Winter in Anchorage

It’s Anchorage, it’s winter. While we have a certain number of bird species that overwinter (more so as time goes by and our winters keep getting warmer) it’s still not the most productive of birding locations in January. Unless, of course, you’re willing to hang out with the birds that you do see and watch their behavior.

Like common ravens. Mostly they roost at night in the hills and valleys east of the city but in winter they like commuting into town to see what food they can find. As the sun comes up and you look overhead, you’ll see them flying from the mountains into the city. And as the sun starts to set, you can see them flying east, back into the hills. And in the meantime they eat, tussle, vocalize, and play.

I hadn’t done any birding yet this year so I thought it would be fun to get out briefly on Sunday, January 8 for a birding drive around. I made several mistakes. First, it was single digits out and it was close to noon, so all the birds that are most active in the mornings had already settled down for mid-day. Plus it was very still, so no ravens doing aerial acrobatics off the bluffs out by the airport which is always one of my favorite things to watch. And while it was incredibly bright and sunny through the middle and east of town, the western areas by Cook Inlet were pretty well socked in with fog. Here’s a view from the fog/clear borderline out by the airport.

weather

I didn’t get to see much in my hour’s drive. All the creek areas I checked were pretty much frozen over which meant no waterfowl. It was cold enough and I was being lazy enough that I didn’t really want to walk to the areas where I knew the water would be open. I finally spotted a few common ravens and black-billed magpies. I also heard a few chickadees but never saw them. Probably black-capped, our most common, but we also have boreal and chestnut-backed and they can hang out in mixed flocks.

I finally decided to head home when I spotted the whirling cloud above the road and pulled off into a parking lot to the sound of a flock of fifty or so Bohemian waxwings. They’re one of the great delights of winter here. They stick around in summer but tend to pair off and head into the bogs to mate and nest (or I’m told this, I’ve yet to see a Bohemian waxwing here in summer). In winter, though, they gather together and fly in large noisy flocks to food sources; mostly Sitka mountain ash trees for the berries. They’re incredibly active which means that they’re often hard to photograph–at least with my low level of photographic skills–but I managed to get a few in the viewfinder yesterday when some landed in a tree and then on the ground right next to my parking place. I hung out with them for about fifteen minutes when they all moved off en masse to another part of the city. Not such a bad winter day birding after all.

waxwingsolo

waxwingsgroup

I love the one in the forefront of that image looking at me. The facial coloring just makes it look so quizzical!

–Arlene

 


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