Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Alaska... escaping the heat

I’ve just finished my first full day here in Alaska, and having arrived to lovely blue skies yesterday, it has been a day of cloudiness and drizzle today. Lovely stuff, given the last month or so of relatively oppressive London heat. Alaska had always felt a long, long way from home and I appreciate it is, but with some Icelandic Air flights (via Iceland), I was surprised how short the journey to Anchorage was – just a 6 hour 50 minute flight from Keflavik airport yesterday.
Anyway, Anchorage as a city itself is pretty average. Mind you, every American city is just that. But when you’ve got the calls of Mew Gulls continually and some nice juvenile Bonaparte’s Gulls too (a plumage I’d never seen) then it wasn’t all that bad. Westchester Lagoon was where I started, and the common grebe there was Red-necked, with several pairs and decently sized young. There were also half a dozen Short-billed Dowitchers too, and on the cutoff lake the other side of the highway a Belted Kingfisher and a showy Lesser Yellowlegs were present (as well as about ten juvenile Bonaparte’s Gulls and lots of Mew Gulls). Not a bad couple of hours post arrival.
juvenile Mew Gull Westchester Lagoon, Anchorage, Alaska 22nd July 2018

juvenile Bonaparte's Gulls Westchester Lagoon, Anchorage, Alaska 22nd July 2018
And it was onto this morning, where typically I woke up before my alarm at 5am. So after trying to get back to sleep, and failing, I headed back out. After briefly revisiting yesterday’s sites, I went south on the Seward Highway a few miles south of Anchorage. Potter’s Marsh was the spot, and it wasn’t too bad. Redpolls and Audubon’s Warbler seemed to be the most numerous passerines, while a group of waders from the boardwalk were made up of c.20 Short-billed Dowitchers and both species of yellowlegs. Nice stuff, with most of the dowitchers being juveniles. Green-winged Teal were present too, while the bird I’d been searching for – Rusty Blackbird – put in a brief appearance, with two birds flying low overhead before plummeting into the thickets. And that was that…
juvenile Short-billed Dowitcher Potter's Marsh, Anchorage, Alaska 23rd July 2018
I headed south along the Cook Inlet, in the direction of Seward which is where I’m staying this evening. Birding en-route was actually quite slow, with not much on the lakes bar the odd Arctic Tern though I did manage to see my first ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrow of the trip midway between Portage and Seward. Arriving in Seward, first port of call was obviously going to be the harbour, where there were good numbers of Glaucous-winged Gulls – I was actually surprised about the purity of the vast majority of these here, with just a couple of American Herrings and ‘Cook Inlet’ (hybrid American Herring x Glaucous-winged) Gulls present.
The weather wasn’t ideal as I headed south towards Lovell’s Point and the end of the road. Nevertheless, there were still five Harlequins (all female-types) and a few Marbled Murrelets and Pigeon Guillemots offshore. The rest of the afternoon was spent about town, and particularly along Nash Road – where the feeders produced Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Pine Siskin and a Rufous Hummingbird that seemed bizarrely out of place in the cold. The beach at the end was good for some nice looks at Northwestern Crow, a tenuous species if ever there was one, as well as some really dark looking Song Sparrows and a load of Glaucous-winged Gulls and Kittiwakes. A family party of Trumpeter Swans showed well by the roadside too, as did a female Common Merganser and her chicks.
Fox Sparrow Seward highway, Alaska 23rd July 2018

Trumpeter swan Seward, Alaska 23rd July 2018
Back at my accommodation, Orange-crowned and Wilson’s Warblers buzzed about, as did a family group of Ruby-crowned Kinglets. All in all, a relaxed and pleasant day rounded off with some Alaskan Cod and chips.

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