Sunday, June 21st: As usual, we had breakfast at 6, this time at the hotel. At breakfast, we heard Black-capped Chickadee. I saw a couple of them a bit later in front of the hotel, just after taking my luggage outside. We also saw them later in the day.
We crossed Anchorage and headed up and around the Knik Arm, then up the highway through Wasilla and other towns. Somewhere in there we found 2 (Harlan's) Red-tailed Hawks. We continued north on the George Parks Highway. There was an 8-mile stretch from about MM 71-79 where we had to follow a pilot car due to the Sockeye Fire. Once we got past it, we did some birding on a couple of side roads. We quickly found some immature Gray Jays. We also got some species that I'd seen on my own last week, but that the group had not encountered. These included Myrtle Warbler, Swainson's Thrush, and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. We also started seeing Red Squirrels, which continued throughout the day.
Further up the road, Barry mentioned that he'd previously seen Spruce Grouse in this area. Soon after that we passed a roadkilled bird. Barry thought it might be a grouse, so we turned around and went back to examine it. It was a baby Spruce Grouse. He decide to chcck whether it had been recently killed, and found it was still quite warm. By then we were all out of the van. Barry started playing the Spurce Grouse call and picked a spot to start looking in the woods. Almost immediately he spotted the female Spruce Grouse. I was next to arrive there, and a baby Spruce Grouse flew up in a tree (a second one flew up and out of sight when the next person arrived). We all had good looks at the mother and one chick before we left.
We ate lunch at Mary's McKinley Lodge. The family that owns it has been there since before there was a national park here. I heard a single song from a Pine Grosbeak, but didn't realize that's what it was until later. It had been cloudy all day but it cleared enough as we ate lunch to get a view of the mountain before we left.
We continued up the Parks Highway to its intersection with the Denali Highway, then headed east on the Denali Highway. We spotted a pair of Trumpeter Swans with a nest. Further on, we heard Pine Grosbeak, at which point I realized I'd heard one at Mary's McKinley Lodge. A couple of stops later, we found 2 Boreal Chickadees. We were admiring them when out prime target bird suddenly flew in and perched on top a spruce—Northern Hawk Owl. I ran back to the van to get my camera, and had time for only two shots before it flew. Fortunately, one of them was a good one! The bird perched again on the south side of the road, but much further away and in bad light. Scope views were ok, but it wasn't worth trying to get more photos because of hte light. It soon came under harassment by some Gray Jass and a chickadee, and eventually moved on.
The Hawk Owl was the main bird we had left to find in the Denali area, so we turned around and headed to Denali Park Village and our hotel for the next two nights. For once, we will get a decent night's sleep, something we were too busy for in Nome.
I ended the day with 39 species of bird, including 1 lifer. This brought by trip total to 138 species of bird including 4 lifers. No new mammals means the mammal count stands at 11.
The Lodge at Denali Park Village