Birder’s Log December 2, 2014: There is a phenomenon in Alaska called ‘cabin fever’ where a couple of days inside makes you stir crazy. So, even though there were threatening skies and a not so favorable weather forecast we set out for the beach. A favorite birding beach nearby is Anchor Point and true to its character, the wind was whipping and the waves ‘a rolling in.’
I visit the Anchor River beach monthly to conduct my COASST walk – a citizen science monitoring program to survey for dead birds along selected beaches (Jack calls it my dead bird walk). While we didn’t find any dead birds we did find a dead Sea Otter pup. We have found dead or dying adult sea otters on the beach before, but this is the first pup we have found. We called USFWS and huddled in the wind to meet a team who would recover the otter for a necropsy study.
Anchor River parallels the beach with a dividing beach berm/spit of land – so, river birds on one side and surf birds on the other side. Despite the wind, what a lovely day to be outside under mostly cloudy skies with ever-changing cloud formations being pushed around with strong winds of 15 to 20 miles per hour coming from the south. At this beach we are used to the winds coming from the north, which makes for a cold walk out to the river mouth, but a warm walk back. With winds from the south, the trek back was slow and cold (and we developed a slant to our walk).
We were surprised to see the waves coming at an angle to the beach, rather than straight on. That is what strong, southerly winds can do. And despite the fact the tide was going out, there wasn’t much room on the beach to walk with strong wave fingers coming at you. Right out of the chute (or in this case the parking lot) we spotted a flock of over 50 Rock Sandpipers and a lone Sanderling (why is this bird still hanging around?) foraging at the surf line.
The low light in late fall, early winter creates conditions for some great cloud photos.
The industrious Northwestern Crows were busy feeding in the wrack line. They are great fun to watch but don’t like us getting too close. The crows, however, did not seem to mind our three-legged neighbor dog who has ‘adopted’ us and gets rewarded with beach runs.
Near the mouth of the Anchor River there were over 200 Glaucous-winged Gulls roosting, while another 30 or so were loafing and bathing in the water. I was able to capture the classic photo of a flying mass of birds, in this case gulls as they took off. These birds do not care for people getting too close either. Unfortunately my survey requires walking near the high tide line, which in some cases results in birds being flushed, thus putting more stress on the birds. I hate doing it, but need to follow protocol.
We also saw two flocks of Snow Buntings – around 60 or so birds – but they moved too quickly to be able to photograph as they made their way along the beach vegetation berm. Also, there was a large flock of Common Goldeneye – 60 or so males and females – on the Anchor River. They were very skittish. I suspect they are or have been hunted as evidenced by the number of spent shotgun shells near the river. Of course it probably doesn’t help having 2-3 eagles lurking in the trees.
And speaking of eagles, the Anchor River is always good for a Bald Eagle sighting, and we were not disappointed. As we were walking down the beach we got excited when we saw this huge shape flying towards us – a stealth bomber like, immature Bald Eagle flew straight at us. The bird looked HUGE. Funny, but once it banked and headed out towards the water, its size decreased significantly.
Despite the cold, blustery day, it was another fun outing at the Anchor River. You never know what you might find there.