One of the most heavily birded spots in Anchorage, Potter Marsh is a place I love because it’s always a surprise. The marsh exists because construction of the Alaska Railroad in 1917 dammed a large estuary. The outside of the train tracks remains saltwater wetlands and mudflats that support nesting Sandhill Cranes, migrating spring Snow Geese, Whimbrel, and Surfbirds.
Inside the tracks, two miles of freshwater marsh provide a summertime breeding explosion of Arctic Terns, Mew Gulls, Red-necked Grebes, Canada Geese, and a pair of Horned Grebes that nests annually between the highway and the railroad tracks.
The shallower north end is a haven for dabbling ducks, and features a 1,550-foot boardwalk that ends beneath a Bald Eagle nest. The deeper southern end is home to diving ducks, and it’s where flocks of migrating Trumpeter and Tundra Swans stop over. The wooded bluffs at the back of the wetlands are a mecca for warblers and flycatchers. And every birder’s heart races when the Harlan’s Hawks, goshawks, Merlins, harriers, and the occasional Osprey or Short-eared Owl show up. — Mr. Whitekeys
Flat. Very short paved path from the parking lot to the boardwalk. Wheelchair-accessible.
At least 130 species. Breeding: dabbling and diving ducks, Arctic Tern, Yellow, Wilson’s, Yellow-rumped, and Orange-crowned Warblers, Northern Waterthrush, Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin, Rusty Blackbird, Short-billed Dowitcher, both yellowlegs, Wilson’s Snipe, Red-necked Phalarope, Swainson’s and Hermit Thrush, and Belted Kingfisher. Clouds of Tree and Violet-green Swallows. Savannah, Lincoln’s, Fox, Song, White-crowned, and Golden-crowned Sparrows. Rarities: Say’s Phoebe, Aleutian Goose, Cinnamon Teal, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Common Yellowthroat, Ruff, Pied-billed Grebe, and Alaska’s first Swamp Sparrow record.
When to go
April to September. Activity peaks with migrating shorebirds in early to mid-May. Mornings best.
Free Saturday morning bird walks hosted by Anchorage Audubon and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from May through July.
Part of state-owned Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. No entry or parking fees. Summer hours: 24/7. Fall and spring: daylight hours only. Winter hours variable.
Bring warm layers and rain gear. A scope is helpful. Traffic at Potter Marsh can be extremely hazardous. No parking or stopping is allowed on the New Seward Hwy. Two pull-outs on the highway side of the marsh should be entered only from the northbound lanes.