Sunday, May 30, 2010

Alaska Holiday - Day 8, Anchorage

We got into Anchorage late on Thursday evening and decided to try and catch-up on some sleep. In the end we didn't really, we still made breakfast by 8am, in doing so we chatted briefly with a couple of other birders. They recommended Westchester Lagoon and surrounds as the number one spot in Anchorage and getting a 4x4 and birding the old Denali Highway. We had a Camry so the latter was out of the question, however we headed straight for Westchester Lagoon after breakfast.

They were headed to St Paul on Monday so I appraised their guide of the current situation in respect of dining (i.e. there was no provision as we left the island).

Westchester Lagoon and the Coastal Trial were in fact splendid. Alaska was enjoying a beautiful Spring after a very harsh Winter (just like the rest of the Northern Hemisphere). It's fair to say we were 'lucky' with the weather throughout our holiday, experiencing just two brief showers in over two weeks...

Anyway, the birds on the lagoon included American Wigeon:

It's amazing what sunlight can do for a photographer. A lone Spotted Sandpiper flitted about, settling briefly:

Out on the coastal trial, we spotted first a Greater Yellowlegs:

Then distant Willet:

and a new species, Hudsonian Godwit:

A local birder had stopped and told us they were about, I was chuffed to bits having not expected to see them on this holiday. That's also a point worthy of mention. The people of Anchorage, with the exception of the bearded outdoorsman/hunter types, were warm, friendly and made a point of talking with you, whenever and wherever you happened to be. It really was noticeable just how inquisitive and warm and friendly everyone was.

This is a view from the coastal trail, at low tide, deeper into the bay from Anchorage:

We walked a good distance along the trail then turned back to the Lagoon. A Red-necked Grebe was close to the trail, on the lagoon:

I like the way you can see the primary, secondary and tertiary wing feathers really clearly in this shot. It soon dived and resurfaced with a meal:

In the trees around the lagoon, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler of the 'Myrtle' sub-species:

an Orange-crowned Warbler:

The most abundant gull here is the Mew Gull:

This is another species treated the same as the European species Common Gull. I think they're wrong on this one... we did also get first sight of Bonaparte's Gull but on the far edge of the mud flats.
Back on the lagoon itself, Northern Shoveller:

The ladies we met at breakfast were by now birding the lagoon and pointed out this pair of Long-billed Dowitchers:

They were joined by a drake Green-winged Teal:

Overlooking the lagoon, an adult Bald Eagle was perched, after having had a bathe and flying about four feet over Helen's head:

Meanwhile a pair of Lesser Yellowlegs were getting very frisky together:

Note how much less robust the Lesser looks compared to the Greater, and the additional barring on the side of the Greater. I used to struggle to tell these birds apart... no longer.

From the lagoon and coastal trail, we headed to the east of Anchorage to Far North Bicentennial Park. The park, although a good place to walk, proved to be a little disappointing for birding, mostly due to the helicopter practising extracting water from the central lake for firefighting. The noise was completely overwhelming...
We took the advice of a local and relocated further down the road, seeking American Dipper; a bird that proved elusive throughout our holiday, so we have to come back to find one (we will first try the Cascades in Washington State).
We did however see Swainson's Thrush:

A weird looking fungus:

and lots of signs about the dangers of encounters with Moose and Bears together with trail closures due to bear activity. Our 'bearanoia' was about six out of ten at this stage...
All of the locations we visited were found on the Anchorage Birding Map sourced from the friendly and helpful Audubon Alaska in advance of our trip.

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