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Brooks Falls Birding

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

7/11/2023


Earlier this month, we made a return trip to Alaska. It was a make-up trip of sorts. Back in 2021, we were supposed to visit Brooks Falls as part of our trip to see the Denali and Seward areas. Unfortunately, that portion of the trip was cancelled due to bad weather. Our flight from Anchorage could not make it out to Katmai. Fast-forward a couple of years, and we actually managed to win the lottery to stay at the lodge at Brooks Falls for three nights.


Now, I know that Brooks Falls is known for its bears, but I am a birder at heart. Every walk to and from the falls (and there were a lot), I was scouting for birds. There was not a lot of variety up there. The quality is pretty good, though. The hike out to the falls is a little over a mile in length. To get there, you cross a long bridge that spans a wetland area and is bordered by shrubby willows. After crossing the bridge, the road leads into a spruce forest. After turning off the road and walking onto the trail, you come across a small area that opens up. This area was part of a mitigation burn a number of years ago. This was one of the best areas along the trail. Finally, the trail ended at the observation decks that overlooked the Brooks Falls and River.


I ended the trip out there with 31 species. The highlights were seeing a family of American Three-Toed Woodpecker and a family of Boreal Chickadee. The woodpeckers were feeding in the mitigation burn area; just like you would expect. The spruce and the lighting made shots tough. I had really high hopes of some great Boreal Chickadee shots. They had just moved low and onto some open branches. Then the rangers drove through.... Running across one the rangers later, they actually had the nerve to ask what I was shooting when they drove between me and the birds. I guess stopping for a minute was out of the question.


Of the regular species, here is quick breakdown of what I saw. There were lots of warblers in the area, and they were all highly pish responsive. While they came in close, they did not slow down for anything. Everything was moving at top speed and collecting bugs as fast as possible. There were plenty of bugs, too. Species included Orange-crowned, Wilson's, Yellow-rumped, Blackpoll, and Yellow. Warblers were picking caterpillars out of the willows at will. With as many mosquitoes in the area (and I have never been anywhere with more) as there was, I would have expected a lot of swallows. We had a decent number of Tree Swallows our first day, but they disappeared after that. Sparrows were plentiful. The only species of note was a single Golden-crowned feeding near the cabins as we had lunch one day. Although I was captivated by the beautiful song of a Fox Sparrow one day. Other species included Savannah, Song, White-crowned, and Dark-eyed Junco. Shorebirds were limited to Lesser Yellowlegs and some Spotted Sandpipers. Surprisingly, there were a couple of Harlequin Ducks at the falls one morning. A single female Mallard was seen a couple of times. Common Merganser were prolific. While I know that they share duckling sitting duties and will adopt orphaned young, it is still hilarious to see a female merganser with 20+ young following behind her. I was shocked to find a couple Osprey feeding in the wetlands and even more shocked at the almost complete absence of Bald Eagles. I had two. Gulls were plentiful on the river. Glaucous-winged Gull dominated, but there were a few of the recently renamed Short-billed Gulls about, too. About the only other birds of note were the Black-billed Magpie. They were plentiful and even somewhat cooperative at times. While there were Canada Jay about, they were never close. American Crow, American Robin, Swainson's Thrush, Brown Creeper, Black-capped Chickadee, and a surprise Belted Kingfisher round out the list.



Next up, bears! Three nights at the lodge lead to plenty of opportunities to see bears.


Thanks for reading,

Mike



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