Thursday, August 30, 2018

Glaucous-winged x Herring Gulls (?)

I can say with 100% certainty that the birds you are about to see are gulls.  I can even say that they're large white-headed gulls.  Beyond that, well, at some point we cross much more into Wild Ass Guess land than most of the birds that get featured here.

Returning to Juneau, 2 posts ago I ran through as many Glaucous-winged plumages as I could find.  I was trying to get as many portraits of as many individuals and appearances as I could since it'll be a while before I see these birds again, but a lot of the pics don't really fit, and I suspect they're Glaucous-winged x Herring hybrids.

Here's a young bird with an adult Glaucous-winged.
The young bird's bill is barely half the thickness of the adult's, and given the juvie Glaucous-winged from 2 posts ago had a honking thick bill I'm inclined to think this is outside of pure Glaucous-winged.  It's also A LOT paler than most of the one year old (2nd calendar year) birds I saw and its bill is fairly bicolored.  It still has the Glaucous-winged white outer primaries though.

The other young bird it was with also had a narrow bill, though was darker overall both in bill and plumage.
I'm saying its bill is too narrow to not have HERG genes as well.

This next bird is either more advanced and the same age or is a year older with a clearly bi-colored bill.  To me the bi-colored bill screams Herring, but it looks a little heavy headed so I'm putting it here as a possible hybird.

This bird may just be a Herring, though even the extreme ones we see on the Great Lakes aren't usually quite so dark in the wing coverts

Here's a subadult bird.
It has the Glaucous-winged marbling of the head and breast, but the bill is thinner than the adult in the background and it has marked pale-ness to the eye.  Glaucous-winged has dark eyes.

This is a similar bird in flight.
The milky tail and darkish eye look pretty good for Glaucous-winged, but the fresh adult primaries' black tips are at least a shade (and probably two) darker than most of the other adults.

Monday, August 27, 2018


Hudsonian Godwit is a very narrow window migrant that's basically possible for about a week at the tail end of August.  After a couple days of stagnant bird movement it was nice to have a few teal moving this morning.  A half dozen willets had flown in but after a couple hours I headed off to run some errands and catch up on paperwork ... and then Tim texted that a Hudwit was on the beach.  By the time I got there they had flown over to Silver, but after about 15 minutes they flew back and landed.

This one has a little more of the brick red and black belly barring than some of them have had over the years.

It hung out with the half dozen young willets 

before getting kicked off the beach by a dog jogger.

The black wing linings are pretty unique.

One last look at the bird leading the Willets back over from Silver.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Glaucous-winged Safari

Juneau's waterfront was pretty alive with large white-headed gulls.  My last Glaucous-winged Gull was at Tiscornia 10 (!) years ago, so I tried to get a cross-section of the Glaucous-winged's.  There were smaller numbers of Herrings around, and some birds (next post) that I thought were probably GW x Herring hybrids.

I didn't see many juveniles, I suspect they were probably mostly still on the breeding grounds.  This very fresh looking young bird looked to be one however.

This would appear to be a first summer bird.  It still has a very dark bill but is getting a few gray feathers in the mantle.  The wings are a mix of dark (probably fresh) and light (very worn) feathers.

Here is a very similar bird in flight, though this one is starting to get more light at the base of the bill

3rd year plumage is one of the toughest to photograph since each year culls out a few more birds from the herd, but after that age they all look basically the same.  I didn't get a conclusive shot of that age class.

Next up is a sub-adult bird, probably 4 years old

The slight brown tinge and blurry definition of the primaries (and the shading on the tail) are the only things keeping this bird from adult plumage.

Finally an adult.  I actually deleted this photo reflexively when I saw the out of focus bird cutting across in flight, but decided I kind of liked it and pulled it back out of the trash.

 Another adult.

And one last look at a mass of fairly con-colorous primaries and mantles.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

the Spiny Bear

Day 4 (I think) was at Juneau.  Without trying we turned out to be the first ones off the boat that morning, which was useful to hop in the only waiting cab and head out to the Mendenhall Glacier.  We hiked a few trails to look at the glacier and a big waterfall, looped back to the visitor center, and found a Porcupine right next to the trail.  I'd seen one when I was a kid, but this one was either full grown, or a different species since it looked enormous.

Its teeth were stained orange.  I was tempted to show the picture to a ranger to show off my bear picture to see how incredulous of a look I could get.

There were a lot of flowers covered in dew and and mist.  I think this is a lesser fireweed.

This one is a pyrola of some sort.
 There were lupines, fireweed, yellow paintbrush, and a lot of others, but I had trouble getting images that really popped.

We just missed a black bear that had disappeared off the trail and had 2 other hikers' knees shaking as they held hands and stood atop a stump.  There wasn't a ton of bird activity, the birds were done breeding and I didn't hear any song.  I glimpsed a Varied Thrush deep in the underbrush, and saw a few RC Kinglets.  A Townsend's Warbler was more cooperative than any I'd seen before (though I can count them probably on one hand so that might not be saying much).

Monday, August 20, 2018

Haines, Alaska

The first place we actually landed off the cruise was a small town named Haines where the Chilkoot (?) River empties into the inner passage.  I think if one bird was emblematic of this trip it would probably be Pigeon Guillemot.  They were common and frequently swimming around the harbors like mallards.

The crazy color of the water is due to large amounts of glacial silt suspended in the saltwater.

Northwestern Crows were raising a ruckus with lots of newly fledged young along the edges of the beach.  The tides there can mean 20 foot differences in water level so you can imagine there was a lot of beach for them to prospect looking for food exposed by the falling waters.

We took a raft trip down the Chilkoot.  It's the last river in the area to freeze in the winter and in November can be absolutely jam-packed with eagles.
 We probably saw 12 or 15.  The river was very interesting, fairly shallow but very wide and moving quickly.  You could hear the silt brushing the bottom of the raft with a sound like slowly releasing air.  There was so much silt you couldn't see the oars once put into the water.  The ever changing rivr channels capped the lifespan of the trees along it so all the eagle nests in the area were relatively small since the trees are downed by the river before the eagles can build truly massive structures.

If the light had been a little better I would have tried to walk a little closer to this group of Glaucous-winged (with a few Herring) Gulls.  I left that for another day though.

Friday, August 17, 2018


After a day of cruising across the Gulf of Alaska we entered the inland passage and Glacier Bay National Park.  You can't go ashore there, but there were (distant) brown bears, glaciers, a bit of dense early morning fog, more otters, and did I mention glaciers?

This is a close-up of a section of the Vanderplugh Glacier.

 A Glacous-winged sitting atop an iceberg off the Johns Hopkins Glacier.

We would occasionally see eagles atop the bergs, this one flew across the bow.

Other icebergs took on quite unique appearances.

We made our way to the Marjorie Glacier, which advances 10-15 feet per day if memory serves.  I'd never seen a glacier calve icebergs, but it did a few times for us.

There were some serious swarms of kittiwakes feeding in the waters next to this active glacier.

 Finally a view of a Peregrine that ripped past the boat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Open ocean means albatrosses

The first full day of the trip was spent entirely at sea.  I've never been out of sight of land on the Pacific and I had high hopes for my first ever albatross.  High enough hopes that I was awake at 4:00 am local time (not that hard when it's the same as 8a eastern).  The first bird I saw off the deck turned out to be ... a Black-footed Albatross.  I didn't actually believe myself, but as I strained to see in the early half-light it turned out they were the only thing big enough to see. 

All the pics in this post are really heavily cropped.

I started seeing other smaller sea birds and it took a while to figure out that they were Fulmars, another lifer.

Fork-tailed Storm-petrel was another bird I was hoping for, and was even harder to pick out with the scope or camera.  Here's a couple montages...

The ship was large enough that I could manage the scope, but it was really difficult to transition from bins to scope with zero landmarks or from bins to camera.  Most of the birds were really far away and quartering away from the ship so it usually took several looks at new species to convince myself that I was seeing what I thought I was.  Even Tufted Puffins at great distance going away were tough ID's without enough experience to gestualt them.  Fortunately a few of them came a lot closer than the sea birds.

Friday, August 10, 2018

The old man of the sea

I'd never done a cruise before, and after my mother-in-law did one of sorts in the Caribbean this spring my kids were pretty amped to try one.  I found a conference on a cruise ship and we headed to Alaska.

We flew into Anchorage and were driven 2 hours south to Seward where we boarded the ship.  We'd barely gotten settled aboard when I noticed a speck floating in the harbor ... a sea otter.  Hazel and I promptly got off the ship to get closer.  Initially it was floating in the middle of the harbor, but a seal scared it closer and eventually it was basically right next to the dock.

It paid us no mind and proceeded to groom its rear flipper feet.

We celebrated with a selfie with a sea otter.  It's the speck in the water above Hazel's right ear.  An SLR makes a big difference.

 Here's a gif of the the otter interacting with a seal.  I'm not sure what clued the otter in to the seal's presence since it starts looking all around before seeing it.  After the seal splashes the otter the otter snorkels under the water, then rolls and dives itself.

A few last pics from the harbor.  Hazel saw the magpie and asked,"What is THAT???" 

My first lifer was flying about as well, a Northwestern Crow.
Good luck evaluating the primary formula with birds molting.

Nothing says Alaska like eagles and Glaucous-winged Gulls.

The next morning we'd wake up in the open ocean ... stay tuned.