My friends always groan when I take a simple song and change it to include birds. So I was walking the Eveline State Recreation Site trails out of Homer, Alaska and “Summer Loving” (think Grease) popped into my head. But of course I had to change the words to “Summer Birding, went by so fast, Summer Birding I know it can’t last”. Well you get my drift if you are familiar with the song sung by Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in the movie. And it does go by fast.
A word of warning!!! This blog encompasses the entire summer (June-July-August). Luckily I didn’t blog every day.
Summer in Alaska is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. That is when many Alaskans in the tourism industry make their living for the year. We haven’t had much sunshine yet this summer. I’m hoping that changes. I always wonder about the birds and how they survive during cold snaps, heavy rain, and strong winds. Our yard this year is loaded with lots of nesting birds: Fox Sparrows, Golden-crowned Sparrows, American Robins, Tree Swallows, Orange-crowned Warblers, and American Robins. I’ve actually seen a Wilson’s Warbler and Townsend’s Warbler, which are both new yard birds for us.
Many of those birds are now feeding their young, like the two American Robin hatch year birds who follow around one of the parent as it searched for worms in our yards. After watching this robin gathering worms over the past 30 days, I’m surprised our lawn had so much to offer.
But with new hatchlings (they love chasing after one another and are careless) we also tend to see an increase in the number of birds that strike our windows. That always breaks my heart. In the kitchen I’ve put up tape on the lower windows. And after an Orange-crowned Warbler hit one of our living room windows, I painted them with poster paint (white, washable). This stays on until the birds migrate south in the early fall.
NOTE: We have had a total of three window strikes – all Orange-crowned Warblers. One bird striking an window is one bird too many, let alone three. And, don’t think that if they are merely stunned and fly away, that they are okay. Most times they are not. They die later of brain injuries. So please do what you can to prevent window strikes. There are many products available on line. Check out: https://abcbirds.org/get-involved/bird-smart-glass/
Living near Eveline State Recreation Site, I am able to walk the trails regularly. I’ve noticed this year a large number of Wilson’s Warblers and Yellow Warblers. This is great news. And now the wildflowers are in full bloom (well most of them anyway).
The other day I conducted my July monthly COASST walk (see http://depts.washington.edu/coasst/ for more information about this program). COASST stands for “Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team”. Each month I walk a 3..0 mile (round-trip) beach near the community of Anchor Point searching for, and recording information on, dead birds found on the beach. I did find a portion of dead gull I suspect was either a Herring Gull or Glaucous-winged Gull.
The day was pleasant (little wind, sunny), and just past the boat launch area I came across a large flock of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds roosting on the beach near the surf line. Later I flushed a flock of 11 Whimbrels. There were at least five Greater and one Lesser Yellowleg along the banks of the river or at the adjacent wetland/mudflats, plus a Spotted Sandpiper. Nice to see all the outbound migrating shorebirds.
Each summer I conduct Loon Surveys on behalf of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at Eagle Lake off Basargin Road. This lake supports a pair of nesting Pacific Loons. Our first visit to Eagle Lake in early June found the Pacific Loon pair on the lake – apparently not nesting. It was too early for any eggs to have hatched, so I suspect the nest failed rather early. There are a large number of Mew Gulls nesting on the lake as well, and these Gulls or a raptor may have depredated the nest. We went back in early July and did not find the Pacific Loon pair at all. It could be the female attempted to re-nest and with the grasses so high it was impossible to see the loon on the nest, and its mate may have been off in search of food. However, in late July we saw one of the parents with a chick. Woohoo!!! As of late August the chick was still alive. I hope it is able to fledge and live a long life. We started monitoring loon nesting at Eagle Lake in 2009 and this summer is one of only two times a chick has survived to near fledge or fledged over the past nine years.
We did attempt to go camping this summer. Our intent was to visit my brother and his wife in Valdez, taking the Alaska Ferry from Whittier to Valdez, before heading to Anchorage to spend time with other family members. However, our dog ended up getting sick the first night out (Granite Creek Campground) so we returned to Homer to get her issues taken care of before heading to Anchorage. She’s fine now, but we did miss the ferry and so aborted that portion of our trip.
Before we made camp at Granite Creek Campground (Chugach National Forest), we stopped at Cannery Road (off the Kalifonski Beach Road near Kenai) and the viewing platform near the mouth of the Kenai River. At the wetlands along Cannery Road there were lots of shorebirds feeding: Greater and Lesser Yellowleg, Dowitcher sp., Western and Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Plovers. There must have been 50+ shorebirds feeding there. Fun to watch.
At the wetlands near the viewing platform we only saw two Greater Yellowleg. This was a disappointment as this area generally has a lot of shorebirds. However, it was the day prior to the start of Subsistence Dip-net fishing and the City of Kenai had already put up traffic cones along the road for the people coming to put in their boats for dip-netting. Maybe the birds went to Cannery Road wetlands to feed instead.
In the distance we did observe some Sandhill Cranes, and there were Whimbrell on the mudflats (Kenai River bank).
Next we drove the Skilak Road (Kenai National Wildlife Refuge) to check out some of the lakes and to see what birds or other wildlife we might find along the way.
After birding the Skilak Road we continued on towards our campground for the night. As always, we made a stop at Tern Lake. Tern Lake is one of my favorite spots in all of Alaska. From there we traveled on to our campground – Granite Creek (operated by the U.S. Forest Service).
At home, tree swallows nested again this year, although in a different nest box. We have four nest boxes on our property, but only one nest box is generally occupied. In the past, the birds have used the nest box located furthest from our house. However, when we arrived back home in early June we found the side of that nest box open. Jack must have forgotten to close it after he cleaned out the nest box last summer. This summer they chose the nest box near our driveway.
As soon as the young fledge, the parents and young hang around for a day or two at most, before leaving. We lose our swallows by mid-July every year. Hate to see them leave.
We’ve had several American Robins in the yard this year. They search – morning to night – continually for worms in our mowed lawn. I never knew we had so many worms. Fun to watch them stuff their beaks with multiple worms before heading back to their mate sitting on the nest or back to feed the young.
Once the young are old enough they join the parents. The parents work continues – ever seeking worms, with the young ones following closely behind – always hungry and hoping to be fed.
And we do have a pair of Sandhill Cranes that frequent our yard. For some reason they love roosting/loafing in the garden – could it be the cracked corn we put out for them…?
I am leading a birding walk in about a week to the Anchor River/Anchor Point beach. I decided to head out there ahead of the walk to see what is out and about. I had a total of 19 species, of which 10 where shorebirds. Of the shorebirds, I had 29 Wimbrel on the beach foraging among the gulls. It was a sunny, calm day with few people on the beach – amazing considering it was a weekend. Since the tide was high (22 feet), boat traffic was minimal.
I recently visited with my friend, Nina, who lives on a beautiful piece of land off Skyline Drive. We went for a hike on her property and heard and saw several bird species, including a Spruce Grouse hen with four hatch year birds (i.e., chicks). The hen was flushed from the road and landed in a nearby spruce tree (see photo), and was quite visible. She taught her young well as when they flushed, they flew further into the spruce tree; and I could not for the life of me find a single spruce grouse chick, despite having seen where they flew and landed.
On July 29th, I lead a group of eight birders on a bird walk at the Anchor River and beach. We had 37 different species, including 13 (at least) shorebird species. We even watched (well two of us did anyway), a Peregrine Falcon fly off with a small shorebird. The falcon landed in a nearby tree (scope needed) to eat its prey. We watched the bird pluck the feathers from the shorebird. I could only see a white belly, so I assume it was a Western or Least Sandpiper we had just been observing in the small wetland/mud flat near the river. This spot was host to the following shorebird species:
- Greater Yellowleg
- Lesser Yellowleg
- Dowitcher sp.
- Wilson’s Snipe
- Western Sandpiper
- Least Sandpiper
- Black Turnstone
- Semi-palmated Plover
Sweet!!! The number of different shorebirds spotted there, not the falcon taking the shorebird.
We also later observed, along the beach, several Ruddy Turnstone, Whimbrel, and Surfbird. On the calm water of Cook Inlet we could observe Horned Puffins flying south. Unfortunately not much else was moving out across the water. We had a nice mixed flock of songbirds at the parking lot, including hatch year Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a nice Townsend’s Warbler.
For the walk, we had summer visitors from Oregon, Tennessee, and Louisiana. Glad to have you all join us. Since I was leading the walk I didn’t have much opportunity to take many photos. A good day was had by all. After four hours of birding we reluctantly returned to our vehicles and left for Homer.
Went for a hike at Eveline State Recreation Site, out East End Road with friends – Lani, Duane, Skip, and Joan. The day was sunny, warm, and we had occasionally winds to keep the mosquitoes at bay. There were plenty of wild flowers to observe and enjoy. I was surprised to find Siberian Aster, a flowering plant I hadn’t seen at the park before (maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough). Nice to see more variety at this park. If you haven’t been to the park you are really missing a beautiful walk.
I once again conducted by monthly (August) COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) survey of the Anchor River South beach (this is where I always go birding). I did find a dead Glaucous-winged Gull. The bird was a recent kill as my walk is an out-and-back walk and I did not see the gull on the way out – and it would have been hard to miss. There were two subadult Bald Eagles feeding on the gull. I don’t think they were too happy to have their meal interrupted, but I did have to take measurements of the bird (tarsus, beak, and wing chord), and photographs. Once done it was a little while before any bird came back to feed on the dead gull.
There was a lot of shorebird activity on the beach. Lots of small flocks (20 or less) of Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, and Western Sandpipers moving up and down the beach. Along the river and in the wetlands I observed Lesser Yellowleg, Greater Yellowleg, Dowitcher Sp. (which I suspect were Short-billed), and even a Hudsonian Godwit.
I did observe a Greater Yellowleg on the banks of the Anchor River playing with a small fish. The bird would swish the fish in the water and then try to eat it. It did this several times. Fun to watch. Again, nature at its best.
The real surprise was a Sabine’s Gull which came up over the dunes from the river, flew right in front of us (nice and slow), and then turned abruptly north and headed up the beach (we were walking south). The “M” pattern on its wing was unmistakable even without binoculars. I didn’t get a photo, but did enjoy watching the bird in flight. Oh and yes, the gray/black head was quite visible too.
I had heard that Wandering Tattlers had been observed at the Homer Small Boat Harbor, so after the COASST walk we went to see if there were any Wandering Tattlers. Score!!! There were two feeding and two roosting Wandering Tattlers. This shorebird is another favorite of mine. Not sure why, but I just love this bird so I was happy to see four of them. Safe journey Tattlers.
Morning is really the best time go walking/hiking at Eveline SRS if you want to see birds, as it gets quiet later in the day. The area changes daily it seems, and definitely yearly both in terms of plants, wildlife, and birds. Always something new, something different.
Went back to Eagle Lake to check on the Pacific Loon pair and their chick. The chick is growing and stretching its wings. I didn’t see it feeding yet. Other than the loon parent and chick, not a whole lot of other bird life around. Did see a Common Goldeneye hatch year bird in the small pond just before the lake.
Have also continued my almost daily walks to Eveline State Recreation Site. Today, I had a small flock of songbirds: Townsend’s Warbler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Brown Creeper, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, and Lincoln’s Sparrow. It won’t be too much longer before most of these species migrate south – we are experiencing less daylight hours and more crisp nights.
We have had some stormy weather this year.
And a two Sandhill Cranes that have been frequently our yard over the summer. This may be their bonding year and we hope they nest nearby next year.
Went to Anchor Point again to check out the shorebirds migrating south. Not as many different species, but did see some new ones: Rock Sandpiper and Sanderling. Actually the Rock Sandpipers are most likely not migrating south, but are migrating to the Kenai Peninsula for the winter. Rock Sandpipers breed in western Alaska and are tough enough to winter-over in Homer, so a nice winter bird to enjoy here. We can get flocks of up to several thousand during the winter in Homer. Want to see them? Check out the Homer Small Boat Harbor during high tide November through February.
Had a nice surprise today when we walked the Eveline SRS trail. At the road where we enter the park there were 11 (yes 11!) Spruce Grouse eating grit along side the road. I was actually able to get really close. All but one of the birds (Mom) is a hatch year bird. Way to go mom.
Migration is definitely in full swing. On my walk at Eveline SR, I had a total of 16 species today, including a Hairy Woodpecker. I rarely see or hear them in the park, so actually seeing the bird was a treat. Of course he (red on head) was too far away for a decent photo. Also observed were Wilson’s Warblers and Townsend’s Warblers. This year I’ve seen more Townsend’s Warblers at the park than I’ve seen in all my previous years in Homer (9). A Brown Creeper was also spotted, and I’ve seen a lot of creepers in the park this year too. Today really was a great day to bird. I am going to miss the warblers and the sparrows when they are gone for the winter. But, will look forward to the Pine Grosbeaks, and Gray-crowned Rosy Finch.
We went to Diamond Creek SRS to walk the road and part of the trail that takes one down to the beach. It was a beautiful day out with plenty of warm sunshine and calm winds. Surprisingly there were a fair number of birds also. Unfortunately most weren’t singing or calling so not sure what they were – other than sparrows or LBJs – Little Brown Jobs.
We are now nearing the end of the month of August, and already days seem more like fall than summer. Most of the flowering plants at Eveline State Recreation Site have finished blooming. The plants’ leaves are starting to turn colors, and more fungi are appearing.
Our local birding group – the Kachemak Bay Birders – had a field trip birding Kachemak Bay on Saturday, August 26th. When I woke up the view of the bay from our home was total fog. Not a good prospect for birding the waters of Kachemak Bay. However, by the time we got on the boat and out onto the bay, the fog had lifted – at least over the Bay. Fifteen lucky birders got to spend three hours on Kachemak Bay under dry, overcast skies, with calm winds (and therefore calm seas), and some great birds. One of those best bird sightings was the Ancient Murrelet – a life bird for me. I had a total of eight ‘First of Year’ (my first sighting for 2017) species on the trip: Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, Black Oystercatcher, Tufted Puffin, Ancient Murrelet, Marbled Murrelet, Red-necked Phalarope, and Sooty Shearwater. It was truly a great day of birding.
The next day I went to Anchor River since it was a beautiful sunny day with calm winds. Most of the shorebirds are gone, although there were still plenty of Greater Yellowleg along the river bank. In the wetlands/mud flat area (between the beach and the river), I found a lone Red-necked Phalarope probing the mud for food. The only other shorebirds observed were a flock of 17 Sanderlings (always late summer migrants) and two Rock Sandpipers, probably in Cook Inlet for the winter.
I continue to bird Eveline State Recreation Site. The number of sparrows present are dwindling. Time for them to head south for the winter. The warblers too will be leaving soon. Alder Flycatchers were gone by mid August. Black and Boreal Chickadees, Brown Creepers, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Gray Jays will remain throughout the year.
The Golden-crowned Sparrows continue to feed in our yard. Not sure when they will make the trip south. And a few days ago a Sandhill Crane family made an appearance – a pair with a colt (chick). Today our resident pair weren’t too happy when the crane family showed up for cracked corn. We’ve also had up to three Red-breasted Nuthatches at our feeder. This is the first year we’ve had them in the yard. I’ve only ever heard them nearby. They are tenacious when it comes to getting food. They don’t care if a Steller’s or Gray Jay is there or not. Most other birds leave when a jay or two shows up. We’ve also had a Wilson’s Snipe in the yard, searching for food. I so love those birds.
I think next summer, I will try to post a blog once per month, as I have found this summer-long blog posting to be quite long. I do hope you enjoy it, however. And Remember …
September and October will find me in Australia. I plan to blog during my visit to that country, although I’m not sure how often. Until then ……….
IT’S A GREAT DAY TO BIRD