Beautiful country

Moxie and Jack on the trail. She stays close to us and is always under voice command. I commend the woman who trained her.  Thank you.

Moxie on the trail….

Despite the circumstances of our being in the Sedona area, it is nice not to have snow and plenty of sunshine.  In fact, for the entire two months I’ve been here it has been blue skies all but two days.  Not too shabby.  Of course it does make for very dry conditions, and that’s not good for wildlife or humans.

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

September Birding

September (instead of winter) finds me in Arizona.  I had to fly (yikes!!!) down here as my elderly (90 year old) father underwent major surgery for mouth cancer in late August.  After a little more than a month, he is still in the hospital, and probably will remain there another three weeks.  He may then go to a rehab center before coming home.  To make matters worse, just before his operation the retina in his right eye detached.  He could not get it repaired before his cancer surgery so he has lost the sight in that eye, and the other eye has macular degeneration,  When it rains, it pours.  Up until the surgery he was playing golf three days a week.

The weather here has been HOT – most days are in the 90s, with a couple of days surpassing 100.  So much for it being fall!  I thought I was melting.  I prefer temperatures in the low to mid 70s.  That is ideal for me.  But I do love the sunshine.  When it is cloudy here for more than a couple of days,  most residents get depressed.  I can understand how they feel.  Sunshine makes me feel like a million bucks.  Nowadays I need something positive in my life.

The birding here has been pretty good – fall migration.  At my dad’s house we have a pair of Juniper Titmouse, Bewick’s Wrens, and Anna’s Hummingbirds that come throughout the day.  I so love the Bewick’s Wren.  It happens to be my favorite wren species of North America.  I must say though, that the most common species at my dad’s house is the House Finch and the finches are coming on strong now that we have a feeder and water out for the birds.  Don’t have to worry about bear here in the summer, just raccoons, skunks, javelina, and rogue cats.  Moxie is keeping the cats away.

This lizard comes around occasionally

Bewick’s Wren checking out this decorative nest box

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay formerly known as the Western Scrub-jay before the species was split

Juniper Titmouse

We also have had an ant problem.  They were attracted to the sugar water I dumped on the ground by accident when checking out the Hummingbird feeder.  So out came the vinegar (my mom liked to buy it in bulk so we had a lot) and the cornmeal.  I think the cornmeal really worked.  They eat it, but can’t digest it.  We haven’t had a problem since.  And these were good sized ants.

In the cool mornings when I’m not birding or hiking, I do walk the neighborhood with Moxie (our dog) for exercise and birds.   You never know what you might find.  One morning I had a Common Nighthawk flying around in the neighborhood.  That was a pleasant surprise.  And several nights I’ve heard Great Horned Owls – close.

Turkey Vulture – have spotted over 30 roosting in the nearby trees.  There is one species of tree they seem to favor.

This one drying or warming up his wings??? Or just stretching them before taking off.

Spotted Towhee

Lots of rabbits around the neighborhood

I was trying to find a Northern Cardinal in the vegetation and happened to see this Cooper’s Hawk feeding on its prey

I suspect based on the size of the dead bird’s feet it was either a Mourning Dove or a Gambell’s Quail

In addition to rabbits in the neighborhood, I have heard yipping coyotes at night, saw ambitious raccoons trying to get the sunflower seeds off our hanging feeder, and one morning we even had a striped skunk in the yard.  I made sure Moxie stayed indoors.  Don’t want her sprayed by the skunk.  Although I’m afraid it may be hiding out under the deck during the day.

I have taken advantage of cool mornings to get to one of my favorite local birding hotspots – Bubbling Ponds Fish Hatchery located near Page Springs (known as the Page Springs Hatchery Hot Spot).  It takes me about 20-30 minutes to get there.   I’m just glad it is open to the public during the pandemic.   Most of the people I have encountered on my visits there have been people out for a walk -a nice riverside trail and fish rearing ponds.

Each of my visits generally start around 7:00 am in the morning.  I spend 2-3 hours there, depending on whether I go to the ponds only, or also walk the trails.  At the ponds/wetland alone I can encounter over 30 different species, and only a few of those are ducks.

Map for the Bubbling Ponds area

I’m used to this scene without leaves on the trees as I’m usually here in the late fall, early winter

I do love the Fremont Cottonwood Trees

Great Blue Heron

Male Wood Duck

Wood Duck pair in one of the ponds.  During one visit I had ten Wood Ducks.

Mallard pair in one of the ponds

Belted Kingfisher – One time when we were there the Belted Kingfishers (two of them) were chasing each other around and causing quite a raucous

Not sure what this plant is but it is pretty

Flower head up close

Lots of daisies around good for the finches

More of the area

Gray Flycatcher

Rock Wren – didn’t expect to see this bird here

View from the Black Hawk Trail

Orange-crowned Warbler (one of our Homer bird???)

Common Black Hawk – one day we saw two of them roosting in the trees near the ponds

Black Phoebe

Dragonfly – Very red, but sun-bleached out in the photo

Killdeer

Skunk alert

Phainopepla (female or hatch year bird)

Saw this nest box on a stump?

Cooper’s Hawk

Jeremiah was a Bullfrog

Redhead – this bird has been in the same pond all month. Most likely molting,  flightless.

Believe it or not a juvenile Blue Grosbeak

House Wren

Lesser Goldfinch

Say’s Phoebe

Black Hawk Trail

Another bullfrog

Lesser Goldfinch

Western Wood Pewee

Northern Flicker (Red-shafted)

Just a plain oh Phainapepla but I love em (male)

An Osprey …

… in flight over the ponds

One of the “bubbling” ponds

Common Black Hawk

I checked on eBird, and since I’ve been recording birds at this location on eBird I’ve recorded 95 different species here.  Not too shabby.  I’m #28 for record number of species seen.   I do highly recommend this location (listed as Page Springs Hatchery on eBird Hotspot).

Jack, Moxie, and I went to another favorite area – Bell Creek Trail.  We’ve only been here during the winter months so we were quite surprised when we got there around 7:00 am the weekend parking lot was half full.  We enjoy the hike here, and we occasionally get some good birds.  I was hoping to see the Black-throated Sparrow and I was not disappointed.  If you are ever in this area and that is a target bird you might want to check this area out.  I would estimate that I’ve seen this bird 8 out of 10 visits.  So good odds of finding the bird.

We did hear and finally spotted a Summer Tanager – male, in this case.  The females are harder to see as they blend in with the leaves.  We didn’t see a lot of species on our visit, but with all the people on the trails that was somewhat understandable.

 

Bell Creek Trail

Trash Class – Trashy kids doing classy shit. Yes that is what the sticker says. Never heard of it before.

Countryside

Mourning Dove

Canyon Wren – outside the canyon

Male Summer Tanager

The busy parking lot after we finished hiking a portion of the trail

I wonder what birds October will bring?

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD …

August – summer slipping away

Sorry folks.  I had set this up to be published on August 31, 2020, and not sure that happened.  If not, I apologize.

Hard to believe it is August already.  The leaves on the vegetation up at the park (less than 1/4 mile from our home) are already starting to turn red, yellow, and orange.  The fireweed flower stalks (flower from the bottom up) are near the top (generally an indicator that summer is about over).    I’m not ready.

And now that it is the end of August, the fireweed is done, which means summer is over.  Luckily no new snow (or as we call it “termination dust”) on the mountains yet.  Only a matter of time.  The mornings are cooler, the leaves are turning, and soon we will get our first frost, then our first snow.

I have been ‘spaced-out birding’ while trying to avoid the masses.  I am thankful that I live is a state that isn’t very populated, although some weekends it is quite busy in our little corner of the state.  I continue to go birding at the Anchor Point beach.  Shorebird southbound migration continues – hooray!!!

Anchor Point Beach

Our small birding group went to Anchor Point on 5 August.  We always have to time it when the tides are best for birding watching.  On the 5th, we had to work with an incoming tide so started on the beach and then moved to the river.  I prefer an outgoing tide, but the timing was off that day.  Not only do I consider the tides for birding, but also the weather and everyone’s availability.

We saw 11 different species of shorebirds:  Surfbird, Black Turnstone, Rock Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Short-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Plover, and Wilson’s Snipe.

Surprisingly we saw 12 Rock Sandpipers — early arrivals as usually we only get one or two at the most this time of year.  It was nice to see more of them.  And, there were five (5) Spotted Sandpipers, all together in a group, so possibly a family.  The tide was rising and the food bank along the river was fading fast.  A Sharp-shinned Hawk, which we had spotted about five minutes earlier, swooped down and tried to take out one of the Spotted Sandpipers.  I’m happy to report no birds were harmed during our visit (not that we observed luckily).  I know the Sharp-shinned Hawk has to eat as well, I just don’t like to see their prey killed while I’m watching.  Out of sight, out of mind.

The only thing marring the trip was someone nearby shooting off their guns.  They seemed to be near the campground, and if I were camping there I would be distressed.  I have heard of bullets traveling up to a mile and striking someone.  So – go to the shooting range please.

A good photo to show the size difference between the Greater Yellowlegs (back) and Lesser Yellowlegs (front)

As Jim and I were getting ready to leave the parking lot we saw a man walking into the water and then dive in. Brrrrrr. Nice day out but that water has to be cold.

Tim in the background and Jim in the foreground

Lani

Beach Fleabane (Senecio psuedo-arnica)

On the 13th, Jack and I took Moxie to the Anchor Point beach so she could run and we could bird.  There are still shorebirds coming through, although not as many as in previous visits.  We did get a good variety – 14 different shorebird species.  Not too shabby.  I think the surprise of the day was the two Whimbrels I spotted at the end of the visit.  We were almost back at the boat launch parking lot when I was thinking that most of the Whimbrels have probably already migrated through.  About two minutes later these two Whimbrels flew and landed about 50 yards from me.  Nice.  I also saw a Sanderling, which is rare for this time of year.  I generally see one or two during the outbound migration.  Hope to see some again.  While the highest number observed for any given shorebird species was 14 (Black Turnstone), I was surprised to encounter 13 Semi-palmated Plover.  The plover  move through later in the season than the Turnstones and Surfbirds.

Out at sea (Cook Inlet), there was an occasional Horned Puffin and several dozen Sooty Shearwater.   There were also large concentrations of Black-legged Kittiwakes.  There must have been some small schools of fish for them to feed on.  Fun to watch them dive bomb into the water after food.

The tidal difference that day between low and high tide was only 5.5 feet (high tide 12.6 and low tide 7.1).  So the tide went out very slowly.  Not a whole lot of rocks were exposed and the shorebirds like the intertidal rocks.   It was a beautiful day so we walked to the mouth of the river.  Not much in the way of shorebirds there, mostly gulls.

When we first arrived it was foggy. I was afraid if the fog didn’t lift we wouldn’t see many birds. Luckily it didn’t last long.  Those are boat trailers in the photo.

Sanderling

Whimbrel

Whimbrel.  These birds flew and I checked out their rump.  Definitely Whimbrels and not Bristle-thighed Curlews.

When I first saw this Song Sparrow I thought Wow!!! That is a weird looking blackbird. The sparrow seemed almost black. Our Song Sparrows are much darker than in the Lower 48.

My friend Jim and I ventured back out to the Anchor Point beach and river on 21 August.  We didn’t see as many shorebirds but did get a lot of seabirds.  Timing is everything, as Jack likes to say.  Sometimes on the water (Cook Inlet) you don’t see any birds.  This time we saw a lot, especially gulls and Horned Puffins.  Despite the outgoing tide, some of the puffins were clearly visible with binoculars.  But a scope is really needed to check out the birds on the inlet.  We had a total of 31 species.  Not bad for a couple of hours of birding.  The highlights for me were the two Lapland Longspur migrating south.  They are rare for this time of year.  We also had two Northern Harriers.  Always fun to watch the harriers slowly glide over the land and river in search of their next meal.

Our first sea jelly of the year. About the size of a dinner plate.

Lapland Longspur

Common Merganser

Savannah Sparrow. We had around 40 of these birds. Must be migrating south already.

A powered hang glider. He flushed up a lot of birds, especially the Savannah Sparrows.

You can just barely see Mt. Redoubt in the background. This was at low tide.

And yet another trip to the Anchor Point beach and river on 28 August with Jack, Jim, and Moxie.  We did see some shorebirds, but not many – Rock Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Greater Yellowlegs, oh and one peep.  The inlet waters were calm bird wise compared to last week when Jim and I were there birding.  Timing again.

The highlight of the trip was spotting a Humpback whale.  We even got to see it breach.  I think there were actually two whales.  Amazing creatures.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Rock Sandpipers

Lapland Longspur

Mount Iliamna

Wetlands behind the boat launch parking lot. The shorebirds use the ponds during spring migration, but rarely during outbound migration (at least when I have checked the ponds).

Home Grounds and Eveline State Recreation Site

So the other night I heard a crane calling.  The sound was plaintive, as though it had lost its mate, which very well could be as we do have a nesting pair of eagles nearby.   As I was looking for the crane I happened to look down on the ground near our garden.  There in the grass was a brown blob.  I got my bins out and looked.  I was surprised to see a Wilson’s Snipe just sitting in the grass.  The bird stayed there quite awhile,  allowing me to get a photograph.  I do love snipes.

I love clouds and saw these clouds one day over the house

Wilson’s Snipe in our yard

Looking out our living room window,  They see their reflection in the window and think it is another crane.  So they peck at the window hoping to scare the crane off.  Annoying.

In early August Jack and I took Moxie (the dog) for a walk in the park (Evenline SRS).  They do have a nice looped trail (a little over one mile).  We had a fair number of passerines in the park that day, including many hatch year Orange-crowned Warblers, plus several Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  We flushed a Spruce Grouse (or Moxie or Chaz did – Chaz is the neighbor’s dog who usually accompanies us).   Not many birds were singing except for the Alder Flycatchers.  They seem to like the dead treetops.  Easy to find that way.  It was a nice walk and yes, the leaves they are a changing.

Jack and I walk this park nearly every day.  A few days after noting that only the Alder Flycatchers were singing, they were silent.  That might be because they’ve already headed south for the winter?

Still not near the top so summer is still with us for awhile (Fireweed) (photo taken in early August)

Jack on the trail with Moxie and Chaz

Boardwalk on the trail

View from the high point in the park

Chaz on the trail. Some people mistake him for a bear.  And there have been several bear sightings in the park.   We’ve not seen them in the park this year.

Moxie at the picnic area in the park

One of the trail signs

And the “Summer” trail map

Snowshoe trail marker

Monkshood (Aconitum delphinifolium) – Very poisonous

Native larkspur (Delphinium glaucum)also a poisonous plant

Park trail. The grasses and fireweed get quite high so have to talk loud, sing, or clap to be sure you don’t startle a bear or moose that may be nearby

Mushrooms are popping up

And some of the fireweed leaves and other plants are starting to turn colors. Fall is my favorite time of year.

Moxie drinking water on a boardwalk trail in the park.  She doesn’t like to get her feet wet if she can help it.

We’ve had a nice mix of species in our yard.  A Sandhill Crane pair with a colt visited.  They like to hang out in the garden.  We’ve also had two hatch year Steller’s Jays searching for food.  They like the cracked corn we leave out for the cranes.  And not to be out done, the Ring-necked Pheasant hen and her four chicks were at the mound where we put out the corn.  And that was all in one day.  We still have our mix of sparrows around.

Steller’s Jay at the feeder

Searching the area below the feeder for food

And just checking out the garden area

Sandhill Crane colt (chick)

Up close view. You can tell the colts from the adults in that the colts don’t have the red feathers on their heads.

Ring-necked Pheasant hen and one of her four chicks

This photo was taken at my sister’s house in Anchorage. A Red-breasted Nuthatch flew behind the little house and then walked out the front door.   Fun to watch.

Our Sandhill Crane pair like to loaf on our deck.  Won’t be long now before they head south for the winter.

Kenai Flats, Cannery Road, and Kasilof Beach and River Mouth

My friend Jim and I drove up to Kenai/Soldotna to check out the shorebirds at Kenai Flats, Cannery Road, and the Kasilof River mouth and beach.   The Burke’s had reported seeing up to 50 Wilson’s Snipe at Cannery Road.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than three snipes at once, let alone 50.  We wanted to check it out.

Kenai Flat

The grasses are tall so hard to see into some of the ponds.  We did get a really nice view of a Peregrine Falcon on a snag.  What a beautiful adult bird.  I wish it had been closer so I could have gotten a photo of the bird.  We did get great views with our binoculars and spotting scopes.

There are also a lot of stumps out in the flats.  One looked like it might have a bird on it.  Sure enough we saw a Short-eared Owl perched on top of one of the stumps.  Again too far away for a photo.

With respect to shorebirds, we were ‘limited’ to several Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.  But that was fine.  Always nice to see these birds.  There were two Trumpeter Swans in a pond, and two Sandhill Cranes nearby.  The Arctic Terns have left for points south so only gulls still hanging out along the river.  And I mean a lot of gulls, (think thousands), many of them hatch year birds.

Slough on the flats

View of river from the Tarbox viewing platform

Cannery Road

We left the Kenai Flats and headed to Cannery Road.  The small ponds here were mostly dry, but we did find a small number of Lesser Yellowlegs (seven) and one Greater Yellowlegs feeding in the pond.  Jack and I had been here about a week earlier and we had about twenty dowitchers and one Pectoral Sandpiper, in addition to the yellowlegs.   As we were checking out the ponds, a Northern Harrier flew over the ponds scattering the birds, revealing the few ducks around.  The yellowlegs seemed undeterred.   Then we noticed several large flocks of shorebirds.  These birds turned out to be Wilson’s Snipe and I estimate we saw at least 60 of them.  Four landed real close to us, but unfortunately a vehicle drove by flushing the birds.  We only got quick views.

Before we left the Northern Harrier was joined by another harrier and they proceeded to chase each other.  There also were two Common Ravens who didn’t care for the harriers,  we think the harriers were trying to take the prey the Ravens had captured.

The north side of Cannery Road

Northern Harrier

Flying over the ponds

Flushing the waterfowl

Love the grasses and clouds

Kasilof Beach and River Mouth

We hustled over to the Kasilof Beach to check the incoming tide for shorebirds.  We were told it is better to get here a half a hour early, rather than a minute late.  Truer words were never spoken when it comes to this beach and shorebirds.

The tide was still somewhat out but we could see shorebirds feeding in the mud flats.  We just had to wait for them to be pushed closer to the shoreline.   And looking out we could see a lot of shorebirds – yellowlegs and dowitchers, with a few smaller peeps mixed in.  In all, we estimate there were around 200 Greater Yellowlegs and about 75 Lesser Yellowlegs.  The estimated 50 dowitchers we couldn’t identify to species as they were too far out and then flew overhead in silence.

We did see several Surfbirds and Black Turnstones in the mix, plus Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Plovers, and other peeps (these birds flew silently overhead).   Nearby there were  several Semi-palmated Plovers (three) on the beach loafing.   Jim was hoping for a Sanderling, but if there was one in the bunch, we didn’t see it.

As the tide crept closer to shore, the birds would generally fly off in large flocks (25-50 birds) at a time – almost in waves.  When the tide was real close to shore, most of the birds had already flown off.

There were also a large number of Northern Pintails along the surfline.  And out further we did get glimpses of Red-throated Loons – always nice to see.   At the tip of the beach on the south side of the river, we had a large flock of around 17 Bonparte’s Gulls.  There were also hundreds of Herring Gulls and at least one Mew Gull.  One first cycle gull kept feeding close to shore.  I wondered if maybe it was injured.  It hung out alone.

Overall we were happy with the birding, but did note that it would be better to be at the Kasilof beach during the am tide, when the sun is at our backs and we would have better lighting.  However, the morning tides this week were too early – the drive is at least  two hour from Homer.  Maybe next year.

Kasilof Beach – as you can see the tide is out some distance

Lots of fisherman coming home

There are three Semi-palmated Plovers in this photo

Two Semi-palmated Plover

They hide well in the gravel

Eagle Lake

We ventured back out to Eagle Lake on the 14th of August to see if the adult Pacific Loons were still there.  They were.  Definitely no chick.  They are certainly beautiful birds.  The Mew Gulls, ever present in May, June, and July, were gone.  They had raised their young and found no reason to stick around.  The Merlins were gone also.  I don’t know if they were just gone in search of food and would return at night or if they too had left for good.

The passerines were pretty quiet, although I was able to pish two Orange-crowned Warblers, two Golden-crowned Sparrows, and a Fox Sparrow out of hiding.  We also had a Ring-necked Duck with nine ducklings.  I was surprised they had survived the Merlin and Bald Eagles in the area.

We saw two Sandhill Cranes near the far end of the lake.  And five Greater Yellowlegs flew in and landed in the tall (tall for them) grasses, sedges, and rushes.  Also at the far end of the lake was some white material in a tree and on the ground.  Jack and I decided to take a closer look and started walking in that direction.  About half way there I saw some movement, stopped to look, and spotted a large black object.  Yup, a black bear.  It was curious about the white material also.  At one point it must have smelled something in the woods because it took off at a dead run.  Luckily it wasn’t running towards us, but it was kicking up a lot of water.  We might not have been able to go over there anyway – too much water, even with our Xtra-tuff boots.  Turning around and going back the way we came seemed the smart thing to do, so we prudently retreated – Moxie never was the wiser…

This will probably be our last visit to the lake this year.  I conduct loon monitoring on the lake and that monitoring  is now complete.   Hopefully next year the pair will return and will raise a chick to fledge.

Pacific Loon pair

Black Bear

Besides Birding

When I went to vote early at City Hall for the Alaska primary, they had these markers on the floor to help people with physical distancing.    Alaska is “Xtra tuff” country (the boots).  Hope you all got out and voted in your primary and don’t forget to vote in the general election in November.

And speaking of voting, our local Friends of the Homer Library had an essay contest on voting.  Jack’s essay won second prize.  Way to go Jack.

Physical distancing markers

Great message

Remember, voting is both a right and a privilege.  Vote, Vote, Vote. 

It’s Always a “GREAT DAY TO BIRD”

July Birding 2020

So despite the Covid-19 pandemic I have been able to get out and bird the local area, as well as my own yard.  Early morning birding doesn’t appeal to Jack so I generally go with four friends:   Lani, Megan, Jim, and Tim.

Anchor Point/Anchor River

We’ve gone several times to the Anchor Point beach/Anchor River to bird.  This is the time of year to catch the migrating (outbound) shorebirds.   They breed in the Arctic and then head south to leave the young to figure out migration and survival.  Jack and I have taken Moxie a time or two as she loves the beach but happily doesn’t chase birds.  The best time to go for shorebirds is when the rocks along the beach are exposed following an outgoing tide – generally when the outgoing tide is around 9.0 feet or less.  The more exposed rocks, the more feeding areas for the birds.  From late June through July, the shorebirds seen are the following:

  • Black Turnstone
  • Surfbird
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Whimbrel
  • Sandpipers – Least, Western, or Semi-palmated
  • Spotted Sandpiper
  • Short-billed Dowitcher
  • Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs
  • Red-necked Phalarope
  • Rock Sandpiper
  • Bristle-thighed Curlew

At least that is what I’ve seen this year.

The Black Turnstones are generally the birds seen in the highest numbers – several hundred.  Surfbirds aren’t far behind.  Whimbrel numbers vary from a few to up to 88 (the most I’ve seen on the beach at one time).  And this year I even spotted a Bristle-thighed Curlew.  These birds are distinguished from the Whimbrel by their unmarked buff colored rump.  This bird just happened to be about 30 yards from me when it flew straight out.  Couldn’t miss seeing the color of that bird’s rump.  Woohoo!!!  In Alaska I’ve only seen this bird once before (since it often misses our area as it migrates to breed in Western Alaska) during the 2009 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival and it was on this beach.

At one of our birding outings our group did see 37 roosting Greater Yellowlegs on the sand/gravel bars in the Anchor River.  That was quite a sight.  None of us had ever seen that many yellowlegs at one time.  We were surprised to also find two Red-necked Phalaropes – birds usually attributed to the sea during migration – along the river as well.  One was later spotted in the rocks feeding along with the Surfbirds, Whimbrels, and Black Turnstones.

There are other non-shorebirds to see here as well, although out on the bay it has been pretty quiet.

On 28 July Jack and I ventured back to the beach and walked from the boat launch parking lot to the mouth of the river.  The mouth is several hundred yards further north than when we first started going to the beach over 10 years ago.  At the first fishing hole, we had at least 48 Greater (mostly) and Lesser Yellowlegs loafing or feeding along the river – mostly loafing.   Then at the mouth we had another 24 Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, again loafing, along with a small mix flock of Black Turnstone and Surfbirds.   These two species’ migration numbers are dwindling.  Early to mid-July is generally the peak outbound migration for these birds.

Arctic Tern

There are about six or seven Arctic Terns in this photo.  Jack and  I saw a total of 12 – adults and hatch year birds during one outing

Jack and Moxie at the Anchor River

This Bald Eagle (subadult) was about ten feet away

I don’t think I would want to be on the receiving end of those claws

This is the first time in 13 years there has been an abandoned vehicle on the Anchor Point beach. I wonder how long it will stay there.

Bristle-thighed Curlew

The bird walking away after it flew a short distance away from me, thus enabling me to get a good look at its buff colored, unmarked rump (now hidden).

Can you spot the bird in this photo?

Here it is … a Least Sandpiper

They launch boats from this beach and park the trailers on the beach.  Halibut fishing anyone?  Busy this year despite the pandemic.

Anchor Point beach – lots of seaweed

The sand and gravel bars in the Anchor River

Anchor River

To the beach, to the beach to the sandy beach

A Red-breasted Nuthatch youngster. Not as colorful – yet – as its parents

Searching for spiders and other bugs to eat

Mew Gull

First cycle Glaucous-winged Gull

Common Raven

Now how did she know I was going to take her photo. Artist doing plein air painting ( outdoor painting)

This is area with ponds is just behind the Boat Launch Parking Lot – a good place for shorebirds and waterfowl during spring migration.  Not so good during outbound migration for these same species.

The grasses have grown tall so not as easy to see birds here as in early spring

On July 20th we had a beautiful day

I like this photo of the Black and Ruddy Turnstones because of the print marks on the rock caused by the Black Turnstone

Rock Sandpiper – we usually see these birds here in the winter time

Size Comparison between the Rock Sandpiper (left) and Black Turnstone (right)

Here the Ruddy Turnstone (back) and Rock Sandpiper (front)

The waves surprised this Rock Sandpiper into flushing (getting out of the way of the water)

Lesser Yellowlegs – one day we saw 14 of these birds.  They are much rarer here than Greater Yellowlegs.

Red-breasted Merganser and five ducklings. There were actually two families on the river one day. The other family had four ducklings, smaller in size than these ones.

Mew Gull chick. Yeah, big chick. The parent tried bomb diving Moxie.

One of the Lesser Yellowlegs on our big day of yellowlegs (28 July)

Greater Yellowlegs feeding along the bank of the Anchor River

I “spotted” this Spotted Sandpiper along the banks of the Anchor River.  I later saw four at the mouth of the river. The bird is lacking its “spots”.

Dead sea otter on the beach. I could smell this critter some distance off. Luckily Moxie didn’t want anything to do with it.

Eagle Lake

Jack and I also do loon monitoring at Eagle Lake. We have been monitoring Pacific Loons here since around 2009.  This year we were hopeful that a chick would fledge.  We saw a young chick riding on the back of one of its parents one week, and then the next week when we went back the chick was swimming on its own near its parents.  We watched as several times the parents would dive for food leaving the chick unattended.  This was not good.  In fact, the following week when we went to check on the chick it was gone.  It might have been one of those times when the parents were underwater searching for food that the young chick was taken by a killed – most likely by a Bald Eagle.  There are Merlin (small raptor) and Mew Gulls in the area, but the chick looked too large for a Merlin or a Mew Gull to overtake.  Of course I guess all the Merlin or Mew Gull would have to do is kill the chick in the water and slowly drag it to shore.  I wonder what happened.  If only I was a fly on the water (wall) so to speak.   We will go back out in August one more time to see if the Pacific Loon pairs are still there so we can complete our monitoring tasks and complete the necessary report.

On the way to Eagle Lake one day we saw a Spruce Grouse hen with eight chicks

Spruce Grouse Hen

Spruce Grouse chick – they are getting big

Eagle Lake

Jack checking out the birds with the spotting scope

This Greater Yellowlegs did not want us there. Squawked the entire time.

The lake is slowly evaporating leaving small mud islands like the one this Greater Yellowlegs was using

Merlin (adult)

This hatch year Merlin was squawking up a storm. Not sure if the bird wanted us to feed it or leave.

Alpine Bog Swertia (Swertia perennis) – a member of the Gentian family

Lily pads and flower

Elephant’s Head

Up close view of the Elephant’s head (Pedicularis groenlandica) a type of  lousewort

White Bog-orchid (Plantanthera dilatata)

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). There was a lot of sundew at the lake

Wild Gernanium (Geranium erianthum)

Home

There is never a dull bird moment at our house.  I think one day I counted about 15 hatch year Golden-crowned Sparrows.  We must have several breeding pairs nearby.

We also successfully hatched three Tree Swallows.  Well we didn’t personally, but the pair on our property were able to raise and fledge that many.  We have a nest box that has been used since we lived here.  Early in the year two pairs of Tree Swallows were fighting over the box.  The winners laid four eggs, of which three hatched.

Our nest box has three holes, rather than the typical one hole.  The purpose of three holes is to prevent the first born from poking out the hole and gobbling up all the food that the hard-working parents bring back for the young.  With three holes, three chicks can all hang out their hole waiting for food.  When they do start appearing at the holes, it is signal that flight feathers are developed and they are only a matter of days away from fledging.  And once they fledge, they and the parents disappear – time to head south we suspect.

This year the young birds first appeared at the holes on a Tuesday and by Friday the last youngster had fledged.  It seemed as though the last young bird had been holding out for a free meal as it was hanging out of the hole for most of the day without the parents returning to feed it (at least not that we observed).  I was getting a little worried when it finally gave up and flew away.  When that happened, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing any of the swallows again.  And I haven’t.  I hope they have a safe journey south.

At our house the young birds continue to chase each other around the yard, while their parents smartly eat to fatten up for migration.  Will miss all the sparrows when they head south in the fall.

For a diversion to enjoy, we have a family of Black-billed Magpies with five youngsters cavorting around.  They are now just coming into their long tails and blue/green sheen on their flight feathers.  Noisy birds.

Hatch year Tree Swallows in their nest box waiting for food

American Robin youngster

One of our Sandhill Crane pairs – the pair failed to produce any colts this year sadly

This one relaxing on the rock path to our garden

There are at least ten birds here feeding – mostly sparrow youngsters

Golden-crowned Sparrow (hatch year bird)

The swimming pools/bath tubs for our birds

Fox Sparrow bathing

We had this Porcupine visiting us one morning. Luckily Moxie was inside so she couldn’t investigate.

I flushed the porcupine as I opened the window to take a photo

Making its way to safety

What it uses – its quills – to defend itself.

One of the seven Black-billed Magpies – this is one of the youngsters

Black-billed Magpie

Our Poppies

I like that they don’t all bloom at once

And they are quite prolific

One morning I woke up to four hatch year Ring-necked Pheasants under our spruce tree feeding on sunflower seeds. I also saw the hen drinking from our water dish. I suspected there were pheasants around, but this is the first time I’ve seen them since early winter. Yay!!!

Morning has broken ….

It’s Always A Great Day to Bird

 

Alaska Birding during a Pandemic – June 2020

Yes, as I write this we are in the midst of a pandemic – Covid-19.  As we practice physical distancing and wear masks to protect others, we can still get outside (at least in Alaska) and go birding.  To date over 10.0 million people have been infected with the virus and over 500,000 people have died from it.  Let’s hope for an effective vaccine soon.

When we left for our trip we should have been completing our 3-month tour of Europe and Northern Africa.  We had planned a guided bird trip to Morocco, and then birding and sightseeing on our own in Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and Iceland.  Due to the pandemic we are instead going on a week plus long birding tour in Alaska instead.  Maybe in 2022 we will get to Europe.

Crossing the border between Alaska and Canada is restricted to essential travelers.  I’m not quite sure what that means, but anyone traveling the Alaska Highway must do so fully provisioned, except for gasoline.  Like Alaskans, many people in British Columbia and the Yukon that live along the Alaska Highway depend upon tourists.  These businesses are being hit quite hard with the restrictions on travel.  So most (99%) of the traffic we saw on the highway was Alaskans traveling – either for business or pleasure.

I always tell people the best time to come to Alaska is in June, out best month for sunshine.  We had a fair amount of days with precipitation on this trip surprisingly.  Not a typical Alaskan summer in many ways.

Day 1: Anchorage to Dry Creek State Park

Jack and I, along with two friends (Jim and Kerry), ventured out to eastern Alaska along the road system.  We left Anchorage after provisioning our vehicles (Kerry’s Born Free motorhome for him and Jim), and our van.  Oh and I can’t forget Moxie joined us.  She is a great dog in that she doesn’t chase animals.  If you throw her a stick or rock she will chase that, although don’t expect her to bring it back to you, but she doesn’t run after animals.

The weather was intermittent rain throughout the day.

Our primary birding destination for Day 1  was Kenny Lake, near Copper Center.  This lake is known for its Ruddy Ducks, a rarity in Alaska.  This year I spotted at least 8 Ruddy Ducks on the lake and it was breeding time so the males were displaying for the females, which was fun to watch.  This lake was crowded with waterfowl:  Ruddy Duck, Ring-necked Duck, Mallard, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, and Lesser Scaup.  I noticed later that someone also saw a Blue-winged Teal there.   The lake is also known for its Red-winged Blackbirds and we were able to see them, but from across the lake.  My favorite species of the visit, besides the Ruddy Ducks, was the Red-necked Phalarope.  You expect to see them along the Denali Highway, but I haven’t seen them here before.  And I missed them as they migrated through Homer this spring.  The biggest surprise at the lake was the Red Fox we spotted hunting for dinner.  He took off when he saw us.  Of course he headed toward the residences on the far side of the lake.  He was probably better off near us.

After Kenny Lake, we made our way to Dry Creek State Park for the night.  This park is located about ten miles north of Glennallen.  We’ve stayed at this campground before, but this night there were only three campers.  While the park has never been full when we’ve visited, there is usually a lot more campers.  Sign of the pandemic times.   There were a fair number of mosquitoes buzzing around so we spent most of our time in the van.

I was actually a little lazy and didn’t take but one photo the first day.  What was I thinking???

Kenny Lake

Day 2:  Dry Creek to Yarger Lake

As we were leaving the campground, Kerry spotted two shorebirds in the road puddles.  He thought they were Solitary Sandpipers based on their shape and behavior.  Turns out he was right.  Score.  I do love shorebirds and didn’t expect to see these birds on the trip.  Always a hit and miss proposition.

There was a fair amount of road construction on the Glenn Highway – Tok Cutoff road.  The road crews probably appreciate less traffic than in typical years.  We did make a lunch stop at a wetland slough/pond near the cutoff to Mentasta.  Jack and I always stop here on our way to and from the Lower 48 because you never know what you might find.   I was surprised to find two Canvasbacks and a Blue-winged Teal.  We had never seen these ducks here before.  In fact, during our 1.5 hours at the lake I had a total of 27 different species.  I was quite impressed.

Snow on the ground near Tok. Luckily the roads were clear and not icy.

Lots of fresh snow on this mountain. Yikes!!!

If this were fall we would call the new snow “termination dust” – marking the termination of summer.

We stopped in Tok to get gasoline (everyone) and ice (Jack and I), then headed to the Lakeview Campground at Yarger Lake in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge.  This campground is small (about 10 sites) and free (donations accepted), but located just off the highway.  Although you hear traffic, you don’t see the vehicles.  There was one other camper – in the best camping spot – at the campground when we arrived.  No other campers came subsequently.  The lake was full of waterfowl, although most were hanging out at the far end of the lake.  Good thing we had spotting scopes.  At one point, Jim found over 10 Pacific Loons hanging out together.  We once again had Canvasbacks and Blue-winged Teals.   Maybe coming here in the summer, rather than spring and fall (our typical times of year when we pass through this area) we would see these birds more regularly.

We stayed at this campground, in part, because we had heard that a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker had been heard here.  When I went back later and read the eBird report of the sighting, the person had actually “heard” a single drum across the lake.  Wow, that birder has bionic ears.  He supposedly heard the bird from the photography blind.  When I was there, the Lesser Yellowlegs were screaming their presence and I couldn’t hear much.  No one else heard any drumming either.  And except for an Alder Flycatcher, Chipping Sparrow, Swainson’s Thrush, and a dozen American Robins or so, there weren’t a lot of songbirds present at the campground.  We saw a  pair (nesting, I suspect) of Sandhill Cranes on the far lakeshore.  These cranes are the Greater Sandhill Cranes, rather than the Lesser Sandhill Cranes that populate Homer in the summer.   There was also a pair of Trumpeter Swans on the lake.  We also heard later that a Sora had been heard and seen here.  We missed that bird too.  Soras rarely venture into Alaska.

Prickly Rose

Yarger Lake from our campsite (well a small view of the lake)

American Wigeon

Lesser Scaup pair

American Robin

At first we thought the robin was collecting food. It turns out that it had both nest material and food in its beak.

The beavers were busy chopping down trees in the campground. I saw at least two in the lake.

Bluebells

The evening was beautiful.  I love clouds and their different formations.  The clouds this night were amazing.  The only thing that marred our stay was a float plane that landed practically at our campsite, and took on a passenger with gasoline (who parked directly behind our vehicle – how rude), and proceeded to do about 7-8 touch and go maneuvers, before bringing the passenger back and then leaving.  I let the refuge manager know about my displeasure, but since he is a pilot himself (and may have been the person piloting the plane), I didn’t get much sympathy.  It is, of course, one of the largest lakes in the refuge, and plane use is okay – but really eight touch and go maneuvers at 9:00 p.m. at night!  Here are a few photos from our campsite.   Since I love cloud formations I always go overboard in taking photos of clouds.

View from our campsite

Don’t you just love the clouds?

Always something different

And the sun trying to shine through

Day 3 – Yarger Lake to West Fork BLM Campground (Taylor Highway)

We left Yarger Lake after birding the lake in the a.m.  Still no sapsucker.   We headed back towards Tok stopping at Midway Lake to bird.  This is another location where a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker had been seen or heard.  No luck again here.  I did hear a Common Yellowthroat.  While I’ve seen this bird in the lower 48 I haven’t seen it yet in Alaska.  I didn’t want to include it on eBird (bird reporting system) without first seeing the bird.  I think I spent 30 -40 minutes walking down a steep bank to the lake’s edge then looking for that bird.  The bird stayed well hidden.  I finally gave up, hoping to see it somewhere along the Taylor Highway.

Trumpeter Swan pair near shore

Lots of red on their feathers …

Love the reflections

Bonaparte’s Gull

Midway Lake

This is a good sized lake (Midway Lake)

We stopped in Tok again for fuel as we didn’t know what we would find fuel wise along the Taylor Highway.  Even during normal times, there are only two locations for fuel – the towns of Chicken and Eagle.

We headed up the Taylor Highway, stopping along the way to stretch, snack, and bird.  We did see several raptors along the way – mostly Harlan Hawks (a race of the Red-tailed Hawk).  At one location we heard and then spotted a Thrush, but for the life of us we couldn’t figure out which thrush it was: Grey-cheeked, Swainson’s, or Hermit.  To me it didn’t sound like any of them, but I went for Grey-cheeked.  After hearing more of these birds later, I stuck with my Grey-checked Thrush identification.  Maybe this was a “Chicken/Eagle” dialect?

View of the countryside we were driving through – Boreal Forest

A Harlan’s Hawk (Red-tailed Hawk).  Almost missed seeing this bird.  It blended in well with the tree.

Arctic Lupine

Alaska Poppy

We stopped for the night at the West Fork BLM campground.  Again very few people here.  I think there was at least one or two other campers.  This campground did have a campground host – Klaus.  Klaus is from Anchorage and he has been a campground host here for a number of years.  He said he even remembered me.  I sure didn’t remember him.  Nice guy, very friendly.

We stayed at this campground when we drove this road in August 2018.  Nice place.  When we were here last it was hunting season so the campground was almost full.

We didn’t see or hear a lot of birds at the campground.  In fact, I think we had more birds in 2018.  Yes people, bird population numbers are dropping.

As I was cooking dinner – outside – Klaus came by to let me know he had seen two brown bear cubs in the pull-through section of the campground.  Moxie and I had just walked through that loop about 20 minutes earlier.  He didn’t see the mama bear, but suspects she was nearby.  So I quickly made dinner.  I guess the guys weren’t too concerned because they had a fire and sat around telling stories.  I decided to let the guys enjoy their time without me around.  We never did see the bears – Woohoo!!!

Day 4 – West Fork to Eagle

We had heard that the Chicken Airport (gravel strip with ponds on either side – a pilot’s nightmare for bird strikes) was good for Common Yellowthroat and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.   After about 1.0 hour at the airport looking for birds, particularly the Common Yellowthroat, Kerry finally spotted the bird.  Unfortunately it was in a heavily treed area so it was hard to get us on the bird.  When the bird moved, we moved with it, and finally about 5-10 minutes later, Jim spotted the bird singing from a spruce tree.  Well that was a first (although I suspect my Midway Common Yellowthroat was singing from a spruce tree).  Score!!!  Finally I got to see the Common Yellowthroat, in Alaska no less.  This is one of my favorite warbler species and over the past 5-6 years we haven’t seen as many as in previous years.  So always nice to see.  Again I didn’t have my camera with me.

One of the ponds at the Chicken airport

Jim said he wanted to see a Say’s Phoebe and after the Common Yellowthroat, we walked to a nearby pond.  As if on demand, there hawking from a nearby bush was a Say’s Phoebe.  The bird even flew to within 10-15 feet of us.  So Jim found my bird, and I found his bird.  We were both happy birders.  At the Chicken Airport, I recorded 29 species and I missed several waterfowl that the others observed.  We never saw or heard the sapsucker, however.

We stopped for coffee and goodies in Chicken.  Chicken is one of the few surviving gold rush towns in Alaska.  And mining still occurs here.  Chicken’s year-round residence number 7 (much more in the summer).  The Taylor Highway is not maintained in the winter, so these people either have to provision for the long winters or ride snow machines into Tok to get supplied.  Not my cup of crazy.

On we drove to Eagle.  The Taylor Highway is paved (mostly) from the Alaska Highway to Chicken, from there  it is a 100 mile gravel road to Eagle.  And some of that road is along mountaintops (sheer drop offs on both sides).  Not a road for the faint-of-heart (me).  I was never so happy as when we finally made it into Eagle.  As usual, we did have some rain throughout the day.  Large thunderclouds.  Very dramatic.

Boreal forest …

… a sea of green

Looked for Northern Hawk Owls but no luck

Eagle was quiet.  The main hotel, which usually has bus tour groups, was empty, their cafe closed, and their store only open during limited hours.   The Yukon -Charlie National Park and Preserve offices were closed and locked up tight.

We drove to the Eagle BLM campground.  We were the only campers there until two other people came later that night.  There wasn’t even a campground host.  I really like this campground.  From our site, I could see warblers and thrushes singing from the tree tops.  Usually I have to crane my neck up to see them, but here I could look almost straight head and see the birds.    After dinner we did walk around town and visit (briefly) Fort Egbert.  We didn’t see much in the way of birds or people.   And speaking of dinner, we had to ask Kerry to microwave some items for us because the “o” ring on our stove connection broke in half.  Jack almost set himself on fire trying to fix the stove.

One of the airports in Chicken – but not the main one

Lots of birch and aspen too

The mighty Yukon River

I couldn’t get cell phone service so maybe they have land lines and here an old wooden telephone booth (not operable of course)

Only around 83 people live in Eagle. Not sure if that is year-round or not. Not sure they even have a “real” city hall.

One of the buildings at Ft. Egbert

The eves of this house are covered in bird nest boxes

Swainson’s Thrush.  I could easily see this bird from our campsite.

Swainson’s Thrush (same bird only it turned around)

Day 5 – Eagle Campground (Eagle) to Walker Fork Campground

Turns out the other two campers were very good, experienced birders from the Fairbanks area.  We ran into them as we were taking a walk near the campground in search of birds.  Luckily we spotted them as there was a flycatcher we weren’t familiar with, but they were – Hammond’s Flycatcher.  Another first for me in Alaska.  We stopped and talked with them for a few minutes.  They mentioned where several Yellow-bellied Flycatchers had been spotted along the Taylor Highway, and at the Eagle Airport.  We decided to check out the main Eagle Airport.  We arrived there within 5 minutes of a plane landing.  We didn’t see or hear a lot of birds, and definitely no Yellow-bellied Sapsucker or Flycatcher.

We went back into town so Kerry could get some gas, and I could get a Pepsi (my poison of choice when we travel), and Jack could get an “o” ring for the stove.  We then left town.  Later reading subsequent eBird reports we should have stayed in Eagle another night and birded the town.  Two days later a Bobolink had been spotted, and there were reports of a Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, and Least Flycatcher – all birds we would have loved to have seen.  We could have tagged along with the really good birders (Michelle and JJ).  Oh well, an interesting scenic area a worth another visit.

When we got to Jack Wade Junction (turn off to Eagle) and we decided to take the road to the Alaska/Canada border.  This was Jim’s first trip to the area so he wanted to check out the ‘Top of the World’ highway.  This area is high alpine tundra and we had hoped to find some nesting birds.  No luck.  It was pretty quiet.  For some reason there is about ten miles of pave road to and from the border.  Was nice to be on a paved road again – with little or no damage to the road.  And no traffic.  Of course there isn’t any reason for someone to drive the road since the US and Canadian border crossing here is closed.

We drove to the Walker Fork Campground.  Again not much here in the way of birds.  Quiet.  There were a lot of Cliff Swallows nesting on the bridge over Walker Fork River.  Jack pondered where the birds nested before bridges.  There were a fair number of mosquitoes here too so we spent another night in the van, rather than enjoying being outside.  This is an okay campground – my least favorite of the three.  This campground did have a campground host but we never met them.  We were the only campers here.

Pond near the Eagle (BLM) Campground

Boreal forest – beautiful

The clouds are coming

Now that’s a cloud

Tall Jacob’s Ladder

Snowshoe Hare

Alder Flycatcher

Looks like a Smoke signal

More clouds

More countryside

Views forever

Made it to the high alpine tundra and the multitude of flowers

Woolly Lousewort

Parry’s Flower

Mountain Avens

Alpine Azalea

Unknown flower or flower parts

Alpine tundra

Some snow still present

And you can see Canada maybe?

Jack and Moxie

Moxie – she loved it here

Day 6 – Walker Fork to Gerstle River Bridge Wayside

We departed the campground and headed back to the Chicken Airport to bird.  This time it only took me about 20 minutes before I spotted the Common Yellowthroat.  I heard the bird, lifted my binocs, and there it was.  I had hoped to get a photo, but the bird had other ideas.  We didn’t stay here as long as the first visit and I observed or heard fewer birds (only 22 this time for me).  I did get to see the Say’s Phoebe again.  I am most familiar with this bird as a result of my birding activities in Arizona.  I can usually find one at my dad’s house near Sedona.

There was also a Bohemian Waxwing hawking for insect at the same pond as the Say’s Phoebe.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a waxwing “hawk” for insects.  Hawking it flying out from vegetation to grab an insect and return to the vegetation.  At this pond was also a Solitary Sandpiper, who when it flew across the pond flushed the Say’s Phoebe.

Another surprise was the number of Rusty Blackbirds here.  We suspect there are at least two pairs of the blackbirds at the airport.  They were flying back and forth between ponds.  Now those birds were easy to spot  and ID- all black, with a yellow eye.  They are also a species of concern due to a sharp decrease in their numbers.  So always happy to see them.

We stopped at Chicken Gold Camp and Outpost in Chicken.  This is one well stocked gift store with really nice items.  I could have spent some time (and money) looking at everything in the store.  Instead I settled for a mocha.  When we left the building there was a Tree Swallow  using a hydraulic pipe for a nest box.  This is a mining town.    They also offer RV camping if you don’t mind camping parking lot style.

From Chicken we drove to Mt. Fairplay (another alpine tundra area).  We parked at a parking area and walked up into the alpine tundra – hoping to find birds like American Golden-Plover, Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur.  I did see an American Robin and an unidentifiable sparrow (I suspect Savannah Sparrow), but that was all.  We did run into some campers, one who used to work at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge.  She happened to know a friend of ours in Homer.  Small world.   They were camped in a nice, elevated spot (although I wonder how they got their trailer up there), but a thunderstorm was coming in and I don’t think I would want to be in the open like that during such a storm.

We made it back to Tok to gas up and head north on the Alaska Highway towards Delta Junction.  We really didn’t have a place in mind to stay for the night.  I checked the handy-dandy Alaska Highway Travelpost and opted for the Gerstle River Bridge Wayside.  They have camping spots and pit toilets, but not much else.  Pretty primitive and unmaintained, but very clean restrooms.  But hey, it was free.  I had bought some lunch meat and cheese, so we had that for dinner.  In the morning, we had dry cereal and yogurt.  Jack had to wait on his coffee until we got to Delta Junction.

It was a long ways down if you went off the road – beautiful countryside

Chicken and signpost. Check out some of the places listed on the signpost (including Australia)

Bohemian Waxwing

Pond adjacent to the Chicken airstrip. We never did see a plane land in our two visits to the airport. Safe place to bird.

Dwarf Fireweed

Alaska Poppies

Not sure what this plant is ???

But pretty – maybe a relative of the onion family?

Rusty Blackbird (Male)

Rusty Blackbird

Say’s Phoebe

Was surprised to still see ice on the Robertson River – Alaska Highway (between Tok and Delta Junction)

Day 7 Gerstle River Bridge Wayside to Tangle Lakes

This seemed to be our busiest birding day, although not necessarily that productive.  Our first birding location were the delta area agricultural fields in hope of spotting a Mountain Bluebird or an Upland Sandpiper.  Both birds eluded us.  In fact, we didn’t see much of anything except for around 30+ Common Ravens at one farm.  Jim and Kerry had good looks at a Great Horned Owl on a power pole, but by the time Jack and I backtracked to where Jim and Kerry were, the bird flushed just as I was getting Jack on the bird.  I didn’t see it through my binoculars, only a general shape with my eyes.  So I didn’t count that bird in the total number of different species observed on the trip.

At Delta Junction we stopped for the essentials; gas, coffee, and junk food, then headed south along the Richardson Highway.  We stopped at Bolio Lake,  just outside of Delta Junction, where we spotted a fair number of different waterfowl species.  Nothing unusual was spotted on the lake.  Jim did scope out two Spotted Sandpipers and I got a quick glimpse of them mating.  We had a total of 22 species here – not too bad.  We looked for Upland Sandpiper in the area, but again no luck.

We continued along the Richardson Highway heading south.  We made a stop at a rest area near Summit Lake.  There was still snow and slushy ice along the shore of the lake.  This is a beautiful area.   We did hear our first Arctic Warbler and got some great looks at several male Yellow Warblers singing their hearts out.  I spotted a Willow Ptarmigan climbing the slope of a bank, making its way into the willows.  Only reason we saw it because we heard it first.  The Willow Ptarmigan has a very distinctive call (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ec-E3YdAR1U)

At another stop to just stretch, Jim thought some distance white specks on the mountains might be goats or sheep.  He got his scope out to find only snow.  However, when we looked at a mountain behind us we discovered at least 25 sheep.  They were quite far away even for the spotting scope, but it did add to our wildlife list for the trip.

At Paxson, a small community at the junction of the Denali and Richardson Highways, we turned right onto the Denali Highway.  Just over the bridge (about at about MP 0.3 on the Denali Highway) we pulled into a parking lot.  American Dippers have built nests on the bridge supports in previous years.  While I didn’t see a nest, we did see at least one American Dipper.  These hardy birds dip into the water, sometimes totally submerging themselves, to find food.  We also saw a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers.  These birds winter in Kachemak Bay so I always find it strange to seem them inland during the summer.  Same with White-winged and Surf Scoters.

We got back into our respective vehicles and headed up to our campground at Tangle Lakes.  I was surprised at how many other campers were there at this time of year.  We had seen a lot of campers headed north while we traveled south on the Richardson Highway (it was Sunday) so I thought there wouldn’t be too many people at the campground.  I was wrong.  Luckily we both found camping spots.

After dinner, I did go out and bird some.  The campground looks out over the Tangle River, which flows into Tangle Lake.  The campground sits higher than the river at one point, so I could look down onto the trees making it easier to see birds.  I also looked across the river and saw a mother moose and her two calves.  The calves were probably born within the last week.  They were so cute.  I wish I could download a video I took of the moose.  Funny how I have no trouble texting the video, but sending it via email or downloading it to my blog I can’t do because the file is too big.

I also had a mystery flycatcher that looked like a Least Flycatcher, but sounded more like Western Wood-Pewee.  It didn’t look like the wood-pewee, however.   I didn’t have my camera so I could take a photo to help in the identification.  Some days are dragons, in that I miss out on the identification of a particular bird.

Wild Iris or Blue Flag

Bison

Oil pipeline along the Richardson Highway

Wide sweeping valley

Gulkana River

Jim, Kerry, and Jack

Summit Lake

American Dipper

Still some snow in the higher elevations near Tangle Lakes

Gadwall (drake)

Moose calves – twins

Playing while momma moose was nearby feeding

Moose with her twin calves

Day 8  Tangle Lakes to MP 48.5 (pullout)

There is a spot near Tangle Lakes were Smith Longspurs used to nest.  Jack and I have tried this spot twice for Smith Longspurs, but to no avail.  While we didn’t find Smith Longspurs, we did see several Lapland Longspurs.  I wonder if these birds had migrated through Homer?  We do get Lapland Longspurs in Homer during spring and fall migration, and occasionally see them during the winter as well.

We hiked up a mountain (low willow bushes to alpine Tundra).  This is a beautiful area.  I  eventually spotted an American Golden-Plover.  What a beautiful bird.  I wasn’t able to get a decent photo because it was very windy out.  We all got good looks of the bird.  I then noticed movement and saw three birds fly down the hillside.  The three birds were a pair of Lapland Longspurs and a Horned Lark. I was so hoping to see a Horned Lark here.  Further along we got some much closer views of the Lark.

As we were walking along the top of the mountain (think hill more than a majestic Alaskan mountain), we passed a small grouping of rocks.  Jack inquired whether one of the rocks was actually a Rock Ptarmigan.  Sure enough.  Great find Jack.  The bird didn’t move and call so finding it was an amazing feat especially since we had just walked past the rocks.  Not even Moxie flushed the bird.

Coming down off the mountain we also heard and then spotted a pair of Willow Ptarmigan.  We didn’t see a lot of birds during our windy, several hour hike, but we did get some good birds (plover, lark, longspur, and ptarmigan).  We made it back to our van for lunch and a wind-break.  While the others were busy eating, I heard an Arctic Warbler so I went in search of the bird.  I was finally able to see it.  One of the reasons for coming to this area is to see the Arctic Warbler.  This old world warbler migrates  each spring to Alaska from Asia, where it winters.  This warbler is a ground nester.  I found that surprising.

Jack and Moxie in the van

The start of the trail to the alpine area where we wanted to bird. When we were here in 2018 there wasn’t any snow. Of course we were there two weeks later in the month. Moxie loved the snow.

Arctic Willow

Arctic Willow – pretty

Moss Campion

Not sure what this is ???

The first part of the trail led us through willow.  We did have a clear trail however.

Frigid Shooting Star

Willow Ptarmigan

American Tree Sparrow

Willow – no leaves yet

Alpine Tundra

Wilson’s Warbler (male)

Our view looking down on the lark and longspurs – Alaska Range in the background

At the top, it was interesting to see these ridges – possibly an old glacial moraine?

It wasn’t cold, although it looks like it here. Windy though.

Me and Moxie in search of the perfect photo

The Rock Ptarmigan we almost stepped on

We next headed west on the Denali Highway.  We stopped at the Tangle River Inn for coffee, but the lodge wasn’t open until 2:00 and we didn’t want to wait around for an hour.   Jim and I heard a Blackpoll Warbler (a very soft, high pitched song), and we searched and searched for that bird in this small copse of willows, but that darn bird remained elusive.   So we continued on, birding along the way, and stopping at the MacLaren River Lodge  (MP Paxson 43.3) for dinner.  We talked with the waitress and she had said they had less people than normal, but more people than expected.  Guess Alaskans are getting out to enjoy their state this year.  Just don’t spread the virus.

Cooper – one big dog, but sweet.  One of the three lodge dogs.

This was another dog at the lodge. Love his half white/half black face.  Old guy.

We stopped for the night at a pullout at MP 48.5 on the Denali Highway (48.5 miles from Paxson).  This was a very smart move.  Not only did we have numerous Arctic Warblers in the area, but I was able to get some great looks at a feeding Blackpoll Warbler – that bird that had eluded us earlier in the day.

In the parking lot where we camped, Jim found four bird eggs.  Two of the four eggs were still intact, while the other two eggs had been crushed.  We suspect the eggs belong to a Semi-palmated Plover.  Like Killdeer (their cousins), these plover lay their eggs on bare ground.  Not always a smart move.  However, we had arrived at the parking lot first and hadn’t seen or heard any plovers.  So don’t know if the eggs had been abandoned or what?   Jim moved the eggs over to the side of the parking lot.  In the morning all evidence of the eggs was gone.  Maybe a Red Fox came and ate them?

Yellow Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler …

… singing away

Mew Gull on a nest

Arctic Warbler

This one was all puffed out – Arctic Warbler

The eggs Jim found. He thought they were Semi-palmated Sandpiper eggs. If so, I feel sorry for the bird who laid the eggs. They were huge for such a small bird.

The two broken eggs

The eggs in Jim’s hand. So you can see how big they are.

Day 9:  MP 48.5 Denali Highway to Denali South Viewpoint (Parks Highway)

I birded the area this morning and once again saw and/or heard plenty of Arctic Warblers singing, along with another good view of a Blackpoll Warbler.

We left camp around 9:00 a.m. and headed west towards Cantwell.  There wasn’t a lot of birds en route.  Jim and I were talking later and we both agreed that the first part of the Denali Highway starting in Paxson is the best for birding.  A good portion of the road was quite potholed and rough so at 12-15mph we didn’t go very fast.  Also, the sides of the road were heavily treed so we could not get good looks at lakes near the road.  It is the lakes that hold most of the birds (waterfowl primarily).

One of many lakes along the Denali Highway

Lots of habitat for birds and other wildlife

And the sun – hooray!!!

That is one big nest to hold a Trumpeter Swan

Lesser Yellowlegs

The bird is trying to catch its balance

Lots of wetlands which means lots of mosquitoes too.

A Cliff Swallow in its nest under the Clearwater Creek bridge

When we did get near the end of the road there was one lake that wasn’t obscured by vegetation and I got a good look at a Red-necked Loon.  Unfortunately the bird was too far away for a decent photo – gotta love my binoculars.

At Cantwell we parted ways with Jim and Kerry.  They wanted to get back to Anchorage that night and Jack and I wanted to camp another night on the road.  We chose the Denali South Viewpoint (they do allow limited camping) and got great views of Mt. Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley).   So beautiful.

If you see Mt. Denali while in the park you automatically become a member of the 30% club.  This is the percentage of people who go to Denali National Park to see the mountain and actually see it.  We are members of that club.

Mt. Denali

What a great view from the south

Closer view of Mt. Denali

Day 10: Denali Highway to Denali South Viewpoint (Parks Highway) to Anchorage

Okay at 1:00 am this morning I had to get out to use the restroom.  The mosquitoes must have just hatched.  I didn’t close the door all the way and once I got back and into bed, I could hear a buzzing in my ear.  So I told Jack I was sorry, but I needed to turn on the light so I could kill the mosquito with our great little mosquito zapper.  Well about an hour later I think I got the last one.  I think they must have been hiding in the walls waiting to see what happened to their buddies.  I know I probably killed several dozen mosquitoes.  Won’t it be fun to count them when I clean out the van after we get home???

We did stop at the Palmer Hay Flats because a Western Kingbird – a bird known primarily in the Lower 48 – had been spotted here.  I got the location off of eBird and off we went.  We drove to the boat launch at the end of Rabbit Slough road and walked the road searching for the bird.  After about 50 minutes, we were about to call defeat when I tried calling in the bird one more time (only tried one other time with no luck) and the bird immediately flew into a tree next to us.  We got great views, and a decent photo, of the bird.  Woohoo!!!  I texted Jim that we had seen the bird and later in the day he called me saying he was out looking for the bird and seeking information.  I told him where to go and got a text message (with photo) shortly thereafter letting me know he had scored (saw the bird).

After seeing the kingbird we drove into Anchorage, did some shopping (while wearing our masks and physically distancing as best we could), and then spent the night in my sister’s driveway.  Good its a big driveway.

In the evening with our friend Lisa, we did check out Lake Hood for the summer resident Red-throated Loon.  We found the bird and while it was in close, lighting was terrible for photos.  But WOW, looking through the scope – what a beautiful, beautiful bird.  Magnifico….

Western Kingbird

Yellow-rumped Warbler

This bird had a deformity near its beak

Red-throated Loon

who didn’t seem to have a care in the world …

… just floating near the float planes

However, wwhen a float plane took off and flew overhead, the loon went into a stealth mode skimming the lake

Day 11: Anchorage to Homer

After some more shopping (Costco, Target, Petco, Cabela’s) we stopped for my mocha and then left for home.  Made our usual stop at Tern Lake and Fred Meyer’s in Soldotna for gas, then headed west and south on the Sterling Highway to Homer.  Oh and we stopped at Dairy Queen for a root beer milk shake.  Yum.  This is one busy Dairy Queen.

Ring-necked Duck (Drake) in ponds across from Tern Lake

All in all,  great birding companions, and I observed a total of 94 different bird species, and saw two Red Fox, several Snowshoe Hares, bison, numerous moose,  and 25 sheep.  Luckily no bears.  Maybe they knew we had bear spray.