June 18, 2007

Birds: Alaska and more

I know, I know. I've been a very bad blogger lately. Things have been busy, lots of traveling, no time to properly compose my thoughts, a dog ate my computer, I was abducted by evil garden gnomes and held captive for a week and a half in their secret lair beneath a Wal-mart parking lot somewhere in Wisconsin. You know, the usual excuses. Here's an update on my birding activities over the past month. The photo below was taken in Alaska. The bird towards the lower-center is a breeding plumage Red-faced Cormorant.

We arrived in Seattle on May 16. The following day we took the ferry across the Puget Sound (from Edmonds to Kingston) for a couple hours of birding. On the ferry I had my first alcid: Pigeon Guillemot. Later at Point No Point I had great looks at Marbled Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Western Grebe, Band-tailed Pigeons, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Rufus Hummingbird and Western Kingbird. The next day we headed out to Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic National Park where I finally picked up one of my long-time nemesis birds: the Gray Jay, as well as beautiful looks at an ‘Oregon’ Junco. On May 19 we arrived in Anchorage, Alaska. While driving around looking for a place to eat I had my first looks at Black-billed Magpies. What amazing birds! Like a cross between crows and parrots. Later that evening Noah and I found a little path that ran around the edge of a bog behind our hotel. We had good looks at an Olive-sided Flycatcher, Common Redpolls on breeding territory, and a brief but good look at a Steller's Jay. The following day we headed south towards the town of Homer. On the way we stopped at Potter’s Marsh where we picked up some ducks for the trip list and were dive bombed by Arctic Terns. On May 21 we took a boat tour out to Gull Island and several other places on the far side of Kachemak Bay. We saw hundreds if not thousands of Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common Murres as well as several pairs of Red-faced Cormorants, a couple Tufted Puffins, a pair of Wandering Tattlers, a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes and a few small groups of Harlequin Ducks with the males in full breeding plumage. That evening we found a flock of Lapland Longspurs with some beautiful males in the tall grass at the base of the spit in Homer. Then we headed up Ohlson Moutain Road where we heard and saw our first Varied Thrushes. On May 22 Dave, Noah and I took a six-hour hike in Kachemak Bay State Park where we had fantastic looks at Spruce Grouse and brief but good looks at a Townsend's Warbler. On May 23, our last full day in Homer, I finally had some of the Alaskan specialty birds I had been hoping for. The first were several Aleutian Terns flying around the spit. Then we had wonderful, close views of an immature Yellow-billed Loon (sorry no photo, forgot my camera, grrrr...) right in the harbor at the end of the spit. Finally, I found a single, non-breeding plumage Kittlitz's Murrelet which was extremely fortunate since I don’t think I could separate Kittlitz’s from Marbled in breeding plumage. Later that afternoon I had two very secretive Boreal Chickadees during a walk at a nearby Nature Center and I finally had some decent looks at Golden-crowned Sparrows right out side the house we were staying at. That evening I had a small flock of Greater White-fronted Geese, a couple Whimbrel, and some distant but very visible, breeding plumage Pacific Loons on the bay (a four-loon trip!). I can’t remember exactly what day this happened but I also had amazing looks at an adult Glaucous Gull. The final real birding highlight of the trip was a single American Dipper that mom found at the end of a trail to the falls on Russian River, somewhere near Soldotna. Although the lack of shorebirds was disappointing it was still an amazing two weeks. We saw a total of 131 species with 40 life birds and 54 new year birds, bringing my North American life list up to 391 and my 2007 year list up to 295.

I've added a few new birds to my list since I've been back. Yesterday Sarah and I had a singing Clay-colored Sparrow in southern Madison County; a life bird for both of us. Then this morning I had my 300th year bird: a singing Sedge Wren in southern Jefferson County. My current total is 302 and I hope to add a few more this week before Western / Swing Week at Ashokan.