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January Gems

As many of you probably know, I am doing an Alaska big year. As the year goes along, I don’t plan to do a detailed report on this ABA blog, I am going to summarize my January birding here to give you a taste of the possibilities of winter birding in Alaska. You can read a detailed daily account on my blog ( and the list itself is on my web site ( Things gave slowed down substantially since January, so I expect that there won’t be much of a February summary.

My plan had been to start the year in Anchorage to get the usual winter birds “out of the way”. That all changed when Rich MacIntosh reported a Common Pochard on Kodiak Island on December 29th. I made last-minute plane reservations immediately. On New Year’s Eve I went to Kodiak, and spent a sleepless night waiting for dawn (a very long wait in Alaska in January) and a possible Pochard. By 10:00, with the help of Rich, I had a Common Pochard on my year list (bird #2; Bald Eagle was bird #1). By the end of January 2nd, my year list was up to 52, and I was a happy birder. Other highlights for me in Kodiak were Emperor Goose and Redhead (often hard to find in AK).

Although for a while it looked like fog would keep me on Kodiak, I was able to fly out to Anchorage on a later flight on January 2nd to begin my originally-planned travel. My January 3rd flight to Juneau, however, was cancelled due to plane problems and weather, so it wasn’t until January 4th that I started my southeastern Alaska trip. The change in plans required some rescheduling and rebooking of things but it all worked out. I spent 2 days in Juneau, 2 in Ketchikan, and 2 more in Juneau, with a side trip to Hoonah from Juneau. Much time in Juneau was spent looking for a reported Western Meadowlark, and finally finding it in the icy rain on my last day there. Prior to that, highlights in Juneau included a very welcome surprise Northern Pygmy-Owl, a Spotted Towhee that had lingered in someone’s yard for a month or so, and a male Anna’s Hummingbird coming to a feeder. Ketchikan highlights included Brandt’s Cormorant found with the help of Steve Heinl, a Pied-billed Grebe swimming in a vanishing open area in a frozen-over lake, a couple of Hooded Mergansers and a flock of wintering Western Grebes. The goal of the short flight to Hoonah was to see a wintering female Brewer’s Blackbird in Amy Courtney’s yard, which was there along with a Rusty Blackbird.

By the end of the southeastern AK trip, my year-list was at 81, and I returned to Anchorage on January 10th. Over the next 7 days in the Anchorage area, with the help of several other birders (e.g., Aaron Bowman), I reached 94 species. Highlights for me were Eurasian Collared-Dove (still a rarity up here), Northern Hawk Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Spruce Grouse and Cedar Waxwing. Gray Jay is widespread in the Anchorage area but it took me a while to get my first one.


On the evening of January 17th, I flew to Homer, arriving just before dusk. Aaron Lang met me and we hastened off to a home there that was hosting a Brambling. The Brambling made a very quick appearance, and darkness fell. The next day Aaron’s yard produced an American Tree Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow. Final highlights in Homer were both a Red-throated and a Yellow-billed Loon.

Between January 19th and the end of the month, I mostly birded in the Anchorage area, and added Boreal Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker (north of Anchorage), Red-winged Blackbird, Northern Goshawk, and Townsend’s Solitaire. Bohemian Waxwings and American Dippers are quite common during most Anchorage winters. By the end of January, I was at 105 species for the year, considerably more than a third of the species that I am likely to get by the end of the year.

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Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber

Lynn Barber started birding at the age of 7. In 2005, she broke the Texas big year record with 522 species, and in 2008, she tallied 723 bird species in the ABA Area. An account of her ABA Big Year, entitled Extreme Birder: One Woman’s Big Year, was published in the spring of 2011. Her second book, Birds in Trouble was published in 2016. While living in North Carolina, Lynn was active in Wake County Audubon and on the board of the Carolina Bird Club. Moving to Texas in 2000, she was active in the Fort Worth Audubon Society, serving as its president for 3 years. She is a life member of the Texas Ornithological Society, and became its president in April 2009. She now lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
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