The iconic Bald Eagle is a common bird of the Alaskan coast – and inland as well. It its mostly a fish eater and coastal birds are easy to spot. We watched one catch a salmon a good quarter-mile offshore and swim (a wing-flapping over-arm stroke) holding the fish in submerged talons. After this heroic effort the female eagle came and took the fish. They both eventually ate from the carcass but the female let it be known that she held all the cards. He was, perhaps, the hunter and chef; but more likely he was the waiter, server, and bus boy.
I put this Bald Eagle photo here because Alaskan eagles are so common and familiar that anyone who has been to Alaska would wonder where the eagle was if I didn’t. In fact this page which will show some of the birds of the Kenai Peninsula and will not mention eagles again. There is just to much variety to see in that area. The Kenai is a bulge of the mainland that sticks sort of to the southwest and underneath Anchorage and start of the Aleutian Peninsula. The towns of Homer, Seward, Seldovia, and Soldotna are out on the Kenai. Fishing has long been the reason to live on this beautiful land mass; but now tourism, birding, and hiking are competing with fishing. There are bears and moose all over the place out here so hikers need to be aware. But there are birds as well; sandpiper types, gulls and terns, grouse, and both woodland and grassland birds. Enough to keep the birder happy for days on end.
Sandhill Cranes are widespread; with breeding populations in Florida and Alaska, but not everywhere in between, it is a bird that might appear almost anywhere in the continental US; and perhaps better said – anywhere in North America. These birds are the size of Great Blue Herons and perhaps best known for the migratory stop in Nebraska when tens of thousands gather on the Platte River to refuel as they head north. There is also a stunningly large number of Sandhill Cranes that winter in New Mexico at Bosque del Apache.
Alaska’s forest are grand. There are large trees of many types; coastal forests are temperate rain forests with Sitka Spruce, Hemlock, and cedar dominating and the inland forests are great swaths of birch and spruce forest. In these forests are specialized finches and chicken-like grouse. But one of the most likable birds is the Stellar’s Jay. Many parts of the USA have Blue Jays or perhaps Scrub or Canadian Jays. The handsome dark Stellar’s Jay is a bird of western high elevations and lower elevations as you head north. In highland areas they extend southward into Nicaragua and north to the Kenai Peninsula along the Alaskan coast.
Forest means trees, trees mean woodpeckers. In Alaska the birder looking to flesh out a life list will be searching out Black-backed and Three-toed Woodpeckers and the Red-breasted Sapsucker. The other woodpeckers can be found widely to the south. These three species can be found to the south as well but the search may be more difficult.
Gulls of all sorts make it into Alaska. About 15 species are seen annually. The most widespread of the gulls is probably the Glaucous-winged Gull. They are abundant along the shore lines and up major waterways. They do have the ubiquitous Herring Gull as well. But the uncommon gulls like Ross’s, Ivory, and Sabine’s are what bring the birders. The three gulls in the image above, waiting for a Common Raven to finish with a salmon carcass, are Glaucous-winged Gulls.
It would be no surprise to find that the Arctic Tern is the common tern of the Alaskan shoreline. The Common Tern, easily seen in the lower 48, is not at all common in Alaska. The all red bull of the Arctic Tern and its rather short legs make the ID easy; but when they are the most frequent tern in the area it isn’t to difficult to make the identification anyway. The lower image shows an adult feeding some sort of aquatic morsel to the brownish puffball which is its youngster.
Alaska being where it is and what it is has a great many undeveloped and uninhabited areas. Thus wildlife is still common and widespread. In many areas, Anchorage City for instance, the wildlife persists right in town. This is a Red-necked Grebe; a diving bird that looks a bit like a duck but has followed a very different evolutionary path. This one was nesting in a small backyard pond in the city.
Lastly it should be pointed out that some geese and ducks are widespread and well adapted to life in a wetland; any wetland anywhere. The Canada Goose and Mallard show this in a very widespread way. Actually there are many separate populations of Canada Geese scattered around North America. Alaska has big ones and small ones and several types in between. There are the Vancouver, Dusky, Lesser, Taverner’s, Aleutian, and Cackling Canada Geese in Alaska. Each population has a breeding area and a wintering area often separate from other Canada Goose populations.