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Alaska 2004

Part 6:  Denali

Skipped breakfast the next morning, and as we took off for the Denali Highway (under overcast skies and a drizzling rain; Kevin told us about a cartoon weather map of Alaska that basically said "crappy" at every city--and that was the cleaned-up version) we ended up stopping at a gas station and I got "breakfast" there. We basically birded the roads all day and stopped at several lakes to pick up special birds: a Common Loon on Little Montana Lake made it a loon sweep for the trip! We also had our first Red-tailed Hawk of the trip which up here is the Harlan's flavor (both light and dark morphs, the former which is pretty rare). At another lake we stopped for a kingfisher, and Kevin heard an Alder Flycatcher, so we were able to call him in with little trouble.

               

Left:  Little Montana Lake.  Center and right:  Alder Flycatchers

Another lake had nesting Trumpeter Swans, plus Ring-necked Duck for the trip. We pulled into a rest stop to "troll" for shrikes (a nest was supposedly there), but most of us headed to the potties. A caterwauling next to the ladies' room sent Marshall barreling towards us, but it turned out to be a baby Gray Jay begging for food…

           

Left:  Another lake along the road.  Right:  Red-necked Grebe on the nest

We stopped for lunch at a quaint little café where, on a clear day, you could see Mt. McKinley, but not today! (We asked about the discrepancy in the names, and Kevin thought that they kept McKinley because it was too much trouble to change all the maps…)  As we got closer to Denali and actually started entering state park lands, we scoped several ponds and picked up several ducks; the only new bird was a Bufflehead. On the Denali Highway itself (which is a 100+ mile dirt road running front Cantwell to Paxson), we could go slow and stop a lot as the traffic was minimal; we couldn't kick up Hawk Owl, Northern Shrike, or Arctic Warbler, but we did have another nice Boreal Chickadee and a Merlin beating feet (or wings). Marshall caught a pair of Bohemian Waxwings shooting over the van, but we missed it (we were praised on our response time getting out of the van, though…)

   

We follow Kevin's van into the heart of the Denali area

  

  

Stopping along a roadside lake to look for ducks

   

Left:  Birding the Denali Highway, a 100+ mile dirt road.  Right:  Typical boggy-tundra/spruce habitat

   

More scenes...

   

Kinda quiet, so we follow Kevin back to the lodge...

After that we headed to the lodge and checked in, and I touched base with my friend Liz Hutson (who drives a tour bus at Denali), who gave me some great tips about what to look for where along the shuttle bus route: she had had a Hawk Owl just past the Sanctuary River, and also told us that the campground at Teklanika River (I think it was) was a good place to try for Arctic Warbler. We then had another marvelous meal, then crashed.

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