Whereas November was a month of mostly cold, sunny, dry days; December has been a month of mostly warm, wet, cloudy days – at least at our house. Our ‘snow zone’ at 1,400 ft elevation has been a ‘brown zone.’ The only consistency seems to be the strong winds.
At the beginning of December, we had about 6+ inches of snow on the ground, but by December 4th, a lot of the snow had melted. As of 9 December, while we still had some snow on the ground (it has since snowed an inch or two), with the warm weather we can again see green grass. Climate change in the North country is happening folks. We are experiencing it…especially in Arctic Alaska with decreasing sea ice and shoreline erosion. By December 14th, most of the snow in our yard was gone. But that didn’t last long as it snowed like crazy the following day, dumping up to 6+ inches in our yard. And with the strong winds, we had some descent snow drifts. And for the final day of the year – more snow, strong winds, and drifts over 2 feet in our yard, but still some areas barely covered in snow. Now the New Year is predicted to enter at 38 F for Homer.
We did have a few nice days during the month when the sun came out in all its blazing glory. How I do love the sun. Makes me feel like a million bucks (or should I say billion, since a million doesn’t seem to be worth as much as it did in the past). The sun is definitely a mood booster.
But, It Is All About ….Birds, Birds, Birds
There was been a sighting of a Snowy Owl on the Homer Spit and it created great excitement (well, if you are a birder). Our first attempt to see the bird ended in failure, but on 7 December a friend called to say he say the bird at the Green Timbers area on the Homer Spit. I called another friend (who hopes to band the bird) to let him know it had been spotted. Unfortunately he was on his way to the airport. I did get a call from him later to say that he couldn’t resist the temptation and left the airport to go see the bird. He got some great photos and made his flight.
Jack and I decided to try our luck and headed down to the Homer Spit to see if we could see the Snowy Owl. We got to Green Timbers and were disappointed that we didn’t see the bird right off. I then scanned the area with my binoculars and found it roosting in a grassy area. Other birders came to see the bird and were rewarded with good views (assuming you had binoculars). This is the second time I’ve seen a Snowy Owl in Homer. The first time was also at Green Timbers, but the bird was nearby and in full view so I got some great photos and long looks. No photos this time.
The next day we decided to try again for the Snowy and also do some birding on the Homer Spit. The day was warm (30s) and sunny. Unfortunately we did not see the owl. However, I did get some great photos of a Yellow-billed Loon on the bay along road to the Deep Water Dock. There were actually two loons present, one with what looked like some type of growth on its beak. The bird seemed to be feeding and not distressed.
Also present were Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, Hooded Grebes, Long-tailed Ducks, and Glaucous-winged Gulls. And, a big flock of Rock Sandpipers.
And speaking of birds, we had another Pine Grosbeak hit our windows. Not sure why. Was it the marauding Sharp-shinned Hawk or another raptor? Whatever the cause I quickly ran outside and found the bird alive. I picked her up (yes, a female Pine Grosbeak – again) and took her inside the house. I placed her in a cardboard shoe box (with holes). I found several used, but clean, tuna fish cans (yes, I do recycle), and filled them with water and sunflower seeds. I placed them in the box with the bird and put the box into our utility room, which is the warmest room in the house. I then turned a laundry basked upside down over the box (yes the basket too has holes) so that if the bird escaped the box she would not escape the laundry basket. I checked on her several times during the night and was surprised to find her still alive. In the morning – with the snow starting and strong winds – I took her outside to release her back into the wild. She was ready. As soon as I opened the lid on the box she flew to the nearby Sambucus racemosa (aka Red Elderberry – I just love that scientific name), where she stayed. Of course as soon as I let her go I thought – “Why didn’t you take a picture of her in the box”. She flew off shortly after her release. I just wish it would have been under better weather conditions.
On 29 December, I found another dead Pine Grosbeak in our yard near the windows. Again, I think a Sharp-shinned Hawk chased the bird into the window. Not sure what they have against Pine Grosbeaks??? That makes six Pine Grosbeaks striking our windows in the past two months. Of those six, only one survived the impact.
Christmas Bird Count
The Homer (Audubon) Christmas Bird Count was held on December 16th this year. I almost didn’t participate. Remember above when I said it snowed like crazy – that was December 15th. The roads into town aren’t the best during the winter and with all the crazy drivers that live out our way, it can be downright scary. Plus our road isn’t borough, city, or state maintained, which means unless we get someone to plow it, the snow doesn’t go anywhere. Luckily our neighbor decided to plow the road around 9:30 am, and by 11:30 am I felt confident enough to travel down into town and join the Area 2 team of Lani Raymond and Tim Quinn. Our small area was around Beluga Slough (Yay!). The day was actually nice – no strong winds, little precipitation (as a squall came through), and sunshine for the most part. It was truly a great day to bird. We had a total lots of waterfowl – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many ducks in Beluga Slough, including four Eurasian Wigeons.
After the count, we headed over to Islands and Ocean Visitor Center for the tally (65 species) and a delicious potluck. Thanks again to Dave Erikson and Lani Raymond for all their hard work in making for another successful Christmas Bird Count. And oh, we can’t forget the birds too. If you want to know what species were seen, and in what numbers, check out the Kachemak Bay Birders website: http://kachemakbaybirders.org/
I conducted my COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) survey on 5 December. The skies were overcast, it was windy (as is usual this time of year), and there was intermittent rain showers. I did find two dead birds – another Common Murre (Immature) and a what looked like a Surf Scoter (identified by its beak). A small flock of 50 or so Rock Sandpipers were spotted flying along the surf line, looking for a good place to land and feed.
Again the tides were such that I had to make quick work of my survey to avoid the 22 foot high tide. Luckily I was able to walk the 3.0 miles (used the tracking method on eBird) round trip in enough time to avoid the high waters. You could tell where the waves breached the berms and flooded over into the river. It would be interesting to see this in action, but not trapped by it! Those homes on the eroding bluff must have some great views of this action.
A Day at the Beach
Spent a late winter day at Homer’s Mariner’s Beach. The sun was shining, the wind was mild, and the tide was out – conditions couldn’t be much better. Doodlebug enjoyed the walk too.
A Day Spent in Search of a Woodpecker … or two
On 29 December we went to the Calvin and Coyle trail in Homer in search of the American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers. Before starting out on the trail, I heard a pik or was it a pek sound – definitely a woodpecker’s call. But which one remained a mystery. Not that it mattered because the bird was in flight and moving fast. All I saw was movement. I couldn’t even tell if it was a bird. The overcast lighting was not the best. Needless to say we didn’t see either woodpecker. In fact, it was pretty quiet. We thought we would see a Brown Creeper, but got skunked there too. Only three different species were observed or heard, and those were primarily at the trailhead: Boreal Chickadee (my favorite chickadee), Pine Siskin, and Red-breasted Nuthatch (heard only).
While the birding wasn’t the best, it was nice to be outside. During the short hike – we did walk out on the trail about a half mile – I decided for a New Year’s Resolution (or goal), I want to bird at least one day per week. During the winter, when I’m at home, I don’t do much birding. I miss it. And when I saw bird at least one day per week I don’t mean checking the birds out at my feeder or on my daily walks with the dog. Wish me luck.
I need to be sure and come back here at least once a month next year to bird. Good birding in the spring when the migrants return. And who said migrants are bad?
Until Next Year (2018) …