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???
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.
Yarger Lake from our campsite (well a small view of the lake)
Lesser Scaup pair
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.
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
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.
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
Looks like a Smoke signal
Made it to the high alpine tundra and the multitude of flowers
Unknown flower or flower parts
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)
Pond adjacent to the Chicken airstrip. We never did see a plane land in our two visits to the airport. Safe place to bird.
Not sure what this plant is ???
But pretty – maybe a relative of the onion family?
Rusty Blackbird (Male)
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
Oil pipeline along the Richardson Highway
Wide sweeping valley
Jim, Kerry, and Jack
Still some snow in the higher elevations near Tangle Lakes
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 – pretty
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
American Tree Sparrow
Willow – no leaves yet
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?
Blackpoll Warbler …
… singing away
Mew Gull on a nest
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
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.
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….
This bird had a deformity near its beak
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.