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January Gems

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 6:14
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(Before It's News)


As many of you probably know, I am doing an Alaska big year. As the year goes along, I don’t plan to do a detailed report on this ABA blog, I am going to summarize my January birding here to give you a taste of the possibilities of winter birding in Alaska. You can read a detailed daily account on my blog ( and the list itself is on my web site ( Things gave slowed down substantially since January, so I expect that there won’t be much of a February summary.

My plan had been to start the year in Anchorage to get the usual winter birds “out of the way”. That all changed when Rich MacIntosh reported a Common Pochard on Kodiak Island on December 29th. I made last-minute plane reservations immediately. On New Year’s Eve I went to Kodiak, and spent a sleepless night waiting for dawn (a very long wait in Alaska in January) and a possible Pochard. By 10:00, with the help of Rich, I had a Common Pochard on my year list (bird #2; Bald Eagle was bird #1). By the end of January 2nd, my year list was up to 52, and I was a happy birder. Other highlights for me in Kodiak were Emperor Goose and Redhead (often hard to find in AK).

Common Pochard Emperor Geese Redheads

Although for a while it looked like fog would keep me on Kodiak, I was able to fly out to Anchorage on a later flight on January 2nd to begin my originally-planned travel. My January 3rd flight to Juneau, however, was cancelled due to plane problems and weather, so it wasn’t until January 4th that I started my southeastern Alaska trip. The change in plans required some rescheduling and rebooking of things but it all worked out. I spent 2 days in Juneau, 2 in Ketchikan, and 2 more in Juneau, with a side trip to Hoonah from Juneau. Much time in Juneau was spent looking for a reported Western Meadowlark, and finally finding it in the icy rain on my last day there. Prior to that, highlights in Juneau included a very welcome surprise Northern Pygmy-Owl, a Spotted Towhee that had lingered in someone’s yard for a month or so, and a male Anna’s Hummingbird coming to a feeder. Ketchikan highlights included Brandt’s Cormorant found with the help of Steve Heinl, a Pied-billed Grebe swimming in a vanishing open area in a frozen-over lake, a couple of Hooded Mergansers and a flock of wintering Western Grebes. The goal of the short flight to Hoonah was to see a wintering female Brewer’s Blackbird in Amy Courtney’s yard, which was there along with a Rusty Blackbird.

N. Pygmy-Owl Anna's Hummingbird Brandt's Cormorant Brewer's Blackbird

By the end of the southeastern AK trip, my year-list was at 81, and I returned to Anchorage on January 10th. Over the next 7 days in the Anchorage area, with the help of several other birders (e.g., Aaron Bowman), I reached 94 species. Highlights for me were Eurasian Collared-Dove (still a rarity up here), Northern Hawk Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse and Cedar Waxwing. Gray Jay is widespread in the Anchorage area but it took me a while to get my first one.

Eur. Collared-Dove Am. Three-toed Woodpecker Spruce Grouse N. Hawk Owl Gray Jay Cedar Waxwing

On the evening of January 17th, I flew to Homer, arriving just before dusk. Aaron Lang met me and we hastened off to a home there that was hosting a Brambling. The Brambling made a very quick appearance, and darkness fell. The next day Aaron’s yard produced an American Tree Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow. Final highlights in Homer were both a Red-throated and a Yellow-billed Loon.

Brambling White-throated Sparrow

Between January 19th and the end of the month, I mostly birded in the Anchorage area, and added Boreal Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker (north of Anchorage), Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Goshawk, and Townsend’s Solitaire. Bohemian Waxwings and American Dippers are quite common during most Anchorage winters. By the end of January, I was at 105 species for the year, considerably more than a third of the species that I am likely to get by the end of the year.

Bohemian Waxwing American Dipper Black-backed Woodpecker Red-winged Blackbird Townsend's Solitaire Boreal Owl Join the American Birding Association at!


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