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Monday, July 23, 2012

Birding Alaska 101: 24 hours in Anchorage.

There is no better way to be introduced to the birdlife of Alaska than a trip to Anchorage. Armed with A Birder's Guide to Alaska (ABA birdfinding guide), I booked an award ticket to Anchorage in July hoping for good weather and lots of lifers [first hope was dashed; the second came true].

 First stop was Westchester Lagoon; one of the most productive places of the trip. In the upper left is the American Black-billed magpie [a lifer]; which was considered conspecific with the European until DNA analysis showed otherwise. They are loud and quite conspicuous and were commonly seen. The orange-crowned warbler [middle and upper right] was found foraging in the shrubbery while the song sparrow [lower left] was hidden in the thicket but shows the darker colors typical of the Northwest race. A common redpoll completes the collage [lower left].

This trip was especially rich in lifers. Seen here are 3 of them: the Arctic Tern [upper left], Bohemian Waxwing [lower left], and Harlequin Duck [right; a juvenal]. Other than the rather common wigeon [middle], all 3 are specialty birds. The arctic tern is known for living an endless summer alternating between the two poles via its legendary migration.

 Definitely on the target species list was the Hudsonian Godwit [a lifer; center] which is seen in the continental US only in migration. The more common shorebirds seen were greater yellowlegs [right], solitary sandpiper [lower left], and short-billed dowitcher [upper left].

The birding guidebook had noted that Goose Lake on the campus of the University harbors a pair of breeding pacific loons. My first attempt to find the loons was dangerously unsuccessful. While circumambulating the lake perimeter, I had a close encounter with a black bear and hurriedly backtracked; resisting the temptation to take any photographs to document the event. Alarmed, I warned a student jogger headed in the wrong direction who surprisingly seemed nonplussed and carried on. In any case, the risk was well worth it as, after enduring a swarm of vicious mosquitoes, some decent shots of the loons were obtained. Another lifer!

Perhaps not quite as charismatic, but nonetheless a specialty species, was the red-necked grebe. These are elegant birds and hence the term "red necked" seems unfair. This is a large grebe and they were seen at multiple locations; on one occasion with lesser scaup [upper left].

Continuing with shorebirds, this time at Potter Marsh, a sizable number of Wilson's Snipe were seen [lower left and right] in addition to the yellow legs, solitary and spotted sandpipers.

Closing with sparrows -- in addition to Song, as noted earlier, other common species were Savannah [left and lower right] and Lincoln's [middle and upper right]. The Lincoln's is a handsome sparrow and they respond well to pishing.

All in all, despite the fact that it rained almost continuously under overcast skies, and some target species were missed [like American Dipper; there's always next time!] this trip was extremely rewarding especially in terms of lifers.

1 comment:

Tom Obrock said...

Just checking out your Texas pics. Next week I am heading to the Rio Grande Festival and hopefully find lots of these specialties