Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Diary Update #7 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 2017

🌦  Saturday 20th May 2017 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ  ~ Before heading off from Homer back north to Anchorage Dee and I spent the morning trying to catch up on a few species which had thus far eluded us. We decided on a final drive back to Lands End, the furthest point along the 4 mile Homer Spit, stopping off at various vantage points along the route. The previously mentioned Loons and Scoters were all to be found but a few additions I haven't mentioned thus far included: Long-tailed Duck, Common Murre, Pelagic Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot and Red-breasted Merganser.

Aleutian Tern ~ Photo from Wilderness Birding 
Our final option was to enjoy our breakfast while sea-watching from the Ocean Loop Road, a perfect spot for some serious scoping! Three Black Terns, such a rarity here, were still to be found along with Bonaparte's Gull and the many Black-legged Kittiwake but a few birds on the reasonably calm water took the eye, one in particular a Tufted Puffin! As for the elusive Aleutian Terns? Well there were certainly Terns out at distance and by all accounts the Aleutians seldom plunge dive and these certainly weren't during a good hours watching, instead skim feeding but did I have enough information to add this lifer to my list? Sadly I think not πŸ€”  too distant and never coming close enough to clinch that white forehead but you know what, they may just have been!!

The sheer variation of aircraft at Ted Steven's Airport Anchorage!
🌨  Tuesday 23rd May 2017 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ  ~ Since arriving in Anchorage on Saturday evening birding has taken a short break and Dee and I have been city dwellers, exploring the sights the sounds of this amazing municipality. Well nearly, as birds can literally be found anywhere in the downtown areas, as per my latest tweet!

Douglas DC3C 
Being an aviation enthusiast too one bonus for me has been the Ted Stevens International Airport, literally just across the road from our hotel! Due to its location on the globe, being almost equidistant from New York City and Tokyo, Anchorage lies within 9 ½ hours by air to nearly 90% of the industrialised world. For this reason, the Anchorage International Airport is a common refueling stop for many international cargo flights and aircraft such as the McDonnell Douglas MD-11 and Boeing 727 are a regular feature here! Just wandering around the outskirts of this huge airport (6th busiest in the world) you can come across some amazing aircraft still in service. I should also mention that Lake Hood, on the opposite side of our hotel from the airport is the busiest seaplane base in the world, so I hope you bare with me if I hand over this particular post to my aviation enthusiasm!

Northern Air Cargo Boeing 727

Everts Air Cargo DC6

Ravn Air De Havilland Dash 8~100

Douglas DC6 ~ Northern Air Cargo


Atlas 747F

Boeing 747F

Everts Air Cargo DC9

FedEx MD11 on approach!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Diary Update #7 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 2017

🌦 Friday 19th May 2017 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ  ~ Over the past three days Dee and I have been exploring Homer, a wonderfully friendly little city on Kachemak Bay, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Unfortunately, since we arrived on Tuesday the weather has taken a downward turn and we've gone from stunningly beautifulful cloudless blue skies to lots of cloud accompanied by the odd shower. That said it hasn't dampened our spirits and we've made the most of our time here.

Mum Moose with two newly born calves!
There's certainly plenty of areas to cover and we've hiked many trails, visited much marshland, bogs, rivers and wetland areas and spent hours sea watching! One of the treats is seeing plenty of Moose, which you can literally come across anywhere, from the city itself to the back roads. Bald Eagles are everywhere too and from our clifftop accommodation we can watch them drift by from the comfort of our decking!

Amazing Sea Otters!
Rafts of Sea Otters pass through daily, a sight to behold and Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter and Loons (Common, Red-throated and Yellow-billed) have all be noted.

Red-necked Grebes
Red-necked Grebe appear to be the common grebe species for the area and a forest walk will produce lots of Orange-crowned Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, the odd Townsend's Warbler, plus the gorgeous little Boreal Chickadee, which sounds exactly like our own Willow Tit!

Spruce Grouse
Search the undercover and you'll find Dark-eyed Junco, Lincoln's Sparrow, and even Spruce Grouse! Today we came across our first Rusty Blackbird and other species recorded: Golden-crowned Sparrow, Song SparrowFox Sparrow and Belted Kingfisher.

Sandhill Cranes are a regular feature!
Sandhill Cranes are also a regular feature and can be seen most days on any mudflat! Winnowing Wilson's Snipe can be heard constantly, the calls resonating over long distances. However, shorebird (wader) counts have been disappointing, a local birder telling us most have moved further north and 'you should have been here a fortnight ago' 😏  That said they can still be found: WhimbrelPectoral Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, both Yellowlegs, both Dowitchers and Dunlin.

Glaucous-winged Gulls
With lots of fishing boats coming and going Gulls are naturally a feature with the dominant Herring Gull and to a lesser degree, Mew Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull. We have managed Glaucous Gull but not that common and Black-legged Kittiwake are in the 100s, nesting everywhere! The Bonaparte's Gulls are always a pleasure to see and numbers have grown during our stay! We've also managed Black Tern, a rarity here by all accounts but one of our target birds the 'Aleutian Tern' has eluded us thus far!

Dee's Photo Gallery!

Red Squirrel

Meadow Vole

Bald Eagle

Ringed-necked Duck

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Diary Update #6 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 2017

☀️ Tuesday 16th May 2017 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ  ~ Today we said goodbye to the Alyeska Resort and headed south on a four hour drive to Homer. This is a small city on Kachemak Bay, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. A focal point is the Homer Spit, a long narrow finger of land jutting out 4.5 miles into Kachemak Bay and a place were looking forward to exploring.

Brown Bear ~ This is not a Grizzly just a Brown Bear!

Be prepared at all times!! 
As per usual it actually took nearly six hours to get here with many stops to explore the rivers and trails on route. Those who know Dee and I are aware that we love to find our own wildlife and go equipped to do so! One stop in particular reminded us why birding in this neck of the woods can be a little dangerous and you certainly need to have your wits about you and know what you're doing.

Moose ~ Feeding happily along the river!
Moose were also seen during our stops and this particular individual offered a photo opportunity, although we kept our distance, if there are calfs around they can become quite aggressive! Birds included Cliff Swallow and Belted Kingfisher and if we thought we'd seen some decent numbers of Bald Eagle then think again!

Home for next four days!
We finally arrived at our accommodation for the next four days, a wonderful yurt which has stunning views looking out across Kachemak Bay.

Stunning views from our Yurt!
I spent our first evening sea watching from the cliff tops and quite frankly couldn't believe my eyes! Below not only scores of Surf Scoter, incorporating smaller numbers of White-winged but rafts of Sea Otters passing through, these amazing animals, actually the largest member of the weasel family pass through Homer every year, it's an incredible sight, even at this height!

Bald Eagle with the Lumix FZ1000
Equally as awesome was sitting at the same eye level as many passing Bald Eagles, giving me an excellent opportunity to practice with my new Lumix FZ100 bridge camera!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Diary Update #5 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 2017

☀️ Monday 15th May 2017 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ  ~ A glorious day weather-wise with wall to wall sunshine and our last day in Girdwood before moving down to Homer tomorrow!

Awesome Bald Eagles are everywhere! 
With the tide out we stopped off at few locations to check out the Bald Eagle populations. Many family parties can be found along the mudflats when the tide subsides and Dee counted a stunning 51 birds in one location!

Orange-crowned Warbler ~ Arriving in numbers!
We spent the best part of the day checking out a number of trails with mixed habitat of woodland, lake and sea shore. One particular lake held a couple of Trumpeter Swans and at one point we managed both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglet, gorgeous little Goldcrest type birds. Orange-crowned Warblers seem to be arriving in numbers and there distinct song can be heard everywhere. More additions to the list today included: Greater White-fronted Goose, Common Merganser, Whimbrel, Semipalmated Plover, Gray Jay, Greater Yellowlegs and the wonderful Rufous Hummingbird.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Diary Update #4 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 2017

☔  Sunday 14th May 2017 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ  ~ The weather deteriorated overnight with low cloud and light rain and indeed when we headed off for a walk around the hotel grounds after breakfast little had changed!

Several Varied Thrush foraging along the ski slopes.
A new species for the hotel list while I nipped to the car before breakfast, an American Tree Sparrow. After breakfast we spent a while searching the now grass laded (well almost) ski slopes for ground dwellers and our efforts produce Dark-eyed JuncoYellow-rumped WarblerPine Siskin, American Robin and Varied Thrush.

Sandhill Cranes arrive for the summer from Texas and California!
We decided to head back into Anchorage today to check out a few local areas and ended up at the Westchester Lagoon, which is only a 15 minute walk from downtown Anchorage! It also has some excellent mudflats looking out across the Knik Arm. Spring has arrived late here apparently and birds are continuing to arrive back locally only now but it's obvious that things are picking up.

Green-winged Teal among the many waterfowl!
When we arrived at the lagoon we were astonished to find 1000s of Swallows overhead, a major fall and probably brought down by the rain. After several minutes searching they all appeared to be Tree and Violet-greens. Out on the lagoon an array of waterfowl which included: (3) Surf Scoter, (6) Canvasback, Bufflehead, Greater/Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal and (12) Red-necked Grebe.

Lesser Yellowlegs
We took a stroll along the coastal trail looking out over the tidal mudflats and here plenty of Arctic Terns, plus (3) Bonaparte's Gull and a couple of Glaucous-winged, which passed through. Waders included Short-billed Dowitcher, Black-bellied Plover, Pectoral SandpiperLesser Yellowlegs and a single Hudsonian Godwit. Two Sandhill Cranes were also present and in fact we managed to get quite close (photo above).

Numerous Mew Gulls nesting at Potters Marsh!
A stop at Potters Marsh on route back to Girdwood in what was now glorious sunshine also brought out the families, it's Mother's Day here today, but we did manage some additions to the Alaskan list which included: Savannah Sparrow, Wilsons Warbler and Red-breasted Nuthatch!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Diary Update #3 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 2017

⛅  Saturday 13th May 2017 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ  ~ An amazing fact is that there are at least 320 magnitude 4 to 5 earthquakes in Alaska each year! Why do I mention these statistics? Simply because we were wide awake at 1am this morning, woken by what I can now confirm to be a 4.1 magnitude earthquake, another surreal moment in our Alaskan adventure!

Portage Lake ~ Still almost completely frozen!
After breakfast Dee and I decided on a visit to Portage, around 15 miles from our hotel and as coincidence would have it another earthquake story is part of it's history. Almost 100 residents lived in Portage until the 1964 Good Friday earthquake. This massive earthquake caused the shoreline to drop between six and 12 feet, allowing high tides to flood the town and surrounding area with salt water. All that remains of the original village are a few structures sinking into the nearby mud flats and scattered stands of dead trees. It also boasts 3 glaciers, one of the reasons for our visit.

Varied Thrush ~ Shame about the branch!!
After the lake we made several stops to investigate a number of trails and smaller unfrozen lakes which produced some excellent results. Dee managed the above image of a Varied Thrush and below a Hermit Thrush, both quite elusive species but found by call and our doggid determination πŸ‘€

Hermit Thrush ~ A real floor forager! 
On one particular lake we came across a half dozen Harlequin Ducks, also recording Barrow's Goldeneye and Lesser Yellowlegs. It was interesting to watch a steady stream of Herring Gulls passing through the valley at height, seemingly following the river's path and these were occasionally vocal, alerting us to at least two Bald Eagles, which occasionally harassed them! Also of note Fox Sparrow, Steller's Jay, Northwestern Crow and Raven.

Arctic Tern ~ Amazing what you can find on the tracks!
A few more stops on route back to the hotel produced a surprise while parked up next to the railroad track (photo above). Back at Girdwood a stroll around the local trails and an area of flats known as Moose Meadow produced our first Black Bear, ably spotted by Dee. Unfortunately he got spooked by a light aircraft landing at the local airport and shot off before we had a chance to obtain a photo. What could perhaps have been the same individual was spotted by Dee again in the hotel grounds while we were having dinner this evening!

Harlequin Duck ~ Sadly the photo doesn't do him justice!

Another Dee photo ~ This time Steller's Jay

Friday, May 12, 2017

Diary Update #2 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 2017

✈️  Friday 12th May 2017 πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ   ~ The 3 1/2 hour flight from Vancouver up to Anchorage was relatively uneventful! That is until we were on approach and completing a steep right turn, hitting what the pilot later described as 'Wake Turbulence'. I swear we were seconds away from a complete barrel roll, gasps in the cabin before a sudden jerk corrected us immediately onto level flight! I've flown many hours but that will go down as my "Seconds From Disaster" encounter! However, what I can tell you is that the scenery as we approached Anchorage is some of the most stunning I've ever encountered on a flight anywhere in the world!

First image of the visit this recently arrived Tree Swallow!
After picking up the hire car we made our way out of Anchorage to drive the 30 or so miles to our hotel for the next four days in Girdwood. We did make a short stop at the Potters Marsh Wildlife Viewing Area, which is on route and in fact ended up with quite a good starter list during our 30 minute stay. Species of note included; Tree Swallow, Green-winged Teal, Greater Yellowlegs, Long-billed Dowitcher, Mew Gull and Several Arctic Terns! Just prior to leaving our first Bald Eagle of the trip, which was being harassed by a Raven. Even more exciting was a Douglas DC6, which I haven't seen flying for many years and came practically overhead, sadly Dee was off somewhere else with camera!!

One of a pair of Barrows Goldeneye on the hotel lake.
After checking in a pre dinner walk around one of the small lakes in the hotel grounds produced Barrows Goldeneye, Richardson's Canada Geese and the whole pine forest area seemed alive with Pine Siskin, Redpoll and White-winged Crossbill, Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle), Dark-eyed Junco and several Violet-green Swallow also during the walk.

Record shot of White-winged Crossbill
With sunset not until 10.35pm tonight an after dinner walk at 10pm was as surreal as it gets, with at least three Varied Thrush, one of my favourite birds, singing there one pitched whistling call and a distant Hermit Thrush in full song, I'm already beginning to fall in love with Alaska!!

Diary Update #1 πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ 2017

✈️  Thursday 11th May 2017 πŸ‡¨πŸ‡¦   ~ Finally our next adventure begins and Dee and I are delighted to be back in Vancouver, a place dear to our hearts and somewhere we had the privilege of living for a short while in 2011. Unfortunately this brief encounter is only an overnight stop as we're heading on to Anchorage Alaska tomorrow morning!

Stunning Greenland at 37,000ft
With Alaska of course being such a huge expanse and many areas inaccessible we've decided to concentrate on an area of which the furthest point from Anchorage will be 230 miles, staying at the Kenai Peninsula Suites, Homer. Firstly though our tour begins at Girdwood, around 40 miles from Anchorage and our total stay in Alaska will be 12 days before heading back to Vancouver for a week.

Frozen lakes, rivers and sea over Greenland!
The weather here in Vancouver currently is overcast and rainy and watching some of the TV channels it would seem that the whole province has suffered some huge flooding recently. Birding has already begun to take centre stage and my good friend Derek Killby informed tonight that just across the airport from where we're staying is a recently discovered Ferruginous Hawk! I just hope it's still around in ten days Derek, by which time you should have found other hidden gemsπŸ‘€

Friday, May 05, 2017

Diary Update #28 2017

⛅  Friday 5th May 2017 ~ First post of the month after a mini break from birding over the past few days. In fact I've spent little time at Brandon Marsh recently too and the only bird of note, for me anyway, was a Marsh Harrier on Monday Morning.

Quick snap of Marsh Harrier at Brandon Marsh on Monday ~ Fred Stokes
There has been some decent sightings though over the last week which have included: Whinchat, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel.

Dingy Skippers out in force today!
While having breakfast in Southam after a doctors appointment early on today five Swift over the town centre were my first local ones of the year. After lunch and completed chores I ventured along to Stockton Cutting in search of butterflies. Despite the blustery easterly wind, which has dominated for most of the week, shelter can be found in the warm sunshine and it does produce.

Green Hairstreak ~ One to be found today!
As I was walking across Tasker's Meadow towards the cutting a Lesser Whitethroat was singing well and a raptor which suddenly swooped low over the meadow turned out to be a Hobby, which departed heading off over the canal, empty handed.

Green Tiger Beetle ~ Stockton Cutting
I began at the bottom of the cutting recording Brimstone, Orange Tip and Green-veined White, before my first of at least twenty Dingy Skippers. At the top of the steps more Skippers and further into the open area a single Green Hairstreak. Also of note today: Green Tiger Beetle and a couple of Bee-fly's!

Bee-Fly ~ Love the long proboscis for drinking nectar!