Jack and I purchased a new van to use as our “camper van -tin tent” and went to test it out before we made any big trips outside the state.  We both have wanted to travel the Dalton Highway – Jack to see what is up there and me to see what birds are in that part of our state.  I’ve been on the Dalton Highway (aka Haul Road) at least twice before – once in 1981 when I was an intern for  Alaska State Parks (before the road was opened to the public) and again in late 2012 (I think) when I went on a volunteer project to pull weeds along the highway.  The weed pull project was conducted by the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.  On that trip we only got as far north as Atigun Pass, but in 1981, I was able to go all the way to Deadhorse.  So we loaded up the van van and headed out to points north and east.

Be aware!  This is a long blog posting with lots of photos.  I hope you enjoy it.

9 June 2018

My goal was to be on the road by 8:00 am.  If I hadn’t sat down to drink my coffee we would have left on time, as it was we were on the road at 8:08 am.  Still – not bad.

There is road construction on East End Road, so that slowed us down a little.   One diversion was when we came upon a moose walking down the middle of the road.  No cars, luckily were coming up the road.  A quick horn honking and it moved off the road and into the nearby ditch to begin feeding.  I think the moose like the ditches alongside the road because they are deep and if their hind legs are in the ditch, then their forelegs are on the slope so it is easier for them to feed on the low willows and other shrubs.

Jack was driving the new camper van and I was driving the old one.  My nephew and his girl friend in Anchorage want to purchase our old camper van.  Hooray!!!  So we are driving it north.  I was ahead of Jack and would occasionally look in the rearview mirror to be sure he was there.  Well not often enough I guess because when he finally got my attention just before Anchor Point, I learned he forgot to get the title to the van.  Oops.  So Jack drove back home to get the title (about 45-50 minutes to backtrack – without construction).  I continued on, stopping at the Deep Creek Wayside to bird for about 20 minutes.  Heard a Northern Waterthrush, but for the life of me I could not find this bird.  I then continued on up the road stopping at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge for a bathroom break and to bird their trails.

The temperatures at the refuge were a little cool to start out, but the mosquitoes sure didn’t seem to mind.   I had bug spray in the car, but since I haven’t needed it yet at home I didn’t think to spray any on me prior to the hike.  Dang blood suckers.   I did enjoy the birding despite having to swat away mosquitoes as I tried to bird.  Did see and hear a Swainson’s Thrush.  We don’t get many of those around Homer so nice to see this bird.  Also had a Brown Creeper.  While they are in Homer, they aren’t always vocal or visible.

Swainson’s Thrush

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Boreal Chickadee

Bog area near the lake on the Refuge

Forest trail

The trails are nice

Boardwalk to lake at the Kenai NWR

I met up with Jack at the Home Depot in Kenai.  The plan was to head to Captain Cook State Recreation Area to bird.  We were already behind 2 hours in retrieving the title, plus a dense fog was hanging over the coastline.  Not sure it made it all the way up to the park, but that fog was COLD.  Plus, birding isn’t always the best midday.  So, we decided to continue onward.

The next question was where to spend the night.  Our original goal was Granite Creek Campground – a U.S. Forest Service campground (after the Hope turnoff and before Turnagain Pass).  We decided first to see if there was a campsite at Quartz Creek near Cooper Landing.  This is another U.S. Forest Service Campground.  It has bigger sites, and with two vehicles ….  Well the campground was full so off we went to Granite Creek where  we arrived to another full campground.  Our last hope was Bertha Creek (another U.S. Forest Service Campground) at Turnagain Pass.  We lucked out – a site big enough for two vehicles.  We took the first available campground site we found.  Who knows, it may have been the only available campground site as this campground only has 12 sites.

After getting settled at our campground site, we went for a short walk.  Nice to be out camping again.  Of course I think most Alaskans had the same idea and not good timing – the weekend and hence all the full campgrounds.  I also think there are more tourists here this year.

Kamchatka Rockcress ( I think)

Tomorrow we head to Anchorage.  We have some errands to run, a vehicle to sell, dinner with friends, and a good night’s sleep.  I am also hoping to see the Red-throated Loon at Hood Lake, near my sister’s house.  Fingers crossed.  We leave for Denali Monday after I have an eye exam.  We will be there for two nights then on to Fairbanks.

Oh and I forgot to mention that while driving on the Sterling Highway near the famed Russian River (known for crazed salmon fisher people and bears), we actually did see a black bear.  It ran across the road right in front of the van Jack was driving.  I’m glad he was able to slow down considerably to avoid the bear – Phew!!!

10 June 2018

We hit the road around 7:30 am.   We were pleased with our stay at Bertha Creek Campground.  The place was quiet and we had lots of space between the two campers on either side of us – and vegetation to hide those campers.

The day was beautiful (sun, warm, and little wind) – a grand day.   The only sad part was saying good-bye to our faithful old van.  Maybe that sounds weird, but we did spend over two years of our lives living in that van as we traveled around the United States visiting National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks – or as Jack liked to say “any place that was green on the map”.

11 June 2018

What a morning.  Got to my eye doctor’s appointment early, got my eyes checked (yes, they had changed over the last year), ordered my new glasses, and then went out to the car.  I had several text messages including one letting me know I forgot some of my clothes at my sister’s house where we stayed last night.  Well those clothes included my smart wool long underwear.  I was not going to go to Denali and the Arctic without them, so back we went to get the clothes I left.

Back on the road again we made a few stops along the way.  Our destination for the next two nights was Denali National Park.  We had reservations for the Savage River Campground, and reservations for a bus ride from the campground to Eilison Visitor Center.

The weather was overcast for most of the drive, with some rain showers along the way.  We did stop at the South Denali Viewpoint and could see the bottom half the the Alaska range.  At the viewpoint I heard and saw a Blackpoll Warbler.  This is a first for me in Alaska and a target bird for me for this trip.  I’ve seen one or two in the Lower 48, but none in Alaska.  Was happy to add this to my Alaska list.  Only one bird away from making the 200 list.  Now many of you might think that isn’t such a big deal, but here in Alaska it is a big deal.  While Alaska may have a bird list of over 450 species, many of those are vagrants, accidentals, and strays.  And then they are found in remote Western Alaska (Nome or Gambell), at St. George or St. Paul, or on an Aleutian Island like Attu or Adak.  These places aren’t readily accessible (a very long boat or plane ride), weather dependent, and there are not a lot of lodging accommodations.

We made it to the Denali National Park around 4:00 pm.  The weather was cool, we couldn’t see the mountain (Denali), and it was trying to snow.  We heard the next day that other parts of the park had 5-10 inches of snow and they had to plow the park road for the buses to get through.  Glad we didn’t have bus reservations to see the park today.   There are parts of the road – along Polychrome Pass – that are narrow and steep, with big drop offs.  I usually close my eyes during this part of the drive because I am not a fan of heights and road drop offs.

After getting settled in our campsite we took a short walk on the Mountain Vista Trail.  We did see some good birds on the walk, including the American Tree Sparrow.  We rarely get this species in Homer.  There were lots of White-crowned Sparrows singing and flitting about.  And a pair of Northern Harriers riding the terminals in search of food.

That night I got some of the worst leg cramps of my life.  My left leg cramped so bad it felt hard like a rock.  And the pain lasted far longer than I wanted.  I drank lots of water and Gatorade trying to help with the cramp.  The pain finally subsided, and I fell asleep for a short period of time before the legs crams returned.  Luckily they were not quite as bad as the first time.  I had a restless sleep.

Orange-crowned Warbler

Byers Lake

Trail along Byers Lake

Bunchberry (aka Drawf Dogwood)

Snowshoe Hare

Once we got to the park and higher in altitude, the vegetation wasn’t as green and lush as along the Parks Highway, south of the park.

Not sure whose small scat this belongs to? A Snowshoe Hare?

Yes, that is fresh snow on the mountains

Mountain Vista Trail near the Savage River campground

This moose was eating vegetation right alongside the road near the visitor center


Savage River

I was happy to see bird collision prevention tape on the windows at this building at the Mountain Vista trailhead.

12 June 2018

We caught our bus for Eilison Visitor Center at 6:30 am.  I think there were only four seats left, and only the back two seats together.  The bus driver tried to be entertaining, but some of her jokes were pretty lame.  The mountain was not out, and while the sky was overcast at least we didn’t get any snow.  Hooray!!!

We decided to walk part of the road in search of birds.  We exited the bus around Polychrome Pass and walked over 7.5 miles to Toklat River Rest Stop.  The buses run pretty regularly, but near the end of our 4.5 hour walk we hadn’t seen a park bus in over an hour.  So we hopped on a bus at the Toklat River rest stop and headed back to the campground.  Of course there were at least 4 more buses headed towards Eilison Visitor Center (which we never did get to) that passed us once we were on our return bus.  But I’m glad we hopped this return bus because we got to see a wolf.  I so wanted to see a wolf on this trip.  We hadn’t seen one on a previous trip and they aren’t readily seen so I was happy as a clam.   Hip hip hooray!!!  Shortly thereafter we got to see two grizzly bears near the road – a great bonus.  Last time we were here we saw them at a far distance.  In fact, on this trip we got to see five grizzly bears.  I’m just glad the sightings all occurred while we were in the bus and not walking the road.

The park does let you get off the bus and walk any part of the road you wish or in certain sections, go backpacking.  Then you can get back on any park bus and continue the journey or return to your point of origin.  The only way you really get to see many birds is to walk the road.  On the bus we did see several ptarmigan, but not many people care about birds and so we didn’t yell ‘stop’.

On our walk we saw thirteen different bird species.  I know that doesn’t seem like a lot, but as I mentioned, if we had remained on the bus we might have seen 3-4 at the most – if we were lucky.  Off the bus we got to observe Willow Ptarmigan hiding in the willows, just off the road; Orange-crowned Warblers chasing one another; three Golden Eagles in flight; a Gyrfalcon on a rock cliff (with great views through our spotting scope); lots of Wilson’s Warblers flitting through the willows; and lots of White-crowned Sparrows singing from tree tops (okay bushes) or searching for food along the ground.

We got back to the campground around 2:45 pm and just hung out the rest of the day, trying to stay warm (no electricity at the campground; and for us, no wood for a fire).  I went to bed early and slept well.

Willow Ptarmigan

As you can see there was still a lot of snow in the park, and some of it rather fresh (foreground)

Collared Pika (Ochotona collaris) – this species is also known as the “rock rabbit” or “Little Chief Hare”.  The pika is in the same taxanomic group as  rabbits and hares.

American Tree Sparrow

Yes, there is a Willow Ptarmigan hiding in this photo

White-crowned Sparrow

Well we did see about 12 of these birds and they were so accommodating at being photographed

Caribou – we saw less than 10 total

This is one stretch of road that we walked


Some flowers were in bloom – possibly Lapland Rosebay

Arctic Ground Squirrel

Brown (grizzly) bear

So you can see why it is called a “rock hare” – it loves the rocks

Yay!!! I’ve finally seen a wolf in Alaska. Okay a wolf anywhere.  I love wolves.

13 June 2018

Awaking to a beautiful blue sky, I was wishing this morning we could have stayed a couple more days in the park – next time.  The people on the early morning buses should have gotten great views of Mount Denali.  After breakfast we walked the Mountain Vista trail and saw a mother moose and her calf feeding in the spruce trees.  Luckily she decided we weren’t a threat.  We also birded the trail again, finding Boreal Chickadees, Dark-eyed Juncos, Common Redpolls, and a Blackpoll Warbler – new birds for the trail.

We did get to see the “BIG FIVE: Wolf, Bear, Caribou, Sheep, and Moose” in the park.  I wonder if they have a “I Saw the Big Five” stickers like they do in Kruger National Park (South Africa).  We were both happy to spot all five large mammals in the park.  We got great looks of Caribou when we were walking the road.  Better than what we had seen on the bus, when you are trying to crane your next out the window to see up the mountain side.  Beware, if you do visit the park and ride the bus, the best side of the  outbound bus is on the left side.  Also, take one of the green, park buses – less narration.

Our camper van at our camping spot at Savage River Campground in Denali National Park

Common Redpoll (male)

Gray Jay family

Fox Sparrow

We left the park around 10:00 pm and headed north to Fairbanks.  We made a stop at Otto Lake Lions Park.  The lake had waterfowl, gulls, shorebirds, and songbirds.  In “Where to Find Birds in Alaska” by George West, there is the possibility of Solitary Sandpipers at the lake.  We saw what looked like a Lesser Yellowleg (similar to the Sandpiper), and I didn’t check carefully enough to see if what we saw was the sandpiper or a yellowleg.  I wonder if yellowleg have been spotted there in the past???  We were hoping for loons, but didn’t see a single one.  We spotted a mother moose and her calf across the lake.  They were enjoying the lakeside vegetation (grasses).

Otto Lake

Red-necked Grebe (No it’s not a bird’s head with something sticking out of its beak)

White-crowned Sparrow

Mew Gull

Mama and baby moose across the lake feeding

We made it to Fairbanks around 2:30 pm.  We are staying at the Tanana Valley RV Park (Tanana Valley Campground).  They have electric sites (but our extension cord couldn’t handle the 3-prong connection), wi-fi, and free showers.  Jack really liked the shower part.  I thought the bathrooms needed a little TLC.

We hope to stay in Fairbanks for two nights (tomorrow night at the Chena River State Recreation Site), and bird the area.  High on the list is Creamer’s Field and Tanana Lakes Recreation Area.  Then it is off to drive the Dalton Highway.  Alaska has been experiencing a cold June, with snow showers at Deadhorse and other locales we hope to visit.  I just hope the snow is gone by the time we get there.

14 June 2018

There was an air quality alert issued for Fairbanks for Thursday due to fires in the area.  However, when we woke up we didn’t smell or see any smoke.  Maybe there was a change in wind direction???  I was just glad we didn’t have to worry about physical exertion with bad air quality.  Not that birding is generally hard work.

Ate breakfast with a hoard of mosquitoes at our campsite.  Needless to say breakfast was quick.   We then drove to Creamer’s Field.  This is supposed to be a birding hotspot in the Fairbanks area.  We were disappointed.  Surprisingly it was relatively quiet except for the Yellow and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  In August, there is the Tanana Valley Sandhill Crane festival at Creamer’s.  This is an important spring and fall stop-over spot for the cranes nesting in western Alaska and Siberia.  We did see around 100 Sandhill cranes here today.  These obviously are the non-breeders (1-3 year olds).

At Creamer’s, the place with the greatest concentration of birds (and there weren’t that many) was the seasonal wetland pond.  According to an interpretive sign, this pond has water April through mid-June.  Well it is mid-June and the water in this pond isn’t going anywhere soon.  Lots of water.  We did see four species of ducks: Bufflehead, Northern Pintail, Mallard, and Northern Shoveler.  Except for two female ducks (one sporting ten ducklings behind her), the rest were male ducks (aka drakes).

At the seasonal pond we did see a pair of Rusty Blackbirds.  This species isn’t doing too well.  It’s population has declined 89% between 1966 and 2014 – one of the sharpest declines of any North American songbird.  The reason – habitat decline and environmental contamination (primarily mercury).

Lesser Sandhill Cranes – these are a different subpopulation than our Homer cranes

Tree Swallow

Mother Mallard and her ducklings

Yellow-rumped Warbler

The mosquitoes were relentless along the boardwalk trail

Lots of downed trees

We also walked the Farm Loop Trail, which connects to an adjacent Wanders Lake Wildlife Sanctuary.  Near the start of  the sanctuary we heard a cacophony of birds chattering away, so we stopped to investigate.  A group of three women were coming towards us on the trail.  As I watched them, a small animal that at first I thought was their dog, came out onto the trail and started towards them. After about five feet it stopped, saw the women, turned around and walked quickly down the trail for about 5-7 feet, and then popped back into the bushes.  This animal turned out to be a young fox (young fox are known as kits).  It stood about 7-10 inches tall.  Very cute.  The kit came back out onto the trail and started walking towards the women (who had stopped along the trail), and undaunted it quickly walked past them alongside the trail.  We later saw it on the trail in front of us.  The three women said they had seen the parent and two other kits further back on the trail.  We continued on the trail but didn’t see the foxes again.  I would have loved to have seen the entire family.

We walked to Wander’s Lake and did the loop trail around the lake (0.8 miles).  Not much activity on the lake except for several Mew Gulls, two American Wigeon (pair), and a single Red-necked Grebe.  One of the Mew gulls had nested on top of a bird blind/hide.  The eggs had hatched and she was tending three young chicks on the  rooftop.  So cute.

Mew Gulls and chicks.  These birds were nesting and roosting on a corrugated metal roof.

Red Fox kit (aka “cub” “pup”)

Alaska Nootka Rose

Yes, we have frogs that freeze  and survive (i.e., the Wood Frog

Savannah Sparrow

After Creamer’s we went to find a camp site at Chena State Recreation Area.  We were going to select an electric site so I could recharge our electronics (has been nice enough not to need heat to keep us warm at night).  Unfortunately, our choices were quite limited and we didn’t like either sites, so selected site #36 which is void of electricity and water, but still a nice site.

We stopped for lunch at the Pita Place for a falafel.  This place is quite popular.  I hadn’t had a good falafel sandwich in a long, long, time.  The sandwich was soooooooooo good.

From there we drove to the University of Alaska, Fairbanks campus so Jack could go visit the Museum of the North.  I’m not much of a museum person so I stayed in the car to write my blog and download my photos.  The parking lot has plug-ins so people can plug in their car heaters in the winter.  I’m surprised they don’t turn the electricity off in the summer.  Glad they didn’t because I got to recharge my electronics – of course we did pay a parking fee.

Tomorrow we continue our journey – Dalton Highway here we come.  Weather reports are mixed, but Deadhorse, which has experienced some cold days this month is suppose to warm up.  I sure hope so.  I really want to get that far north without any problems.  I wonder what the mosquitoes will be like.  They were horrendous at our campsite this morning and at Creamers.  But I did bring head nets and lots of bug spray.  Wish us luck.

15 June 2018

This morning we had a somewhat leisurely breakfast and then packed up the van and headed to the Tanana Lakes Recreation Area.  Some great shorebirds (Pectoral Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper) had been seen here several weeks before – not that I expected them to still be here, but one can always hope.  And no, we didn’t see any of these shorebirds.

We parked at the Day-Use area and then hiked the Flicker Trail.  Despite its name, no flickers were observed gosh darn.  We then connected with the Chickadee Trail and again no chickadees.  We stopped at the end of the trail and looked out at the several open waterbodies.  We stayed here for about an hour and did observe five different shorebird species: Killdeer, Whimbrel, Lesser Yellowleg, Spotted Sandpiper, and Semi-palmated Plover.  If we had just stopped for a brief time and scanned the shorelines we would not have spotted any of these shorebirds.  Patience has its rewards (although I am generally not a patient birder or person for that matter).   We also saw an Osprey and several Bonaparte Gulls.    Most of the ducks on the ponds/lakes were males.  The females must be on nests somewhere nearby (or not).  There weren’t many ducks on the ponds; most have moved on to their breeding grounds.

We observed 28 different species at this hotspot, and it was a pleasant morning to bird.

Spotted Sandpiper – unless these birds move it is often difficult to “spot” them.

Northern Flicker Trail

Bonaparte’s Gull

Lesser Yellowlegs


Semi-palmated Plover

We had lunch before heading off to our destination for the day – the Dalton Highway.  We had to travel about 82 miles on the Steese and Elliott Highways before entering the Dalton Highway.  These are roller coaster roads with a lot of frost heaves.   There wasn’t much traffic on these roads, which is good because we didn’t want to drive too fast.  Finally – we made it to the Dalton Highway.  We took the obligatory photo of the us (individually) standing beside the highway sign.  Surprisingly there seemed to be more traffic on the Dalton Highway than we experienced on the Steese and Elliott Highways.  We even came across three guys biking (non-motorized) the highway.  With the speeds these drivers go and the fact the much of the road is not paved (think gravel and dirt – mud), I know I would not enjoy bicycling the highway.

Yay!!! We made it to the start of the Dalton Highway

A small segment of the 800+ mile TransAlaska Pipeline


Yukon River ( MP 55.4)

Northern Shoveler (male)

Some of the THOUSANDS of Black Spruce trees I searched hoping for a Northern Hawk Owl

We stopped at several points along the way and at one I actually observed a Northern Flicker.  We are familiar with these birds from our time in Oregon, but in Alaska then are uncommon.  This flicker was only my second observation in over 11 years.  Another stop was the north side of the Yukon River.  This is one big, wide river.  There is a BLM information center just after the bridge (north side).  The person manning the center is a volunteer from Indianapolis, Indiana.   He will be at the center all summer long.   He said he had just retired this past winter – what a way to begin your volunteer efforts.

Since it was 6:00 pm, we decided we would stay at the 60 Mile BLM campground near the famous Hot Spot café.  I have been to this spot about 6 years ago when I volunteered to pull weeds along the Dalton Highway on behalf of the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges.  I can still remember the French fries and milk-shakes.

We parked the van, locked up, and headed down to the Hot Spot only to find it was closed for renovations.  I was very disappointed.  I had been thinking about stopping here for days now.  And it didn’t look like any “renovations” have been occurring yet.  I sure hope they open again.  So we trooped back up the short hill to the campground and had dinner.

Not sure what the plans are for tomorrow.  We will be playing everything by ear, because the weather this spring has been unpredictable – much colder than normal, with snow.  Can I pick the right time to go on a trip or what???

16 June 2018

Woke to overcast skies, but relatively warm temperatures – 45 degrees F.  We ate breakfast, packed up, and headed north.  Our goal is to make the Marion Creek Campground, just north of Coldfoot.

The road was a mix of paved and unpaved.  The unpaved part was better than some of the paved sections of road, which had a lot of potholes.  Our average speed was probably around 25-30 miles per hour. Of course we were looking for birds too.  Not many vehicles on the road luckily.

Red-tailed Hawk

Our first major stop was Finger Mountain.  Cold and windy here, but beautiful with the rock outcroppings.  We spent some time enjoying the area’s tundra view and reading the interpretive signs.  I like one with the picture of a bird that said – “Don’t squash our meal” referring to the mosquitoes that birds like to eat.  Considering how many mosquitoes we saw today, I don’t think the birds need to worry about not having enough food.  They are more than welcome to all the mosquitoes that want to draw blood from us.

Next we stopped at the Arctic Circle.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has an information tent here and the volunteer this year (didn’t catch is name) was very friendly and a fellow bird watcher – sweet guy.  He said that between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm is when most of the tour operators come with their clients wanting to cross the Arctic Circle.  And you can even get a certificate stating that fact.

Yay!!! – Jack crosses the Arctic Circle for the second time (first was when we went to Barrow)

Oh, I haven’t crossed it yet  (assuming the line is the middle of the sign)

We made additional stops at Gobblers Knob and Grayling Lake.  These are developed rest stops.

While birding the highway, the two species that stand out as the most prolific were the White-crowned Sparrow and the Alder Flycatcher – the two species I saw and/or heard the most.  We did see a Short-eared Owl and a Great Horned Owl, but alas no Northern Hawk Owl.  I hope we get lucky  tomorrow and see one.  We also observed a Rough-legged Hawk, two Red-tailed Hawks, and a great view of an in-flight Golden Eagle.

Entrance to the Coldfoot Cemetery

Morrell Mushrooms

Freckle Pelt Linchen

Coldfoot Post Office

Our van is starting to look a little dirty

Our campground for the night is the Marion Creek Campground, owned and managed by the BLM.  There are 27 campsites here.  When we arrived, only one had been selected.  We found one we liked (#6), set up camp, and then left for the Arctic Interpretive Center and Coldfoot.  Jack has never been to Coldfoot.   Let me tell you – other than being above the Arctic Circle, there is nothing special about Coldfoot, except you can purchase gas ($4.59 per gallon today) 24/7 and get a shower.

Hatch Year – Gray Jay – Came a Begging

Quickly followed by one of the parents

After dinner we decided to walk a portion of the Marion Creek trail – a 2.0-mile trail to a waterfall.  We went about a mile before the trail became wet and boggy.  Upon returning to our campsite (still only two campers in the entire site, except for the Campground Host), a SUV decided to pick the spot adjacent to us and pitch their tent.   Really!!!  Come on!!!  There are so many other empty spaces they could have chosen.  Why did they have to pick the one right next to us with so many other sites further away???  My friend Bob would understand my angst.  I prefer the peace and quiet – no one else around.

There was a lot of lichen along the trail to the waterfalls

Not sure whose pellets these are???

Mountain Avens

Alpine Azelea

17 June 2018

Happy Father’s Day.  I made blueberry pancakes for Jack this morning.  We did have a little rain at the campground during breakfast, but it was more like a mist than rain.  After breakfast we broke camp and headed north.  Destination – Atigun Pass and points north.  Last week there was a winter storm warning for Atigun Pass and they got a lot of snow.  Luckily the road was bare and dry, for the most part.  We did have some construction prior to the pass.

Arctic Ground Squirrel

This slide is getting closer and closer to the road. The highway department is working on the road in this area and relocating sections further to the west – but there isn’t a whole lot of place they can go before they hit a river

Tundra Swan

There was a lot of snow at Atigun Pass, but a clear road.   Beside the spectacular scenery, the highlight was we saw the Northern Wheatear.  We first saw this bird on its wintering grounds in Ethiopia in November 2015.  Today, however, it was nice to see the bird (saw three total – a pair and a male) on their breeding grounds.  This bird marks 200 for me in Alaska.  They have a special 200 club for people who see that many species in the state.  I don’t know if I will submit my findings for a certificate or not – probably not.  Not my style.

Atigun Pass was a little snowy…. but the roads were clear –  luckily

A Northern Wheatear

We continued up and over the Pass, stopping to check out the birds.  We did see several Golden Eagles, in fact, we saw one near the Marion Creek campground sitting on the pipeline.  We saw two others in flight near Milepost 235 – the area where spruce trees end.  Also observed at several locations today were Long-tailed Jaegers.  Jack loves the way they hover, when searching for prey.  Of course their prey includes birds – birds I want to see.

Long-tailed Jaeger …

… here on a mound

… and here in flight searching for food

Was hoping for a Smith’s Longspur, but we had to settle for a Lapland Longspur.  These are pretty cool birds too.  We had large flocks (around 200 or so -birds, not flock) during migration at the Anchor River on the Kenai Peninsula.  I wonder if the birds we saw today made their journey north from the Anchor?

There was a great pond/lake near Pump Station 4 that had some great birds, including a Red-throated Loon, several Red-necked Phalaropes (fun to watch them moving in circles to stir up prey), breeding Arctic Terns, White-winged Scoters (I usually see these birds on Kachemak Bay or Cook Inlet), and the Lapland Longspur.

There has been some work done along the highway (I suspect some type of small pipeline – maybe fiber optics) and the shorebirds have been using this disturbance, since it holds water, for feeding.  We saw a pair of American Golden Plover, a Lesser Yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe, and a Least Sandpiper making use of these disturbed areas.  Not too shabby.  I can’t wait until we get to Prudhoe Bay.  The shorebirding should be good there.

American Golden Plover

We climbed up a hillside – our van below

leaves look like a “wintergreen”

I thought the leaves on this plant were interesting. Not sure what it is.

Wooly Lousewort

Arctic Lupine

There is a butterfly in this photo. Can you find it?

Around Atigun Pass we were excited to have a great view of a Lynx.  The mammal was right off the side of the road but hightailed it up the hill once we stopped to check it out.  Woohoo!!!  I was so hoping to see one.  And just past Pump Station 3 there was a herd of Musk Oxen.  Jack commented that these beasts must be awfully hot with their long fur.  The underbelly fur called Qiviut is super soft and can be woven into great knitted products.  I have a neck scarf.

Musk Ox

There are very few designated campgrounds along the Dalton Highway – okay four.  Generally, people just pull off along side the road (gravel pull-outs) or down roads that do not lead to the pipeline.  That is what we did tonight.  This side road leads towards the Sag River and is used by bow hunters in the fall.  We made a quick dinner and called it a night.  Tomorrow – Deadhorse aka Prudhoe Bay.

18 June 2018

Before leaving our campsite, we decided to walk the road a little and check out the birds.  I saw movement on the tundra so Jack and I walked out onto the spongy tundra a short distance.  We flushed a bird and I followed its movements and saw where it landed.  Up went my binoculars and what should I see, but a Smith’s Longspur.  This is a ‘target bird’ I was so hoping to see on this trip and we actually saw two males right next to our camp site.  Woohoo!!!  This is a life bird for me.

This is a primitive campsite

Our van at the bottom of the road

Smith’s Longspur habitat

Up close view of vegetation

We went back to the van, got in, and drove off towards Deadhorse.  We went slowly (generally around 25-30 mph – and sometimes slower) checking for birds.  We saw a lot; I heard a lot.  The weather was decent (no rain or snow), so the birds were singing away.  I heard a lot of White-crowned Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows.  We made a number of stops at ever-present lakes, ponds, and wetlands in search of waterfowl, loons, swans, shorebirds, and songbirds.  The area beyond Atigun Pass is continuous permafrost so only the top layer of tundra melts and the frozen underground prevents the melted water from percolating, thus lots of standing water.  We saw a fair number of American Golden Plover.  This bird is easy to spot on the tundra – bold black and white head and beautiful golden body.  There were a lot of Canada Geese and Greater White-fronted Geese on the tundra and in the ponds.  We did get to see another Smith’s Longspur and several Eastern Yellow Wagtails.  And at one spot we saw several Willow Ptarmigan along a pipeline service road.  The geese liked this road as well.

Male Red-necked Phalarope

Male Red-necked Phalarope

Female Red-necked Phalarope

Musk Oxen


We generally saw small herds – considered remnants since the main herd has moved north to the windswept coastal plain

Franklin Bluffs

The small hill in the background is called a Pingo – Pingos rise to around 160 feet above the generally flat tundra landscape

Franklin Bluffs

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Smith’s Longspur

Glaucous Gull

This one standing in freezing water. Was it cooling off?

Tundra Swan

We finally arrived in Deadhorse around 6:00 pm.  We drove around town looking for birds.  A lot of the waterbodies were still frozen and there was some snow on the ground.  Temperatures were in the high 30s, but it was sunny and relatively no wind.  And no mosquitoes either.  A plus for us, but not the birds.  In fact, there have been more mosquitoes before we crossed Atigun Pass than there were after Atigun Pass.   We did get to see a pair of King Eiders, and two pairs of Spectacled Eiders.  On a pond near the one of the hotels there were an estimated 50 Red-necked Phalaropes swimming in circles stirring up prey.  Sometimes they go so fast I get dizzy watching them through my binoculars.

Rock Ptarmigan – Male

Male and female King Eider in a pond at Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay

Semi-palmated Sandpiper

King Eider (male)

Snow Bunting – these birds have a loud voice

Yes, the Dalton Highway is considered a “Scenic Highway”

As you can see we had a nice evening – very few mosquitoes, which was good for us but not so good for the birds

Pair of Spectacled Eiders in Deadhorse

Lapland Longspur

Spectacled Eider (male) and Red-necked Phalarope

Male Long-tailed Duck

Other than the 50+ Red-necked Phalaropes, we really didn’t see a lot of shorebirds.  A big disappointment to me as I love shorebird.

In Deadhorse we stopped for gasoline ($5.60 a gallon compared to $4.59 per gallon in Coldfoot), and went to the local store to buy something for dinner.  All they had was junk food so ended up with a small bag of Cheeze-nips and a 12 oz. Pepsi – for $6.19.  Ouch!!!  They did have a lot of sundry items and clothing.

We camped for the night in gravel pit about three miles outside of town.  Since we are above the Arctic Circle and it is summer, there is  24 hours of sun  – a sun-lover’s delight!

With 24-hours notice, you can take a tour to the Beaufort Sea.  We weren’t sure when we would be in Deadhorse (plus we didn’t have cell phone coverage) so we didn’t make reservations to take the tour.  Next time.  A friend said he went and didn’t really see any birds.  I wonder if we would have seen birds?

19 June 2018

I woke up at 12:51 am and could not get back to sleep.  I think I finally fell asleep at around 5:30, and slept for a half hour.  I am one tired puppy today.  A friend sent a photo of a Siberian Bluethroat (a bird I was hoping to see, but didn’t expect to see) taken the day before (June 17), around 30 miles south of Deadhorse.  So after we birded around Deadhorse for several hours we headed south (we were going that direction anyway – the only way).  We checked nearly every willow patch for the bird, played the call, but no luck – such is birding.  In fact, we didn’t really hear any birds either.  It was eerily quiet out.  Then it started raining so nothing was going to burst into song.  What was there to sing about?

We decided to stop early at the camp site we left yesterday morning.  Not much bird activity so we could go a lot faster on the roads.  I think we cranked it up to 35 mph.  The roads are a mix of paved (with and without potholes) and gravel/dirt.  And with the rain, the dirt roads became very muddy.  Everyone’s vehicle is a dark chocolate brown on the bottom, our back window was completely covered.  I feel sorry for those on bicycles or motorcycles.   A large 18-wheeler can spray a lot of mud.

Tomorrow we head back to Coldfoot (or should I say Marion Creek Campground), with stops along the way for birds and a side trip visit to the town of Wiseman.  Speaking of Coldfoot … I was reading that the town (if you want to call it a town) got its name when a prospector got cold feet, turned around and went back home.

One of the hotels in Deadhorse

Overcast and foggy in the morning at Deadhorse

The further away from Deadhorse we got, the nicer the weather

We stayed the night near Pump Station 4 again. Lots of mud on our vehicle. Jack tried to rinse some of it off.

20 June 2018

Was warmer when we got up (43 degrees F) than when we went to bed (39 degrees F).   Sweet!!!

We had breakfast and then headed south.  While the birds were a little more vocal today than they were yesterday, they were still much quieter than when we came this way on Monday.  Glad we came on Monday as we would have missed the Northern Wheatear and Smith’s Longspur.  We didn’t see or hear these birds at all today.  But it was interesting how much the foliage had come out on the shrubs; and more flowers were in bloom than when we passed this way several days ago.  Maybe most of the birds have found mates, established their territories, and are getting down to the business of nesting.

We did stop at Toolik Lake to check out the lake and surrounding area for birds.  We saw a Yellow-billed Loon (in breeding plumage – we generally only see them in the Homer area in non-breeding plumage).  The loon was on a nest on a small island in the middle of the lake.  Also on this small island, probably less than three feet away was a nesting Glaucous Gull.  That doesn’t bode well for the loon.  Those gulls want to feed their young and what better food than a loon egg or chick.  To top it off, there was a Long-tailed Jaeger flying about.  Now both the gull and the loon need to watch their eggs (and chicks when the eggs hatch).  Such is nature.

Once we got over Atigun Pass, it became warmer and sunnier.  In fact, when we reached Marion Creek Campground around 4:00 pm, after a stop off at the small community of Wiseman (population 13), it was 66 degrees F outside.  Sweet!!!  So nice and warm.  And while there are a few mosquitoes nothing too bad.  Of course even one mosquito can be annoying.  I think what I hate the most are those mosquitoes that buzz around your ears.

Former U.S. Post Office

The old Post Office

Classic photo of a moose in a pond

Tomorrow we head on down the road again.  Two more days on the Dalton.  From there we think we will do  a side trip to Manley Hot Springs.  We’ve never been there before.  Might be kind of fun to see the area and maybe take a dip in the hot spring (tubs).

There were a lot more campers at the Marion Creek campground today, than when we were here on Saturday.  This is actually a nice campground and only $4.00 per night, if you have the old geezer card like Jack does (with the Golden Age Pass you get a 50% discount on camping).  Amenities include pit toilets, camp fire wood, and garbage cans.  The water is not potable (meaning it hasn’t been tested to ensure it meets water quality standards).  Of course you can get water at Coldfoot, five miles south of the campground.

21 June 2018

Woke up today to warm temperatures – 54 degrees F.  The day quickly warmed up to the 60s and 70s.  At one spot along the road it was 77 degrees outside.  Nice.  We stopped for the night at the BLM 60 Mile Campground (free, because it is essentially undeveloped).  Think of a large, dirt parking lot and that is what you have.  Add a few picnic tables and fire rings, a pit toilet, bear-proof garbage cans, and a couple of interpretive panels and you get the picture.  But it is free so I am not complaining.  We spent the night here a week ago.  Hard to believe we’ve been on the Dalton Highway for a week.  Time flies when you are having fun birding.

A lot more vehicles on the road today – both tourists and large trucks hauling supplies  to Deadhorse (hence the former name of the road – the Haul Road).

Before leaving Coldfoot, we stopped for breakfast ($14.95 each for a buffet – I am not a buffet fan as I like my food hot and recently cooked), a shower ($14.00 – yeah highway robbery if you ask me, but then I don’t want to tell you how long it’s been since I had a shower and washed my hair), and gasoline ($68.00 – luckily we only needed a little over 14 gallons).  We stopped at the Arctic Interpretive Center, only they don’t open their doors until 11:00 am.  Seems a little late to me, but they must have their reasons.

One of the bicycles on the Dalton Highway

So it got a little muddy on the road…

We did bird along the way, and stopped for a few raptors (Red-tailed Hawks).  I read somewhere that the most common bird along the Dalton Highway is the Lapland Longspur.  I wonder if they meant on the coastal plain (which is maybe about 1/4th of the highway)?  The bird I heard the most is the White-crowned Sparrow.  Its beautiful call carries far and it was singing most of the way from the start to almost to the end of the Dalton Highway.

Red-tailed Hawk

Gray Jay eating left-over sardines

Tomorrow we head to Manley Hot Springs on the Elliott Highway.    With the warm temperatures it was fitting that today is the official start of summer.  The only sad note is that days will start getting shorter (daylight hours).

22 June 2018

Woke up to rain and mosquitoes – lots of mosquitoes.  We grabbed a quick breakfast and headed out.  This would be our last day on the Dalton Highway.  Only 60 miles left in our adventure to the Arctic.  The rain got heavier and the roads muddier.

Once off the Dalton Highway – phew – we decided we would go to Manley Hot Springs, despite the rain.  The road is not paved, and they were doing some construction, but all in all not bad  More mud, only different – black in color.

The rain stopped by the time we got to Manley.  We had lunch at the Manley Roadhouse.  The food was okay, nothing special.  The only place to camp was beside the road across from the roadhouse.  We decided not camp there.  This was a long drive for lunch – 156 miles round trip give or take a few.  The drive was beautiful, although there weren’t a lot of birds.  We did flush a bird we suspect was a Ruffed Grouse.  We didn’t get a good enough view to make a positive ID, although I’m not sure what else it would be.  There were a lot of American Robins along the road, flying back and forth.  We also saw a large flock of White-winged Crossbills.  We did see one at the Chena State Recreation Site, but it was nice to see the large flock.  We didn’t seen any this past winter in Homer.

Manley Roadhouse – it’s for sale

Saw this Red Fox cross the road

We made a stop at the Hilltop Café – a trucker’s café stop on the Elliot Highway (about 16 miles north of Fairbanks).  We heard they have the best pies ever.  We both had the three-berry pie with ice cream.  What we didn’t expect was two large scoops of ice cream.  The pie, well let’s just say it wasn’t the best pie I ever had.  I was not impressed at all.  Maybe one of the other pies would have been better.  Of course I’m not much of a pie eater.  Pies used to be my favorite dessert.  Not anymore.  Not sure when or why that changed.  At the café, a fellow COASSTER (participant in the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) introduced himself (he saw my COASST ball cap).  His area is Shishmaref – the most northern COASST survey beach area (NW Alaska).  He mentioned they recently had a large Alcid (seabird) die-off, but nothing like the large Common Murre die-off in 2013-2014 in Southcentral Alaska.  That die-off resulted in the protocols now used for all COASST die-offs.  Normal protocols call for measuring and tagging each dead bird found.   Kind of hard to do that when you have hundreds or thousands of dead birds on your beach.

We made it to the Chena State Recreation Site around 7:00 pm.  Luckily there were a few sites left.  Tomorrow we have some errands – laundry, car wash (much needed), and groceries then it is on to the Denali Highway and part 3 of our trip (Denali NP – part 1, Dalton Highway – part 2).

23 June 2018

Beautiful morning today.  Spent it doing laundry, washing our poor camper van, and buying groceries.

We finally left Fairbanks around 1:30 pm and made our way south.  We were not sure where we planned to stay the night, wanted to see how far we could get.  Stopped to drive a portion of the Stampede Trail.  This is the road that takes you out to Eight Mile Lake and the start of a long-gravel ATV trail leading to the famous bus where Christopher McCandless died.  A book was written, and a movie produced, about his life called “Into the Wild”.  We didn’t make it to the lake, opting instead to turn-around and head back.

Willow Ptarmigan

There is actually a baby ptarmigan in this photo. Can you spot it?

Baby (hatch year) ptarmigan

We made quick stop at Otto Lake, thinking we might stay here  tonight, but most of the birds we saw the previous week were gone so we continued on to the Denali Highway, with the goal of spending the night at BLM’s “Brushkana Campground”, about 30 miles down the highway.

When we were about twenty miles along the highway we saw two people on bicycles and a van driving slowly in front of them.  When we checked out the van our friend Lisa was driving.  She and a friend of hers are training for a long bike ride on the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route  in British Columbia and Montana.  This was a practice ride – the Denali Highway.  She warned us that the mosquitoes were fierce at the campground and sure enough they were.  We always take out our propane tank at night.  Doing just this small little task resulted in at least 20 mosquitoes getting into the van.  Luckily we have a bug zapper – it works well.  This isn’t a bad campground, with two loops.  We were the sole people in the first loop.  While at our site a caravan of 8 identical (style, not color) jeeps came caravaning in to use the restrooms.  Jack was quite entertained watching the people standing in line to use the bathroomsd busy swatting mosquitoes.  Some people waited until there wasn’t anyone in line before venturing out of the vehicles.  Once done, off the caravan went.

24 June 2018

Woke up to rain and mosquitoes.  The mosquitoes don’t seem to mind the rain.  We boiled water for coffee and ate a quick bowl of granola, then we were off in search of birds – in particular the Arctic Warbler.  I’ve seen this bird before in Cambodia, but not in the United States or more particularly Alaska where it breeds.

I think we spent two plus hours driving 10 miles.  The roads weren’t bad but we wanted to check out the birds.  It wasn’t until we had gone about 40 miles that we finally got our target bird – the Arctic Warbler.  The bird was close, but lighting was bad, so no photo.  I heard a fair number of them afterwards, and saw a few.  Hopefully tomorrow I will get a photo.

The primary birds along the road so far have been Scaup (a duck species), White-crowned Sparrow, Wilson’s Warbler, and Blackpoll Warbler.

We stopped for a bite to eat at the Clearwater Mountain Lodge, unfortunately about 10 minutes prior to our arrival their generator went down.  Jack got the last of the hot coffee and I got an unmelted ice cream bar – yum!!!

We finally decided to stop about 5:00 pm, after driving only 60 miles (in about 8.5 hours).  You can imagine how many times we stopped along the road to check out the birds.  It did rain intermittently throughout the day, but once the rain stopped the birds came out singing.

We are spending the night in a roadside pull-off, sheltered somewhat from the road.  No picnic table or pit toilet, but the price is good – free.  Tonight we will have an easy dinner of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruit.

May tomorrow bring blue skies, sunshine, and more birds, especially the Arctic Warbler.

Wilson’s Snipe

Common Raven

Blackpoll Warbler

25 June 2018

Since we camped overnight in a gravel parking area off the highway, we thought it might be kind of nice to have someone else cook us breakfast (save us from having to haul all our stuff out and set up the stove on our food container in order to heat water for coffee – Jack has to have his coffee in the morning).  We were less than a mile from MacLaren River Lodge, so we drove back up the road and ate breakfast.

We then drove a short distance up to the MacLaren Summit and hiked a trail (MacLaren Summit Trail) for about five – six miles (out and back).  The trail starts out as on ORV (Off Road Vehicle) Trail and then splits off to a narrow hiking trail.  This hiking trail was much nicer than the muddy, rutted ORV trail.

The area wasn’t too birdy, with mostly Savannah, American Tree, and White-crowned Sparrows present.  But the views were amazing.  You could see forever with commanding views of the Alaska Range.  We saw a tour group that had stopped for photos.  As an Alaskan I am always amazed at the scenic sites, so I can only imagine what visitors to our state feel when they see the beautiful views.

Start of the trail was muddy

But well worth the vistas

And lots of plants in bloom (Labrador Tea)

Alpine Arnica

Mountain Avens

Moss Heather

I found these lichens interesting

Round-leaf Willow

Arctic Lupine

This lichen is orange – maybe from iron in the area?

Alpine Azalea

Arctic Ground Squirrel

We slowly made our way to the Tangle Lakes campground (BLM) where we are staying for at least one night, possibly two.  We did get to see and hear a number of Arctic Warblers along the road.  Woohoo!!!

We birded the campground and finally got to see, not just hear, a Gray-cheeked Thrush.  This is a pretty nondescript bird – grayish brown with a white/cream-colored breast with streaking (See photo – yes I captured it on film or is that disk now).  There was a Spotted Sandpiper on a gravel path to the lake.  When I got near it flew around me to land in the path again, and not too far away.  There must have been a nest nearby.  Of course I didn’t have my camera then.  I could have got some really good closeup photos.  The same goes for a Wilson’s Warbler in the trees.  It was singing its heart out in the open.  This seems to only happen when I don’t have my camera handy or at all.   But, I enjoyed the encounter.  Also, I think if they hear the noise of the camera lens being extended they flush.  One of the disadvantages of a point and shoot zoom camera.  Don’t know if the same thing happens with a Digital SLR and those giant lens.  Maybe the movement of swinging the lens up causes birds to flush?

Herring Gull – rarely seen in this neck of the woods (so to speak)

Arctic Warbler

Willow Ptarmigan

Blackpoll Warbler

White-crowned Sparrow

Gray-cheeked Thrush

Blackpoll Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Spotted Sandpiper

Female Long-tailed Duck (breeding plumage)

American Tree Sparrow

Tangle River

26 June 2018

Rained last night and it is misty today.  We don’t have to be to Silver Lake where my brother has a cabin until July 1st and it is only about 200-250 miles away.  We could get their easily in a day.  Yeah right.  Okay, but only if we don’t bird.

So will sit around camp and see what happens today – will the mist continue or will it lift and the sun come out.  I am hoping for the latter.

Well no sun, but at least it stopped raining.  We took advantage of the respite in the nasty weather and decided to hike a ridgeline trail near the campground.  The trail leads into the open, scenic, alpine tundra.  Lots of nice wildflowers also.  I need to remember to bring a wildflower book so I can identify them all.  A good book is Verna Pratt’s “A Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers”.

The trail

Woolly Lousewort

Draft Fireweed/River Beauty (my favorite fireweed species)

Some type of lichen???

Lot of dead vegetation, with some new growth

Arctic Lupine. The purple in this plant is so dark – beautiful

Lichens (I need to get a book on lichens)

More Woolly Lousewort

This Alaskan Honey Bee loves the Arctic Lupine

Arctic Poppy

Labrador Tea

The flies were nasty so had to wear our head nets

Someone had fun moving rocks

I did get some time to read.  Started the book “Home” by Harlan Coben.  If you’ve read his books in the past, he has reprised the Myron Bolitar and Win Lockwood characters.  I prefer these interesting characters to his other books.

So, we mostly had a lazy, reading day.  I did find a Yellow Warbler nest with the female sitting on the nest and the male nearby.  I hope the eggs hatch and the young fledge.

Warbler nest

Wilson’s Warbler (male)

27 June 2018

We left the Tangle Lake Campground and headed east on the Denali Highway, making a stop at Mile 13.  There is a trail that heads up the hill (north side of road) to supposed Smith Longspur territory.  I think at one time they probably did nest here, but the vegetation has changed, even in the three years since we were last here.  We walked about 1.5 mile up the hill.  Pretty quiet out bird-wise.  We did see on a Horned Lark and spotted a female ptarmigan in flight some distance off.  Other than that, there were the usual suspects, but closer to the road: Fox Sparrow, Gray-checked Thrush, White-crowned Sparrow, Wilson’s Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, and Yellow Warbler.  When we gone almost down to the bottom of the trail, we met a couple headed up – birders from Palmer, Alaska.  He said (didn’t get his name) he was doing an Alaskan “Big Year”.  I didn’t even ask him how many birds he had seen so far this year.  I got the impression he is birding when time permits.  His goal on the trail was the Horned Lark.  I hope he got to see the bird.

The trail starts out like this and quickly becomes a muddy, boggy mess in places.

Lots of wildflowers were out, however.

The view

Moss Campion and Arctic Sandwort

Arctic Sandwort (?)

Capitate Lousewort – love the colors

Lapland Rosebay

Capitate Lousewort

Parry’s Wallflower

Horned Lark

Speaking of “Big Years”.  I told Jack that every year I try to see as many different species as I can.  I think right now I am at 162 birds for the year.  Not too bad.  And I haven’t even ventured to points west (Adak, Nome, Gambel, Pribilof Islands, etc.), which is where you are more likely to see the vagrants, strays, and accidental birds.

We stopped off at MP 0.3 (a large gravel pit) and birded the trails nearby.  We then checked out the Gulkana River at Paxson for an American Dipper.  I was looking under the bridge to see if I could spot a dipper nest.  I did.  Two in fact.  I then saw the dipper.   Jack and I watched the dipper catch flies and other insects, and then carry them to the nest, only they flew to a nest we weren’t able to see.  I looked under the bridge again, and found two more nests.  I suspect only one is occupied and the others are previous years’ nests.

American Dipper – dipping

The dipper’s nests (well several were noted) were under this bridge

Cool nests right?

I think the area was used as a dumping site

Tonight we are staying at the Paxson Lake BLM Campground.  We found a lovely spot with no other campers around.  We then heated up some water and washed our hair, and Jack shaved.  Felt good to have clean hair again.

Trail within the campground

Paxson Lake

Boreal Chickadee

Yellow-rumped Warbler

28 June 2018

After breakfast we walked around the campground again.  We only had about 52 miles to go until our next campground.  I did get to see a Northern Waterthrush.  I think I’ve seen more this year than all the other years combined in Alaska (well at least since I’ve been birding).

Paxson Lake

Bald Eagle nest with eaglets – nest was in the campground

Dark-eyed Junco (Slate colored)

We slowly made our way to Dry Creek State Recreation Site located approximately 3 miles north of Glennallen.  We camped at the same site we’ve used in previous stays at this campground.  We hiked the trail in the campground, but it is less than ½ mile so we hiked it in short order.  The rest of the day (since we got here around 1:00 pm) was spent relaxing and reading.  There were too many mosquitoes in our campsite to make a stay outside the van enjoyable.

Trail at Dry Creek Campground

29 June 2018

Well the mosquitoes haven’t lessened any overnight, not that I expected them to but one can hope.  Tonight we hope to make it to Blueberry State Recreation Site, about 100 miles south on the Richardson Highway.   The weather is cool, with partly cloudy skies.

We stopped at the National Park Service Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center, about 15 miles south of Glennallen.  We hiked the trails hoping to see a Spruce Grouse.  No luck.  We did see a family of Rusty Blackbirds (two adults and three hatch year birds/chicks) and two Bohemian Waxwings.  The waxwings are FOYs (First of Years) so was happy to see them.  Lots of Snowshoe Hares about.

Rusty Blackbird

Bohemian Waxwing

You can definitely see the rusty colored vent which is a significant id mark for this waxwing species

The visitor center trail

We made a stop at the scenic Worthington Glacier.  Every time we are here the glacier has receded further back.  Soon you won’t even be able to see the glacier from the visitor parking lot.  Lots of birds singing – Hermit Thrushes, Fox Sparrows, Golden-crowned Sparrows, Wilson’s Warblers.  Even saw two Spotted Sandpipers and an American Tree Sparrow.

Onto Blueberry Lake State Recreation Site for the night.  The campsites  are small so no big rigs with their generators.  We saw one large RV pull in and then pull out.  The campground is best for tents and small vans and pickup RVs.  The price is $20, which seems high to me for essentially a hand-powered water pump, picnic table, fire ring, paved area for your vehicle, and a pit toilet.   We thought about hiking the trails at Thompson Pass (in the alpine tundra), but it was raining lightly and we hoped that tomorrow would be nicer.

The view from our campsite


30 Jun 2018

Well today isn’t any nicer than yesterday – worse.  We woke up to a heavy fog rolling in from the coast – about 20 road miles away is Valdez.  Then along with the fog a light mist descended.  We decided to head to Silver Lake near Chitina early (one-day ahead of schedule).  As we headed back over Thompson Pass you could barely see 20 feet in front of you. But once over the other side of the pass and near Worthington Glacier the fog was gone and there was even blue sky.  I was almost tempted to go back up and wait to see if the fog lifted from the Pass.  Alas, we continued northward towards Chitina encountering rain – for the remainder of the day.

Lots of derelict buildings along Alaska’s highways, including this one

We did stop at Kenny Lake (the lake itself).  There are always a lot of waterfowl on the lake.  Today was no exception.  We had Shoverler, Goldeneye, Teal (Blue-winged and Green-winged), Mallard, Ring-necked, Surf and White-winged Scoters.  There was also small group of ducklings swimming around the middle of the lake and feeding.  We were never sure who they belonged to as no adult duck was with them.  Weird.  We’ve never seen this before.  Mama duck is always riding herd on the errant youngsters.

There were a lot of Horned Grebes on the lake, and one with grebelets (my term) – young chicks.  One was riding on the back of its parent and another was swimming behind, hoping to catch a ride.

There was also a Red-winged Blackbird across the lake – an unusual find.  With my scope I could easily see the red on its wings – male, of course.  We also heard a scolding Lesser Yellowleg flying back and forth.  Not a happy bird.  Most likely we were too close to its nest.  We even moved further down the lake and it still wasn’t happy.  A Wilson’s Snipe landed nearby – always a favorite.  It was a good place to bird.

Lesser Yellowleg

Wilson’s Snipe

We got to my brother’s cabin and he has a chain across the driveway and so we had no way to drive onto his property.   So, we camped adjacent to the driveway, just off the roadway (a dead end road).  We got some strange looks from the other residents on the lake that live along this road.  My brother, who is battling brain cancer, is coming up in about three days time I hope.  If not, will make the trip into Valdez to see him.  We live such long distances from each other – about 550 miles so we don’t see each other often.  I hope he feels up to coming.

One lane road near Chitna

Cooper River

Lots of wetlands along the first part of the McCarthy Road

Green-winged Teal female and ducklings

Kuskulana Bridge – former railroad bridge (built in 1910)

1 July 2018

My camera died today.  I am so bummed.  Guess I should bring a spare.  I do have my cell phone which takes good landscape shots, but doesn’t work so well for bird photos where you want to get up close and personal.  So what’s a person to do?  I have several other cameras at home that might be in working order, but I’ve been trying to decide whether to buy a Nikon Coolpix P900, a point and shot with a 83x zoom or a Sony RX10vi.

We didn’t do much today.  We are at my brother’s place on Silver Lake near Chitina.  We will be here until July 5th and then head home to Homer.  It has been overcast, but it is supposed to be nice through the 4th. I hope so.  June is generally our best month temperature and sunshine wise – not this year.

We walked about 3.0 miles along the road looking for birds.  We saw a raven harassing a young (hatch year) Great Horned Owl – the adult had just flown off.  The young owl was perched on a dead tree and was trying like mad to hold onto a flimsy limb.  It seemed reluctant to fly off so it may have just learned to fly.  We later spotted a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk.  One of the roadside ponds held a Solitary Sandpiper (FOY – First of the Year).  There are a lot of Swainson’s Thrushes around.  At my brother’s cabin the thrushes chase the Gray Jays that show up for a handout.  The Tree Swallows, which are nesting on the property, also chase off the jays, but not with the same ferocity as the thrushes.  Those birds are pissed.  They don’t want the jays eating their eggs or young.  Good parents.

The sun finally came out – Woohoo!!! – and we enjoyed some down time just sitting on the deck reading and enjoying the relaxing lake view.  Tomorrow if it is nice we intend to drive to McCarthy and the historic Kennecott Mine.

Twin Flower

2 July 2018

Today we are McCarthy bound.  Yes, that means the sun is shining and the skies, for the most part, are blue.  A beautiful day to visit the Kennecott Mine copper mill site and the small, but bustling now tourist town of McCarthy.   There is a foot bridge that must be crossed to get to the town and the mine.  The mine buildings are about 4-5 miles out of town and a fee shuttle ($5.00 one way) is available – running every ½ hour.  The gravel road to McCarthy (the road is a former railroad grade) is potholed and washboard in many places so for us the going is slow.  We traveled 48 miles and it took us about two hours.  Along the way we counted 70 snowshoe hare alongside the road – they’re baaaack.

Lou’s Lake

Trumpeter Swans with cygnets

We walked the town (took us about 20 minutes, but only because we stopped to buy our shuttle tickets and a cinnamon bun), then caught the shuttle to the mill site buildings.  The copper mines are another 4-5 miles beyond the mill site and also accessible by foot trail.  Maybe someday we will return and hike the trails to the upper mine sites – we heard one person say they hiked it and ran into deep snow.

McCarthy Road

Lots of swallow nest boxes on buildings including outhouses


The Kennecott mill site buildings are owned by the National Park Service (NPS).  The NPS is in the process of rehabbing or stabilizing many of the buildings.  There are a number of exhibits, which tell of life during the mining operation.  The Kennecott Mining Corporation, operated the copper mines over a span of 38 years, and made $100 million dollars in PROFITS.  Not too shabby, considering the mine closed in 1938.  Interesting history and I’m not that much of a history (natural yes, cultural no) buff.

A private residence

Examples of some of the canned goods that would have been available in the company store

Yum –  Ox-tail and Mock Turtle Soup.  Not!!!

We did hike a short trail around the buildings

Loved this dog

The rock and soil covered glacier

As we drove back to Silver Lake we probably passed over 30 vehicles going into the area, a lot of them campers.  Our van driver said that for the McCarthy 4th of July celebration they generally have several hundred tourists attend.  I believe it.

We came back to rain showers, but after the beautiful, sunny, hot day we were okay with that.  And speaking of good days, we learned that on the 4th of July, McCarthy is supposed to reach 87 degrees F.  That is HOT!!!

3 July 2018

Another beautiful day on Silver Lake.  I love this area, and my brother has such a great view and a great piece of property.  I am envious.

My oldest brother who owns the place lives with his family in Valdez.  They arrived this afternoon.  It was great to see them.  Then my other brother who lives in Seward arrived with his wife.  This is a mini-family reunion today and tomorrow.  I don’t see my oldest brother often and he is battling brain cancer.  It was good to see him.  As for my other brother, he is the one I see the most often, but still always a pleasure to spend some time with him and his wife Joy.

The day was a sunshine filled day and the temperatures reached at least 78 degrees F.  Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with Alaska and its temperatures, 78 degrees F in Alaska feels to me what 88 degrees F feels in the lower 48.  For us, a 78 degrees F day is HOT, HOT, HOT.  While I’m not a fan of cold temperatures, I’m also not a fan of really hot temperatures either.

4 July 2018

Happy Independence Day America!  I hope we continue to celebrate our independence in the future.  I worry about where our country is headed, but am hopeful things will change soon.

Another beautiful, hot summer day.  I didn’t check the temperature but it was hot.  I had to alternate between being outside and finding shelter indoors.

My nephew spotted and caught a Wood Frog.  I was fortunate enough to get a photo of the frog.  He says when he was much younger (about 20 years ago), they use to find up to 20 frogs every time they visited.  They hadn’t seen the frogs in a number of years.

There is a couple of American Robins that have command of the yard.  It is fun to watch them chase and catch (or miss) flies.  The more flies they catch the happier I am.

My brother eft early to return to Valdez.  When you are battling cancer I think it is easier to be in your familiar surroundings, rather in a cabin that has no running water, electricity, or indoor plumbing (well okay they have a composting toilet), but you get the drift.  He does love it here but it is frustrating to not be able to do the things that a year or two ago were common place activities.  I hope for the best as he fights this killer.  I love you bro.

View of Silver Lake from the cabin

View from the trail down to the lake

Hatch Year (?) Swainson’s Thrush.  My brother walked right next to this bird and it didn’t move.  I think it may have hit a window and was stunned.

Wood Frog

Hatch Year Gray Jay

Gray Jay – they can be obnoxious

5 July 2018

Today we end our adventure and head for home.  We had intended to overnight in Anchorage and then head out the following morning after doing a few errands.  However, we made such good time traveling to Anchorage, we decided to quickly do our errands and head home.   We were so energized when we got home that we even unpacked and put most stuff away.  Lots of laundry tomorrow and other chores.

The trip has been fun, we’ve seen some new country, and new birds.  While the weather wasn’t always great, we can’t complain.  We only had a day or two of heavy rain (in about a month’s time).   Can’t be anything but happy about that.

Matanuska Glacier

I hope you enjoyed our adventure …