2 - 26 November 1996
by Emmalee Bowers Tarry
I spent almost two weeks in the first of November on a business trip to Anchorage, Alaska. My business kept me busy during the week, but I seized the opportunity to escape from the Hilton Hotel on the weekend. I didn't expect much. (I was hoping for a Yellow-billed Loon.)
Around Anchorage I saw Raven, Black-billed Magpie, and Rock Doves. One of my students reported Bohemian Waxwings in the Mountain Ash just outside the building near the University of Alaska. By the time I got out they were gone.The trees were loaded with red berries and I looked for the waxwings every time I went by.
Saturday morning I left the hotel at 5 AM in pitch darkness headed down the Seward Highway toward the Homer Spit. I figured I could make it by 10 AM, bird for two hours and make it back before dark at 4 P.M. I was driving a rental Ford midsize car with front wheel drive. It was still dark when I drove through the Turnagain Pass. Around 7:30 there was enough light to see the tops of the mountains on either side of the road and it was snowing lightly. I pressed on hoping that I would not get stuck on the wrong side of the pass. I saw plenty of Moose ( at least 9 ) and a Coyote (pretty sure this solitary animal was not a wolf). I also had 3 Bald Eagles along the road.
I arrived at the Homer Spit just about 10 AM. I was expecting to walk out on a gravel spit, but there is a paved road the length of the spit. At a row of wooden buildings up on stilts, I was surprised to find what was probably the best bird of the trip, 3 Rosy Finch of the Gray-crowned variety. I chased these birds around the buildings for some time. They were none too cooperative. Would these be the Hepburn's Race? The face was completely gray. An old copy of Armstrong's book A Guide to the Birds of Alaska describes them on beaches in the Aleutians and at lower elevations in the winter.
Also at the spit were: Black Scoters 50,White-winged Scoters, Surf Scoters, Raven,Marbled Murrelts, Eared Grebe, Oldsquaw Ducks, Common Loon, Common Murres, Northwestern Crow and gulls I failed to pay much attention to but I think they were Glaucous-winged. There was also a Sea Otter, the first I have seen anywhere but near Monterrey California and a Harbor Seal. I left about noon and headed back. I really enjoyed the drive through the Turnagain Pass in the daylight. It is spectacular. I was glad it had stopped snowing and that I didn't get stuck on the wrong side of the pass. I saw a flock of light colored birds that could have been Waxwings and a raptor which I was unable to identify. By the time I could stop the car it was too far away.
Sunday I again left the hotel early and arrived at Portage about 9:30 AM. There was an immature Bald Eagle in the creek and two adults flying. A pair of Dippers were chasing each other near one of the bridges over the creek. The Portage Glacier has melted completely out of sight from the really impressive visitor's center and there was one small iceberg in the lake. I decided to drive through the Turnagain Pass again. This time I had a flock of Pine Grosbeaks eating salt from the road over a bridge. I drove on to Hope. I saw some birds from the road, but never where I felt safe to stop. In Hope, there was another flock of Pine Grosbeaks.
On the way back I stopped to scan Turanagin Arm. There were no birds or mammals in sight. The tide was always fairly high when I was there. I did have a Bald Eagle perched in dead tree.
I didn't have a class on Wednesday since we were unable to schedule the classroom. I worked on administrative stuff until noon and then headed for the Alaska Zoo to see the Musk Ox. The zoo was very nice and Musk Ox are not nearly as big as I thought they would be. There were Ruby-crowed Kinglets and Red-breasted Nuthatch working the trees in the zoo along with Ravens and more Magpies.
And that was it. While I didn't collect a great list, I did have a good time and that is what it is all about. Birding certainly adds some flavor to an otherwise tiring business trip.
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