Thursday, May 31, 2012

Breeding Season

Shorebirds are finally arriving in decent numbers and seem to be pairing up quickly. Other birds are already defending territories, and it seems some of the geese (Snows mostly) are already laying eggs.

On the 27th, a surprise visitor came by camp. Say's Phoebe is pretty unexpected on the North Slope, and I can't imagine it found much to eat between snow squalls.

Semipalmated Sandpipers are back in number, and males are busy giving their diesel-truck flight display.

It seems to be a bigger lemming year than last year, and I heard Barrow also is having a lemming year, which could explain all the Snowys and Short-eared Owls around, and the number of Jaegers seen hunting the tundra. I watched this Pomarine Jaeger dive at a lemming, but it came up empty. It was tough photographing conditions in the thick fog.

There were at least 6, probably a few more Stilt Sandpipers near camp yesterday. This is one shorebird that will not allow close approach for photography. I'll work on it.

Sabine's Gulls are pairing up and setting up territories in the newly-thawed pond area north of camp. It is hard not to photograph this bird when it is around.

Weather has still been quite cold with fog and small amounts of snow. Yesterday (5/30) it did get nice and sunny at times and a lot of snow melted. The weather for the next week looks promising. If all goes well, we may have some shorebird nests in the near future.

Monday, May 28, 2012


The past few days have brought a small number of new arrivals. Sabine's Gulls are enjoying the newly-open water.

Short-eared Owls have been around in decent numbers as well. We had 7 in one scan a night or two ago.

I found the source of their food yesterday, or at least some of it. I never knew lemmings had a white winter coat. Turns out, only the Collared Lemming has a white coat for winter. That must be what this is?

We have had a lot of snow in the last couple days, probably around 3 inches in all. This did not help the shorebird numbers, which still remain low. Although they are tough to come by these days, finding any source of open water on the tundra might produce a few, like this Long-billed Dowitcher.

The Longspurs are pairing up and singing, and this male was particularly obliging.

Weather outlook for the next few days doesn't look promising. More cold with NE winds, with scattered snow flurries. Later in the week it may warm up, and we could see a big arrival of shorebirds. It appears nesting is going to be later than last year. Hopefully they get here soon!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

On a Roll!

The Colville keeps producing! Light SE winds persuaded me to hit the field hard today, hoping for new arrivals, band re-sights, and maybe a good bird or two. As luck would have it, the first "good" bird I stumbled upon got me really excited; a Hermit Thrush! I couldn't turn it into a Rufous-tailed Robin, but Hermit Thrush is still exciting this far north, although they breed in the lower half of Alaska. With no trees, it was looking quite out of place.

Yesterday also brought a new camp bird in the form of a Northern Harrier. There have been quite a few Short-eared Owls hanging around, and it seemed somewhat surprising that we hadn't had a Harrier before, but their range just doesn't seem to get up here. It was far, so the pictures are horrendous.

A few of the Red-necked Phalaropes have come back. Hard to ever get sick of these birds.

Other new arrivals include all 3 Jaegers, Sabine's Gull, Long-billed Dowitcher, Black-bellied Plover, Savannah Sparrow, Long-tailed Duck and Red-throated Loon. Although the numbers aren't quite here yet, the birds are starting to come back.

Regarding weather: It has been cold, windy, mostly from the NE, and foggy for most of my time here. Temp has been a low of 21 and a high of 32, and that is without windchill. Today, we got snowed on. Believe it or not, a lot of the snow is melting, and some melt water is forming on the lakes. Soon, the river should break up and we should see arrivals of a lot more loons, eiders, ducks and who knows what else.

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

And Then There was Fog

It has been a blustery past couple days on the North Slope. Cold NE winds, ground fog and windchills in the teens have kept migration to a minimum.

Per request, here is the exact location of our camp.
View Larger Map
Let's have another look at that.

View Larger Map
The green arrow points to camp. Only way in and out is by helicopter. And the only reason I have internet is via the "Personal Hotspot" feature of the iPhone 4s. Alpine, the nearest "town" to our camp, has a cell tower providing me with coverage.

I did manage to re-find the Northern Wheatear, this time about 2 miles north of where I first found him. At least I'm assuming it is the same individual. I also found this Falcon. I'm happy calling it a Merlin (unless someone wants to talk me out of it), a great bird for the area! I saw Peregrine Falcons around last year, and one Gyr was seen, but Merlin is a new camp bird!

I wish I had more exciting news for you followers, but the birds just haven't made it here in full force yet. I appreciate the comments, it keeps me going up here.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ah, The North Slope

Once again I find myself back on Alaska's North Slope. I have returned for another shorebird season on the Colville River Delta. We flew in on May 18th, but the birds beat us back. Geese are here in large numbers, but Brant are conspicuously absent.

We have had our work cut out for us. After successfully setting up our base camp, I ventured into the tundra to see what was around. I scored my lifer Northern Wheatear, a bird a bit out of range.

Here is the set-up:

Starting with nothing:

Ending with a nicely set-up camp:

The Wheatear, quite a looker:

Today, I ventured even further south, hoping to sight more lost birds. I did not.

So far, I've re-sighted two of our Ruddy Turnstones that we banded last year. Here is one of them.

Now that we've got camp set up and most of our field gear organized, we are waiting on the birds. New arrivals should be showing themselves daily. It sure is nice seeing the transition this far north!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

An Ivory Gull in Anchorage

My friend Luke DeCicco and I went birding last night at the marshes below the Clitheroe Center in Anchorage. I got curious when Luke asked in a rather excited manner to see my scope. Lo and behold, he had just found an Ivory Gull. I believe this is the third Anchorage record. It was not afraid of us. Of course, this would happen when I forget my camera. Luckily, my iPhone-through-the-scope trick worked out alright.
That was one I didn't expect to see this year!

South Florida in April

It has been a busy last few weeks/months, and it has led me all the way back to Anchorage. I'm preparing for another North Slope field season, and part of that preparation required a week in some warm weather. I spent April 23-30th raging my way around Florida. I flew into Miami and hit the ground running with a trip to Green Cay Wetlands where Painted Buntings were reported, a would-be lifer. It took me all of 3 seconds to find a female at the first feeder on the way to the wetlands.
I added nice year birds like Swallow-tailed Kite, Limpkin, Purple Gallinule, and other common Florida specialties. I tried for the Smooth-billed Ani at 800 Old Griffin, but no luck. I tried 3 other times during the trip with the same result.

The 24th was the day I would find the long staying La Sagra's Flycatcher, but it must have heard me coming because it departed 2 days previous to my arrival. I still picked up some great birds at Bill Bagg's State Park like my lifer Black-whiskered Vireo and Gray Kingbird.
There were also hundreds, literally hundreds of Blackpoll Warblers. I had 13 in the same tree! I've never seen so many, but it was a common theme throughout the trip.

On the 25th I found myself in the Lake Okeechobee area looking for a couple year birds that I wouldn't have a shot at later, like Bachman's Sparrow, Florida Scrub Jay and Short-tailed Hawk. Bachman's Sparrows were singing heavily in the dawn hours at Highlands Hammock State Park. I got nice scope views of one singing his heart out. A nice bird to see again.

The Florida Scrub Jay was too easy at Archbold Bio Station. Just go to the picnic tables.
On the 26th, I focused on finding the exotics I needed. I was pleased to find 6 White-winged Parakeets at the Kendall Hospital, just in time for the ABA to vote on their status as a "countable" species. The Red-whiskered Bulbul and Spot-breasted Oriole were found in the Kendallwood complex, but only after hours of walking around the roads. The Bulbul actually found me, it flew over my head and into a tree. I have no pictures of these birds as I was quite hesitant to be walking around peoples houses with binoculars, let alone a giant camera. I'm glad I don't have to go exotic searching anymore.

On the 27th I woke up in Flamingo, but I saw no Flamingos. I did see a Swallow-tailed Kite that was flying low over my head repeatedly catching dragonflies and eating them mid-air. One of the most awesome things I have seen.
After a bit of patience, I found the cowbird flock and was delighted with great looks at Shiny Cowbird (3 males and a female). Here is a male.
The next three days were spent in the Keys and Tortugas. I found a lot of warblers, orioles, tanagers, vireos, some sparrows, and a lot of other great birds. Tortugas were especially great as I nailed 5 lifers! After the naturalist telling me I wouldn't find the Black Noddy because it only comes in during the evening, and after all the other "birders" on the boat not even looking for it, I was determined to find it. Scouring the thousands of seabirds, I eventually found the Black Noddy roosting close enough to where I could feel comfortable calling it. Eventually, the light got better, and so did the views! Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern were also new.
On the way out, we swung close enough to Hospital Key that I could snap a few ID'able pics of the Masked Boobies.
On Mile Marker 3, the Brown Boobies did not disappoint.
It wouldn't be a trip to the Keys without Magnificent Frigatebirds!
I also found Roseate Terns
My first attempt on Sugarloaf Key was a great success, it almost seemed like Mangrove Cuckoo wasn't even hard to find!
All in all, I was rewarded with 18 lifers, with highlights being Mangrove Cuckoo, Antillean Nighthawk, Black Noddy, Brown Booby and Masked Booby, among others.

Here are a few more pics from the trip:

Hooded Warbler:
Prairie Warbler:
Blackpoll Warbler