Spring is here … Not only are we showered with precipitation and wind (lots of wind), but we are also showered with migrating bird species. YAY!!!
The birds are coming, the birds are coming!
At the end of March/first of April, I heard that several migrants had arrived – Trumpeter Swan and Ring-necked Ducks so what’s a birder to do, but go search for the birds. In addition to finding the Trumpeter Swan, I also observed in Beluga Slough eight Eurasian Wigeon drakes (males). I suspect they were accompanied by a female or two, but it is hard for me to distinguish the female Eurasian Wigeon from the female American Wigeon.
A Day at the Beach
The sun was shining, the winds were calm, and the tide was going out, and it was relatively warm so off we went to the beach to enjoy nature at its best. There were a lot of birds out on the calm bay, but most were too far away to identify to species even with binoculars, except for the Common Loon.
April COASST Walk
Yay!!! No dead birds. The temperatures were mild and the sky overcast, with winds stronger than I like them on a cold, April day (probably around 5-7 miles per hour). Luckily the winds were at our back on the return trip on the beach — much more pleasant that way. And, the prize for braving the wind, was hot, delicious french fries from Ramiro’s Food Wagon in Anchor Point. Bar none, the best french fries I’ve ever eaten. And relatively inexpensive too.
Spring Bird Migration
Have you ever heard of a “Storm” Wigeon? I haven’t until the other day when local birder Aaron Lang saw one at Beluga Slough and emailed out a photo of the bird to our local bird group. No it’s not a new bird species, just a male American Wigeon with different coloring on its head – white cheeks (see photo below). Genetics at work.
2018 Shorebird Monitoring Has Began
We conducted our first shorebird monitoring on April 14th. While it was quite breezy and cool in Homer, it was a beautiful day (sunny, light wind, high 40s) at Anchor Point. Our first monitoring session included five monitors (birders). This number will vary over the next several months (we will monitoring every 5 days from 14 April until 24 May). I think I am the only one scheduled to monitor each monitoring day for the entire monitoring period.
Surprisingly we had 6 Greater Yellowlegs. If we have any birds at all for the first monitoring session it is always yellowlegs, however, I think this is the first time we’ve had this many for the first session. – early birds. In addition to the yellowlegs, we had a nice view of several Barrow’s Goldeneyes, which was a “First of Year” or “FOY” for me. We’ve had a lot of Common Goldeneyes this winter on Kachemak Bay, but only an occasional Barrow’s Goldeneye, which I’ve always seemed to miss. We also had a couple of Common Goldeneyes along the Anchor River, plus plenty of Common Mergansers and Mallards.
For our second shorebird monitoring (19 April), we had an impressive five (5) different shorebird species: Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Rock Sandpipers (these birds were probably migrating to their breeding grounds in Western Alaska and the Aleutians), Black-bellied Plover, and Pacific Golden-Plover.
Later in the day, Jack and I went back to Anchor Point to look for the plovers. We found even more than I had seen earlier in the day. We almost stepped on Five (5) Black-bellied Plovers hunkered down on the beach. And then we saw two (2) Pacific Golden-Plover on the grassy banks of the Anchor River. A Greater and a Lesser Yellowlegs were feeding together in the ponds behind the parking lot so I was able to get a decent photo showing the size comparisons of the two birds. We also had our first sighting of Greater White-fronted Goose in the Homer Area. It was a “Great Day to Bird.”
Shorebird Monitoring – Day Three (24 April) found us in cold, windy, and wet weather. The forecast was for winds 20-30 miles per hour, but I don’t think they reached that high. My Kestrel (wind and temperature gauge) showed maximum winds of 13.9 mph at the beginning of the two hour monitoring session. And we didn’t get much rain either, although up to 1/2 inch of rain was expected for the day. And bird wise, we only saw nine Greater Yellowlegs and two Red-necked Phalarope. The phalaropes were a surprise. I didn’t expect to see them here. One was surfing the waves near the mouth of the river. The poor bird kept getting covered by the waves. The other phalarope was feeding in the ponds behind the main parking lot. The bird was doing its circling motion to stir up food.
I heard three Brandts were spotted in Green Timbers area on the Homer Spit. So after shorebird monitoring, Jack and I went to the Spit to find the birds. And find them we did. They were feeding alongside a few Mallards. We don’t see many Brandt in the Homer area and only during migration. I’m glad we went when we did as the next day they were gone. “Timing is Everything” when it comes to birding.
Shorebird Monitoring – Day Four (29 April) was another blustery day, but luckily no rain. And shortly before we finished the sun came out. We started monitoring at 5:00 pm, completing our task by 7:00 pm. The lighting at this time of day (7:00 pm) is great for photos. Unfortunately we were back at the parking lot and away from all the great shorebirds we encountered. I saw 18 Pacific Golden-Plover, 5 Black-bellied Plover, 5 Dunlin, 1 Western Sandpiper, 12 Greater Yellowlegs, and 1 Lesser Yellowlegs. Another great day for shorebird monitoring.
In addition to shorebirds, there were a lot of waterfowl – geese and ducks, although not as many ducks as the previous day (when Kachemak Bay Birders went to Anchor Point for their monthly field trip). There were at least 150 Greater White-fronted Geese, approximately 50 Cackling Geese, and 1 Brant (which was hanging out on the beach). The number of pintails had decreased by half from the previous day. Still nice to see the variety of birds.
Birding the Anchor Point Beach
Whenever it is nice outside I jump at the chance to go birding, especially after our long, cold winters. Jack and I headed out to the beach at Anchor Point on 21 April to see what new shorebirds might have shown up. We found the usual suspects – Greater Yellowlegs (8), but also found three Pacific Golden-Plover. This was Jack’s first sighting of the birds this year so he was a happy birder. We also had a small (six) flock of Lapland Longspurs. They flushed, so that was the only way we saw them – in flight.
What a Day to Bird – April 25th
Jack and I went back to Anchor Point beach to check on what shorebirds might have dropped in since our last visit. We found one Black-bellied Plover and two Pacific Golden-Plover in the grassy river bank. The Black-bellied Plover was easily found, whereas you really had to look for the Pacific Golden-Plover because they blend in really well with the dead grasses. Only five (5) Greater Yellowlegs were spotted feeding along the banks of the Anchor River or in the small overflow pond fed by the river. A Red-necked Phalarope was spotted feeding in the ponds adjacent/behind the main parking lot. There were also lots of waterfowl here, including nine Greater White-fronted Geese and at least 50 Green-winged Teal. The odd sighting was a single male Northern Pintail on the ocean (Cook Inlet), although a few other pintails were present in the ponds behind the parking lot.
After leaving Anchor Point we drove the North Fork Road to a bridge crossing the Anchor River where an American Dipper pair nests each year. And the pair was back (or maybe it is a new pair) grabbing nest material and flying under the bridge to make a nest. Fun to watch. One of the dippers would grab the material and then dunk the material into the water several times. Maybe it was trying to soften the grass to make it more malleable for shaping the nest?
Our next stop was Beluga Slough with a report of a Marbled Godwit near the boardwalk. Sure enough the bird was still there feeding in one of the slough ponds. Hard to miss that bird with its large size and upturned bill. We also observed 11 Greater Yellowlegs and lots of waterfowl – but no Sandhill Cranes. While scoping the slough from the boardwalk, a Song Sparrow was singing its heart out behind us. Nice to hear songbirds singing and claiming their territory or searching for mates – a nice spring feeling.
Our final stop was the Homer Spit. There had been a report of a Wandering Tattler on Gull Island. I wanted to check to see if the bird had moved to the boat harbor. Wandering Tattlers like to feed along the inner banks of the boat harbor when the tide is receding. But no such luck – yet. I love these birds so will be back to check out the boat harbor again. In fact, no shorebirds were seen on the spit. And only two Long-tailed Ducks. Guess these birds were not ready to head north yet.
KBB April Field Trip – Anchor Point
On 28 April, the Kachemak Bay Birders held their April field trip traveling to the Anchor Point beach to check out the birds. The weather (typical for April so far this year) was cold (low 40s – wind chill in the mid 30s), windy, and wet. Despite the conditions there were 14 brave souls venturing out to see what shorebirds were around. We got lucky – six different shorebird species. I observed 11 Black-bellied Plover, 8 Pacific Golden-Plover, 2 Semi-palmated Plover, 1 Whimbrel, 1 Lesser Yellowleg, and 5 Greater Yellowlegs. All the species were found near or along the Anchor River. Guess it is a little more protected than the beach.
We also had a Glaucous Gull, 50+ Cackling Geese, 80+ Greater-White Fronted Geese, and eight different duck species: Harlequin Duck, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintail (at least 80), American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, and Common Merganser.
And we got to see two Lapland Longspur walking on the ground – moving away from us of course. Oh and I almost forgot – two Sandhill Cranes in flight.
I didn’t get any photos due to the weather. But it was great to see so many different birds. I found 27 species in all.
Despite the weather conditions it truly was a Great Day to Bird.
On Monday, 16 April we drove from Homer to Soldotna to take our beloved Doodlebug to Twin City Veterinary Clinic for cremation. Doodlebug died on April 14th at home. We miss her dearly and hope she had a very good life the two years she was in our care. We suspect she was abused for most of her life, which just breaks my heart. No animal deserves to be treated poorly or neglected, especially those in our care. Doodlebug brought much joy into our lives. Her spirit will live on in both of us. Thank you Doodlebug, thank you.
No trip to the Soldotna/Kenai area is complete without checking out the Kenai Flats and Cannery Road area for birds. The ponds along Cannery Road were still frozen for the most part. No birds of any persuasion were present. On the Kenai Flats there were plenty of areas with open water being utilized primarily by Canada Geese, Mallard, Northern Pintail and a few other birds like Northern Shoveler, Greater Yellowlegs, and Greater White-fronted Geese. Oh and at least 13 Bald Eagles nearby waiting to feast on an unsuspecting duck or goose.
Monofilament Line Clean-up Day
On 28 April, 14 hardy souls came out to the Nick Dudiak fishing lagoon on the Homer Spit to perform a back-breaking chore of picking up discarded monofilament (fishing) line — a Kachemak Bay Birders ‘Year of the Bird’ event. And did we ever collect a lot of discarded fishing line. Each person had a grocery bag they filled with the fishing line. That was also a lot of plastic waste picked up that had been left on our precious public land.
We hope to have another cleanup in the fall after the fishing season ends. And to make this an annual event. Thank you everyone who attended and collected the fishing line.
Out Our Way
The snow is a melting – hooray!!! On my walks I’ve been spotting Snow Buntings. Hard to capture them with an iPhone, but I tried. This was captured at the beginning of April. But the weather throughout the month allowed for much of our snow to melt. I can’t wait for May flowers (green grass, leaves on the trees) and, of course, more spring migrants.
Remember it is always …
A Great Day to Bird