by KTNA Staff ~ June 22nd, 2014
Robin Song observes which birds are about, and which species seem to be scarce this spring and early summer, and encourages everyone to slow down and take in the fleeting season. Audio is about 6 minutes. Text follows photos.
photos by Robin Song
May, as we all remember, was exceptionally hot and dry. It felt like we had skipped spring and had gone straight into summer. Then, thankfully, June brought rain and cooler temps. Leaves unfurled and the grass grew. Soon everything took on the lushness of summer, and began to look normal. But the unusual spring meant an unusual bird migration. Some of the birds which come to the ranch to raise their families didn’t arrive. I have yet to see or hear a Golden-crowned sparrow anywhere, or a Golden-crowned Kinglet, or Pine Siskins, or Orange-crowned warblers. There are no American Pipits nesting in the hay fields this summer. While I did see one male Red-shafted Flicker fly across the drive one spring morning, I haven’t seen it since. In recent years one or two pairs have taken up residence in the forests along the edge of the northern hay fields and raised their families in birch trees they selected there.
Conversely, last year I didn’t hear any flycatchers on the ranch, and only heard two Swainson’s Thrush. While the Swainsons seemed to arrive a little late, this spring, I’ve heard five males singing, two of which are near the cabin. As of mid-June, a male Alder Flycatcher has taken up residence in the trees along the drive between the solar array and the generator shed. His wife is hidden on her nest somewhere in those trees, for he does not leave his chosen territory and sings his simple two-note song all day long. I don’t recall ever having a flycatcher nest so near the ranch buildings before. Many years ago there used to be Olive-sided Flycatchers nesting on the ranch, but I’ve not seen nor heard one in a long time. In the fall, when the leaves are gone off the trees, I’ll find the nests of the Alder Flycatchers nestled in the crotch of trees at about waist level. Always they are lined with moose hair.
I’ve also yet to see or hear a Wilson’s Warbler, though I’ve read birder emails that there is a ridiculous amount of Wilson’s to be found up the old Denali highway. I’m tempted to make the trip up there just to see one of my favorite birds in profuse numbers. (The rising cost of gasoline has me staying home, as yet.)
On June fourteenth I went up to the Princess Lodge to attend a talk about Boreal Owls, given by my friend Chris. She had brought along her Education Bird “Fang”, a nine year-old Boreal Owl who had been injured by a vehicle in Anchorage as a first-year bird and sustained permanent damage to his left wing. He now spends his life living and traveling with Chris, educating the public about these small owls. A veteran of public display, he was unimpressed by his adoring audience, and sat quietly on Chris’s glove while she recited all his biological facts. He seemed quite happy to be out of his traveling cage and basking in the afternoon sunlight, his large golden eyes scanning the nearby forest for anything of interest to his once-wild, now semi-dormant instincts. His wild brethren are now raising their broods, which are fast approaching fledgling age. Soon this year’s crop of Boreal owls will be putting a dent in the vole population.
On the drive back from the Lodge, I spotted a moose in Rabbideaux Creek. I pulled over to snap some photos and discovered that it was a bull, with his “Shrek”-like antlers covered in velvet as he stood knee-deep in the creek, submerging his head to pull up tasty greens from the under the water. In all my years of traveling north of Talkeetna and back, that’s the first time I’ve seen a moose in that creek. It was perfect lighting, and of course a painting came to my mind.
With roses, lupine, iris, geraniums, etc. in bloom, and a host of others poised to come into bloom, summer is a riot of colors. A day’s weather can go from showers to bright sun and back again. Sunsets are long and lush, lighting up the trees and clouds with golden light. Birds sing well into the dusky night, and Snipes winnow overhead. Bats flit about on silent wings, grabbing up the ubiquitous mosquitoes. By day the elegant Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly adds a special poetry to the flowers. Hummingbird Moths hover amongst the lilac blooms in the garden and bumble bees buzz their song of summer. Everywhere it’s a feast for the senses. Are you taking note? We humans rush through our summers, cramming it full of things to do before winter looms once again. But don’t let yourself get too busy to observe the wonderful details of the season. Stop and look, each day. Just for a moment or two. Give yourself the gift of observation, just for a little while. All too soon it will change. Take your camera out and snap some memories. Pick a sun-warmed wild rose petal and chew on it. That sweet, delicate flavor is the taste of summer. Savor it, for it will be a long time before you have the chance to do so again. Forgive me for being a bit ‘trite’, but remember the saying: “Each day is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present”.
Summer is Here