Sorry folks. I had set this up to be published on August 31, 2020, and not sure that happened. If not, I apologize.
Hard to believe it is August already. The leaves on the vegetation up at the park (less than 1/4 mile from our home) are already starting to turn red, yellow, and orange. The fireweed flower stalks (flower from the bottom up) are near the top (generally an indicator that summer is about over). I’m not ready.
And now that it is the end of August, the fireweed is done, which means summer is over. Luckily no new snow (or as we call it “termination dust”) on the mountains yet. Only a matter of time. The mornings are cooler, the leaves are turning, and soon we will get our first frost, then our first snow.
I have been ‘spaced-out birding’ while trying to avoid the masses. I am thankful that I live is a state that isn’t very populated, although some weekends it is quite busy in our little corner of the state. I continue to go birding at the Anchor Point beach. Shorebird southbound migration continues – hooray!!!
Anchor Point Beach
Our small birding group went to Anchor Point on 5 August. We always have to time it when the tides are best for birding watching. On the 5th, we had to work with an incoming tide so started on the beach and then moved to the river. I prefer an outgoing tide, but the timing was off that day. Not only do I consider the tides for birding, but also the weather and everyone’s availability.
We saw 11 different species of shorebirds: Surfbird, Black Turnstone, Rock Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Short-billed Dowitcher, Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Plover, and Wilson’s Snipe.
Surprisingly we saw 12 Rock Sandpipers — early arrivals as usually we only get one or two at the most this time of year. It was nice to see more of them. And, there were five (5) Spotted Sandpipers, all together in a group, so possibly a family. The tide was rising and the food bank along the river was fading fast. A Sharp-shinned Hawk, which we had spotted about five minutes earlier, swooped down and tried to take out one of the Spotted Sandpipers. I’m happy to report no birds were harmed during our visit (not that we observed luckily). I know the Sharp-shinned Hawk has to eat as well, I just don’t like to see their prey killed while I’m watching. Out of sight, out of mind.
The only thing marring the trip was someone nearby shooting off their guns. They seemed to be near the campground, and if I were camping there I would be distressed. I have heard of bullets traveling up to a mile and striking someone. So – go to the shooting range please.
On the 13th, Jack and I took Moxie to the Anchor Point beach so she could run and we could bird. There are still shorebirds coming through, although not as many as in previous visits. We did get a good variety – 14 different shorebird species. Not too shabby. I think the surprise of the day was the two Whimbrels I spotted at the end of the visit. We were almost back at the boat launch parking lot when I was thinking that most of the Whimbrels have probably already migrated through. About two minutes later these two Whimbrels flew and landed about 50 yards from me. Nice. I also saw a Sanderling, which is rare for this time of year. I generally see one or two during the outbound migration. Hope to see some again. While the highest number observed for any given shorebird species was 14 (Black Turnstone), I was surprised to encounter 13 Semi-palmated Plover. The plover move through later in the season than the Turnstones and Surfbirds.
Out at sea (Cook Inlet), there was an occasional Horned Puffin and several dozen Sooty Shearwater. There were also large concentrations of Black-legged Kittiwakes. There must have been some small schools of fish for them to feed on. Fun to watch them dive bomb into the water after food.
The tidal difference that day between low and high tide was only 5.5 feet (high tide 12.6 and low tide 7.1). So the tide went out very slowly. Not a whole lot of rocks were exposed and the shorebirds like the intertidal rocks. It was a beautiful day so we walked to the mouth of the river. Not much in the way of shorebirds there, mostly gulls.
My friend Jim and I ventured back out to the Anchor Point beach and river on 21 August. We didn’t see as many shorebirds but did get a lot of seabirds. Timing is everything, as Jack likes to say. Sometimes on the water (Cook Inlet) you don’t see any birds. This time we saw a lot, especially gulls and Horned Puffins. Despite the outgoing tide, some of the puffins were clearly visible with binoculars. But a scope is really needed to check out the birds on the inlet. We had a total of 31 species. Not bad for a couple of hours of birding. The highlights for me were the two Lapland Longspur migrating south. They are rare for this time of year. We also had two Northern Harriers. Always fun to watch the harriers slowly glide over the land and river in search of their next meal.
And yet another trip to the Anchor Point beach and river on 28 August with Jack, Jim, and Moxie. We did see some shorebirds, but not many – Rock Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Greater Yellowlegs, oh and one peep. The inlet waters were calm bird wise compared to last week when Jim and I were there birding. Timing again.
The highlight of the trip was spotting a Humpback whale. We even got to see it breach. I think there were actually two whales. Amazing creatures.
Home Grounds and Eveline State Recreation Site
So the other night I heard a crane calling. The sound was plaintive, as though it had lost its mate, which very well could be as we do have a nesting pair of eagles nearby. As I was looking for the crane I happened to look down on the ground near our garden. There in the grass was a brown blob. I got my bins out and looked. I was surprised to see a Wilson’s Snipe just sitting in the grass. The bird stayed there quite awhile, allowing me to get a photograph. I do love snipes.
In early August Jack and I took Moxie (the dog) for a walk in the park (Evenline SRS). They do have a nice looped trail (a little over one mile). We had a fair number of passerines in the park that day, including many hatch year Orange-crowned Warblers, plus several Golden and Ruby-crowned Kinglets. We flushed a Spruce Grouse (or Moxie or Chaz did – Chaz is the neighbor’s dog who usually accompanies us). Not many birds were singing except for the Alder Flycatchers. They seem to like the dead treetops. Easy to find that way. It was a nice walk and yes, the leaves they are a changing.
Jack and I walk this park nearly every day. A few days after noting that only the Alder Flycatchers were singing, they were silent. That might be because they’ve already headed south for the winter?
We’ve had a nice mix of species in our yard. A Sandhill Crane pair with a colt visited. They like to hang out in the garden. We’ve also had two hatch year Steller’s Jays searching for food. They like the cracked corn we leave out for the cranes. And not to be out done, the Ring-necked Pheasant hen and her four chicks were at the mound where we put out the corn. And that was all in one day. We still have our mix of sparrows around.
Kenai Flats, Cannery Road, and Kasilof Beach and River Mouth
My friend Jim and I drove up to Kenai/Soldotna to check out the shorebirds at Kenai Flats, Cannery Road, and the Kasilof River mouth and beach. The Burke’s had reported seeing up to 50 Wilson’s Snipe at Cannery Road. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than three snipes at once, let alone 50. We wanted to check it out.
The grasses are tall so hard to see into some of the ponds. We did get a really nice view of a Peregrine Falcon on a snag. What a beautiful adult bird. I wish it had been closer so I could have gotten a photo of the bird. We did get great views with our binoculars and spotting scopes.
There are also a lot of stumps out in the flats. One looked like it might have a bird on it. Sure enough we saw a Short-eared Owl perched on top of one of the stumps. Again too far away for a photo.
With respect to shorebirds, we were ‘limited’ to several Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. But that was fine. Always nice to see these birds. There were two Trumpeter Swans in a pond, and two Sandhill Cranes nearby. The Arctic Terns have left for points south so only gulls still hanging out along the river. And I mean a lot of gulls, (think thousands), many of them hatch year birds.
We left the Kenai Flats and headed to Cannery Road. The small ponds here were mostly dry, but we did find a small number of Lesser Yellowlegs (seven) and one Greater Yellowlegs feeding in the pond. Jack and I had been here about a week earlier and we had about twenty dowitchers and one Pectoral Sandpiper, in addition to the yellowlegs. As we were checking out the ponds, a Northern Harrier flew over the ponds scattering the birds, revealing the few ducks around. The yellowlegs seemed undeterred. Then we noticed several large flocks of shorebirds. These birds turned out to be Wilson’s Snipe and I estimate we saw at least 60 of them. Four landed real close to us, but unfortunately a vehicle drove by flushing the birds. We only got quick views.
Before we left the Northern Harrier was joined by another harrier and they proceeded to chase each other. There also were two Common Ravens who didn’t care for the harriers, we think the harriers were trying to take the prey the Ravens had captured.
Kasilof Beach and River Mouth
We hustled over to the Kasilof Beach to check the incoming tide for shorebirds. We were told it is better to get here a half a hour early, rather than a minute late. Truer words were never spoken when it comes to this beach and shorebirds.
The tide was still somewhat out but we could see shorebirds feeding in the mud flats. We just had to wait for them to be pushed closer to the shoreline. And looking out we could see a lot of shorebirds – yellowlegs and dowitchers, with a few smaller peeps mixed in. In all, we estimate there were around 200 Greater Yellowlegs and about 75 Lesser Yellowlegs. The estimated 50 dowitchers we couldn’t identify to species as they were too far out and then flew overhead in silence.
We did see several Surfbirds and Black Turnstones in the mix, plus Semi-palmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Semi-palmated Plovers, and other peeps (these birds flew silently overhead). Nearby there were several Semi-palmated Plovers (three) on the beach loafing. Jim was hoping for a Sanderling, but if there was one in the bunch, we didn’t see it.
As the tide crept closer to shore, the birds would generally fly off in large flocks (25-50 birds) at a time – almost in waves. When the tide was real close to shore, most of the birds had already flown off.
There were also a large number of Northern Pintails along the surfline. And out further we did get glimpses of Red-throated Loons – always nice to see. At the tip of the beach on the south side of the river, we had a large flock of around 17 Bonparte’s Gulls. There were also hundreds of Herring Gulls and at least one Mew Gull. One first cycle gull kept feeding close to shore. I wondered if maybe it was injured. It hung out alone.
Overall we were happy with the birding, but did note that it would be better to be at the Kasilof beach during the am tide, when the sun is at our backs and we would have better lighting. However, the morning tides this week were too early – the drive is at least two hour from Homer. Maybe next year.
We ventured back out to Eagle Lake on the 14th of August to see if the adult Pacific Loons were still there. They were. Definitely no chick. They are certainly beautiful birds. The Mew Gulls, ever present in May, June, and July, were gone. They had raised their young and found no reason to stick around. The Merlins were gone also. I don’t know if they were just gone in search of food and would return at night or if they too had left for good.
The passerines were pretty quiet, although I was able to pish two Orange-crowned Warblers, two Golden-crowned Sparrows, and a Fox Sparrow out of hiding. We also had a Ring-necked Duck with nine ducklings. I was surprised they had survived the Merlin and Bald Eagles in the area.
We saw two Sandhill Cranes near the far end of the lake. And five Greater Yellowlegs flew in and landed in the tall (tall for them) grasses, sedges, and rushes. Also at the far end of the lake was some white material in a tree and on the ground. Jack and I decided to take a closer look and started walking in that direction. About half way there I saw some movement, stopped to look, and spotted a large black object. Yup, a black bear. It was curious about the white material also. At one point it must have smelled something in the woods because it took off at a dead run. Luckily it wasn’t running towards us, but it was kicking up a lot of water. We might not have been able to go over there anyway – too much water, even with our Xtra-tuff boots. Turning around and going back the way we came seemed the smart thing to do, so we prudently retreated – Moxie never was the wiser…
This will probably be our last visit to the lake this year. I conduct loon monitoring on the lake and that monitoring is now complete. Hopefully next year the pair will return and will raise a chick to fledge.
When I went to vote early at City Hall for the Alaska primary, they had these markers on the floor to help people with physical distancing. Alaska is “Xtra tuff” country (the boots). Hope you all got out and voted in your primary and don’t forget to vote in the general election in November.
And speaking of voting, our local Friends of the Homer Library had an essay contest on voting. Jack’s essay won second prize. Way to go Jack.
Remember, voting is both a right and a privilege. Vote, Vote, Vote.