September 22, 2009

Ah... Alaska: Part III (birds)

September 4 – We arrived in Anchorage, AK yesterday afternoon. The weather was exceptionally beautiful and we enjoyed a stunning sunset on Cook Inlet. We stayed with friends near Westchester Lagoon and Sarah and I were able to pick up our first 12 birds of the trip including two expected year birds: Red-necked Grebe and Black-billed Magpie. Today we drove up to Fairbanks through some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever experienced. Fall colors are out; lots of red, gold, green and blue sky. We stopped at a scenic overlook on the south side of Denali and had two Boreal Chickadees near the path. My year list is currently 408.

September 11 – On September 8 we left Fairbanks and headed back south to Denali National Park. Not far from the park entrance we had a single NORTHERN HAWK OWL hunting near the road. We pulled over and watched the bird fly from tree top to tree top for a couple minutes before it was out of sight. Also saw a probable Harlan's Hawk. Along the Park Road we had quite a few GOLDEN EAGLES, as well as Dall Sheep, three Grizzly Bears, five Caribou and amazing scenery. On September 9 Dave, Noah, Sarah and I did a big hike up Gravel Mountain. On the bus ride out we had several Spruce Grouse in the road and at the first stream crossing of the hike we found a small group of WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Life Bird). At least one male I saw still had a lot of beautiful red-brown coloration. The rest of the hike was pretty quite although we did have some more nice looks at a juvenile Golden Eagle. After we got back to the camp mom said she'd seen a Three-toed Woodpecker right near our cabin! We left Denali yesterday afternoon and saw more Dall Sheep, more Caribou, two bull Moose and a great look at a fairly close Grizzly Bear. Near Polychrome Pass we pulled over to scope a large raptor sitting on a cliff edge. It turned out to be another Golden Eagle but the amazing thing was that there was a beautiful and very large adult Red Fox IN THE SAME FIELD OF VIEW! Not sure what the interaction was between Eagle and Fox but the Eagle flew off before I could get a pic. My year list is 410.

September 16 – Today is our last day in Alaska. It's been a fantastic trip; good friends, good food, good music and only one drizzly day in two weeks! On September 12 we drove down to Homer, AK. At Anchor Point we stopped to walk the beach and look for some shorebirds that had been reported. I was thrilled to find a small flock of PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVERS (Life Bird). Several of them had astoundingly bright gold plumage and all of them looked too bright for American. There were other shorebirds in the area including both turnstones, good looks at Mew Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes, Marbled Murrelets and HARLEQUIN DUCKS out on the water. On September 13 Sarah and I were able to get out on Katchemak Bay with our friend Willy Dunne. He took us over to Gull Island where we had nice looks at several lingering RED-FACED CORMORANTS and TUFTED PUFFINS (as well as a dark and menacing Song Sparrow subspecies). I eventually picked out a couple odd looking murrelets near Glacier spit. As we approached it became clear that it was a pair of ANCIENT MURRLETS (Life Bird)! This is not a very common species in the bay. Very unique looking birds. They put on a great show; nice close looks with the sun at our backs and calm waters. We left Homer yesterday afternoon and decided to stop at Anchor Point again for one more shot at some more shorebirds. We again found the Golden-Plovers and this time managed some decent photos. After a little bit of searching we also turned up a pair of ROCK SANDPIPERS (Life Bird #499). These were the larger, paler Aleutian subspecies. It's not very likely that I'll get another lifer on this trip or at home so #500 will probably be my first lifer in Arizona next month. My year list is currently 421.

Black-legged KittiwakeTufted PuffinAncient Murrelet