Daily Observations

Lapland Longspur

I got up fairly early this morning with the intention of maybe seeing an owl that was just retiring for the day. A broken glass required some cleanup and I didn’t make it out as early as I hoped, but I did spend a couple of hours walking down Westwood Trail along Indian River to the mouth, then along the beach. Early in the afternoon I went over to look for a Lapland Longspur that had been reported yesterday at Millerville. I ended up walking over to the long-term parking area at the airport as well. Finally, this evening I went out with Kitty LaBounty and a couple of Fairbanks birders who were in town. We went out to Starrigavan in search of owls.

Weather: It had been freezing overnight and was cool this morning, but with not much in the way of a breeze, it didn’t feel too bad. Later in the day the temperature reached 40 or a little more and there was a light wind out of the north.

Birds: On my walk along the river, I heard several different Winter Wrens singing. There was at least one pair of Northern Pintails at the mouth of the river and the usual assortment of duck and gull species scattered from the mouth of the river around the beach. While walking along the beach I heard and then saw a couple of mystery birds fly over. It was a call I did not recognize, but later figured out they were Lapland Longspurs.

While I was walking along the shore, the gulls suddenly took off. I was not moving in such a way to have caused them to do this, so I figured it must be an eagle or something. I looked up and saw an eagle flying from where it must have been perched in a tree at the edge of the forest. It seemed very intense in its flight, and went directly out toward Eastern Channel. I didn’t think too much of it at that moment and went back to looking at some other things. A couple of minutes later, I noticed an eagle flying back toward the trees with a fish in its talons. I can’t be sure, since I didn’t watch it, but I thought this might be the same eagle I had seen flying out a short time before. I was astounded to think that the eagle could have spotted the small fish it had from the trees.

When I went to Millerville this afternoon, I didn’t find anything there. I had a little time, so I walked over to the long-term parking area where I could at the grassy waste areas around the runway. I could see there were birds in the area as they kept flushing when a helicopter or plane would fly by, but I could not tell what they were due to harsh lighting (they just looked dark) and their very brief flights before disappearing into the grass again. Some of the flight calls were basically what I had heard this morning at Totem Park. I walked the length of the fence down to the lagoon (where there were a lot of scaups and other ducks) before heading back. As I was getting ready to head back, a plane or helicopter flew by and I noticed some birds flush pretty close to the gate near the parking area. I then saw there were some birds fairly close to the fence (though on the other side). I was able to get a few photos, though the harsh mid-day light and the fence prevented me from getting photos as nice as I might have preferred.

Our foray to Starrigavan to look for a screech owl was successful. We had one fly up and perch at the edge of the road. Though it was too dark to get a good look at it, it called for us repeatedly. When a car came down Nelson Logging Road, it’s lights were enough to see the bird briefly before it took off. A little later we were walking along the estuary trail and an owl flew by right at eye level. It was just a fast passing shadow, but it did not seem large. Ed thought it was probably a Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Other Notes: This morning I noticed a lot of sea cucumbers in the tidepools. I also saw a brittle star in the mud of one of the tidepools.

This evening there was a brief but intense bit of Northern Lights this evening sometime around 10pm, probably.

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