By: Henry Stevens
I spent a week in Alaska this August where I was lucky enough to stay with my lovely extended family. I’m an avid birder from the east coast, so before I continue I must concede that visiting my family wasn’t the only reason I ventured over to Alaska – I came hungry for new birds.
Avery, my cousin, took me all over the place during my stay, but we had an especially awesome evening/morning at Manitoba cabin.
After a long pelagic cruise in Resurrection Bay, we dropped our stuff off in the cabin and fired up the sauna – I’m still ecstatic about that wonderful decision. I went to bed relaxed, exhausted, peaceful, and with exceptionally clean pores. But what dominated my mind was the countless avian possibilities that I might encounter the following morning.
I woke up early that next morning unaware that my life would soon change forever.
I stepped outside, absorbing the fresh, brisk Alaskan air. With just myself, my clothes and my trusty pair of binoculars, I began my ascent up Little Manitoba. The walk provided all sorts of opportunities for viewing the breathtaking Alaskan countryside still I found myself dissatisfied. Where were the birds? I continued up higher and higher, viewing the occasional Boreal Chickadee here and there. Spruce forest turned to willow and alder thickets which faded into tall shrubs and then high grassland. Birds were scarce, and I was demoralized—until I actually looked at the view. Photographers can try all they want to capture the spectacular natural settings of Alaska, but they will never do it justice.
Alaska on a beautiful day in early fall is a sensory overload—healthy trees paint a collage of vibrant greens and crisp yellows, snow-capped mountains poke their peaks into the clouds, and wildlife gorge themselves with berries, leaves and seeds.
Since I could not bushwhack any further up Little Manitoba, I opted to begin my descent down the mountain. The view was great, but my birding hopes had faded. I moped along, disregarding any attempt to walk quietly and listen for avian activity. Then, a bird shot through the shrubs and landed down the path. Without hesitation I got my binoculars on the bird and discovered I was viewing a handsome young American Pipit. Stopping to listen, I heard three more of the pipits in the nearby bushes, clearly warning their exposed friends about my presence. I silently thanked the pipits for improving my morning, and proceeded down the route, only to be stopped a minute later by a mixed flock of migrating warblers. I struggled to keep tabs on all of them as they bounced from limb to limb, barely waiting two seconds before venturing on to the next stop of their wild roller coaster ride. Within a couple minutes, I had seen four species of warbler plus a bonus Fox Sparrow!
With that I assumed I had depleted my luck—then I entered the spruce forest and heard two adult Northern Goshawks calling to each other. I looked up to see if one of them might fly over, and my efforts were rewarded by a juvenile goshawk that soared over me—most likely speeding towards an angry mother. The birds were out now. New vocalizations filled my ears, and the slow path suddenly turned into a bustling freeway. A Spruce Grouse walked right onto the path in front of me and paused there, awarding me the best looks of a grouse I think I will ever see. Two more minutes of walking, and a pair of White-winged Crossbills investigated my presence, simultaneously extracting the seeds from pine cones. At this point, new birds were appearing before I could even think about what I hadn’t seen yet. I almost fainted when a pair of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches stopped on a branch literally within arms reach of me before hopping along to their next checkpoint.
I was so happy that I practically felt the dopamine gushing out of my ears.
It was overwhelming. In fact, it was so overwhelming that I plopped down in the middle of the trail in an attempt to grasp what was happening around me. Was this all real?
After slapping myself in the face a couple times, I determined (with great relief) that all these birds were indeed real and not products of hallucination. The bird bonanza didn’t slow down, and I probably looked like an absolute doofus because I was smiling so much—but, Avery and I were set to leave. So, I sprinted back to the cabin and left Manitoba Cabin feeling absolutely divine.
I'll never forget the weekend I experienced such an avian treat and my lovely experience at Manitoba Cabin. Thanks Alaska Huts!
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