Powderhron Birdwatch: Alaska adventure eclipsed by home sweet home Powderhorn

Willow PtarmiganBY JOHN KARRIGAN

I was gone most of the month of August and very little of the time was spent incarcerated. Mostly I was in Alaska with some time in the Seattle area.
Back home in Powderhorn, I see that the lake water is still quite high and the grass and garden plants are still going quite crazy. There are lots of Canada Geese on the grass and water, sometimes over 100 of them, a fair amount of ducks and one Great Blue Heron.
My big (or little) park discovery was Goldfinches. For years, there have been many Goldfinches in the trees and growth around the southwest end of the lake throughout the year. This year I saw none in the park until late August. All year there have been many Goldfinches and the other usuals in the back yard.
Monarch butterflies still seem to be OK in the park and yard, not completely gone as some experts were saying might happen this year.
But the muskrats still seem to be totally gone. I recently ran across the gentleman with his smart muskrat-watching dog and none of the three of us has seen muskrats in the park this summer.
Now to my great segue to my long journey. Early in the trip, I met a nice group of three people from the Red Wing (Minnesota) area. Somehow we got into a nature discussion of birds back in Minnesota this year and the gentleman of the group brought up the almost complete lack of migrating warblers in his area this spring, which was something I brought up and wrote about a couple of months ago.
Back to Alaska, or “North to Alaska” as the late Johnny Horton sang in a 1960 hit song.
If I had gone to Alaska when I was around 20 years old, I might have stayed for a while. Instead I went to another “A” state, Arizona, and stayed there for a while. Now I have been to all four “A” states. I think they are all fairly odd and I am much better off in the Powderhorn neighborhood of an “M” state.
Anyway, I did find a few Minnesota type birds:  Loons, Canada Geese, Yellow Warblers and Northern Waterthrushes. The Waterthrushes (members of the warbler family) can be found rarely near the Mississippi River in southern Minnesota or near Denali, the highest mountain in North America. There are no Crows in Alaska, but lots of Ravens. And I saw lots of Grizzly Bears, Moose, Caribou, Dall Sheep and one Wolf.
One of the stops provided the opportunity for a short nature walk in the Tongass National Forest, the largest rain forest in North America.  And, contrary to most people who travel to Alaska, we were fortunate to catch a complete view of Mt. McKinley (or Denali, as our President plans to rename it) rather than have the top hidden by clouds.
Back to birds. I saw several of the state bird of Alaska, the Willow Ptarmigan, a member of the Grouse family found in the tundra and on the tree line; and a new favorite for me, the Puffin. There are two types of Puffins:  the Tufted and the Horned. They are cute, small duck-sized sea birds. They have a special value—promoting non-smoking in Alaska:  Signs with a red diagonal line through a circle super-imposed over the cute Puffin. No puffin’. Get it?
On the way back to wonderful Powderhorn, in the Seattle area, I visited one of the relatives that does admit to being related to me.  The Washington-Oregon area has and still is having serious forest fires, and Alaska also had many fires just before we got there.  One day in Seattle, we made a special trip to view Mt. Rainier, and although earlier reports indicated it was in full view, the winds changed before we got there hiding that mountain from view due to forest fire smoke.  Two days later, as the plane took off from the airport, it was in full view.
Hopefully all the natural disasters in North American and human disasters in many other parts of the world will come under control.  I know this has nothing to do with birds.

Comments and observations are always welcome. Send them to me, in care of Southside Pride. Thank you.

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