It's a Great Day to Bird

Month: May 2015

Crane Lust and More

The Sandhill Cranes have returned to Homer, and a pair graced our property.  A day after their return in late April, we watched them copulating in our neighbor’s yard.  About two weeks ago, the male started coming to the yard alone, chasing off any other crane that even stops for a rest in our yard or the neighbor’s yard –  so a good sign that they have established a nest nearby.  We eagerly look forward to a Colt chick – about a 28 day incubation period.


Male crane stretching his wings


Male crane sounding the unison call


So how do I know this is the male rather than the female crane?  The male when he calls tilts his head back all the way perpendicular.  The female only tilts her head at a 45 degree angle.  I suspect in the next two weeks the egg(s) will hatch.  We haven’t found the nest (and we haven’t looked for it), but suspect it is on the property of the landowner across the street from us.  We should be seeing the colt (crane chicks are called colts) within the next two weeks or so.  We suspect their parents will be bringing them to our property to hang out and eventually learn to fly.  At least we hope they do.

Not only do we have cranes in the yard, but this surprise visitor stopped by the other day.


Yes a Porcupine. The dogs were out and so it had its quills ready to fire.


It is so CUTE!!!


Don’t want to get too close….

Luckily the dogs didn’t get too close, they were smarter than Jack who approached it to get a reaction.  Other than displaying, the porky was undisturbed and commandeered its feeding ground.  I would not want to try and remove quills from Jack or a dog’s face, nor have the porcupine injured.  The porcupine has been hanging around for a few days and even hid out under our side deck.


I’ve been continuing to monitor migrating shorebirds at the Anchor Point Beach and River.  We’ve had two monitoring sessions since my last post (16 May and 21 May). On 16 May, we had eight different species: Dunlins, Greater Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Black-bellied Plovers, Semi-palmated Plovers, and a dowitcher species –  not sure which one.

On 21 May, we had nine different species: Long and Short-billed Dowitchers, Wandering Tattler, American and Pacific Golden-plovers, Spotted Sandpipers, Whimbrels, and Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.  We didn’t have a lot in terms of total numbers, just a good diversity of shorebirds.  This wasn’t too bad considering the (human) crazies were out in full force – getting an early start on the Memorial Day weekend.


Wandering Tattler along the banks of the Anchor River

Beach Birding 

On 17 May, Jack wanted to get some rocks for the yard so off again to the Anchor Point beach we went.  While he was collecting rocks (not in the shorebird zone), I was searching for birds.  Got lucky and had four Pacific Golden Plovers fly and land nearby.  Also, the first of year Savannah Sparrow.  Most people say “FOS” or first of season.  I say “FOY” or first of year.  What does first of season mean – what season are they referring too?  Aren’t they really saying this is the first time I’ve seen the bird this year?


Pacific Golden-Plovers


Once this bird sat down it was hard to find it amongst the rocks


Savannah Sparrow

I took our dog “Honey” with us.  She just loves the beach.  Well she really isn’t “our” dog, but we’ve been watching her for friends and she feels like our dog.  She was inspecting the ground for dog smells when this Northwestern Crow landed in a nearby tree and began to squawk, but not before dive bombing her.  Honey, of course, was oblivious to the crow.


Northwestern Crow

There were also a lot of Bald Eagles on the beach with the immature ones competing with the stately adult ones.  Couldn’t pass up taking photographs of the eagles.


Immature Bald Eagle

We went again to the Anchor Point beach on 22 May for more rocks.  Jack likes to tell people one can never have too many rocks.  I again birded the area.  Was surprised to find that most of the birds from the previous night’s shorebird monitoring had left, as well as most of the ducks.  Can’t say as I blame them with all the people around, let alone the eagles.  The Harlequin Ducks are still hanging around on the ocean and in the river, but should be leaving soon to head to area streams to nest and raise their brood.


Harlequin Ducks


Male Red-breasted Merganser


American Pipit


American Pipit


Savannah Sparrow

A small flock of  American Pipits are still around.  They must like the beach living or food source since it is unlikely they breed in the area.   According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website “All About Birds” the American Pipit “Breeds in arctic and alpine tundra”.  Not sure where this flock of pipits is headed.

I do love the Anchor Point beach for shorebird migration – both spring migration and what I call “outbound” migration, only because it begins as early as late June (non-breeders or failed breeders) – Summer – and lasts until October – Fall.  In fact, I think outbound migration is better at the Anchor Point beach than is spring migration.  Check it out.  Each day brings surprises, including no shorebirds.  Just watch out for the crazy beach drivers and the people launching the boats.

Remember – It’s A Great Day to Bird

Eagle Lake Area – Ptarmigan Survey

The Willow Ptarmigan is the Alaska State Bird but good luck finding one.  Jack and I are participating in a Ptarmigan Survey (Citizen Science Project) for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.  We selected two sites to monitor – Ohlson Mountain and the Eagle Lakes Area (essentially the Parasitic Jaeger bog and the area surrounding the gravel pit).  We are outfitted with a GPS unit to map out our survey route and a portable Primos brand speaker (with the affectionate label of ‘Alpha Dogg’) that can blast out a recorded ptarmigan call for 1/4 mile!

We’ve done Ohlson Mountain twice already to no avail – no Rock or Willow Ptarmigan detected.  Of course we didn’t see much in the way of habitat for either species.  We did hear and see a lot of songbirds (American Robin, Fox Sparrow, Varied Thrush, Boreal Chickadee, Common Redpoll, Dark-eyed Junco, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Gray Jay, Golden-crowned Sparrow, and Black-billed Magpie.  We also saw and heard a number of Wilson’s Snipes as they maneuvered through the air, a Belted Kingfisher flying by, a Bald Eagle (of course), Sandhill Cranes doing their unison call, and a Northern Harrier.


This is what happens to your vehicle when you leave it overnight


Gray Jay

At the Eagle Lake Area survey site, we arrived one evening eager to begin the survey ONLY to find out that when we had completed the first Ohlson Mountain survey we forgot to turn off the Alpha Dogg speakers.  Now these speakers run on batteries so guess what – we had depleted the batteries.  A little hard to conduct call back surveys when you are missing the call.  Well I guess we weren’t totally without the calls as I could play my National Geographic bird phone app.  However, we didn’t have the same volume as we would have had with our Alpha Dogg speakers.  Since we were told the batteries would last long enough we wouldn’t have to replace them – assuming the unit gets turned off – we didn’t bring any additional batteries.  Live and learn.

We did decide to walk the road and try and locate our eleven (11) stations so when we came out here again we would be ready.  Between station 3 and station 4, I decided to play the bird app on my iPhone.   And to our surprise and great excitement in flew a Willow Ptarmigan male.  Beautiful bird.


Willow Ptarmigan


Willow Ptarmigan


Willow Ptarmigan

We also walked up the road to the gravel pit area.  And in flew three Least Sandpipers (shorebirds) feeding along some of the pools of water.  A little far from the “shore”.


Least Sandpiper

We had a beautiful night for a walk with a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains.  In addition to the Willow Ptarmigan and Least Sandpiper we also spotted American Robins, Fox Sparrows, Northern Harriers, Mew Gull, Glaucous-winged Gulls, Wilson Snipe, Sandhill Cranes (fly over), and Golden-crowned Sparrows.


Fox Sparrow


Fox Sparrow singing away


View of area north of gravel pit

Despite not being able to conduct the Ptarmigan survey as planned we did enjoy a beautiful walk on a beautiful evening.  Will ‘charge up’ and return another day.


Shorebird Monitoring – Sessions 3-6

Shorebird Season!   Those winged warriors that fly thousands of miles have been arriving since late April.  We monitors at Anchor Point beach/Anchor River have been fortunate weather wise with no snow, no rain, and relatively calm winds.  We’ve had both sunshine and overcast days, but overall I’m not complaining.  I’ve been at the beach with the winds howling and blowing up sand.

I missed last year’s monitoring of this site so don’t know how the birds compare this year to last year.  I do know, however, that we saw more birds earlier (more being relative) in the monitoring period, and a lot fewer peeps (primarily Western Sandpipers) and Yellowlegs.  This is worrisome.  However, as Jack likes to say “Timing is Everything”.  Maybe we have missed the shorebird pulses this year.

Fishing season is starting and that attracts a large number of Bald Eagles to the beach in search of unwanted fish parts the fishermen discard.


Anchor Point Beach – the white log in the foreground is displayed prominently in the next photo


This immature female (this bird was huge) sat on the log (featured in the previous photo) and watched as we we walked right by the log. I don’t think I’ve ever been this close to an eagle.


The same Bald Eagle (I believe) later drinking water

On the survey we also observed a juvenile Glaucous Gull.  This gull is notable for its white body, which really stands out amongst the other gulls, especially when it is hanging out with Mew Gulls, which are much smaller than the Glaucous Gull.


Glaucous Gull

But we came for the shorebirds and while there were not a lot in terms of numbers, we did see during session #5 – ten (10) different species of shorebirds.  This site attracts a greater variety of shorebird species than the sites in Homer (Homer Spit and Beluga Slough), however we do not get the same numbers of an individual species as do some of the other sites.


Black-bellied Plover


Dowitcher sp. According to Buzz Scher at this time of year (migration) if you do not hear their call then it is almost impossible to tell the Long-billed and Short-billed Dowitchers apart. Won’t get any argument from me.


Greater Yellowlegs


Greater Yellowlegs along banks of the Anchor River


Machinery used to move boats into the water

During Monitoring Session #6, we once again had 10 different shorebird species found, including several Semi-palmated Sandpipers.  They are not always easy to tell apart from the molting Western Sandpipers.   They were too far away and moving too much for a decent photo.


Western Sandpiper roosting in the sea kelp


Western Sandpipers and Greater Yellowlegs


Greater Yellowlegs at the mouth of the Anchor River


Bald Eagles – called “Trash Birds” by some people.     Scavenger City here at the put-in/take-out boat area.

We even had a lone Surfbird on the beach.  Our next session is scheduled for 16 May 2015.  Only three sessions left.  However, if you want to continue to see shorebirds, the out-bound migration (starting with failed breeders) begins in June and lasts sometimes into October.  July and August are the best months to find returning shorebirds on the beach at Anchor Point/Anchor River.

Until next time,




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