Monday, May 20, 2019

Juneau’s Eagle Spectacle

May 16  Juneau’s Eagle Spectacle

By this point, most of us have no idea what day of the week it is.  We haven’t had to change our clocks for a couple of days, and I think it’s throwing us off!

Now that we are back on North America’s west coast, I think the enthusiasm for early morning seawatches has waned.  Fewer and fewer people are on deck at first light. I suspect that it has more to do with less potential new species than with late night partying!  Even so, sleeping in can cause a spectacle to be missed.

The route into Juneau was lined with islands and coastal forests, looking a little like home, but a little different. As the light came, so did the birds, in great variety and numbers, but often too far for identification to species.  We saw many loons, most of which were Pacific, but I have no doubt we could have missed a few Red-throated. Surf and White-winged Scoters lined the bays along the shore, but the distance prevented us from detecting any Black Scoters.
Surf Scoters

Following the shoreline, but only clear in our scopes, we detected a good number of Bald Eagles, some on the beach and some in the trees.  From our viewpoint, we could identify the adults by their gleaming white heads, so it’s quite likely that there were good numbers of immatures hidden from our counts.  Then we stumbled on the mother lode of Bald Eagles, with 94 on a short stretch of beach and surrounding forests. Numbers fell back to normal for a couple of miles, and then we saw an even longer congregation of about 120.  We were amazed that we could have these kinds of numbers without constant squabbling.  The eagles were probably wondering the same thing about the 3000 of us on the ship.
Bald Eagles

A bit of Juneau's tourist town
By the time most of our group was awake, the spectacle was long over, but plans for the day in Juneau were just beginning. A few of us had been to Juneau before and recommended visiting the Mendenhall Wetlands, only a few miles by car, but a lot more logistics by city bus.  Unlike all of our previous stops, there was no need formal immigration proceedings, and we were free to leave whenever we wanted.  Easy.

Unfortunately, getting clear directions on how get to the wetlands wasn’t quite as simple, but conflicts were overcome, and we were on our way on the crowded city bus—nine of us, with backpacks, binoculars, cameras and scopes.  After all the details were worked out, it was a relatively easy fifteen minute walk to put ourselves on the dike between the Juneau airport and the wetlands.
It was great to be on land with birds again.  

Birders with Mendenhall Glacier in the background.

Warblers were singing, crows were annoying, shorebirds and ducks were in the estuary, and it was definitely feeling a lot like home.  We walked almost as far as possible along the dike, then doubled back.  Along the way, a single Lapland Longspur sang, a good-sized flock of Whimbrel put on a bit of a show, and we saw Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plover, a Belted Kingfisher, and both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets. The group of birders caused one passing dog walker to stop us to ask if something rare had been found.  Yep, just like home!
Read this sign!!

Bald Eagles disputing property rights with a Northwestern Crow

Greater Yellowlegs

Wilson's Warbler

We walked back to where the bus driver had dropped us off, but just missed the bus.  The 30 minute wait provided a little rest for some weary feet. When it finally came, we were told to switch over to the Express bus to get back to town.  We dutifully complied and enjoyed a speedy ride into town—sort of.  Rather than going to the transit center, it turned back to outbound about six blocks before it reached OUR destination (obviously not its destination).  Good thing Ashley and Sam were paying attention, or we might have had to walk more than the 20 or so blocks that we did.

Others in our group who didn’t go birding with us were on organized tours, stayed on the ship, or were just running personal errands in town.  I hear rumors that the WiFi is fast and free, and comes with a view at the Juneau public library.

Eventually, we all made it back to the ship in time for a tea or a pre-dinner nap before departure to our next stop, Icy Strait Point.

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