The early bird(er) gets the ?

Every Thursday in the month of May, BLM and Anchorage Audubon co-sponsor early morning bird walks through the Campbell Tract area of Anchorage.

I mean early morning. They start at 6:30 am. Which means I have to get up at 5:30 am. I keep telling myself: at least it’s light out.

It’s actually a great place to bird year round and the benefit to early May is that the trees haven’t leafed out a lot which means that birds are reasonably visible. Though by the end of the month, the leaves make it a lot harder to spot the birds. Also if you attend throughout the month, it’s a great way to slowly learn (or re-learn, in my case) the songs of various birds because you don’t hear them all at once but you build on your skills throughout the month as more of them appear. In theory anyhow. In past I’ve just proven that by the end of the month I’ve forgotten almost everything I learned at the beginning of the month.

We actually had a pretty productive two hour walk this morning. The list included the year-round common birds like black-capped chickadees, common redpolls, dark-eyed juncos (slate variety) and a juvenile bald eagle, year round not-so-common American dippers, a couple of might-be-migrants-might-be-year-round like Canada geese and American robins, and then some of the early migrants such as ruby crowned kinglets, golden crowned kinglets, varied thrush, and yellow rumped warbler (heard only).

One of the good parts to these early migrants is that while later in the year they’re awfully hard to spot (juncos, golden crowned kinglets, and varied thrush, especially) at this time of year they’re all doing territorial calling so they tend to sit atop the trees where their profiles make them a little easier to see.

dark-eyed junco, slate-colored

One of my favorite bits of today’s walk was when one of the dippers made a great appearance for us and not only showed off nest material gathering skills but then stood on a rock in Campbell Creek and sang for us for about 10 minutes. And I cannot believe I didn’t pull out my cell phone to record it. But I did take a few pictures, so I’ll share those instead.

We were over half-way through the walk before we heard our first, very distant varied thrush. And we didn’t spot any on the walk itself, though I did finally see one–at the top of a tree, of course–as I was pulling out of the parking lot.

varied thrush not being surreptitious (sorry about the blur–still adapting to the new camera)

I really love these May walks. It can be a little chilly some mornings and trail conditions can vary depending on how tight our winter weather decides to hold on, and I’m not always at my finest at 6:30 am, but I definitely feel virtuous afterward!  Like I said, my bird song retention isn’t so good (wish that were true of pop music standards) but the few I have for some of the smaller birds have come off of these May Thursday walks. Like the first year I went, when somebody compared juncos to an “angry sewing machine” and varied thrush to a “policeman’s whistle” which promptly cemented those calls into my head. Even now, in other places, I hear one of those two birds and I don’t even have to think about what it is (please, nobody tell me that other birds sound nearly identical or you’ll bring my whole birding skills worldview down around me).

I hope you’re having a lovely May day.

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