North to My Future
For the fifth consecutive year, the Lower Cape Fear Bird Club took a major
birding trip out west. Prior to 2005, our
destinations have been the Rio Grande Valley, Washington State, Southeastern
The title of my story is
borrowed from the
My future, given semi-retirement, will be different in many ways….more time to bird and to make nature photography a huge part of my future explorations. For the past twenty-five years, I have photographed birds and nature, never having time to master any technology. I was always waiting for better technology and more time to master it before purchasing newer technology.
That time arrived. In mid-May, I purchased the camera of my dreams, a Canon EOS 20D with a 500mm Image Stabilized lens.
I hate to read manuals. Prior to the trip, I had learned only about twenty-five percent of the camera and lens functions, enough to get by while I take a couple of years to learn more and gain proficiency. Fortunately, the camera’s basics are relatively easy to learn and my pictures from the trip turned out great.
I arrived a day before our trip was scheduled to start. I had done my usual “bang up” job (i.e. not much) of researching birding sites. I reviewed the field guide on the plane and designed an “Anchorage Sampler” tour of brief stops for my day of solo birding.
Later at dinner, our group scored a Four-eyed, Skin-headed Skank at the restaurant. Our attention was captured by a guy with eyes and eyebrows tattooed on the back of his “buzz cut” head. We joked at first that “it” might be a new species of owl with false eyes in the back of its head. We decided if he got tired of the eyes, he could always have sunglasses tattooed over them. Then we really broke up over the idea of an eye patch tattooed over just one.
On Saturday, we birded sites along the
Across the highway from Potter Marsh, we climbed an embankment onto the railroad tracks to gain a vantage point for the mudflats of Turnagain Arm. We found a number of gulls, including a Glaucous Gull. We also found an Alaska Railroad engine bearing down on us. The train was fairly close when we saw it so we scurried down the trail and a couple of us at the rear had a near death experience. Okay, maybe not that close…
As we drove off, we witnessed a “changing of the guard” by Horned Grebes in a canal along side the embankment. One car spotted a grebe swimming and another car circled back to where they though they had seen a nest. We got to watch and photograph the female swim in and replace the male who was on the nest….and then the male swam out the other side. How cool was that?>
Our leader took us next to the Chugach State Park Indian Creek site where American
Dippers are reliably found. We located
a nest under a bridge and we watched as both adults flew in and out feeding the
Our trip to the
Need I say it? The fjords yielded an AWESOME collection of birds. We found Marbled, Ancient, and Kittlitz’s Murrelets. A three Murrelet trip! Other species included: Sooty Shearwater, Red-faced Cormorant, Pelagic Cormorant, Glaucous-winged Gull, Pigeon Guillemot, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Murre, Parakeet Auklet, Rhinoceros Auklet, and Horned and Tufted Puffin. As you would expect, the mammals were also awesome. We saw Sea Otter, Orca, Humpback Whales, Harbor Seals, Dall’s Porpoise, and Steller’s Sea Lions.
On our return trip from Seward to
I believe that the moose mistook my camera lens for a rival or another threat with a large nose. I learned a valuable lesson. The first animal to take umbrage with the lens could have been a bear. From then on, I wrapper my mosquito net jacket around the lens for makeshift camouflage.
We headed out Tuesday to Paxson, stopping first for a great breakfast at
Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant in
The highlight of the day was finding a Great Gray Owl on its nest. We fought through a wall of mosquitoes to get to the owl. The mosquitoes were as bad as advertised! They were so thick, it gave me the willies even though my insect repellant was working. Other birds on the Glenn and Richardson Highways to Paxson included Northern Hawk Owl, Gray Jay, Pacific Loon, and Golden Eagle.
We spent two nights at the “Red Roofed” Paxson Lodge under less than Spartan conditions. Holes in window screens had been plugged with toilet paper. The curtains were flimsy at best and did not keep out the light which really interrupts sleep when you only have about four hours of twilight each night. It never got completely dark.
Bad accommodations? My sister was the only one who had a TV in her room. It did not work. And the sign on the back of her door read: “No pets allowed. No cleaning of game. Thanks!” This sign was no joke.
We left Wednesday morning headed to the nearby tundra area above the Alaska Pipeline. Shortly after leaving the Paxson Lodge, we saw a moose and her calf just off the highway. Then, at the top, a herd of caribou on another ridge came closer to inspect us from afar.
Our leaders each have a zillion life birds.
You could, however, easily tell that one leader was driven to find
For the remainder of Wednesday, we
covered the first twenty-one miles of the
First thing Thursday morning, we stopped at
Any remaining doubts we were in the wilderness were dispelled by this stop.
We continued across the
Soon after lunch, my sister and I had a Northern Wheatear fly
over. We did not get a great look;
however, with the white on the tail, it could not have been another
species. Other trip birds along the
The following day we rode the park bus some twenty miles into the
We saw several Golden Eagles and a Gyrfalcon perched on a ledge across from her nest. On the return trip, the adult Gyrfalcon flew to the nest and fed the young. We could see the adult ripping up prey and feeding each chick.
Our Denali adventure featured fantastic nature observations in unmanaged habitats: a mother grizzly with two large, second-year cubs, a Red Fox den with mother and at least two kits being fed, and several moose (by now a junk mammal).
We came upon a warning sign meant to protect wildlife, specifically bears. The bears had been gnawing on the sign so the park service hammered nails around the edge of the sign, leaving enough nail exposed to keep the bears from further munching. Does a bear eat signs in the woods?
There was a great photo op of a Dall’s Sheep on the opposite side of the bus from me. I already had pictures of one from a distance and was sp tired I tried to blow off this opportunity. Two of our group would not let me. So, after much nagging, I crossed the isle and saw how close the sheep was. Dang! I got tremendous close-ups and told them next time to slap me if I tried to ignore such an opportunity.
A great trip! I have relived it many times while editing this story and my pictures. One major theme smacked me in the face…sex….no, I should say breeding and the reproductive cycle…from young Orcas to chickadees flying to and from nest cavities to moose calves to suckling foxes to waterfowl and shorebirds on nests to fledgling Fox Sparrows to bear cubs to a Gyrfalcon feeding chicks to American Dippers feeding their young….and on and on…it was all about breeding. I had never been to such a breeding ground….awesome!!!
He lives in the
Copyright ã 2005 by John B. Ennis
Additional photographs from this trip may be found at: http://thebusinessbirder.com/Alaska/index.html