Sunday 29 July 2018

Alaska's Kenai Fjords - glacial birding in the rain

On Monday night, I’d stayed just a few miles north of Seward overnight, ready for a full day on the Kenai Fjords on the Tuesday. I’m not usually one for planning things in advance, but I booked this boat trip a month or so back. But one thing I didn’t book was the weather, and so it actually rained pretty much continually throughout the day…

In typical American fashion, everything was laid on for you and hyped up. But it was more than a pleasant day out despite the weather. I imagine that you’d be blown away by the scenery in blue sky days, but I am still left imagining. I’d opted for the nine hour trip, which took in Northwest Glacier – reason for me doing this was that Kittlitz’s Murrelets favour the glacial waters, and shorter trips wouldn’t have given me access to this habitat. And it was a success, with two birds seen relatively well with potentially a couple of others a little bit more distant. This was just one of eight species of alcid that I saw during the day – with the highlight for me being my first Horned Puffins, some of which showed fairly decently in the gloom: -
Horned Puffin Kenai Fjords, Alaska 24th July 2018
I also saw my first Parakeet Auklets, with 15-20 seen in total including a small raft. Tufted Puffins, just like Horned, were really numerous particularly around the Chiswell Islands. Marbled Murrelets, Pigeon and Common Guillemots were present in good numbers too, while there were a few Rhinoceros Auklets around too. If the light had been better, I may have taken a few shots that were worth keeping but, you can’t have everything.

One of the things I did have today though was plenty of Humpback Whale sightings, with five individuals in total. The star performer was this one though, that breached several times in the calm waters coming into Northwest Glacier: -
Humpback Whale Kenai Fjords, Alaska 24th July 2018
There were quite a few Harbour Seals around too, while 10 or so Sea Otters in total including half a dozen dozing about in the harbour as we left first thing: -
Sea Otter Kenai Fjords, Alaska 24th July 2018
Bald Eagles too were fairly common, and included this adult bird as we headed back into the harbour. They were either on beaches or sat up in tall trees like this bird: -
Bald Eagle Kenai Fjords, Alaska 24th July 2018
And so, that was that. Given the pretty inclement weather, I felt I lucked out on the views of the glacier as that area seemed to have a climate all of its own. And while everyone else marvelled at the glacier, I came back from the tour having enjoyed a load of good birds, decent scenery even on a dull day and being given a load of excess chicken wraps (they’d made too many) which meant I didn’t need to buy dinner in the evening. A result all round.
Glaucous-winged Gull Kenai Fjords, Alaska 24th July 2018

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.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Med Gull madness close to home

Living in Rotherhithe does have some perks. Dockside views, less than a minute's walk to the River Thames and a bunch of nice restaurants. And midsummer Mediterranean Gulls...

This year has been really good for the species so far, and after an adult here in Rotherhithe on 6th July, I found the first juvenile here on Sunday evening (15th July) on a post-World Cup Final scan: -
juvenile Mediterranean Gull (bird 1), Rotherhithe, London 15th July 2018
As usual, this bird was on the River Thames by Greenland Pier and loved the loaves that I dished out for it. And given the extended summer we're having, where I've almost forgotten what rain looks and feels like, the light each evening is pretty lovely when looking north. And it was again the case yesterday after work, where I recorded two juveniles for the first time ever here - Sunday's bird and a new bird (bird 2): -
juvenile Mediterranean Gull (bird 2), Rotherhithe, London 16th July 2018
juvenile Mediterranean Gull (bird 1), Rotherhithe, London 16th July 2018
And then to today, having had a hideously busy and sweaty day at work, whacking a couple of loaves out mid evening was just the tonic. Just like yesterday, there were two juvenile Med Gulls, one new (with a metal ring - that was unreadable) and one from the previous day.
juvenile Mediterranean Gull (bird 3), Rotherhithe, London 17th July 2018

juvenile Mediterranean Gull (bird 2), Rotherhithe, London 17th July 2018
So that's three days and three juvenile Mediterranean Gulls. All in the shadows of Canary Wharf and one of the most urban landscapes the UK has to offer...

Friday 6 July 2018

The gulls are back in London town

I was a bit annoyed about not being around last Sunday to again do the gulls locally. The less said about a visit the Clevedon the better, but let's just say I wasted a day sitting about and walking around a pretty dire town centre to no avail. And for something I'd had to convince myself to go for anyway.

But a few late weeknights with work nonsense have meant I've been unable to check the local gulls as much as I would have liked. Even so, midweek it was noticeable there were a lot more Black-headed Gulls about (they're largely absent from Rotherhithe for the first three weeks of June each year). And then this evening, on the river near by home, I had this lovely adult Mediterranean Gull - the first one I've had in Rotherhithe this year.
adult Mediterranean Gull Rotherhithe, London 6th July 2018
The plan was that I'd find my first juvenile Yellow-legged Gull of the year, as Jamie and Dante had been to Thames Barrier Park this afternoon and seen four, but it wasn't to be. Though I'm hopeful that'll change over the course of the next few days.