Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia), common as they are, seems a fitting way to introduce birding in Anchorage. Magpies are all over - backyards, on the beach, on the coast path, downtown on building ledges, on street signs and in the trees. In a city without house sparrows or starlings, Anchorage is the magpie's realm. Of course, whenever I saw a magpie perched nicely somewhere I had to try for a photo. It's just that kind of bird - big, bold, colorful, not shy and always busy flying around and being noticed.
If not so colorful, another bird that is everywhere is the Mew Gull (Larus canus). This gull has the charming habit of perching on top of spruce trees. A gull with a preference for nesting near fresh water habitat, it is the most common gull in the Alaska. We saw this bird every day throughout our Alaska visit.
We saw few shorebirds in Anchorage, something which surprised me. But all that we did see were in breeding plumage which I don't get to see often. A single Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) was on the Cook's Inlet mudflats. Hudsonian Godwits (Limosa haemastica) nest, unexpectedly, each year in Anchorage around Westchester Lagoon. A single Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus) was with the godwits. Both yellowlegs were present in small numbers. This breeding plumage Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) was a pleasure to see.
This shrubby tree in a weedy area very near to downtown Anchorage sported evidence new and extensive moose rubbing. We saw these tree markings in many areas throughout the places we visited in Alaska.
When we see American Wigeons (Anas americana) they are almost always in spiffier plumage than the Anchorage wigeons present in early June. The wigeon below, while overall having quite dull feathers, has retained some of its shiny green head.
The grassy, tidal mudflats of Cook's Inlet seemed perfect habitat for shorebirds. Aside from being beautiful to look at, they held few birds during my visit.
Orange-crowned Warblers (Oreothlypis celata formerly Vermivora celata) are everywhere. I can say that I have finally learned their song. I was thrilled to find this bird low and in good light where I could snap a few photos. The second shot clearly shows the orange smudge on the crown for which the bird receives its name.
Being a lover of terns, Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea) was one of my most desired birds to see when in Alaska. Little did I know how easy this would be. Unfortunately, in the photo the wing tip is missing, but this tern was feeding over a small pond of the Westchester Lagoon - a place I went all three days of my visit to Anchorage.
Definitely not a common gull, this out-of-place second alternate Franklin's Gull (Larus pipixcan) was found by me on the morning of June 5th. Although I suspected Franklin's Gull, I wasn't able to pin down the bird's identification with reasonable certainty until after I got home. Kirk Zufelt, author of Larusology, helped me with the identification. Kirk's most recent post to his blog dates back to January, but for anyone with specific interest in gulls Larusology is a must read blog. Turns out that the bird was found again by Alaska birder David Sonne, who moved to Anchorage from Ann Arbor (go figure - but that's Alaska) in the 1970's - on June 7th. I sent my four best photos to Thede Tobish, Alaska's editor of the breeding birds edition of North American Birds. "Nice photos," was his only reply. Apparently, Franklin's Gull is showing up in Alaska with increasing frequency. Of my four decent photos, this is my favorite.
Nesting Red-necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) were frequently seen throughout the trip. Two pairs were on floating nests on Westchester Lagoon. This pair had their nest close to a busy bike path and not far from a busy road.
Below is a view of Cook's Inlet taken from the balcony of our bed and breakfast accomodations, Susitna Place. I would give two thumbs up to Susitna Place if one is planning a trip to Anchorage and needs accomodations. In the middle ground of this photo, you can just see the pointy tips of spruce trees. Mew Gulls would obligingly perch here to be scoped from our balcony.
The first three days of our Anchorage stay was without the rest of the group having come early to extend our vacation and poke around a bit. Anchorage is a sprawling and interesting city where I thought that three days was plenty of time to see things of interest. I spent most of my time birding, but we did make a Sunday morning visit to the Anchorage Museum. I don't think of myself as someone who can confidently recommend museums to others. I'm an outdoor person and visiting a museum is an indoor activity. Nevertheless, the Anchorage Museum is well worth a visit. Not overly large and not overwhelming, the museum is devoted to the history of Alaska, its landscape, native people and art. I thought it was spectacular and I was happy I went.
Two of the artists I enjoyed most with paintings on display at Anchorage Museum were Sydney Laurence, apparently Alaska's most beloved artist, and considered by many to have made the most majestic paintings of Denali. The other is Ruth Sorensen, an Alaska native and young, actively painting artist, whose painting Untitled landscape hangs in the museum's collection. This may have been my favorite painting in the museum.
Tuesday, June 5th - we connect with our group and head off to the Kenai Peninsula.