Seward mid-winter field trip

For the past several years, the Anchorage Audubon chapter has sponsored a field trip to Seward in February. Seward, AK, which in nice conditions is about a 2 to 2 ½ hour trip south of Anchorage, has quite a different variety of winter birds than Anchorage. It’s warmer and enough south that more birds overwinter there. So the February field trip is a nice chance to see a few more of our Alaska birds than we typically do in Anchorage.

But it’s still winter. With the weather that may imply. In 2017  the trip was canceled because of bad weather. In 2016, it was a lovely morning but turned awful mid-day leaving a white-knuckle drive home. This year? Well, it was snowing like anything in Anchorage, but the Seward Highway wasn’t awful (wasn’t great, but livable with good tires and reliable car and what kind of Alaskans would we be if we didn’t tackle some real winter driving occasionally?) so we went for it.

plowonturnagain
following the plow/sander up Turnagain Pass

Here’s a video of part of the drive once it was light out and as we were getting closer to Seward. This is going past the Sterling Highway turnoff and Tern Lake, a great place to see trumpeter swans in the summer.

About 15 people braved the drive and a wonderful local Seward birder shared some of her favorite spots with us. They even put up a banner welcoming us!welcomebirders

Our first stop was the home of a Seward resident who puts up a lot of feeders. We guessed that the flock of pine siskins there numbered somewhere around 100. IMG_1522Not to mention all the other birds taking advantage of the feeders and the habitat. Including a northern shrike who swooped in and scattered that flock of siskins and other birds and the noisy chirping went silent for a while. Then we stopped at a couple of beaches, followed by another in-town yard visit where yet more siskins and juncos were being quite active until a sharpshinned hawk chased a small flock of them right through the trees in front of us. Then we drove out to Lowell Point to see what we could see from the beach out there.

I won’t lie to you, I was cold. It’s warmer in Seward than Anchorage, and the sun came out about mid-morning, but when the wind comes whipping through that valley, it’s downright brutal at times. I was thankful for my wool socks, long underwear, and qiviut neck ring that did wonders to combat that cold. Next time though, I’m packing warmer gloves.

Here’s the list of birds for the day: common magpie, common raven, rock pigeon, glaucous winged gull, pine siskin, black-capped chickadee, redbreasted nuthatch, ruby-crowned kinglet, downy woodpecker, bald eagle, white-crowned sparrow, golden-crowned sparrow, tree sparrow, dark-eyed junco (both slate and Oregon subspecies), American robin, mallard, northern shrike, trumpeter swan, common goldeneye, harlequin duck, common merganser, Barrow’s goldeney, bufflehead, great blue heron, fox sparrow, sharp-shinned hawk, varied thrush, Steller jay  (heard), pelagic cormorant, and a pair of murrelets that nobody got a good enough look at to better identify, but likely to be marbled, much less likely to be Kittlitz’s.

The group writ large saw a few additional species of gulls that I didn’t, but I’m quite pleased with the count of 30 I had. Plus sea otters and sea lions which are always a treat.

Our day didn’t end with the birding though. We went to the Alaska SeaLife Center after the trip out to Lowell Point. I started writing that visit up and realized I was going to triple the length of this blog entry so I’ll save it for another one. So glad to be able to get to Seward which is one of my favorite towns to visit—and to bird in—in Alaska. Even if the trip down was less than ideal.

For the trip home, the roads had been plowed several times but we still had some snow floor for much of the way. But the glorious sunsets and alpenglow of this time of the year in Alaska? Make a little winter driving worth it.


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