alaskabirder

Its a Great Day to Bird

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Alaska Birding during a Pandemic – June 2020

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???

Kenny Lake

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.

Prickly Rose

Yarger Lake from our campsite (well a small view of the lake)

American Wigeon

Lesser Scaup pair

American Robin

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.

Bluebells

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

Bonaparte’s Gull

Midway Lake

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.

Arctic Lupine

Alaska Poppy

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

Snowshoe Hare

Alder Flycatcher

Looks like a Smoke signal

More clouds

More countryside

Views forever

Made it to the high alpine tundra and the multitude of flowers

Woolly Lousewort

Parry’s Flower

Mountain Avens

Alpine Azalea

Unknown flower or flower parts

Alpine tundra

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)

Bohemian Waxwing

Pond adjacent to the Chicken airstrip. We never did see a plane land in our two visits to the airport. Safe place to bird.

Dwarf Fireweed

Alaska Poppies

Not sure what this plant is ???

But pretty – maybe a relative of the onion family?

Rusty Blackbird (Male)

Rusty Blackbird

Say’s Phoebe

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

Bison

Oil pipeline along the Richardson Highway

Wide sweeping valley

Gulkana River

Jim, Kerry, and Jack

Summit Lake

American Dipper

Still some snow in the higher elevations near Tangle Lakes

Gadwall (drake)

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

Arctic Willow – pretty

Moss Campion

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

Willow Ptarmigan

American Tree Sparrow

Willow – no leaves yet

Alpine Tundra

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?

Yellow Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler …

… singing away

Mew Gull on a nest

Arctic Warbler

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

Lesser Yellowlegs

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.

Mt. Denali

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….

Western Kingbird

Yellow-rumped Warbler

This bird had a deformity near its beak

Red-throated Loon

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.

Jack, Michelle and Moxie

It was a Great Day(s) to Bird

 

Oregon and Washington – the final push

15 March 2019

Today we left Cape Blanco State Park and headed north.  A stop in Florence, Oregon for lunch was a nice break.  We stopped at a restaurant along the river (not sure which restaurant or which river), and I had a nice cod fish sandwich and fries.  Jack had the “award winning” clam chowder.  I had a bite of his chowder.  It was good.  After lunch it was back into the van to continue our trip north. 

Our campground for the night is South Beach State Park in Newport, Oregon.  I like this campground’s locality, although not so much the campground.  Too big for me.  They probably have over 200 sites.  That means a lot of people.  With no school today, there are a lot of campers out.  Plus, the nice weather makes a difference too.  Who wouldn’t want to go to the beach when its sunny on the coast?

A short walk out to the beach and South Jetty netted us some new birds for the year, including the Chestnut-backed Chickadee.  The Chestnut-backed Chickadee can be found across Kachemak Bay, but I’ve never seen it on our side (Homer) of the bay.  Maybe it prefers the “rain” forest, rather than the boreal forest.  The other First of Year birds observed were: Varied Thrush, Pelagic Cormorant (when in flight you could really see the white on their flanks – I haven’t ever seen the white on our Pelagic Cormorants in Homer), Pigeon Guillemot, Harlequin Duck, and Red-necked Grebe.  I also saw a large flock (300+) of Surf Scoters.  We had that bird in California several days ago.   

This Song Sparrow wanted to join us for dinner last night at Cape Blanco State Park campground
Our campsite
We stopped at Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge to check out, what else, the birds
View of the marsh from a viewing platform
At South Beach State Park (Newport, Oregon) we had several Spotted Towhees at our campsite. How cool is that?
Varied Thrush at our campsite
We walked to the beach on this trail
Steller’s Jay
Another portion of the trail
Transitioning from the trees to the dunes
Dune trail
Where you eventually reach the Pacific Ocean
To the beach, to the beach, to the beautiful beach …
American Robins were everywhere – well except the beach
South Beach State Park is adjacent to the South Jetty where a Harlequin Duck hangs out on the rocks
And hundreds of Surf Scoters near the North Jetty

16 March 2019

After breakfast we broke camp and headed to the Mark Hatfield Marine Science Center for an estuary walk.  We saw a total of 31 species, including five First of Year (FOYs).  Not too shabby. The highlight for First of Year species were the 44 Brandts.  I like these geese – easy to identify.  We occasionally get them in Homer during spring migration.  We spent about two hours here.  And I got to see one of my favorite species – the Bushtit.  And I got lucky with a decent photo too.  No easy feat for this erratic bird.

Bushtit
Yaquina Bay – beach near trail
Belted Kingfisher (female)
Brandt
Boardwalk portion of the trail …
… leading you to a quite portion of the bay
Bufflehead (male)
Northern Flicker
Our Homer Tree Swallows don’t arrive until mid to late May
Not sure what bird uses this nest box
Hooded Merganser (male)
We even saw this dead chicken on the beach. Maybe an eagle got it and then dropped it in the bay where it eventually washed to shore???

After our estuary walk, we continued on driving north and making a stop at the Nestucca National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is known for having many of the subspecies of Canada and Cackling Geese during migration.  We saw the Aleutian Cackling Goose and the Lesser and Dusky Canada Geese.  And there were a lot of geese to check out.

Nestucca Bay National Wildife Refuge sign
Great interpretive panel on the various Canada and Cackling Goose subspecies

Next stop was Clay Meyers State Natural Area (SNA) just north of Pacific City.  This area has a nice trail bordering the estuary and lagoon, so off we went.  Near the end of the trail, two women asked if we had seen the Bald Eagles.  We told them yes, trying (but I think failing) to sound excited.  Hard to get excited about Bald Eagles when you have so many of them in Homer – and I’m still mad at the eagle that killed ‘our’ nesting crane and destroyed the eggs. 

Trail at Clay Meyers State Natural Area
The tide was out
The vegetation is quite dense

We intended to camp at Cape Lookout State Park tonight.  This is the first state park I remember spending any time at when we first moved to Oregon in 1990.  I remember our dog Tippy, who was 12 years old at the time, running on the beach as though she was a puppy rather than a senior dog.  Warmed the heart to see her so happy. 

We circled the campground loops that were open for camping but didn’t find anything we liked for $34.00 a night.  Seemed a little steep to us.  Maybe the fee is high due to the campground’s proximity to Portland?  We turned around and went back to Clay Meyers SNA. This SNA is located on Whalen Island and adjacent to the state park natural area is a county campground.  For the fee of $27.00 per night you get a picnic table, fire ring, and a place to park – on the grass.  There are bathrooms – of sorts.  I don’t know if they were flush or vault, but most likely vault.  Jack learned the campground fee was $16.00 per night, but they also charge an $11.00 administrative fee.  Yikes!!!  For what purpose?  I could understand – maybe – if we had booked the campground site online, but we didn’t.  Neither one of us wanted to pay that for those wonderful amenities – not – so we went to the nearby Sand Lake Recreation Area, administered by the U.S. Forest Service.  This recreation area is the ATV capital of the north coast.  I think we were the only people camping here who DIDN’T have an ATV.  It’s a little noisy because they drive their ATVs and motorcycles through the campground to access the sand dunes.  But hey, for $12.50 per night (that’s half price for us seniors – yes, I now qualify for the senior pass), I think I can stand a little noise.   We had a nice site.  Jack said there was a sign saying “no driving after midnight”.  Midnight, really???

17 March 2019

I was surprised at how quiet it was last night when we went to bed at 9:00 p.m.  Or maybe I was just tired enough I didn’t hear the ATVs (which are quite loud; even though there is a decibel level restriction) as they were driven through the campground.  A restful night.  Woohoo!!!

We drove to Cape Mears State Park and adjacent National Wildlife Refuge to check out the off-shore cormorants.  This is a good area to see all three cormorants:  Double-crested, Brandt’s, and Pelagic.  We got two of the three, missing the Double-crested.  There was also a large raft of Common Murres on the ocean.  I estimate around 500 or so.  The Murres nest here during the summer.  I was hoping to see a Black Oystercatcher, but no luck.  With the full moon, the tides are quite high and so the shoreline rocks where the Oystercatcher normally feeds are covered with crashing ocean waves. 

Love this sign
Near the parking lot is an overlook area. During the summer months you might glimpse at Peregrine Falcon hunting. They nest on the rock ledges.
View from the overlook
Cape Mears Lighthouse
Great views
Jack on the Cape Mears trail – he is actually walking uphill

From Cape Mears we went to Bayocean Spit.  We got there right at high tide. Not as many ducks as I thought there might be, although still plenty.  I did see two Sanderlings (shorebirds) on the beach, and that was nice.  We walked both the bayside and the ocean side of the spit.  We’ve been blessed with great weather on the coast this week.  We’ve had beautiful sunshine, warm temperatures (low 60s), and little wind.  Of course such temperatures do bring out crowds of people to enjoy the beach as well.  But then, they are at least getting outside instead of being couch potatoes. 

Tillamook Bay
Lots of waterfowl, like these Northern Pintails
And Red-breasted Mergansers
From the parking lot you can take a trail to the beach or walk an old road along the bay
From the old road there are several trails that lead to the beach. We took this one – walking through a dense forest
Of course the birds like the trees, including this Chestnut-backed Chickadee
This woman passed us twice. That isn’t a baby in the stroller, but a dog. And it’s a stroller made specifically for dogs.
Bayocean is a spit, with the bay on one side and the ocean on the other (hence the name)
We walked both sides – the bay and the ocean

We stopped off at famous Tillamook Creamery. The main (humongous) parking lot was full ,with people circling looking for open spots. Lots of people buying ice cream and/or cheese.  For us it was ice cream: Jack got the Oregon Black Cherry ice cream, while I got Coffee Almond Fudge (Yum!!!).  Unfortunately, Jack asked me to hold his ice cream cone while he backed out of our parking spot and while trying to buckle my seat belt, the cone flew out of my hand.  Luckily he had eaten a majority of the ice cream already.  I gave him some of mine – good way to diet. 

Ice cream or cheese anyone?
They have a new building since we were here last

Our campground for tonight is Newhalem Bay State Park.  I think we’ve stayed here on a previous visit, but Jack’s isn’t too sure.  Maybe we just thought about staying here. Despite it being a Sunday, there seemed to be a lot of campers.  And spring break for Portland students doesn’t start for another week. 

18 March 2019

Onward up the coast of Oregon we went.  We don’t have much further to go before we run out of coastline.  Our destination today is Fort Stevens State Park.  We got there around 11:00 a.m. and found a campsite (E-163).  Jack learned that this campground has 550 campsites.  Yikes!!!  Luckily they aren’t full this time of year.  It would be like a small city otherwise.  Not my cup of tea. 

Our campsite

We stopped at Cannon Beach en route to Fort Stevens State Park.  I wanted to check Haystack Rock for Tufted Puffins.  Supposedly they arrive in April to begin nesting. I had hoped that at least several had arrived early.  No luck.  We did see some Harlequin Ducks on the rock, along with Scoters (Surf and Black) in the ocean nearby. 

The beach at Cannon Beach
Famous “Haystack” Rock
The things you find on the beach. There was a lot of plastic on the beach. Too much. Luckily SOLVE (Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism) has their spring beach cleanup next weekend.
Bird foot print

We are having another stellar, “million-dollar” day – blue, sunny skies.  However, those non-existent winds are now in full force (15+ mph) and coming from the east.  Not easy birding when the water is choppy.  At Fort Stevens we like to check out the jetty and the Columbia River but very few birds were present.  In fact, we had more birds in our campground.  The loop behind us had seven, yes seven, Varied Thrush.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many Varied Thrush at one time.  Sweet.  Also in the campground were Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon sub-species, of course), American Robin, Steller’s Jay, and Chestnut-backed Chickadee.

Walked this boardwalk in search of birds
Not much happening bird wise – a few Chestnut-backed Chickadees
And no shorebirds – yet. We did see several guys trying to kite board in the winds. They weren’t having much luck staying up on their boards for long.
Lots of waves
Yes smokers – Feed the Can. Cigarette butts are a nasty waste product and pollutant

We visited Battery Russell and Battery Clark (this was an active fort from 1904-1944).  A Japanese submarine actually attacked the continental U.S. at this location in 1942. 

We spent a lazy afternoon reading and just hanging out at the campground.  We did do a short hike from the campground shortly before dinner.

This park has a “LOT” of wetlands – yippy!!!
I miss Skunk Cabbage
Lots of Varied Thrush in the campground loop behind ours. That loop was closed to camping.
Chestnut-backed Chickadees – easily found on the coast

Tomorrow we head to Portland where we will house/dog sit for our friend Jane.  She’s going to New York City to sing with her choir.  I’m a little jealous.  I would love to go back to New York City for a visit.  However, this time I would NOT stay at the Trump Hotel across from Central Park.  What was I thinking in 1989?  Actually I was thinking what a great deal it was – an Alaska Airlines special.

19 March 2019

Off to Portland to spend about 10 days enjoying the city, friends, and even doing a little birding. 

And speaking of birding, we did a quick stop at Trojan Park.  This area used to be a nuclear electrical generation facility.  The towers have been removed and the area is now a park with trails and ponds.  This is a great place to see a Red-breasted Sapsucker, which we did – two, in fact.  In a pond a short distance away, we saw about ten Hooded Mergansers and a pair of Wood Ducks.  Always nice to see both of these birds.  The Wood Ducks are rare to Alaska, and even in the lower 48 they are hard to find (except Seney National Wildlife Refuge in the Upper Peninsula – Michigan). And Hooded Mergansers, while occasionally seen during the winter in Seward, Alaska, aren’t generally found in Alaska either.

Red-breasted Sapsucker pecking on a tree
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (0h Ruby, don’t flash your crown around)
There are some wooded areas in the park for songbirds …
… like this Black-capped Chickadee dee dee
My beautiful “Bushtit”
the Cackling Goose …
… and yes even domestic hybrids at the park
Okay this goose didn’t want to get off the road
Main pond in the park
The wrens and Song Sparrows like this corner of the park
The trail around the park

20 March 2019

Today was spent eating at my favorite breakfast place – Milo’s City Cafe on Broadway Street in Northeast Portland.  This restaurant makes its own jam and so I go mostly for that.  I generally use the entire container (see photo) on my two slices of sourdough toast.  I love sourdough toast.  The eggs and other stuff are secondary.  I come for the wonderful, chunky jam.

Also on our to-do list is an oil change for the van, groceries, working on my blog, and laundry.  We stopped at the Fred Meyer’s store off of Broadway (in Northeast Portland).  I think this store is at least twice the size of any Fred Meyer store we have in Anchorage Alaska.  How I miss this particular Portland store.  I wonder what people from other countries think when they come to a store in America like Fred Meyers – so many choices?  I’ve yet to go into a store in another country that offers the choices we have here in America.  Count your blessings everyone.

Yes the container was full of delicious rhubarb jam when we arrived

21 March 2019

Today our friend Kristi joined us as we ventured to Tidal Wave, the Multnomah County Public Library’s used book store.  Kristi bought two videos and Jack and I ended up with two-bags of books.   And most of these books are hard-backed – now to find space in our van.  They library generally gets quite a few new releases (well maybe not as many as they used to now with eBooks) and once the high demand for these titles wanes, they sell off most of the books.  Portlanders and others get to buy them at a reasonable rate (75 cent – softbacked or $1.50 hardbacked) – if you can wait for the books to be sold by the library. 

Afterwards we ventured into downtown Northwest Portland.  I wanted to shop at Blicks, an art store.  I love art stores and this one was engaging, with row after row of art supplies that tempted me.  I left with a lighter wallet, but some products I’ve wanted to add to my art supplies – primarily watercolor paper, which isn’t cheap in Homer.  Actually it isn’t cheap anywhere, but much more expensive in Homer.  I know, buy local, but sometimes I just can’t do it.  Not when I can get the product for almost half the cost I would pay for it in Homer. Sorry Lynda (owner of Homer Art and Frame). 

We then went to lunch at Azteca Willies on 15th and Broadway.  We love this place.  Unfortunately, it isn’t as cheap as it used to be, but we always come here when we are in town.  And for dinner we went to my all-time favorite Indian restaurant – India Oven on Belmont in Southeast Portland.  Last time we were here – over two years ago – the owner asked why he hadn’t seen us in awhile.  We told him we had moved to Alaska.  We then talked for several minutes about his almost opening a restaurant in Alaska 25 years ago.  This time he wasn’t there but his wife was.  She’s the cook.  They make each meal from scratch so you have to be willing to sit and wait, especially if there is anyone else with a prior order.  And they do a good take-out business.  At the end of our meal, their daughter said her mother wanted to thank us for coming in and that she said we were good customers, but that she hadn’t seen us in awhile.  I told her that was because we now lived in Alaska.  Funny that both the husband and wife would remember us – we left Portland 12 years ago.  They never did talk to us when we came while we lived there, but ten and twelve years later they still remember our patronage of their restaurant.  If you are ever in Portland (Oregon), I HIGHLY recommend this restaurant.   You won’t be disappointed.

23 March 2019

Today we did more errands.  I wanted to check on a bedroom dresser at IKEA so off we went.  Talk about a zoo – well it was a Sunday.  The parking lot was almost full (we got there around 11:00 a.m. – they open at 10:00 a.m.).  We braved the crowds, but it is easy to get lost in that store with its winding layout and impulse buying merchandise and furniture with unique styles.  I finally found the bedroom section of the maize and I’m glad we checked out the dressers – while I like the style of the first one, the one I want (same style) is larger – has more drawers.  Now when we come back in late May I will come in and purchase the dresser.  We will then have to bring it back with us in the camper van.  Won’t that be fun???

Afterwards we drove to Campers World to check on a Dometic portable refrigerator.  We want a refrigerator in the van that doesn’t take ice.  We’ve spent a lot of money on ice this trip.  I’m glad we went to check out the product.  While I like the brand, the one I was looking at is much too small for our needs.  The specifications state it can hold 42 cans, but I’m not sure how.  Our Yeti is supposed to hold about that many and it is twice as large inside.  Maybe they consider ice in the cooler when determining how many cans fit inside.  Who knows?  I just know this sized portable refrigerator won’t work for us.

We also went for a short hike (~2.40 miles) at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Camas, Washington.  We had a total of 29 different species there including …. Drum roll …. an American Bittern.  We really love Bitterns so we were very happy to see this bird – our first Bittern in the U.S. for the year.  We also had a small ermine.  It was mostly a soft yellow color except for the tip of its tail, which was brown/black.  Unfortunately, I only had my iPhone camera with me.  This camera does not take good long distance shots.  Oh well, live and learn.  The ermine actually got quite close to us. 

Trail
Nice touch
Lots of Reed Canary Grass – but things are starting to green up
Plenty of large open fields
Interspersed with wetlands or waterbodies
Some woodlands, but not much
Canada Geese in a wetland
This slough was favored by certain waterfowl, like mallards
Can you find the garter snake. There were actually two here, sunning themselves on the log
Large lake/pond
Okay that little white stick in the grass near the water is the ermine
So home is only about 2500 miles away, according to the sign
I wonder if that is “as the crow flies”

24 March 2019

We got up early today to beat the rush at Milo’s City Café – it is Sunday.  Today’s jam was strawberry, and while it was good I think they used a lot more pectin than normal.  From there we drove to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge located about 20 miles north of Portland – in Washington State.  Luckily we came today instead of later in the week because the bridge that crosses a slough to get to the refuge is being either replaced or repaired (Jack thinks replaced) so they are closing the refuge Monday – Friday.  Since we are headed north to Seattle this coming week (Friday), we would have missed going to one of our favorite refuges.

At Ridgefield we stopped to check out the sightings board.  A Virginia Rail was listed, a bird we haven’t seen in awhile.  Off we went.  The refuge has a 5+ mile auto route on their River S Unit.  We took about 3.5 hours to drive the entire route.  The refuge has placed number signposts along the drive, that way if someone sees a bird of interest they can say they saw it near a particular number.  The rail was being seen at stop #3.  We did stop there but didn’t see the rail.  We did see a Wilson’s Snipe however – another bird we really like.  We see these birds a lot in Homer because they breed near our home.  I also heard the winnowing sound snipes make when they perform their aerial displays.  Guess down here it is already courtship and nesting time.  We won’t see the snipe around our house for another month or so.

We also saw several Sandhill Cranes.  These cranes do not migrate to Alaska.  The cranes that breed in the Homer area generally fly from the central valley of California, with stop overs in Eastern Washington and Oregon on their way north and south each year. 

In total we had 42 different species today.  Not too bad.  And it was busy at the refuge too.  I suspect at least 50 cars or more drove around the route as we were driving.   We are much slower than most people .  At the end of the auto route, we went back to where the Virginia Rail had been seen and waited alongside the road.  Sure enough, about twenty minutes later – as we were getting ready to leave – I spotted movement along the reeds and out popped a Virginal Rail.  Score!   

Refuge sign
Lots of ponds and sloughs on the refuge
Ring-necked Duck (female)
Ring-necked Duck (male)
Red-tailed Hawk. We took a class once on raptors and the instructor said if you see a hawk in Oregon then 99% of the time it will be a Red-tailed Hawk.
Ditch near one of the ponds
Gadwall
Pied-billed Grebe
Some of the sloughs/ditches are tree-lined
Lots of Marsh Wrens
Marsh Wren
This Marsh Wren was very cooperative
There are several places to get out and walk (depending upon the time of year), including one that leads to a bird blind overlooking one of the lakes/ponds. This latter trail is open year-round and is surrounded by trees.
American Kestrel
Red-winged Blackbird (male)
Red-winged Blackbird (female)
Cackling Goose – notice the short neck
Lots of “Nutria” – an invasive species. Nasty little buggers.
Wilson’s Snipe – heard several winnowing
Northern Harrier

25 March 2019

Lazy day – didn’t do much other than walk Fiona – Jane’s dog, visit with my friend Kristi, and work on my blog – Guyana, Part 2.  That part took up the biggest part of the day.  Word Press changed their format for blogging (inputting data and media) so now I have to learn and get used to the new format.  Some things are easy, others not so much.

A cool mural on a street in Northeast Portland

26 March 2019

I’m ready to be on the move again.  I get antsy if I sit in one place too long.  But, another lazy day – reading, blogging (well getting it ready to post), walking the dog.

27 March 2019

Despite the wind and rain, Jack, Jane, Fiona (the dog), and I went for a walk at Vancouver Lake Regional Park and Burnt Bridge Creek (Steward Glen Trail) – both in Washington.

While walking the dog, I checked out the birds.  Not a lot moving around either place, although we did get 20 species at Vancouver Lake Regional Park and 18 species at Burnt Bridge Creek.  The leaves are just starting to come out.  Spring has sprung here.  The flowering trees are beautiful – whites and pink abound.  The cherry trees are in full bloom – and all just within the last week in response to all the beautiful sunny weather we’ve had here. 

Trail at Vancouver Lake (Vancouver, Washington)
This slough near Vancouver Lake was good for some ducks, including Wood Ducks, as well as a Belted Kingfisher
Spotted this Brown Creeper on the way back to the parking lot
Burnt Bridge Creek Trail – paved
At the start of the Burnt Bridge Creek trail I saw this Anna’s Hummingbird (male)
The light shone just right – beautiful bird
There was some open water at the start of the trail – at least where we started
The hills are alive with English Ivy, an invasive species
Near our turnaround point I spotted this “Poetry Box”
It says “Take or Leave a Poem”. I didn’t check to see what was in the box, if anything.

After our walks – total about six miles – we headed to the Heathen Brewing Feral Public House in downtown Vancouver.  Jane said they had a coffee infused beer here that was delicious and she wanted Jack to check it out.  Unfortunately, they had run out of that particular brew.  They had other infused beers, including ones with lime, mango, chocolate milk to name a few.  Sounds awful to me, but then I don’t like beer. 

28 March 2019

Today we drove the Columbia Gorge, stopping at Multnomah Falls (the masses were out today) and then to Hood River to hike the Twin Tunnel trail.  We stopped at Doppi’s in Hood River for lunch before starting our hike, then drove the short distance to the Twin Tunnel parking lot – west end.  The trail is the old Historic Columbia River Highway – so quite wide.  After a mile on the trail I asked Jack how far we had to go before turning around.  He said to an overlook just beyond the MosierTwin Tunnels.  I asked him how far away that was.  He said not too far.  Well two miles later we came out of the tunnels and went to the overlook he mentioned.  Yeah right, not too far my #@&^. 

We did have an enjoyable hike.  The day was mostly sunny without much wind.  There were people out enjoying the trail by foot and by pedal.  I think there were actually more people riding their bikes than walking or running.  We did have a few runners. 

Multnomah Falls
Jack in front of Multnomah Falls
Near the trailhead
Oregon Dark-eyed Junco
Still some snow along the trail
Fantastic views of the Columbia River
Grass Widow
As I mentioned, the trail is the old Historic Highway
The hills are alive with the sound of music … well okay maybe just the traffic below
Approaching the twin tunnels from the west side
A little protection from rock slides before you enter the tunnel
Inside one of the tunnels
Jack at the entrance of the tunnels from the east side
The mighty Columbia River below
“The Columbia Gorge … A Work of Art to be Given the Devotion of a Lifetime” This is Jack’s quote. He worked tirelessly on this project.

Tomorrow we leave Portland.  Thank you Jane for your hospitality.  We enjoyed our stay at your house.  And Fiona is a doll.  What a great dog. 

29 March 2019

We headed north to visit with friends Cheryl and Dave on Bainbridge Island.  They have a nice little ‘cottage’ home with great views of the harbor and downtown Seattle.  We went to dinner at the house of Jack’s former boss (Alaska State Parks) and his wife.  They have a lovely house with lots of trees and vegetation, and thus great birds. 

30 March 2019

Today was spent with friends Cheryl and Dave (we are staying with them, although sleeping in our van – did I mention they have a nice “little” house).  We went to Fort Ward State Park for a nice, pleasant walk, then visited the Japanese Exclusion Park (National Park Service).  In response to the WWII mania of racism, around 280 American citizens of Japanese heritage were removed from the island and taken to an internment center in Idaho.  They were given less than a month to settle their estates, etc. and allowed only two bags to board the ship.  A sad moment in America’s history. 

We then went to downtown Bainbridge for a late lunch and to roam a few of the local stores.  In the evening, Dave, Cheryl, and I went to see the movie: Hotel Mumbai. This hotel was attacked by terrorist in November 2008. I remember when the siege of the hotel took place.  I really enjoyed the movie and at times was on the edge of my seat – lots of terrorist gunfire. 

Nearby beach
View from Fort Ward park
Lots of Double-crested Cormorants
They both seemed to be enjoying the day. I wonder how long it took this guy to get his dog comfortable being on a paddleboard?
Lots of hanging crane origami at the Japanese Exclusion Gardens
I thought the design of these bike racks was clever
Cute, isn’t it. And clever.
Harbor as seen from Japanese Exclusion Garden

31 March 2019

We went to breakfast with Dave and Cheryl, then headed to our friends Pat and Bob, who live in Enumclaw, Washington.  We are leaving our van with them and will fly to Alaska on April 2nd.  We will return in late May to collect the van, attend a wedding in Oregon, and then make the long slog up the Alaska Highway.  At least the Canadian campgrounds will be open then, and the road and weather hopefully better. 

When we got to Bob and Pat’s place we took a walk around their 26-acre property – they live in the pastoral area with a commanding view of Mount Rainer.  The weather was sunny – a nice pleasant afternoon. 

Beautiful flowers – magnolia
Yes, that is Mount Rainer in the background. More impressive in person from this viewpoint.

1 April 2019

Today we walked the neighborhood, went to lunch, and then it was time to pack for the trip north.  I scheduled a shuttle to come and get us tomorrow at 4:00 a.m. for our 8:00 a.m. flight to Alaska. 

I will miss all the great birds in the lower 48 that we don’t get to see in Alaska – Wood Duck, Bushtit, Spotted Towhee to name a few.  But we will soon be getting our migrants, including shorebirds.  I can’t wait.

Violet-Green Swallow
Believe it or not there is a Bushtit nest in those pine needles. It is long and cylindrical
The Bushtit is still working on the nest
A fence made out of vehicles? Or just the typical junkyard? Or both?
People do love their junk
I sure miss the Spotted Towhee. I guess Alaska is too cold for them. Me too.
Green River Gorge as seen from a bridge. There are two American Dippers down there.
View from the other side of the bridge
A nearby wetland

Remember ….

IT’S ALWAYS A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

California … here we come

3 March 2019

We made it back to the states (Apache Junction – Phoenix, AZ) from Guyana; what a beautiful country and great birds.  Many of the birds I’ve seen before in our travels of South America, but always good to see them again.  And we had new ones as well, like the Harpy Eagle.  That was such a great bird to see – the “trip bird.”  And to see three Harpy Eagles. What a great birthday gift for both Jack and I.

Back on the road again; we left Apache Junction around 11:30 a.m., making a brief stop at Fry’s (think Kroger’s or Fred Meyers) to re-supply food and ice for the trip ahead.  We then slugged our way across the AZ/CA freeways to the Salton Sea State Recreation Area, and specifically to Salt Creek Campground where we are camped for the next two nights.  It was a Sunday so there was a lot of traffic on the road.  Seems like most of the cars that passed us on Interstate 10, while still in Arizona, were cars with California plates – not sure what they were finding in Arizona? 

We had read that the Salton Sea was in crisis mode – too much salt, not enough fresh water.  However, the water level didn’t seem too much different to us than what we’ve seen in previous years, but usually the beach is littered with dead fish (Tilapia) – none to be seen now.  We also didn’t see as many pelicans or cormorants as we normally do, but the pelicans may have already left for their breeding grounds.  I’m just not sure.  At least I hope that is why there were so few pelicans here.  We usually visit this area in January.  It is one of our favorite birding spots. 

As I mentioned we are staying at the primitive Salt Creek Campground.  There are six other campers here.  The site could probably accommodate another three campers comfortably.  When we got here two yahoos had tried to drive onto the beach and got stuck – serves them right.  The beach isn’t composed of sand, rather it is composed of shells or should I say skeletal remains of fish, specifically Tilapia.

We did walk the beach and did a little birding before enjoying a beautiful sunset.  There are hundreds of Eared Grebes, Ring-billed Gulls, and California Gulls on the beach and water.  Added to the mix were a few shorebirds as well – Marbled Godwit, Black-bellied Plover, Least Sandpiper, and Black-necked Stilt. 

Salt Creek Beach – Salton Sea State Recreation Area
Two guys who thought their SUV could traverse the beach even though vehicles are prohibited. I hope their tow fee was significant.
American Pipit

4 March 2019

We got an early start birding – 7:30 a.m. (well early for us when camping).  Today we birded areas around the Salton Sea, including the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.  In all we saw a total of 69 different species.  Not too shabby for about 7.5 hours of birding.  The highlights were the Burrowing Owls along English Road (six of them) and the Snowy Plover on the sea shore at Sonny Bono NWR.  Oh, and two Greater Roadrunners.  One was resting on a kiosk and another was standing on a pile of dead limbs.  I got within photographing distance of the latter one when a truck came up behind us (this happen a lot) and we had to move, thus flushing the bird. 

I sent a photo of our campsite at the Salt Creek Beach Campground to a friend and her comment was on how bleak and stark the area looked.  Many places along the lake are stark.  The lakeshore is changing – one place we’ve camped in the past that had great views of the sea has changed.  Instead of seeing the sea we now see an invasive plant species – Salt Cedar.  This invasive plant is taking over everything.  Not good.  I hope the state does something to try and keep it in check.  Costly though. 

When we got back to our campground two additional spots were taken and everyone here last night had departed except for one camper.  There is a big RV behind us and they are using their generator.  This would drive my friend Bob crazy.  It is kind of annoying.  Bad enough we have to listen to the occasional (okay, frequent and very long) trains that pass nearby. 

Burrowing Owl
Pair of Burrowing Owls
Eurasian Collared-Dove (Non-native Species)
Snowy Egret
Great Blue Heron
Merlin
Immature Merlin
Greater Roadrunner on top of a refuge information kiosk
Surprisingly my only “habitat” shot
Maybe Alaska Maritime NWR could do something similar for Beluga Slough – maybe a contest for kids
Western Meadowlark
Say’s Phoebe – looks like someone left a note
Common Ground Dove
Black-tailed Gnatcatcher
Sweet Acacia
Killdeer
Greater Yellowlegs
Spotted Sandpiper
Willet
American Avocet – I love this bird
Fun to watch the avocet sweep its bill back and forth in search of food
Black-necked Stilt – my what long legs you have

5 March 2019

Today was a travel day.  We left the Salton Sea early and made it to Clovis, California, around 3:30 p.m. 

Visual Vandalism
And not necessarily good for birds

6 March 2019

We spent the day visiting with my sister Pam, her husband Dan, and daughter Angie.  Angie painted a really cool bird for Homer’s Shorebird Festival’s 6×6 canvas Art Auction.  Check out the auction and bid at https://www.biddingowl.com/Auction/index.cfm?auctionID=3710.  Bidding begins April 5, 2019.   

Here is her painting of a Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie by Angie N.

7 March 2019

Today was a lazy day at my sister’s house.  We did laundry; I worked on my blog (Guyana, Part 1); and watched several home improvement TV shows. Jack is glad we don’t have TV reception at our home in Homer.

8 March 2019

The goal today was to get to Boulder Creek, California, to visit Jack’s sister, Mary.  We made a stop at the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos, California.  We drove the waterfowl route – about 11 miles, and observed 47 different species.  We like ‘discoveries’ – a female “Tailed Toad”-  a very distinctive looking toad (see photo). 

Welcome to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge – Sand Luis Unit
There are a lot of wetland ponds on the refuge
Ruddy Duck
Red-tailed Hawk
Savannah Sparrow
American Pipit
Tailed Toad, although I couldn’t see the tail. A life toad.
We hiked a trail out to a viewing platform
Viewing Platform
Sheep are allowed on the refuge as a management function
Cinnamon Teal
Blackbird? Is it Tri-colored or Red-Winged. Hard to tell.

To get to Boulder Creek, which is a very hilly, treed area (think Redwoods), we drove the Bear Creek Road.  I think this road rivals the Dragontail Road in North Carolina for the number of turns in 11 miles.  I didn’t count the turns, but it seemed as though we were always turning left or right with precipitous drop-offs and no road shoulder.  And since we don’t travel fast in our van on turns (things go flying about) the drivers behind us were none to happy with our slow-down.  Going up we didn’t have any turnouts so the drivers had to wait.  Going down we had numerous turnouts and used them regularly.  Took us awhile to get to his sister’s house.  Personally, I would not want to live in this area.  It’s beautiful, but the road in and out is not my cup of tea (I’d need something stronger and we aren’t talking about coffee). Plus all the tall trees are kind of claustrophobic.

9 March 2019

We woke to rain.  This area normally gets around 48 inches of rain a year, and they’ve had 60 inches of rain already and it is only March.  Wet, wet, wet. 

At noon we were eating lunch when I heard a commotion outside.  I went out to see what was going on and it appeared some guy was accosting a woman.  Turns out he was consoling her because just then Jack said, “that house is on fire.”  Sure enough the woman’s house looked to be totally engulfed in flames.  The fire department here is voluntary, and they did an excellent job of getting the fire contained.  Luckily with this wet weather the fire didn’t spread through the trees and engulf neighboring houses.  That was our excitement on this otherwise quiet day. 

Much of my day was spent trying to find the best flights for our trip to Uganda.  Air travel has gotten so expensive lately with fewer flight options.  I was hoping to stop off in London and do some birding in the Norfolk area.  A flight on Icelandic Air from Anchorage to London was $2500.  Ridiculously expensive right?  And I hate having to pay extra to get seat selection at the time of booking.  Really???  So nixed the Great Britain stopover. 

Jack’s nephew and family came over for dinner and a spirited game of Taboo.  We had a wonderful meal and an enjoyable evening with family. 

10 March 2019

Another wet day.  In the afternoon we went to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park near Boulder Creek, California.  The redwood trees here are amazing; so tall and majestic.  We did the 0.8-mile Redwood Grove Loop trail.  Not many birds, although we did see a pair of beautiful Varied Thrush out in the open, and me without my camera.  We also had several Townsend’s Warblers.  During the hike I kept smelling something that smelled like food.  Turns out the park is full of Bay Laurel trees, and thus “Bay Leaves”.  Stepping on the downed leaves emitted the smell.

Start of the Redwood Grove Loop Trail
Jack and his sister Mary – in front of the largest tree in the park

After our hike we went to visit Jack’s nephew and his family at their newly remodeled home – very nice.  And, we got to see the 4-H quail project. Always a delight. 

11 March 2019

Time to move onward.  I always hate to say goodbye to Jack’s sister Mary as she always makes us feel so welcomed.  Love her. 

We slogged our way through the congested San Francisco/Oakland area to Santa Rosa to spend the remainder of the day and night with Ken Wilson.  Ken owns Talon Tours, the tour company we used for Guyana.  We got to meet Ken’s wife Becky who wasn’t with us on the trip.  Both Ken and Becky will be joining us on our Uganda trip in September.   They have a tree at their house that the birds love, including about 11 Cedar Waxwings and a pair of Western Bluebirds – so I got my ‘birding fix.’  We had a very enjoyable, but short, visit.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing
Becky’s macaw

12 March 2019

We left Ken and Becky’s house early (6:45 a.m.) as they were headed out for a previously planned full-day Birdathon fundraiser (later we learned they saw 127 different birds in one day).  We departed with them as we wanted to get an early start to Bridgeway Island Pond in Sacramento to try and see the Garganey – a duck species rare to the U.S.  This is an Euroasia species.  For some reason this duck decided to check out Sacramento. 

Surprisingly at this small pond, we had a total of 44 species.  And we did get to see the Garganey, a life bird for Jack and I.  The bird was a male, and a very distinctive one at that.  Hard to miss, even when it has its head tucked into its wing.  The bird was some distance off so I was unable to get a decent photo.  We stayed at the pond for 90 minutes.  There were lots of Marsh Wrens singing away on the tops of reeds, so I had to try and get photos of these charismatic birds.  I counted at least nine, but I suspect there were a lot more than that. 

American Avocet
Canada Goose
American Pipit
Osprey
Marsh Wren
Yes, I love these little guys

Afterwards we headed north with the intentions of driving the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge auto tour route.  Unfortunately, the tour route was closed due to flooding.  Our loss, but California’s birds gain.  CA has been in a drought for so many years, any precipitation is appreciated and badly needed.  So we continued north and went to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  This is one of our favorite refuges. 

We drove the 6.0-mile auto tour route and saw 46 different species.  We were surprised that we did not see any Snow Geese.  Maybe they’ve already headed north for the breeding season.  There were thousands of American Coots and Northern Shovelers.  Ducks in general were plentiful.  We also had seven different shorebirds, including the Black-bellied Plover, which haven’t been reported before at the refuge – at least not on eBird. 

Refuge Sign
Lots of wetland ponds and lakes
Killdeer
Ring-necked Pheasant
The coloring of this non-native bird is amazing
Greater White-fronted Goose
Viewing Platform
Viewing Platform Parking parking lot – tour route
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Bushtit – well hidden
Wilson’s Snipe
Turtles
They don’t mind laying on top of one another

There were also a number of jackrabbits at the refuge.  Guess the coyote population must be down. 

Jack Rabbit
My what big ears you have

Tonight we are staying at the Buckhorn Recreation Area, located at Black Butte Lake.  This campground is managed by the Army Corp of Engineers.  There are nine other campers here tonight.  Last time we stayed at this campground I think we were the only one’s here.  That was in 2016. 

Black Butte Lake
Killdeer
Acorn Woodpecker
Monofilament Line(d) nest
Not a good use of plastic (Monofilament line)
Beautiful oak habitat
Which is favored by the Oak Titmouse

13 March 2019

We greeted the day with a windy morning so we decided to head west to the coast.  We will spend a few days driving from Fortuna, California, north to around Seaside, Oregon, before heading to Portland.  We need to be in Portland by 19 March, so we have about six nights of camping or hotels.  Tonight will probably be a hotel because many of the campgrounds (state) around Fortuna are closed for the season. 

House Finch
House Finch – male in the bright red, the other two are females
Horned Lark

We chose to get to the coast via Highway 36 because it is supposed to take less time than the other routes.  Hmmmm.  I wonder if that sign showing curves for the next 140 miles is an indicator that this might not be the quickest route for us.  Our van doesn’t always handle well on curves – or rather we need to secure everything.  Jack likes to take it nice and slow instead of stopping for flying objects inside the van. Our pace makes other driver’s crazy.  We lucked out and didn’t have much traffic until we got close to Highway 101.  The trip took us an additional hour of travel time than what Google Maps indicated.  It was a beautiful drive however.  Lots of snow up high, but luckily the roads were clear. 

Despite the snow on the ground, the roads were clear

We stopped off at the Humboldt National Wildlife Refuge and spent about two hours birding the refuge.  There was a lot of waterfowl present, including twelve Tundra Swans.  I wonder if they winter here?  An Eurasian Wigeon was present, which was nice.  Haven’t seen one of those in awhile.  We get them occasionally in Homer.  I think last year I had three of them at Beluga Slough. 

Nest above the women’s restroom
Swallow nest
Trail from the visitor center
Cinnamon Teal (male)

Shorebirds present included a Long-billed Curlew.  This bird was feeding next to a Western Gull and they appeared to be about the same size.  This curlew looked huge.  There were also Willet, Marbled Godwit, Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, and a single Dunlin.  And there were at least 11 Marsh Wrens singing their hearts out – must be breeding time.  These birds get up onto the reeds to sing allowing us decent looks at this elusive bird.  In all, we had 38 species.  The day was sunny, but the wind was fierce and thus a cold wind-chill. 

Long-billed Curlew

We did see a river otter at the refuge.  And a few ground squirrels – too far away to photograph or identify. 

We stopped in Arcata for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant.  We’ve eaten there before and enjoy the food – Pho Hoang on “G” Street.  Then we made a stop off at the Wilderness Market to buy some Humboldt Chocolate, which is oh so good (addictive).  My favorite.  I’ve never seen it sold anywhere else but here. 

14 March 2019

We stayed at the Day’s Inn and Suites just north of Arcata last night and it was the quietest night I’ve EVER spent at a hotel.  Loved it.  No noisy neighbors.

We left the hotel around 8:00 a.m., stopped for groceries, then headed to Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary – a wonderful managed wetland utilizing waste water.  Our first stop was Humboldt Bay, and a good thing too as the tide was going out.  We did get to see a fair number of shorebirds, many of which will be making their way to Alaska in another month or so.  While there weren’t too many near us, if you glassed the bay you could see thousands and thousands of shorebirds in the distance.  I wish they would have been closer. 

Willet
Humboldt Bay

We then proceeded to the “marsh” itself, and spent about two hours walking the trails and birding.  We didn’t get any new birds for the year, with the exception of a Red-shouldered Hawk and a Black-capped Chickadee.  Surprisingly we hadn’t seen a Black-capped Chickadee yet this year. 

Our first Black-capped Chickadee for the year
Song Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow – these birds winter in California. Maybe this bird breeds in Homer?
Roosting Green-winged Teals – three males and one female
Song Sparrow – there were plenty of them
Mallard pair
The Marsh Wrens were singing their hearts out – got to find that mate.
Trail
Yellow-rumped Warbler
The “azelas” were in bloom – beautiful
Love the message – Marbled Murrelets need both the ocean and the old growth forest

Traveling north, we stopped at Crescent City and checked out the sea lions that like to soak up the sun at the Crescent City Harbor.  There were also Harbor Seals present.  We did see a fair number of loons, although most were too far away for me to identify.  Leaving Crescent City we traveled north to our campground for the night – Cape Blanco on the southern Oregon coast.  I thought we had camped here before, but now I’m not so sure as the campground doesn’t look familiar.  We got a nice spot (#16) and I was surprised that at least 1/3 of the 54 campsites were occupied for the night.  I didn’t expect to see so many campers here.  Maybe campers like it because it is six miles from the highway, rather than like many campgrounds that are right along side the highway with all the traffic noise. 

Elk herd in the Redwoods National and State Park
Sea Lions at the Crescent City Harbor
Ah, a sun worshiper – I can relate..
They sure don’t mind sharing space
I love how these sea lions are just lazily sleeping and soaking up the sun
Western Gull
With a few ruffled feathers

We will spend then next two weeks in Oregon and Washington before heading home.  Until then …

IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD

Guyana – Part 2

22 February 201

Raining again today.  David from Ireland (aka Swampy) commented that it has rained every day of our trip and we are in the dry season.  I guess the wet season is VERY WET.  They use boats to get around instead of cars, we’ve been told by the locals. 

We got to sleep-in this morning – for me a whole hour.  Instead of waking up at 4:30 a.m. with breakfast at 5:00 a.m., breakfast wasn’t scheduled until 7:30 a.m.  We left Atta Lodge today and headed to Iwokrama River Lodge, a short distance away.  Of course we are birders so the trip took up to 4 hours, rather than the normal 30 minutes. I did bird the grounds of Atta Lodge this morning and came away with two new birds – Black Nunbird and Pygmy Antwren.  The Nunbird bird is mostly black with white on its wings and a red bill.  The remaining birds were birds I had already seen before – either in Guyana or elsewhere.  Surprisingly, for just the morning, I saw a total of 16 species between periods of rain. 

Black Currasow
Black Currasow
Fork-tailed Wood-Nymph (female)
Fork-tailed Wood-Nymph (male)

We made a stop along a bridge after our driver spotted a Crimson Topaz (hummingbird).  This is a beautiful hummingbird that is red, orange, and purple with a brilliant sparkly greenish yellow throat.  I even got a photo. 

Crimson Topaz
Crimson Topaz

At another stop, we hiked a small trail and spotted a Bronzy Jacamar sitting on a branch over the trail.  All the photographers, including myself, were able to get decent photos of the bird.  Jacamars perch quietly on a limb and aren’t flighty like some birds.  Of course most daytime birds are busily feeding while the jacamar is simply roosting (resting).  Also along this trail was a pair of White-fringed Antwrens.  Jack doesn’t like these skulking, hidden birds, but he finally saw the bird well and his face lit up. 

BronzyJacamar
Bronzy Jacamar
Bronzy Jacamar
Bronzy Jacamar
Did I mention that jacamars sit still and you can take lots and lots and lots of photos of them?
Before reaching Iwokrama River Lodge we stopped off at the Mori Forest – sort of a stunted rainforest of sorts. Trees were much smaller than those found elsewhere.
Our local guide “Ron”
Our group following the leader – in search of birds
On the trail

We did another hike in search of the Saffron-crested Tyrant Manakin.  We found it, although this bird definitely blends in well with its environment.  We were also lucky to spot a Red-billed Woodcreeper.  As the name implies, Woodcreepers “creep” up trees in search of food.  These birds are, for the most part, fairly large in size.  They also have good sized bills in which to tunnel into the bark to capture their prey.  This particular woodcreeper has a rather large impressive red-colored bill.  Most woodcreeper bills are either dark or light colored.  But alas I didn’t get a photo of the bird as it was always moving from one tree to another.

Saffron-crested Tyrant Manakin

We made it to Iwokrama River Lodge around 2:00 p.m., and quickly checked into our rooms before having lunch.  We resumed birding with a boat ride at 5:00 p.m along the Essequibo River.  However, after lunch and before the boat trip was down time where we could rest, catch up on what’s happening outside of our little cabin, take a shower, read, bird, or any combination of the above.  I started out birding, but it quickly became too hot to keep that up.  I did see a few different birds, but I felt like the sun was melting my skin off.  Yeah, that hot. 

Fred Allicock building – where we ate our meals (named for our local guide’s father)
Our cabin is the first cabin
Our room
The view from our room of the Essequibo River
Our afternoon sudden downpour
Luckily the downpour didn’t last too long
White-throated Toucan
Kiskadee (Great or Lesser)
Orange-winged Parrot
Silver-beaked Tanager (Male)
Essequibo River from lodge grounds
Some of our group in the first of two boats that went out on the Essequibo River

23 February 2019

We birded the lodge grounds this morning, including a portion of Bushmaster Trail. I was surprised at how many birds there were in the area.  Along the trail we had a number of birds that specialize in eating ants.  Yay!!!  We love ant eating birds.  At one place we heard a cacophony of birds calls and watched several different Antbirds in a feeding frenzy.  The trail in front of us was swarming with ants for at least 50 feet or so.  As they advanced down the trail, we retreated.  And then the next thing you know, the ants are gone.  I guess they left the trail while I wasn’t watching.  Glad it happened though.  A few army ants are bad enough but thousands of them are not something you want to be in the middle of. 

And where there is an ant swarm there is the possibility of seeing the difficult to see Rufous-winged Ground Cuckoo – which loves ants apparently. However, despite the ant swarm, the Ground-Cuckoo was a no show.

Early Morning
As we were making our way to the Bushmaster Trail – birding along the way of course – we saw this Spectacled Owl flying low along the ground and then land in this tree.
Chestnut-bellied Finch. Kind of drab on the back but …
… the front of the bird is colorful
Entrance to Bushmaster Trail
Into the forest we go
Trail conditions were good

After lunch we had about two hours to just relax and enjoy the beautiful day.  It is very pleasant here at the lodge and we are the only guests.  Around 3:30 p.m. we gathered for another round of rainforest birding.  This time we walked the road from the lodge to the main highway – about 1.6 km.  A nice walk – no jungle trail, and good birding.  We got to see the Ferruginous-backed Antbird.  This is a beautiful bird that likes to slowly walk on the forest floor in search of food – ants.  Unfortunately, such activity is not conducive to getting a good photograph of the bird.  At least not by me.

Another beautiful day at Iwokrama River Lodge
Badminton anyone?
Bottlebrush Tree, I believe
Giant Cowbird
Tropical Kingbird
Defending its perch or is that food up there it’s defending?
Okay the perch is now mine says this Great Kiskadee
We’ve seen a lot of these two-toned lizards around – Ameiva (jungle runners)
Waiting to start the afternoon birding session – Fred Allicock Building
Grey-breasted Martin
It’s nesting season time so the martins are pairing up and building nests in the eves of the Fred Allicock Building
The Palm Tanagers also like the building for nesting
On the road again birding
Further down the road it became quite muddy from the rains the previous couple of days
Most people get around on motorbikes
As the ruts can become quite deep

Further along the road we had a Spotted Puffbird.  Now that bird I could photograph.  I love the Puffbirds.  They usually sit quietly on a limb high off the ground, but rarely hidden by vegetation.  They do require you to crank you head back when you look up to see them, but well worth the sore neck.  The third cool bird was a Rose-breasted Chat.  This chat species is in a different family than our North American Yellow-breasted Chat.  As its name implied, the bird has a rosy chest so a little easier to spot than birds that blend in really well with their environment. 

We stayed out past sundown in order to find and see the Northern Tawny-bellied Screech Owl.  Who doesn’t like owls?  With some coaxing, this little owl came in close for us to get great views and decent photographs.  We returned to the lodge for dinner, to go over our checklist of birds observed and/or heard, and then off to our cottages to get ready for the following day.

Spotted Puffbird
Dried Cecropia tree leaf – would make a nice wreath
Red Howler Monkey
Spix’s Guan
Luckily no one stepped on this night spider.
The spider was quite large.

24 February 2019

Despite today being a travel day I saw a total of 82 different species.  Not too shabby?  Of those, 21 were birds I hadn’t yet seen on this trip.  I don’t have a running list of all birds seen (aka “life list”) so I don’t know how many of these are life birds.  But you know what?  It really doesn’t matter because I never tire of seeing birds – new or old.  My favorite bird?– the one I’m looking at.

For this trip we’ve had three SUVs for transportation.  We take turns riding in the three different vehicles.  Today, Veronica, Jack, and I were in the first vehicle and we got to see a Tapir walking along side the road.  This strange animal looks half-pig and half small horse.  Bizarre.  Here is a link to check out the Tapir: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapir.

Everyone was happy to see this bird …
… because its not always easy to find …
… the Amazonian Motmot
Beautiful flowers
I spotted this Green Ibis on a log as we were driving by. We immediately stopped but for a dead snake in the road.
Not that I wish this snake ill will, but glad we didn’t see it while it was alive – fleur de lance (highly venomous pit viper)
Roadkill – Dead Chapman’s Swift
Close-up view
Roadkill – Dead Black Nunbird. These two birds are the only dead birds we saw the entire trip.
Greater Yellow-headed Vulture
Now if only I can turn around …
… gracefully
Fueling the vehicles when you are out in the middle of nowhere without a gasoline station in sight.
Red-and-Green Macaw
Sumara Junction where we stopped for lunch. They have a lot of message signs along the road to Sumara from here.
Such pretty yard flowers – Sumara Junction
This one too
One of our driver’s son. He was very friendly and inquisitive.
Jack sharing his binoculars
The next generation of bird guide in Guyana
Red-rumped Cacique nests
Red-rumpedd Cacique – unfortunately you can’t see its red rump

After lunch, we made a quick transition from the tropical rainforest at Iwokrama River Lodge to the savannah grasslands at Caimen House.  While I do love the tropical rainforest, I am totally in love with Guyana’s savannah region.  Surprisingly we saw more birds in this region where we spent the afternoon compared to the rainforest where we spent the morning.  Of course, I will admit it is much easier to see birds in the open savannah than the enclosed rainforest – less places for the birds to hide.

Leaving the Rainforest
Tropical Mockingbird
Guyana Collared Lizard – on the wall at a gasoline/convenience store just south of Surama Junction
Ruddy-breasted Seedeater (first year male)
White-headed Marsh Tryant (Male)
White-headed Marsh Tyrant
The cou