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Posts Tagged ‘Gray Jay’

After returning from St. Paul Island, we stayed within driving distance of Anchorage for the next week.  On June 18, most of our group drove 175 miles up Glenn Highway to the Tolsona Wilderness Campground where a family of Great Gray Owls had been observed for several weeks.  I would have liked to see the owls, but I opted to go with my roommate, Ellen, to retrieve her car from a friend’s house in Wasilla.  Ellen’s car would be part of the caravan transporting our 22 birders for this part of the trip.

Seward to Denali 2

We got the car and then headed on up the highway to meet the others.  Ellen and I found the only Northern Flickers of the trip while searching for a Northern Hawk Owl.  The flickers were the yellow-shafted sub-species rather than the red-shafted form of Northern Flicker found in the west.  The photo below was shot by wildlife photographer Michael Quinton in Alaska.  For more of Michael’s beautiful work, see his blog, Journal of a Wildlife Photographer.

Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker

Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker

I was surprised to see the yellow-shafted form of the Flicker, but trip co-leader, Dave Hursh, explained that many birds in Alaska are the eastern sub-species. The eBird map below for Yellow-shafted Northern Flicker shows how the range sweeps west and north.  The red-shafted form occurs in the west and does not go as far north as Alaska.  Yellow-rumped Warblers show similar range patterns with our eastern “Myrtle” warblers common in Alaska and their western “Audubon’s” counterparts staying farther south.

Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) eBird range map

Northern Flicker (Yellow-shafted) eBird range map

We met the rest of our group a little later just after they had found the Northern Hawk Owl sitting on a telephone wire and everyone got great looks.  The day ended with a delicious dinner at Sheep Mountain Lodge and the drive back to Anchorage.

The next day we drove to Seward, birding along the way.  One of my favorite stops was just outside of Seward at Ava’s Place, a yard with numerous feeders and an owner who welcomes birders.  There was constant activity in the yard with an estimated 30 Pine Siskins and about a dozen other species.  I especially enjoyed the Pine Grosbeaks – males, females, and juveniles.

Pine Grosbeak (male)

Pine Grosbeak (male)

Pine Grosbeak (female)

Pine Grosbeak (female)

The reason for our visit to Seward was to take the 9-hour Northwestern Fjord tour.  It was a wonderful cruise, 150 miles round trip that went deep into Kenai Fjords National Park.  I have to confess, though, that the Northwestern Glacier itself was underwhelming, even downright disappointing.  I think that I had expected it to look like it did 100 years ago, but the glacier has retreated over 6 miles in the last century.  The photos below show the view in 1909 and again in 2005.  Most other glaciers in Alaska and elsewhere are also rapidly melting, evidence of global warming accelerated by human activities.

Northwestern Glacier in 1909 and 2005

Northwestern Glacier in 1909 and 2005

The day was very overcast and I had visual difficulty with my transitions lenses that darkened too much.  But, I couldn’t see well without them either because they had the prisms that corrected my double vision.  Even so, I enjoyed the wildlife and beautiful landscape.

The highlight for me was a Humpback Whale that we observed “pec slapping.”  We speculated about the behavior, but back home a little research suggests that it’s a form of communication.  The whale swam on the surface of the water slowly and repeatedly lifting and slapping it’s massive 15-foot pectoral fin on the surface of the water.  It was quite impressive!  We also observed the whale breech, almost completely clearing the water, for a thrilling finale.

Unfortunately, I did not get a photo of the whale, but I did get a photo of the Steller’s Sea Lions below.

Steller's Sea Lions

Steller’s Sea Lions

After Seward we made the long drive to Healy, our base for exploring Denali National Park for two full days.

Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Wolves in Denali National Park

Wolves in Denali National Park

We saw birds in Denali, but the highlights there were mammals.  We saw all of the “Big 5” – grizzly bear, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, and wolf.  Four of the five are pretty reliable, but we were very lucky that most of us saw two wolves right on the road.  The wolf population has declined in Denali in recent years.  Numbers reached a record low this spring with an estimated population of just 48 in the park’s 18,820 square kilometers of wolf population area.

We saw several caribou, most scruffy like the one in the photo below.

Caribou

Caribou

Arctic Ground Squirrel

Arctic Ground Squirrel

I also enjoyed seeing smaller mammals like the Arctic Ground Squirrel.  I asked the bus driver to stop so that I could get this photo.  He seemed to think that I was the only one who was interested, but I saw several other cameras come out for this cute little rodent.

Wildflowers in Nome and the Pribolof Islands had been mostly small tundra species except for the lupine and wild celery.  Larger showier flowers were common around Denali and on the Kenai Peninsula.  I loved the beautiful Fireweed.

Flower Fly on Fireweed

Flower Fly on Fireweed

I never got tired of Ptarmigans.  We watched this female Willow Ptarmigan scramble up a hill followed by several small chicks.

Willow Ptarmigan (female)

Willow Ptarmigan (female)

Mew Gulls were very cooperative photographic subjects.  This one perched atop a car in a parking lot and I was able to walk right up to it.

Mew Gull

Mew Gull

And, here is a female Mew Gull on her nest by the side of a river.

Mew Gull

Mew Gull

Black-billed Magpies were big bold subjects for the camera.  This one was in a parking lot.  They were rather common, but they were always fun to see.

Black-billed Magpie

Black-billed Magpie

Gray Jays were bold, too, and we enjoyed several near a picnic area at one of the stops on our all-day bus ride in Denali National Park.  It is illegal to feed the birds, but based upon the way they were looking for handouts, I’m sure that they had previous experience with snack-sharing law-breaking visitors.

Gray Jay

Gray Jay

As in every part of the trip, it was over all too soon and we drove back to Anchorage.  In the photo below, taken on that drive, you can see the ubiquitous wild celery in the foreground.

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This is the third of six posts about my month in Alaska.  Next – Alaska 2015: To the Top of the World

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It was wonderful to go birding in Minnesota again, a state that has now given me 17 life birds and some great adventures.  I shared the trip with Diane Hoese, who I met birding in South Dakota with Doug Buri and Bob Janssen in 2010.  Diane provided the inspiration for this blog; my first post was about attending Bob and Doug’s Shorebird Workshop with her.  We both love learning from Bob, so we planned this trip around his Boreal Birding Workshop at the North House Folk School in Grand Marais.

High Falls on the Pigeon River.  Grand Portage State Park.

High Falls on the Pigeon River.  Grand Portage State Park.

Bob’s workshop took us to Judge CR Magney and Grand Portage state parks, Oberg Mountain, and nearby areas where we had great close-up views of 14 species of warblers.

Olive-sided Flycatcher

Olive-sided Flycatcher.  Cook County, MN.

We drove up the nearby Gunflint Trail by ourselves and found a few more birds, including this Olive-sided Flycatcher.  This bird had huge white tufts on its lower back.  Back home, I searched extensively and could not find any reference to a connection between the size of the tufts and gender, breeding status, or time of year.

Diane, Bob Janssen, Shelley

Diane, Bob Janssen, Shelley.  Grand Marais, MN.

After birding with Bob for two days, Diane and I set off to Ely to bird on our own for a day.  The highlight there was breeding Cape May Warblers on territory.  We found at least three pairs on our own, without playing recorded songs to draw the birds in, and enjoyed the peace of the boreal forest.  The birds behaved as if we weren’t even there – males singing from the treetops, a lovely female working a spruce tree at nearly eye level.  For me, birding does not get any better.

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk. Echo Trail, Ely, MN.

We also watched this Broad-winged Hawk attempt to catch an afternoon snack, but he missed his prey. Earlier in the day, we had watched a different Broad-winged being harassed by Blue Jays.

Juvenile Gray Jay

Juvenile Gray Jay. Lake County Road 2, MN.

On our way south to Duluth the next day, we found a family of Gray Jays along Lake County Road 2, one adult and at least two adorable juveniles.

Next was birding with Erik Bruhnke in Sax Zim Bog.  I had hoped to see a Connecticut Warbler, but it wasn’t meant to be.  We did find a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, though, which was one of my two life birds of the trip (the other was Alder Flycatcher).  It was a lovely day that started with great views of a LeConte’s Sparrow and this goofy looking Sharp-tailed Grouse.

Sharp-tailed Grouse. Sax Zim Bog, MN.

Sharp-tailed Grouse. Sax Zim Bog, MN.

American Kestrel.  Sax Zim Bog, MN.

American Kestrel (male). Sax Zim Bog, MN.

Erik showed me his beautiful photo of a male American Kestrel we had just watched together.  He pointed out the white outer tail feathers with black bars.  When I got home, I realized that I had also captured a clear shot of the bird’s tail showing this common trait that I’d never noticed before.

After a great dinner at Fitger’s in Duluth, we sadly sad goodbye to Erik and headed towards Diane’s home the next morning.

Shelley, Erik Bruhnke, Diane

Shelley, Erik Bruhnke, Diane. Duluth, MN.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker. Carver County, MN.

It was late afternoon and lightly raining when we arrived, but the birds were still coming to the feeders on Diane’s deck.  I was happy to capture a shot of this male Hairy Woodpecker showing a characteristic that is usually not mentioned in field guides – the vertical black line through the red patch on the back of the head.  Downy Woodpeckers do not have a line through the red patch.

My last birds of the trip were Diane’s lovely Baltimore Orioles.

Baltimore Oriole (male).  Carver County, MN.

Baltimore Oriole (male). Carver County, MN.

Baltimore Oriole (female).  Carver County, MN.

Baltimore Oriole (female). Carver County, MN.

Once again I had unintentionally taken the advice of my late husband, Burt.  I’d saved something for next time.  Now I’ve got both Connecticut Warbler and Boreal Owl to search for again.  After a wonderful trip like this, the idea of going birding again in Minnesota sounds pretty good.

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