alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

Month: July 2016

Seward and around …

Ah, the joys of camping with the mosquitoes and flies.  I think the flies are more tenacious and worse than the mosquitoes.

We decided to take Doodlebug (the dog) for more camping experience and adjustment to life in a van.  We are still trying to decide whether to take the van and head outside this winter.

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Doodlebug – the dog

With sun in the forecast, we headed to Seward and decided to camp at Forest Service Trail River campground on the road to Seward.  This campground has 91 sites, so we thought we could surely find one site for the night.  Luckily we had plenty of sites to choose from, like 80+.  However, we were surprised how many sites had been reserved for the previous weekend – almost all.  This apparently is a popular campground.

There are three camp loops – the River Terrace Loop, the Spruce Woods Loop, and the Eagle Point Loop.  Intrigued by the name, we went straight to the Eagle Point loop (having never been to the campground before) and found a nice site.  No eagles but lots of song birds out and about, including a Yellow-rumped Warbler with a nest nearby.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Yellow-rumped Warbler nest (hard to see – use your imagination)

However, I am getting ahead of myself.  One our way to the campground we did make a stop at Tern Lake.  This is one of our favorite spots on the Kenai Peninsula -at any time of year.  We parked at the day-use area and walked a portion of the old Sterling Highway.  You could see where people have driven up the road and camped along side the road.  We even found an abandoned car there – a bit spooky.

We always look for an American Dipper in the swift current at the bridge, but alas no luck.  I did observe some ducklings searching the river for food.  On the lake itself, we observed a Common Loon bathing – vigorously splashing around.  There were also several hatch year (born this year) Arctic Terns, a female American Widgeon with four her ducklings in tow, and in the mix was a beautiful Red-necked Grebe.

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Old Sterling Highway – near Tern Lake Day Use Area

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Waterfall along the Old Sterling Highway

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Townsend’s Warbler

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Mallard duckling foraging along a stream

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American Wigeon female and her ducklings foraging in Tern Lake

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Red-necked Grebe at Tern Lake

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Hatch Year Arctic Tern at, where else –  Tern Lake

Once at the campground we decided to check out the other loops and walked down to the day-use area which fronts the Kenai Lake.   Of all the times we have passed by, I have never see any boats on the water.  I wonder why?  We decided to camp the next night in the Spruce Woods loop.  And, the name fits – a nice site in the woods.  We like this loop the best.

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Our campsite in the Eagle Point Loop

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Kenai Lake with rain threatening; but only that – a threat

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Saw about three Gray Jays flying to and from a stump grabbing something in their bill. Never did quite figure out what it was. Something black and sticky.

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As you can see this is a Hatch Year Gray Jay. The bird is going through its molt stage.

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This Gray Jay was a little further along in the molt stage.

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Boreal Chickadee near our campsite

On day two of our trip, we ventured into Seward.  We had to check out a few of the birding hot spots around Seward;  a house off Nash Road where the owner has a number of bird feeders, the Nash Road ponds, the end of Nash road, and the lagoon in town.  Surprisingly there weren’t a lot of birds.  Maybe these places are better for birds in the winter time?

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Kenai Lake the following day. The lake seems eerily calm.

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This is a pond/wetland located adjacent to the Seward Highway. There is a boardwalk leading out from the parking lot. We have seen a nesting Trumpeter Swan pair in the past, but no evidence of swans this year.  I love this wetland.

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Wilson’s Warbler with a caterpillar in its mouth. Food for its young, I presume.

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Large wetland along Nash Road near Seward. Trumpeter Swans general nest here too, but didn’t see any.

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At the end of Nash Road is a large parking area, or at least there was.  It is now a stockpile of gravel and large boulders. Plus there is this jack-up rig.

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Glaucous-winged Gull hanging out on the rocks along Resurrection Bay.

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Common Goldeneye female roosting near the pond along the Seward Highway in town. This was the only bird species observed on the pond. Guess birds like it here better in the winter.

We parked near the Sea Life Center and walked along a ocean-side path fronting the city campground full of humongous motor homes.  I don’t see how people can stand to camp within ten feet of another camper.   Not my idea of camping.  Essentially you are camping in a large parking lot.  May as well be camping at Fred Meyer’s or Walmart.  Not that Seward has either.  I like to have nature next to me.  Oh well, one person’s ideal camping spot is not necessarily another person’s ideal.

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Resurrection Bay looking south from the parking area near the SeaLife Center.

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Mount Marathon. Anyone want to race up the mountain?

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This hatch-year Black-billed Magpie was being harassed by hatch-year Gray Jays in a tree at my brother’s house in Seward.

After a lunch at Zudy’s which was good.  We hiked from Lowell Point to Tonsina Creek.  Doodlebug joined us, but we probably should have left her at my brother’s house.  I forgot how much of an elevation gain and descent there is on the trail.  She was dragging at the end, but she was a real trooper and stayed with us.  Lots of people out enjoying the beautiful sunny, warm day.  After dinner at “The Cookery” we drove back to the campground and our new site in the Spruce Wood Loop.  No other campers nearby.  Sweet!!!

In the morning we decided to hike the Victor Creek Trail.  This trail has a gradual ascent (with plenty of switchbacks) through the forest.  Lots of different fungi along the way.   There were some birds heard singing, but not much seen except for several Wilson’s Warblers.  I think they may have had a nest nearby.

Once we got out of the forested area, the trail was  hidden by tall grasses.  Since bears utilize the area (although no bear scat seen on the trail) we decided to turn back and not take any chances of  a surprise bear encounter on or near the trail.   So back down we went.   There were a lot of ripe blueberries along the trail and we sampled them as we traversed the mountainside.

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Victor Creek trail – first portion through the trees

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Jack and Doodlebug walking up the trail.

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Lots of fungi along the trial. Don’t know what this one is, or any of the others for that matter. Need to buy a book.

Some of the plants and fungi we observed along the trail.  More fungi than anything else.

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Lots of blueberries along the trail – yum, yum.

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Wilson’s Warbler …

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… singing its heart out

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Jack barely visible through the tall grasses. We decided to turn around here because we didn’t want to worry about running into bears unannounced.

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Trail leads up, and up, and up. But alas, this is where we turned around.

After we finished hiking the Victor Creek Trail we drove to Quartz Creek campground (another Forest Service Campground) situated along Kenai Lake, near Cooper’s Landing.  This campground gets heavy use and was filled up by around 5:00 pm that night.  Luckily we found a nice campground the mosquitoes and flies were willing to share with use.  We spent part of the afternoon sitting in our campsite reading.   We could only take so much buzzing and biting from the flies and mosquitoes and decided to walk the boardwalk and nearby road looking for birds.

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Quartz Creek from the boardwalk

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This large pile of bear scat was found near the boardwalk. Looks like the bear was eating red currents.  Luckily we didn’t see any bears.  Always a plus when you are hiking.

Surprisingly the campground was quite birdy.  We encountered at least ten (10) different species in the afternoon, including two (2) Brown Creepers.  Brown Creepers are always a nitce find as one does not get the reward of seeing a Brown Creeper often.  Near the river I heard a Northern Waterthrush and eventually found it in a tree gathering caterpillars.  We didn’t spot the American Dipper family that uses the bridge support structures for nesting.

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Hatch-year Varied Thrush along the road

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Dark-eyed Junco sitting in a tree …

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Northern Waterthrush …

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… with a caterpillar. It’s dinner time.

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Fungi

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Saw this hornet’s nest along the road

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American Robin

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Jack taking Doodlebug for a drink in a shallow part of Quartz Creek. The river levels where high.

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Female Harlequin duck with her ducklings. She had at least five. Cute to watch them forage in a shallow area along Quartz Creek.

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Dark-eyed Junco seen at our campsite

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The following morning we packed up and then went for another short walk before heading back to Homer.  This time we did see the American Dipper dipping into the fast moving water.  The bird was using snags on which to perch and to then dip down into the water in search of food.  With the river so high there isn’t as much habitat available for these birds to feed.

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American Dipper. There is usually always a pair that nests under the Quartz Creek bridge. This bird may have been one of the pair or its offspring.

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Since the river level was too high …

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… this bird had to use this downed log to allow it to “dip” into the stream to feed.

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Dark-eyed Junco with a caterpillar. Lots of caterpillars loosing the fight.

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View from the road adjacent to Quartz Creek – near the campground.

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Varied Thrush – should I go left or …

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… should I go right?

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Willow Rosette Gall

We had a great time camping.  The weather was nice and the birding great despite the bugs.  However, I will say that I’ve been in worse “bug” conditions in states in the lower 48.  All in all, it was a great four days to be outdoors and …

“It’s Always A Great Day to Bird”

P.S.  For those of you who are interested in fungi, on August 26-28 is the Girdwood (AK) Fungus Fair.  Check it out: http://www.fungusfair.com/ In addition, the U.S. Forest Service has produced a brochure titled “Mushrooms of the National Forests in Alaska”.  You can download the brochure at:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5414170.pdf.  If you know the names of the mushrooms in the photographs on this blog, please let me know.  

 

Seldovia bound

We recently had friends visiting from Colorado and decided to take them to Seldovia, Alaska for the day via the Rainbow Tours.    Seldovia is on the southside of Kachemak Bay, accessible only by boat or small airplane, and boasts a population of 272 hearty souls (in 2014).

The day was overcast with light wind.  I like the ocean, but the ocean doesn’t like me.  I have a tendency to get sea sick so I was worried about how “rough” the ride might be.  Seas were forecast to be 2-4 feet, but luckily seas were about 2 feet for the most part – I wore my seasick patch for good measure just to be sure.  As ordered, once we landed in Seldovia, the sun was able to break free of the clouds for short periods of time.

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Homer Boat Harbor

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Under the docks – plumed anemones

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Barge coming into the harbor. We had to wait for this vessel to squeeze by.

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Overcast skies – looking out over Kachemak Bay

All Rainbow Tours first go by Gull Island.  This is an island near Halibut Cove boasting an impressive number of nesting Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common Murres.  Unfortunately the eagles have found the island to be a treasure too.  This year there seemed to be fewer nesting kittiwakes.  The eagles flush the birds off their nests continually, making it difficult for the birds to incubate the eggs.  Flushing the birds also makes them vulnerable to attack by eagles and allows both eagles and Ravens an opportunity to steal eggs or chicks – should the eggs hatch.

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A ‘raft’ of Common Murres in front of Gull Island

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There were lots of murres, but not as many as I’ve seen in past years.

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Pigeon Guillemot – I love this bird’s name

Also on the island are nesting Tufted Puffins.  I was surprised at the number of Tufted Puffins we saw – about 12.  Now this may seem like a small number, but on all previous trips I’ve taken (and they have been few), I generally only see about 3-4 Tufted Puffins.  Our captain spotted a lone Horned Puffin, which gave me a new bird for the year.  I call first sightings FOYs or First of Years.  Many people call them FOS or First of Season, but I want to know “what season”?   Also observed were Pelagic Cormorants and Surfbirds.  Surprisingly I didn’t see any Bald Eagles, although Jack saw one juvenile eagle.

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Common Murre and Tufted Puffin

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Tufted Puffin …

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… flapping its wings

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Black-legged Kittiwakes on their nests on the cliff face of Gull Island

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Common Murres finally coming to check out nesting habitat.  Murres do not begin nesting until July.

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Small Octopus on the rocks

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Kayakers checking out the birds also – and us

After a short tour around Gull Island, we headed towards Seldovia.  A pod of 10+ Humpback whales had been spotted earlier in the day so we went in search of whales near a large protruding rock called Sixty-foot Rock.   And we were rewarded with a few whales breaching the water.

We traversed through Eldridge Passage observing a variety of wildlife, including a Black Oystercatcher roosting on the beach.  These shorebirds nest on the beach in several areas within Kachemak Bay.  I was surprised at how many campers there were along the beaches.  Lots of people visiting Homer/Kachemak Bay this 4th of July weekend.

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Black Oystercatcher

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Spruce tree needles dead due to spruce aphids

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Lots of Sea Otters in the bay

We finally made it to Seldovia, and immediately disembarked from the boat and headed to the Boardwalk Hotel for lunch.  I had a delicious rockfish sandwich – yum, yum.   When we’ve gone to Seldovia in the past we’ve always brought our lunch and walked the Otterbahn Trail.   By stopping to eat lunch you don’t have a whole lot of time left to walk the trail, or explore the area including the town.

After lunch, we stopped at the Seldovia visitor center, and then walked the historic boardwalk, which takes all of about 15 minutes.  By then we only had 20 minutes before we needed to board the boat for our return trip to Homer.

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Foxglove – the bees were busy working these flowers

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Bright pink Foxglove

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House along boardwalk

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The historic boardwalk in Seldovia

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Fun store selling plants and knickknacks

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Beautiful Peony

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Gorgeous flower garden along the boardwalk

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House along Boardwalk

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I love signs and this one caught my eye.

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Swallow on the wire

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I think this gull was hoping there would still be some fish meat on this skeleton.

On the way back, we did stop for about 30 minutes as the pod of Humpback Whales were coming up for air and flashing their tails.  Fun to listen to all the oohs and ahhs of the passengers.   We got back to the Homer Boat Harbor about 6:00 pm and headed home.

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Tip of Homer Spit where the fishing is easy – okay maybe not.

Overall, the trip was a good one and it was “A GREAT DAY TO BIRD”.

 

 

Birding and Camping on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

Escape into Nature….  Well the real purpose for our visit to the refuge was to see how our new dog “Joey” or “Doodlebug” does camping.   She did pretty good for her first time.  We spent two nights camping in the refuge and birding too, of course…

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

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The refuge was established in 1941 when FDR (Roosevelt) signed enabling legislation for the “Kenai National Moose Range”.  In 1980, the moose range was renamed the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge contains 1.98 million acres, much of that designated as wilderness.

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Map showing the location of campgrounds

On the way to the refuge we went to the Funny River wildfire burn area to explore along a  horse trail to see if we could spot any woodpeckers – in particular, the Three-toed Woodpecker.  Nope.  Not to be.  However, we did find plenty of mosquitoes.  Well, okay we did see birds too and also heard two Olive-sided Flycatchers, which was encouraging.  This species is declining across its range, and is considered “Near Threatened”.

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Horse trail traversing the Funny River burn

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Swallowtail

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Bunchberry

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Cotton from the willow catkins

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Chrysosplenium tetrandrum (Northern Golden Saxifrage)

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This is a relatively small plant, with red seeds/fruits in what looks like cups

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Lincoln Sparrow (one of my favorite sparrow species)

We camped at Lower Ohmer Lake campground the first night.  This is a small campground – only four sites, with three close together.  We got a nice spot near the lake.

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Lower Ohmer Lake

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Flag Iris

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Cotton on the catkins

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Upclose view

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Jack hanging out at the campground. I was busy checking for birds.

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I LOVE clouds (well when there is also blue sky)

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Black-capped Chickadee

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Osprey – the bird actually had a fish in its talons

The next morning after breakfast we broke camp and drove to the Hidden Creek trailhead.  This 2.6 mile trail (round-trip) takes the hiker through varied habitat, including a burned area, with the turn-around point at Skilak Lake.

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Male Pine Grosbeak – we saw a lot of grosbeaks on the gravel road eating grit

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Female Pine Grosbeak eating grit

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Hidden Creek Trail

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Traveled through an array of habitats

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View of Skilak Lake

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Fungus on a birch tree

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More fungus

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Skilak Lake

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Iris

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Hidden Creek near its mouth

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View of the mouth of Hidden Creek from the trail

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Dark-eyed Junco

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American Robin

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White-winged Crossbill

We spent our second night at the Upper Skilak campground.  This was a more “developed” campground, with paved roads and “designated” sites.  Good we got to the campground early, and then watched campers arriving to find a place to spend the night in the campground soon filling up the campground.

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This squirrel was not a happy camper. He wanted us gone.

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Did I mention there were a lot of mosquitoes?

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Juvenile gull

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These gulls just want to be fed

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Not sure this bench gets much use

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Lots of lichens on the bench

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Skilak Lake from a trail in the day-use area of the Upper Skilak Lake

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Rocky outcrop that hosts Glaucous-winged and Herring Gulls and Double-Crested Cormorant

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We saw lots of these signs. They tell you not to run, but that is the first thing that crosses my mind. Instead you are to raise your hands and shout at the bear. Now that is not what I would think to do. Luckily we didn’t come across any bears.

In the morning we headed back home, with a stop at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.  The refuge opened a new visitor center in May 2015.  The visitor center was very nice with environmentally friendly building materials and design.

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New Kenai NWR visitor center

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Signage

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Entrance to the visitor center – natural roof

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Bull Moose Greeting.

The weather was nice, the scenery beautiful, the birds grand, and the mosquitoes everywhere.  We had a great time.  Get out and enjoy your National Wildlife Refuges and check out the birds because … IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD.

 

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