Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Alaska, Part 7: Birding in Anchorage

Red-throated Loon

Russ’s and my birding trip to Alaska, a tour organized by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, was divided into two parts, each beginning and ending in Anchorage. Our home base was the Holiday Inn Express near the airport. When we left for short trips, the hotel was happy to keep our extra stuff in their storage room, which was wonderfully convenient. And we saw the very first official bird of the Victor Emanuel tour—Common Redpolls near what appeared to be an active nest— right there in the hotel parking lot! 

Our first and last Alaska moose greeted us when we arrived and bid us farewell at the Anchorage airport.

Russ and I arrived in Anchorage at night on June 11 and spent June 12 walking around Anchorage and birding near the hotel. We met our tour group in the hotel lobby at dinnertime. The next morning, we flew northwest to Nome for four nights. When we returned to Anchorage, we spent a full day birding there before heading north for two days in and near Denali National Park. After our return to Anchorage, we headed south for two nights on the Kenai Peninsula in Seward, and then returned to Anchorage for our final dinner together. Most people flew out the next morning, but Russ and I took an evening flight so we could sleep in our last morning and spend a few more hours birding on our own. So of the 14 nights we spent in Alaska, 6 were in Anchorage.  

Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city; its population of over 290,000 is well over three times that of Duluth. Our first day there on our own, Russ and I discovered Lake Hood Seaplane Base near the airport, just a short walk from the hotel. We headed there again to close out our final day. 

Last afternoon in Alaska, Russ and I returned to Lake Hood

It’s a popular city park, and despite the noise and disruption from all the seaplane activity, birding was pretty nice, especially if you like ducks, Red-necked Grebes, and magpies.

Barrow's Goldeneye

Red-necked Grebe

Black-billed Magpie

At the very end of our last afternoon, off one of the seaplane piers there, I got splendid photos of a stunning and shockingly close Red-throated Loon—a magnificent final bird to close out a wonderful trip.  

Red-throated Loon

Red-throated Loon

That last day, we’d also gone to another cool little spot just behind our hotel, where we saw several common songbirds such as Alder Flycatcher...

Alder Flycatcher

White-crowned Sparrow...

White-crowned Sparrow carrying food

...and Orange-crowned Warbler.

Orange-crowned Warbler

A pond there had several ducks including a Green-winged Teal mother and ducklings. 

Green-winged Teal and ducklings

I got some closeups of a gorgeous magpie with a badly deformed or injured beak right near the hotel. 

Black-billed Magpie

Birding at these two places right close to the hotel was pleasant but very low-key compared to some other spots right in Anchorage that we visited with the full group. On our first morning of the tour, we had a little time to kill before we headed to the airport for our Nome flight, so some of us made a short visit to Westchester Lagoon. Just standing in one spot near the parking lot of this splendid park, we enjoyed a wonderful assortment of waterbirds. This being nesting season, we spied Short-billed Gull and distant Arctic Tern and Red-necked Grebe chicks as well as adults on nests.

Short-billed Gulls--adults and chicks

Red-necked Grebe on nest

An extremely cooperative Short-billed Gull and Arctic Tern posed on nearby structures for wonderful photo opportunities. 

Short-billed Gull

Arctic Tern

Anchorage has several other wonderful parks, too. After birding a bit at Westchester Lagoon on our full day of birding in Anchorage on June 17, we headed to Kinkaid Park and took a trail called the Mize Loop, a superb, woodsy path where in addition to some lovely common birds such as a nearby Swainson’s Thrush, we got to spend time watching a nesting pair of American Three-toed Woodpeckers feeding young.

Three-toed Woodpecker

Three-toed Woodpecker

Wonderful as that was, I was even more thrilled to see a gorgeous female Spruce Grouse with her adorable chicks.  

Spruce Grouse hen with nearby chicks

Spruce Grouse chick following mommy

Spruce Grouse chick

Then we went to a fantastic place, Potter Marsh, with an incredible boardwalk that kept us safely above a stunningly beautiful bull moose who ignored us as he munched on vegetation below. 



This marvelous marsh is huge, with nesting Trumpeter Swans and a wonderful assortment of other water and land birds. 

Beyond the marsh following the highway out of Anchorage a bit, we kept scanning the Cook Inlet for a beluga whale. The belugas inside the Cook Inlet are genetically different from the belugas everywhere else. I’ve never seen a beluga at all, and was especially sad not to see one here because the Cook Inlet population of beluga whales is critically endangered. Way up on the cliffs rising above, we saw Dall’s sheep.

Dall's Sheep

At a nice parking pull out, a wonderfully cooperative Golden-crowned Sparrow posed for lots of photos.  

Golden-crowned Sparrow

All in all, there is prime birding in and near Alaska’s largest city, and it’s not that much of a drive to two more of Alaska’s wonderful birding and nature destinations, Denali National Park and the Kenai Peninsula. Next time I’ll focus on our wonderful Denali experience.