Yes, we are finally seeing more daylight every day – in fact as much as 5 minutes or more. You might be thinking that five minutes is not a lot of time in a given day, but over a 28 day period that is 2.3 more hours of daylight for the month. To me, I treasure any increase in daylight at this time of year.
Remember last month when I said I had never missed a COASST monitoring session in the winter time due to weather. Guess what? You got it. I wasn’t able to monitor this month due to ice and snow on the beach. Anchor Point had received about 6-7 inches of snow several days prior to the date I chose for my walk (we have a seven day window in which to conduct our walk – mine is the first week of the month). With the cold temperatures, the snow and an impregnable sheet of ice were still on the beach when I arrived. And since the tide was relatively low for a high tide (16.8 at 7:46 am), rather than the recent higher tides of 20 feet or more, the tide made little impact on the ice and snow. Hopefully next month will be better. I may try to see if the conditions have changed any the second week of February since rain is predicted. If the ice and snow are gone, then I will monitor. NOTE: While the snow and ice did leave the beach, I was told I could take the month off from monitoring, so I did.
So while I didn’t do my own beach for COASST, I did help Lani and Jim conduct COASST monitoring at Miller’s Landing – Homer. The day was overcast, the winds calm (hallelujah), and the temperatures in the mid-30s. Couldn’t ask for better weather for monitoring. Okay, well maybe temperatures in the 70s, no wind, and sunny skies – but hey, this is winter and Alaska.
Luckily we didn’t find any dead birds along the beach, although we did see a lot of bluff erosion. The winter storms have done a real number on the unstable slopes.
Birding the Homer Spit
On January 31st, Jack and I went out on the Homer Spit to bird, despite the howling wind. As you can see from the photo taken at the tip of the spit (End of the Road Park), the winds were whipping good.
Despite the nasty weather, we did see some good birds.
Jack and I did go out to the Homer Spit again on February 7th, since I couldn’t do my COASST walk that day then why not bird, right? We decided to see what birds were out and about on this beautiful, sunny day.
The highlight of the birding trip was a Northern Harrier. The bird looked small in size, so I suspect a juvenile harrier. Our Northern Harriers generally head south for the winter. I guess this one decided to stick around. And there were around 25 or more Bald Eagles on the spit.
Spotted far fewer Rock Sandpipers than normal. The area along the harbor where they normally roost is covered in snow – deep snow (drifts) – so they’ve had to go elsewhere to roost. Hopefully warmer weather will melt the snow.
I was surprised at how much ice was in the boat harbor, along the deep water dock, and out from the beach near the fishing lagoon. And the fishing lagoon itself was almost entirely iced in. We did see some Harbor Seals that decided to loaf on the large chunks of ice. I think there were about 20 of them.
After birding the spit, we took a walk at Mariner’s Park. The tide was out and we walked towards the end (tip) of the spit. Poor Doodlebug (the dog) didn’t care too much for the long walk. Hard getting old.
Kachemak Bay Birders’ February Field Trip
Surprisingly only 7 people showed up for a morning of birding on the Homer Spit on February 10th. The weather was actually nice – temperatures in the mid 30s, winds light and variable – or not at all, and overcast skies. If the sun had been out, it would have been down right balmy.
A total of 29 species were recorded (I only saw 27 of those). The highlight for me was a second year Glaucous Gull. We don’t get many sightings of Glaucous Gulls here in Homer. They are generally found further north (at least in the summer).
Our large flock of Rock Sandpipers had dwindled down to several hundred. Not sure where the majority of the birds have gone. Mixed in with the flock was a single Dunlin. The bird stood out from the crowded – literally.
Our fearless leader, Michael Craig, and Dave Erikson had seen Steller’s Eiders in the last several days, but unfortunately none were spotted during our trip. The bay was relatively calm, which definitely makes spotting birds easier. But alas, no Eiders. Maybe they had moved further out onto the bay.
I was surprised at the difference in ice on the bay from Wednesday (a lot) to Saturday (some, but significantly less than three days earlier). Glad to see. Easier to see the birds if the ice isn’t keeping them further out in the bay.
Great Backyard Bird Count
The Great Backyard Bird Count was held 16-19 February 2018. I decided this year I would participate all four days.
Day One: Homer Spit
Jack and I decided to head out to the Spit to see what birds were lurking about. Sounds nefarious, but it wasn’t. We did have a very large flock of roosting Rock Sandpipers roosting in their usual location along the east bank of the Homer Boat Harbor. There were two separate groups, which I estimate to be around 3,000 birds combined – give or take a thousand. Hard to count when there are so many birds. Mixed in with the Rock Sandpipers were around 150 Dunlin. In the smaller group there were as many Dunlin as in the larger group. That was a surprise to me. It’s not always easy to tell these birds apart in the winter. Even during the breeding season there are a lot of similarities
The Dunlin seemed to hang out on the outer edges of the Rock Sandpiper groups. The Dunlin has an all black bill, which is longer than the Rock Sandpiper’s bill, and it is slight decurved. The feathers differ in color. The Dunlin has a softer plain brown coloring. And the chevrons do not descend as far down the chest and sides as they do on the Rock Sandpipers.
We also had a large flock of Mew Gulls (estimated at around 500) just off the tip of the Homer Spit. Not sure why there were so many – probably food.
While we didn’t see an Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches on the Spit, we were excited to find a male Belted Kingfisher hanging out by the Petro Marine fueling station near the mouth of the Boat Harbor. This is one of Jack’s favorite birds. Mine too.
Surprisingly all of the ice in the boat harbor, and out into the bay, was essentially gone. The day was sunny, the winds light and variable, and temperatures were in the high 20s, low 30s. Fun birding. I had a total of 21 bird species.
Day Two: Seaside Farms
My friend Lani and I went to Seaside Farms, located about 5 miles out East End Road. This farm is owned and operated by Mossy Kilcher. She is a birder and has a very bird-friendly yard. It was pretty quiet upon our arrival in the morning. We soon realized why – there was a Merlin in a nearby tree looking for breakfast. We decided to move on to Mossy’s house where she has a number of feeders. We were soon joined by Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Golden-crowned Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, and a Downy Woodpecker. Fun to see a few new birds for the year.
Day Three: My own backyard
Since Sunday was my Project FeederWatch day (tomorrow too), I spent the day watching birds in my yard. We had the usual suspects – Pine Siskin, Common Redpoll, Black-capped Chickadee, Black-billed Magpie, and Pine Grosbeak. In addition to these birds, the Sharp-shinned Hawk appeared and I watched it chasing after a Pine Grosbeak . They flew into the nearby spruce and willow trees, then disappeared. I hope the Pine Grosbeak was able to avoid the hawk. The nice surprise of the morning were the five Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches showing up at the feeder.
Day Four: My own backyard
On day four, the birds were quite active early. We had a large mixed flock of Pine Siskin and Common Redpoll, with the Siskins outnumbering the Redpolls about 2:1. I’ve put sunflower seeds under the tree near our house so fun to watch them feed on the ground under the protection of the spruce trees. Need to protect my visiting birds from the marauding Sharp-shinned Hawk hanging around this winter, although it prefers the Pine Grosbeaks. A bigger meal, I guess.
I put out suet this morning, which was quickly gobbled up by the Black-billed Magpies. Greedy birds.
Jack and I went to Anchor Point on 21 February as I was getting cabin fever. The day was overcast, variable winds (around 5 mph), and temperatures around 30 degrees. The wind chill made it much colder, especially with the wind blowing directly at you (coming from the north/northwest). Quite an assault – seemed like it was more than 5mph! We didn’t walk far. The tide was out so I wasn’t able to see much bird life on the water. There were lots of Northwestern Crows feeding along the surf line, along with a fair number of Glaucous-winged Gulls headed north in small flocks of 3-5. I estimate around 100 gulls passed during our hour walk. In all we saw eight different species. Not too bad with the tide out (around 1.5 feet for those of you familiar with the tides at Anchor Point).
Before we left for Anchor Point, the birds at our feeder and under the Spruce tree near our house were furiously eating. I counted at least 20 Common Redpolls, and even more Pine Siskins. Since the tree is near the house, we can watch the feeding frenzy from the comfort of our home.
Later in the day we had two Pine Grosbeak females who spent a lot of time on the ground at the feeder eating sunflower seeds and snow. I guess they felt safe there. Although it was 38 degrees F outside, they had their feathers all fluffed out. We were wondering if they were ill.
Cabin Fever – Again
Went birding on the Homer Spit today (25 February) because I just needed to get away from the house and see some different birds. Although we had around 200 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, 30+ Pine Siskins, and 30+ Common Redpolls yesterday at our feeder, today we had about 15 birds total (and only five different species). What a difference a day makes. Don’t know if it was the weather, an early arrival of the Sharp-shinned Hawk, or the fact it was count day for Project FeederWatch (we do seem to get more birds on non-count days), but it was very quiet at our house today – birdwise.
So we jumped in the truck and headed to the Spit. Once there I realized I had forgotten to bring my binoculars. I know, what an idiot. Luckily I had my camera. Despite no binocs, we did see 18 different species, and got some photos too. It was a nice afternoon to bird even with the tide out and no binocs.
With the tide out, we didn’t seen any Rock Sandpipers roosting in the boat harbor, but did see a large flock flying along the outer spit. Lots of gulls here too. If I only had my binoculars …
Daily Walks in the Neighborhood
Jack and I try to get out at least once each day for a walk (weather permitting, of course). We’ve had some beautiful sunny days and then so not so sunny days. Whatever the weather, there is always something interesting going on around the area.
March will definitely bring longer daylight, more snow, and cold temperatures. However, it does bring us closer to spring and summer. I can’t wait. Until then …