Alaska: for the Birds and Hancock.

Sparrows, Eagles and Hancock Going North to Alaska:



NOTE April 2, 2010    -- first White-crowned sparrow of season at my feeder as I write - they are on the way north.  I will see them in Alaska  and landing on the Discovery Princess Ship as we cross the Gulf of Alaska.


As I am catching up on the HWF emails  -- I had three meetings yesterday in Vancouver so am behind 250 emails -- I see the season's first White-crowned sparrow at my feeder.  Last year it was April 1 but maybe they were here yesterday and I wasn't.


The visits of the both the White-crowned and Golden-crowned -- which are usually arriving at the same time  -- is really a harbinger of the passerines long migration to Alaska.  That journey is now well underway but will involve lots of 'hold-overs' by many of the species as they wait out local weather conditions.  By my start on the season's lectures onboard the Discovery Princess,  May 15 from Whittier Alaska,

 the migration will be waning. However on the nights our ship traverses the Gulf of Alaska, sometime 50 to 100 miles off shore,  we will wake up in the morning to find the deck lined with both of these species -- sometimes by the hundreds.


Also joining us during the night will be a peregrine falcon or two. They know that we will getting these night migrannts.  And just like the cruise passengers who are drawn to our 24 hour buffets, the peregrines know they will have easy pickins!  With the ship activity the small passerines will head for the north Gulf coast, the looming Chugash Range which is visible to the north.  But for the peregrines the narrowest gap of 15 to 20 miles offers no protection for the small migrating birds.  The buffet dinner is assured. 

Many times the peregrines bring back the catch to pluck and eat it on the masts for all the passengers to witness. On one occasion I saw the peregrine carry a common puffin up to the upper mast.  A hundred passengers competed on the deck for the steady flow of plucked feathers that drifted downward -- in interesting souvenir from Alaska!

Life is a continuing -- for most. 

The past week has still seem most of our great gatherings of shorebirds and waterfowl start to depart -- again largely going north to the 'melting lakes' and the opening of the arctic tundra.  The wintering raptors have largely been replaced by the nesting bald eagles, red-tails, cooper hawks and merlins.

We have made the dramatic shift from a wintering oasis where hundreds of thousands of birds congregate to the more restricted and dispersed populations of nesting birds. 

Here at home the Canada geese
did their well timed arrival and arrived February 14. Again the two pairs arrived with all the 7 young they had departed with late last summer. No winter mortality!  After about 10 days Dad, the protector, gave the word the kids were to depart and he started  what appears to be a dramatic lesson.  He attacks them mercilessly until they leave.  Then the action shifts to which of our annual two pairs takes possession of our two ponds.  This year last year's dominant pair on the upper pond was displaced to the lower pond.

Last year was rather interesting as both females layed in the same nest with only one pair rearing the 8 eggs and goslings.  The other pair, old 'white-ring' (the male has a white ring on his neck), disappeared to the middle and lower ponds and within a month left.  This year, after last year's parents arrived and drove off their 7 offspring (#8 is another story - he could not fly and leave) then the "white-neck" pair, who were on the lower pond, came to the upper pond and displaced the territory holders in a series of great fights. 

Today Mrs. White-ring sits on her eggs on the 'greenhouse barn' roof nest while old White-ring gander keeps each visiting Canada pair fully aware of who owns our upper pond.  I believe the displaced pair, who come daily to the middle pond will nest in that vicinity.

Our pinioned woodducks and mandarins are now in and out of the nest boxes and we get nightly visits by both wild woodducks and mandarins who will also nest in the high nest boxes we keep available in the surrounding trees.  Mallards of course are everywhere -- from our open fenced lakes to all the regions' road-side ditches.  Last night when coming home in the dark I saw a road-kill, turned around to get it to find a dead green-winged teal -- well squashed.  I of course always try and remove such road-kills so that we don't get a second road-killed predator scavenging the remains.  Last week I picked up a dead adult bald eagle on the highway -- probably killed scavenging a kill.

NOTE:  on my 2010 Alaskan trips on the Diamond Princess I will be aboard as the naturalist / biologist again this year from May 15 thru  June 19 and again July 31 thru  Aug 14.  I know many of you are already planning to join us and I look forward to you saying hello.  We do not have any special HWF tours but I will be pleased to give any of our followers personal tips on what to see -- and how to do it economically!  And perhaps we can get together for some private talks -- over and above the lectures I give on the ship.  I choose this Vancouver to Whittier trip because of the towns and places visited.  I also recommend, if you don't have a lot of time etc. for a lot of Alaskan northern pre or post tour travelling, that you do the up-and-down on the same ship.  These two week tours give so much more opportunity to both see more and to take advantage of what you missed in the one direction to pick it up on the return.  Most of my friends are doing this two week return  -- you will enjoy it.


The cabins are reserved based on double occupancy.  If someone is wanting to do the cruise but needs a cabinmate, Karen may be able to help you connect with another potential passenger.    Princess Cruises does not have this service.  Contact Karen at


David Hancock

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