Alaska #2: Bird Watching

June 30, 2007

I’m a very amateur birdwatcher. Which is to say, I love watching and identifying birds, but I don’t get horribly obsessive about tracking them down, recording all the info about sightings, etc.

I got started young. One of my grandfathers was a biology professor at Idaho State for many years, and he helped instill in me an appreciation of the outdoors and wildlife. My grandparents, parents, brother and I went on many camping trips together. Grandpa taught us how to fish, helped us catch frogs (we always let them go), and always knew the cool places to look for critters. And he went bird watching with me. We used to get up early in the morning, before anyone else, and hike out with our binoculars to see what we could find. We’d get back to camp just as the others were fixing breakfast. I loved it. This was when I was around 9-12 years old for the most part. I wonder now that I had that kind of energy. And I wonder how Grandpa put up with me.

One of the things I was looking forward to on the Alaska trip was seeing some birds I’d never seen before, that you can’t see anywhere else. I can’t tell how many times I’d look through the bird guide, find a cool and interesting bird, and check the regional map only to find that they only live in Alaska or thereabouts.

One thing I learned: bird watching and being on the look out for bears are mutually exclusive activities. When you’re bird watching, you listen for the little rustles in the underbrush, the flickers of movement. Then, you get very quiet and follow the sound until you see what’s making it. But when you’ve been warned about bears in the area, you hear a rustle in the underbrush and think “Holy crap! Let’s get out of here!” And you’re supposed to make noise in bear-ridden areas, so you don’t startle them. The birds don’t like that. It was a bit frustrating.

Another thing I learned: I was more patient when I was 12, evidently. I would follow those little rustles until I found and ID’d the bird. This trip, I passed by the little moving shadows in the underbrush because I wanted to keep going, keep hiking, and not stop. I think all the bear warnings may have had something to do with that.

Still, I saw a lot of really cool birds. Added about 12 species to my “life list.” Saw artic terns, gulls, mallards and pintails nesting in Potter’s Marsh just south of Anchorage; all kinds of bald eagles, gulls, puffins, murres, kittiwakes and cormorants around the Kenai, ptarmigans with chicks, jaegers, and a whimbrel in Denali. And I did manage to track down one shadow rustling in the underbrush to find a gold crowned sparrow. (I love bird nomenclature. “What’s that one called? The one with the little bit of gold color on the top of its head?” “Why, that’s a gold crowned sparrow.”)

Here are black-footed kittiwakes nesting in the Chiswell Islands.


3 Responses to “Alaska #2: Bird Watching”

  1. Carrie:

    A very nice summary of your amateur birding adventures in Alaska. You were fortunate to have had your grandfather as a tudor when you were young.

  2. carriev Says:


  3. mythusmage Says:

    Kitty on the Tundra

    Our favorite werewolf visits the North Slope and learns why timberwolves have such thick fur. 🙂 (You may be able to claim your Alaska trip as a business expense.)

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