Potter's Marsh, Anchorage

May 24, 2001

Looking back from the boardwalk to the mountains
With only one day between landing in Anchorage and leaving for Nome (and with an unfinished report for a client on my laptop), there wasn't much time for birding! But we managed to get out to Potter's Marsh, a favorite birding location on the outskirts of Anchorage. This freshwater marsh regularly hosts large numbers of migrant and nesting grebes, geese, dabbling and diving ducks, shorebirds, gulls, swallows, sparrows and blackbirds. The marsh is located about 10 miles south of Anchorage on the (new) Seward Highway.
There are three primary locations for viewing the marsh. I would recommend that they be visited in the following order if you intend to return to Anchorage after visiting the Marsh (to avoid circling around and retracing your tracks on the divided highway adjacent to the marsh). First, drive out of Anchorage, and ignore the sign indicating the widlife viewing/Potter's Marsh parking area. Continue along past the marsh until you reach Potter's River (Valley??) Road, at the far southern end of the marsh. Pull to the left immediately after leaving the highway into a parking area at the far southern end of the marsh. After you've spotted your fill of birds, return to the highway, turning right (back towards Anchorage) and continue slowly down the highway until you  Nesting Mew Gulls
Nesting Mew Gulls
see a pull-out about a third of the way down the marsh (it's at a lower level than the highway, and if you are travelling at any speed, before you know it - you're past it). Pull off the highway and scope some more. You can walk along the shoulder for the full length of the marsh but don't try any drive-by birding... the highway patrol is on the alert for careless birders who merely pull to the side of highway when they spot a new bird. The shoulders are narrow and you become a hazard!

Finally, return to the highway and proceed to the actual advertized parking area at the far northern end of the marsh. There is a long boardwalk (shown in the title photo for this page) leading out across Rabbit Creek (a good spot for salmon migration viewing in the late summer), and following along beside the highway. This end of the marsh is much shallower than the southern end and so primarily dabbling ducks and shorebirds are seen here.

If you are heading for Homer or Seward, rather than Anchorage, when you leave the parking lot, turn right (towards Anchorage) but take the Rabbit Creek/Old Seward Highway turnoff, and turn to the right onto that road. The Old Seward Highway provides limited viewing access along the east side of the southern portion of the marsh, but there are no pull-outs on this relatively quiet highway. If you can pull a little off the road, you can walk down to the eastern marsh area. This "back road" also runs along the base of a heavily wooded bluff bordering  the marsh and is very good for migrant and nesting flycatchers, waxwings, shrikes, warblers and thrushes.

Please do not feed the birds!
Please Do Not Feed the Birds!
The roadside pull-out is great for close-up views of nesting Mew Gulls and Arctic Terns. The "Please do not Feed the Birds" sign was full of bullet holes, like most highway signs in Alaska. Being fed something inappropriate is clearly not the only thing that the birds have to worry about! A quick trip in the rain around the seaplane base at Lake Spenard and Lake Hood (through some very confusing airport access road construction), and an even quicker stop at Westchester Lagoon ended our birding for the day. Our plane for Nome left at 6:40 a.m. the next morning, so a good night's sleep was in order!
On to Nome...