So despite the Covid-19 pandemic I have been able to get out and bird the local area, as well as my own yard. Early morning birding doesn’t appeal to Jack so I generally go with four friends: Lani, Megan, Jim, and Tim.
Anchor Point/Anchor River
We’ve gone several times to the Anchor Point beach/Anchor River to bird. This is the time of year to catch the migrating (outbound) shorebirds. They breed in the Arctic and then head south to leave the young to figure out migration and survival. Jack and I have taken Moxie a time or two as she loves the beach but happily doesn’t chase birds. The best time to go for shorebirds is when the rocks along the beach are exposed following an outgoing tide – generally when the outgoing tide is around 9.0 feet or less. The more exposed rocks, the more feeding areas for the birds. From late June through July, the shorebirds seen are the following:
- Black Turnstone
- Ruddy Turnstone
- Sandpipers – Least, Western, or Semi-palmated
- Spotted Sandpiper
- Short-billed Dowitcher
- Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs
- Red-necked Phalarope
- Rock Sandpiper
- Bristle-thighed Curlew
At least that is what I’ve seen this year.
The Black Turnstones are generally the birds seen in the highest numbers – several hundred. Surfbirds aren’t far behind. Whimbrel numbers vary from a few to up to 88 (the most I’ve seen on the beach at one time). And this year I even spotted a Bristle-thighed Curlew. These birds are distinguished from the Whimbrel by their unmarked buff colored rump. This bird just happened to be about 30 yards from me when it flew straight out. Couldn’t miss seeing the color of that bird’s rump. Woohoo!!! In Alaska I’ve only seen this bird once before (since it often misses our area as it migrates to breed in Western Alaska) during the 2009 Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival and it was on this beach.
At one of our birding outings our group did see 37 roosting Greater Yellowlegs on the sand/gravel bars in the Anchor River. That was quite a sight. None of us had ever seen that many yellowlegs at one time. We were surprised to also find two Red-necked Phalaropes – birds usually attributed to the sea during migration – along the river as well. One was later spotted in the rocks feeding along with the Surfbirds, Whimbrels, and Black Turnstones.
There are other non-shorebirds to see here as well, although out on the bay it has been pretty quiet.
On 28 July Jack and I ventured back to the beach and walked from the boat launch parking lot to the mouth of the river. The mouth is several hundred yards further north than when we first started going to the beach over 10 years ago. At the first fishing hole, we had at least 48 Greater (mostly) and Lesser Yellowlegs loafing or feeding along the river – mostly loafing. Then at the mouth we had another 24 Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, again loafing, along with a small mix flock of Black Turnstone and Surfbirds. These two species’ migration numbers are dwindling. Early to mid-July is generally the peak outbound migration for these birds.
Jack and I also do loon monitoring at Eagle Lake. We have been monitoring Pacific Loons here since around 2009. This year we were hopeful that a chick would fledge. We saw a young chick riding on the back of one of its parents one week, and then the next week when we went back the chick was swimming on its own near its parents. We watched as several times the parents would dive for food leaving the chick unattended. This was not good. In fact, the following week when we went to check on the chick it was gone. It might have been one of those times when the parents were underwater searching for food that the young chick was taken by a killed – most likely by a Bald Eagle. There are Merlin (small raptor) and Mew Gulls in the area, but the chick looked too large for a Merlin or a Mew Gull to overtake. Of course I guess all the Merlin or Mew Gull would have to do is kill the chick in the water and slowly drag it to shore. I wonder what happened. If only I was a fly on the water (wall) so to speak. We will go back out in August one more time to see if the Pacific Loon pairs are still there so we can complete our monitoring tasks and complete the necessary report.
There is never a dull bird moment at our house. I think one day I counted about 15 hatch year Golden-crowned Sparrows. We must have several breeding pairs nearby.
We also successfully hatched three Tree Swallows. Well we didn’t personally, but the pair on our property were able to raise and fledge that many. We have a nest box that has been used since we lived here. Early in the year two pairs of Tree Swallows were fighting over the box. The winners laid four eggs, of which three hatched.
Our nest box has three holes, rather than the typical one hole. The purpose of three holes is to prevent the first born from poking out the hole and gobbling up all the food that the hard-working parents bring back for the young. With three holes, three chicks can all hang out their hole waiting for food. When they do start appearing at the holes, it is signal that flight feathers are developed and they are only a matter of days away from fledging. And once they fledge, they and the parents disappear – time to head south we suspect.
This year the young birds first appeared at the holes on a Tuesday and by Friday the last youngster had fledged. It seemed as though the last young bird had been holding out for a free meal as it was hanging out of the hole for most of the day without the parents returning to feed it (at least not that we observed). I was getting a little worried when it finally gave up and flew away. When that happened, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing any of the swallows again. And I haven’t. I hope they have a safe journey south.
At our house the young birds continue to chase each other around the yard, while their parents smartly eat to fatten up for migration. Will miss all the sparrows when they head south in the fall.
For a diversion to enjoy, we have a family of Black-billed Magpies with five youngsters cavorting around. They are now just coming into their long tails and blue/green sheen on their flight feathers. Noisy birds.
It’s Always A Great Day to Bird