Saturday, June 10, 2017

North to Alaska!

May 19-21

Having cashed in my mileage points from two credit cards, I had flights to Anchorage and Adak arranged, but I had to go a day earlier than planned to use the points. I arrived in Anchorage on May 19, with plans made to meet up with two other trip participants, Clarice Clark and Big Year birder, Yve Morrell, within 24 hours.  In the meantime, I had some birding to do!

I hopped into my rental car and headed to the nearest best birding hotspot, Westchester Lagoon, for my first Alaska birding records.  On my arrival, the skies opened up and the rain pelted down, but it didn't dampen my spirits.  Here, in a heavily developed residential area, Arctic Terns were noisily flying around, Sandhill Cranes foraged along the shoreline and Red-necked Grebes courted and nested.
Arctic Tern over Westchester Lagoon

Sandhill Cranes

Red-necked Grebes courting and copulating.  Don't blink.

Mew Gulls were abundant, and I recalled stories about this species as a tree-nester.  It looked to me that some were nesting on the ground, but I did manage to find some in trees as well in downtown Anchorage.
Mew Gull on nest
Eventually the rain stopped, and I made my best find of the day, Alaska birder extraordinaire, Dave Sonneborn.  What are the odds that I would just run into someone who not only knew the local area, but had also been a guide on Attu??  When I told him about Yve's big year, and our quest for Willow Ptarmigan, he stepped right up and offered to take us to a likely site the next day.

The Anchorage core is fairly walkable in terms of accessing good birding locations, and even the neighbourhoods turned up some photo-ops.  I've had trouble getting decent photos of magpies, but this Black-billed Magpie was quite cooperative.
Black-billed Magpie

Yve arrived on a late-night flight, but Big Year birding scoffs at clocks, so we were up and on our way to Dave's place a few hours later.  Dave took us to the Glen Alps trailhead in the Chugach State Park, where he felt certain we could find the ptarmigan.  The scenery was amazing.  Dave pointed out mountain sheep on one of the hills.  From our distance, they were specks, but there were a lot of them!
Yve Morrell and Dave Sonneborn on a quest for a Willow Ptarmigan
Snowshoe hares were changing into their summer apparel.
Snowshoe Hare
Farther along the trail, we saw a moose feeding a young calf.
Distant moose and calf
While taking a photo of them, I heard a Willow Ptarmigan!  We tried to find it in the dense willow, without success, In the meantime, David headed just a little farther along the trail and found a beautiful bird out in the open.  Yve and I came running and were able to approach fairly closely for photos.
Willow Ptarmigan
Mission accomplished, we headed back to the Anchorage airport and picked up Clarice.  After a quick stop at the hotel, and a swing by Westchester Lagoon for Yve's year Arctic Tern, we followed one of David's recommendation and went for a look at Portage Lake and the glacier.  The edge of the glacier is no longer visible from the Visitor's Center location, but apparently can still be seen during the available cruises.
Portage Lake
On the way back, we got a call from David about Hudsonian Godwits along the Anchorage shoreline, and an invitation to go by his place to pick up a lifer for me, a Boreal Chickadee.
Boreal Chickadee
Dave and his wife, Alex, graciously invited us into their home, where Alex's fantastic artwork is displayed. Birders and their families are some of the nicest people!

The next morning, a visit to Potter's Marsh (again in the rain) turned up a few new birds for the trip list, including Tree Swallows, but nothing too exceptional.  That was probably a good thing, as we had to get to the airport for our trip to Adak to meet up with the rest of our Attu adventure group!
Tree Swallow taking a shower at Potter's Marsh

Next up: Arrrr!  Have you ever been to sea, Billy?

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