Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ornithophile, that's me

Lesser Yellowlegs

Northern Shoveler - love his bill and his pretty plumage

Mew Gull

Dark-eyed Junco

Greater White-fronted Goose

Downy Woodpecker
same Downy Woodpecker - gorgeous spotted feathers

Green-winged Teal hen and drake

can't get enough of these colorful fellows

one half of a lovely Trumpeter Swan duo

We watched this pair preen and eat while surrounded by Mallards, Green-winged Teals, Northern Pintails, a lone Sandhill Crane and an industrious muskrat.  I could have stayed for hours.

always on the lookout for Sandhill Cranes

nesting Red-necked Grebe

another nesting Red-necked Grebe on a small lake where I saw at least six nesting pairs

another day, another Lesser Yellowlegs which does not lessen my excitement

This sighting made my day, perhaps my week - a pair of Common Loons.  I could only get a somewhat decent photo of a single bird as it surfaced relatively close to me several times, but I sure enjoyed watching this pair for a long while.  

I'll be heading back to this spot soon, hoping to see them again.  If they're resident birds to this lake and have chicks, it would be great to see them riding on their parents' backs.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Looking Up

It was during a camping trip in the Adirondacks back in the late 90s when I started taking photos of trees.  Sometimes it is the type of tree or the shape of a trunk or the color of the bark that pulls me in.  Often it's the view of the sky through the leaves that I want to capture.  Within a forest or a grove I almost always find a sense of peace, of quietude.  In fact, if someone cared to ask me where I feel most calm and still, my reply would be "amongst the trees."


Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Do you believe in fairies? Say quick that you believe. If you believe, clap your hands! - James Barrie

Something I happened upon on a side trail to an overlook in a local park.  Last fall someone put a smattering of Smurf figurines in this very spot.  They appeared one day and were gone another.  I'm so curious about who does this.  Was it the same person each time?  Will they remove these new items and one day replace them with something else?  What is their motivation?  Are they hoping folks en route to watch birds or look for moose will notice?  Is their aim to add a bit of whimsy to the day for complete strangers?  Part of me wants to know.  More of me wants their arrival and departure to remain a mystery to enjoy imagining the who and why.  

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Everyone likes birds. What wild creature is more accessible to our eyes and ears, as close to us and everyone in the world, as universal as a bird? - Nature historian Sir David Attenborough

We've been enjoying some marvelous weather these last few weeks.  Lots of sunshine and temperatures warmer than normal have melted much of the ice on rivers, creeks and marshes in the Anchorage area.  A few of my favorite spots have yet to give up winter's grip, but that hasn't prevented me from searching for birds and any other wildlife that might show itself during my wanderings.

On one of my many trips to Potter Marsh, I heard splashing in the creek.  At first I assumed it was ice falling into the water, but I soon saw movement and the unmistakable white head of the Bald Eagle in the picture above.  I walked further along the walkway and saw it bathing, repeatedly dipping its head and wings in the water as several people and a handful of magpies watched.  Most people have likely witnessed smaller birds do this in puddles or bird baths, but a raptor?  This was new for me, and I was captivated (as were my fellow bird watchers).  A quick internet search brought me to an informative link which explains this behavior quite well.  

Recently Tim and I watched The Big Year, a movie about three birders trying to spot the highest number of species in a single year within the United States.  It's a funny and often touching film about bird watching and its impact on their personal lives.  I'm nowhere near that level of birder - I don't even keep a checklist.  But I am definitely enchanted with our feathered friends and enjoy every sighting.  We were quite happy to spot this male Common Merganser last week as he preened and eventually settled on the muddy bank.   

Bald Eagles seem common in Alaska, especially along coastal areas.  Frequent sightings do not diminish my joy in seeing them, however.  I feel the same about robins, ravens, chickadees, magpies and the like.  Common doesn't lessen my delight. 

This eagle perched on a tree over a lagoon where dozens of ducks were swimming, dabbling, diving and resting.  The Common Goldeneye below swam quite close to the tree, and we wondered if the eagle would swoop down to take him.  Before that could happen, he took off to the other side of the lagoon, his wings whistling as he flew away.  

Again at Potter Marsh, Tim and I spotted this lovely Northern Pintail couple.  Just look at his neck - so long and colorful!     

Perhaps my favorite sighting took place this past Sunday.  Just as I was about to walk around the lagoon at Margaret Eagan Sullivan Park to get a better view of a raft of goldeneye, a woman approached and asked if she could walk with me.  (As an aside, I'm unsure whether both bodies of water are called Westchester Lagoon as they're separated by a highway and connected by Chester Creek.)  Seeing her huge camera lens I quickly agreed as I assumed she'd be quite knowledgeable about birds.  We came upon a pair of Red-necked Grebes sitting on and continuing to build a nest.  They performed their courtship display as well.  What a treat!   

She offered up a few of her favorite birding spots around town, one of which I visited later in the day.  Luckily, I have found that most folks who admire birds and specifically go out to look for birds are extremely generous with their knowledge and their spotting scopes.  I've met so many kind and enthusiastic observers during this last year in Anchorage who love to meet like-minded people appreciative of the abundant wildlife. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2019


view of the Transantarctic Mountains from an LC-130 Hercules aircraft en route from South Pole to McMurdo Station, November 2011
In my life, I've been lucky to call home some truly beautiful places - a few wild and unique spots, one or two sought-after zip codes, even the bottom of the planet at the geographic South Pole.  One thing that has remained consistent with these various locales has been my need to spend time in nature, to get familiar with each place's distinct flora, fauna and cyclical rhythms.  To be sure, living on a moving ice sheet in Antarctica didn't include much in the way of wildlife (unless you count the occasional aphid that came in via lettuce from New Zealand), but even that land of cold and intense light or dark boasted noticeable seasonal changes.

Our time in Alaska is nearing one full year within the next few days.  The 49th state is undoubtedly beautiful, full of breathtaking scenery, abundant wildlife of all sorts, and plenty of varied vegetation.  The seasonal changes I've viewed with anticipation and perhaps a little dread (late December and January come to mind), and currently I am rather excited about spring, or as the locals call it - break up.  

Mt. Susitna (aka Dghelishla meaning "Little Mountain" in Dena'ina and colloquially as The Sleeping Lady) with mounds of dirty ice on the mudflats in the foreground as viewed from the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

It seems spring has arrived in 2019 one full month earlier than usual.  While plenty of folks are loving the upswing of temps into the high 40s and low 50s by donning shorts and flip flops and ditching their winter coats, I've been on the search for open water and returning birds.  The landscape itself has also caught my eye and been the focus of my camera lens as well. 

one of a pair of American dippers bobbing on the ice above Rabbit Creek

a lone harlequin drake on Chester Creek, nearly hidden among a large sord of mallards
Barrow's goldeneye drake on Westchester Lagoon

there were common goldeneye pairs on the lagoon as well, but this handsome bird was closest

a mallard drake giving me the "side eye" along Chester Creek
I'm always delighted to spot mergansers, and these two common mergansers were simply beautiful.  There were dozens of mallards and goldeneye resting on the ice or swimming about, and then these two flew in to paddle furiously around.  Gorgeous birds!
some interesting growth on a rotting fence

looking toward the Chugach Mountains from an overlook at Campbell Creek estuary

view along Turnagain Arm
closeup of the snow covering Maynard Mountain on the Portage Lake side

Baird Peak in the middle with Shakespeare Shoulder to its left, looking southeast across Portage Lake

another view of Maynard Mountain and Baird Peak

icebergs floating on Portage Lake
Byron Glacier via a snowy and slushy trail

nice spot along Portage Creek to rest, have a snack, and enjoy the incredible view

love these dead trees - strikingly ghostly