Sunday, January 6, 2018 Red-breasted Sapsucker!

Seward, Alaska

Due to concerns about marauding black bears, the responsible homeowner did not put up the birdfeeders and suet feeders until recently. To his amazement, a male RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER materialized and clung for life to the suet feeder in the cold.

Where does this bird (or species) go when we are not able to see it? 

The Hooded Merganser(s), Killdeer, and Red-breasted Sapsucker are all unusual, out-of-range species that should not be here yet magically appear winter after winter.  

Tough birds, all!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, January 5, 2019 dead Albatross!

Seward, Alaska

Sharp-eyed Tasha spotted a dead, large, dark bird floating in a small life raft loosely tied at the end of E dock in the Seward Harbor. She reported it to me shortly before noon, and notified the harbor staff on her way to a noon meeting.

I was unable to respond until 1:38 pm; it was still there. What a sad sight! The bird floated on its back with no sign of the head. Its exposed breast was frosted white; the underwater wings looked long and black. The net basket encrusted with mussels and seaweed indicated that this orange raft had been at sea for a long time.

I knelt down and with a big heave-ho, grabbed the bird by one soggy wing and landed the dripping carcass on the icy concrete dock. Huge, heavy bird! The long, narrow dark wings unfolded. I got a look at its long, pale bill and black feet. It had to be an ALBATROSS!

How in the world did this phenomenal pelagic Albatross get trapped in the netting to die in the raft? The extensive damage to its neck and head spoke of entanglement, struggle, and perhaps abrasion after death. Perhaps it landed on the abandoned raft out in the Gulf of Alaska, tried to grab a fish through the netting, got its head stuck, and flipped over into the raft while trying to escape. The long-winged bird did not have a chance. What a tragedy!

To verify the ID, I used the COASST Field Guide to Alaska Beached Birds. Three webbed toes, foot huge: Tubenoses > Albatrosses. The Short-tailed Alabatross, Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses all have a hooked bill, huge body, long, narrow wings. Allegedly they all smell like WD-40, but this one’s foul odor could have killed a snake. 

Plumage aside, the measurements immediately ruled out the Short-tailed as too large. However, the numbers were in range for both species: bill 115 mm (slightly longer and out of range for both), wing chord 50 cm, tarsus length 99 cm.

Unfortunately, details about the plumage on the head were not available. But the mostly dusky brown plumage, dark breast, dark underwing linings, and black feet pointed to BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Alaska Seabird Information Series, though the Black-footed Albatross primarily nests in the NW Hawaiian Islands, it forages in Alaskan waters in the summer months. Non-breeders may remain in Alaska throughout the year and breeding birds may also journey to Alaska to find food for their young, a more than 5000-mile round trip!

According to the All About Birds website, the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan estimates a population of 148,000 breeding Black-footed Albatrosses in North America. It is listed as a species of highest concern. Risks include fishing practices including unmodified long-line fisheries, drift nets, and bycatch, sea-level rise, storm surges, and oil pollution of marine waters. Add ingestion of plastics. Add an abandoned life raft with a deadly webbing basket.

As of yesterday, the raft was still there. It’s past time to get that innocent-looking killer out of the water and deactivated.

Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, January 2, 2019 eight more species!

Seward, Alaska

A thin, waning, fingernail moon smiled like a sideways Cheshire cat in a completely clear sky before dawn. As if in apology for yesterday’s stormy tantrum, today was delightfully sunny, calm and warm with a high of 41º and spectacular scenery. What a stunning change!

With ease and a bit of patience, I found seven species that were nowhere to be seen in yesterday’s storm: KILLDEER, the lone LONG-TAILED DUCK male, five GREAT BLUE HERONS, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES, 2 RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, 2 male HAIRY WOODPECKERS, and 6 PINE GROSBEAKS.

Thanks to a tip from John M, a napping juvenile PIED-BILLED GREBE joined my new year’s list for a total of 35 species.

The forecast for the rest of the week is partly cloudy/sunny, temperatures falling into the teens accompanied by northerly wind, and a chance of snow. Regardless of the weather or repeat species, my spirit will be buoyed by beautiful, resilient birds.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

January 1, 2019 New Year’s Day Birding
Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 10:02 am, sunset 4:01 pm for a total daylength of 5 hours and 59 minutes. Tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 0 seconds longer. 

2018 rolled away with a grumble of winter thunder and hard rain; the New Year added 25 mph south wind with gusts 40 to 52 mph, crashing surf, and pelting rain. At least it wasn’t cold with a low of 35 and a high of 43º. Incredibly, the forecast is for gradual clearing tomorrow, sunny for Thursday and Friday as the wind shifts back to the north and the temp drops into the 20s.

As required by arbitrary tradition, I headed out into the gloom to see what I could see. Visibility was limited but thanks to the slapping windshield wipers, noisy defroster, and parking strategically to keep the rain and wind out of the open window, car birding was actually pretty fun.

First bird was a RAVEN, croaking as it flew fearlessly into the blasts, fueled by nature’s raw energy. The Lagoon, mostly frozen in the middle, hosted a few BUFFLEHEAD females and a COMMON GOLDENEYE hen on the south end. A BELTED KINGFISHER perched in an overhanging tree, patiently watching for breakfast. ROCK PIGEONS sailed overhead in a tight flock heading to a neighborhood feeder.

At the north end, an adult BALD EAGLE dropped from the sky, displacing several resting COMMON MERGANSERS and MALLARDS, then landed on the shore. To my surprise, the ducks nonchalantly paddled around the giant predator, just out of beak’s reach. Do they know when they are not on the menu? A BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE flew overhead, just checking.

No Dipper. No Hooded Merganser. No Trumpeter Swans. No river otters. One can hope to conjure them up!

Next, I headed to the ice-free harbor to look for the Pied-billed Grebe from several but limited viewing spots. Instead I found more Common Mergansers with a few RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS in their midst, paddling about and diving. More Common Goldeneyes, and BARROW’S GOLDENEYES. Even the harbor had waves. Several harbor seals lounged at the surface then lazily submerged, unperturbed by the weather.

A flock of MEW GULLS cried excitedly and dove crazily in the wave crests surging into cruise ship dock. Peering hard through the rain-blurred window, I could not tell what they were feeding on.

Back at the waterfront, I found the usual gang of NORTHWESTERN CROWS and gulls including the GLAUCOUS GULL, two THAYER’S GULLS, GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, and a gull missing its entire tail. There is a story! It seemed to balance and fly well enough despite the loss.

A SONG SPARROW hopped among the rocks, as dark as the surf-splashed beach. 

Just offshore, PELAGIC CORMORANTS, a small flock of SURF SCOTERS, a single HORNED GREBE, and more Goldeneyes and Mergansers rode the waves. Scanning the sky, I found a single BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE adult flying into the wind. Where was it during the Christmas Bird Count?

No male Long-tailed Duck or Pacific Loons, seen just recently.


No Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, Tree Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Pine Siskins, or Hairy Woodpecker, not even a Red-breasted Nuthatch!

I glassed Afognak Beach, looking for the Killdeer, as long as I could stand being buffeted by the wind and stung by the rain. No luck. A red squirrel scolded. Moose droppings decorated the trail.

At the wetlands, I found five TRUMPETER SWANS including two cygnets, hunkered down against the wind and rain. In the distance I spotted two more adults. The six cygnets, if they were with the adults would have been difficult to see in the dim light, but I hope they were OK. Tough weather!

Just after sunset around 4:20, I drove along the Waterfront. Two sea otters rocked in their sea cradle, eating. A pod of about 15 Steller’s sea lions surfaced to breathe and look around, all piled together like puppies.

For my last bird species, I finally located a small flock of HARLEQUIN DUCKS bobbing in the waves. 

All tallied, I found 27 species for the first day of the new year, despite the challenging conditions. A good start with the hope of many more to come.

Wishing you all a very happy, birdy, New Year!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, December 27, 2018 dead Bald Eagle

Seward, Alaska

I received a very sad report just before noon today about a dead adult BALD EAGLE found near the waterfront just south of the Scheffler Creek bridge. When I arrived, I found the magnificent Eagle lying on her back on a snow bank next to the icy pavement, her head twisted at an awkward angle with an obvious impact mark on her breast feathers.

A short distance away were the treacherous power lines that she did not see on this gray, overcast day as she flew powerfully towards her goal. Just as people smack into invisible glass doors at walking speed and are knocked back unconscious, I believe she hit those invisible lines, was thrown backwards and off balance, and fell to the hard ground where she broke her beautiful neck.

I gently lifted her enormous wing to see her head. The fierce pale yellow eye glared blindly, so fresh and still commanding. Her massive beak would never again open, her wild voice never again echoing off the mountainside. Her huge, impressive, scaly golden claws tipped with sharp black talons remained tightly clenched as in flight, never again to stretch out to snatch a fish out of the bay.

Nearby in a small cottonwood tree, a juvenile Bald Eagle and a male adult Bald Eagle perched quietly, possibly wondering why mom lay so still and did not join them. That was particularly heart-wrenching.

I guarded the fallen Eagle from disturbance until the City Electric staff showed up. Whenever there is a chance that a federally protected bird has been injured or killed by power lines, the electric department is supposed to document the scene, the illegal “take”, and submit a lengthy report to US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Alaska Sealife Center is on call to respond to such incidents and is permitted take possession of the bird for examination and a further report. I was not able to stay until they arrived and have not yet received any updates.

In the unfortunate event that you discover a dead Eagle, Swan, or other federally protected bird, leave it in place. Call the Seward Police Dispatch at 907-224-3338. They should then contact the City Electric Department if power lines are a suspected cause, and the Alaska Sealife Center at 888-774-7325. If you can, wait for the officials to arrive, to protect the bird and provide information. Take photos for documentation in case they are needed.

The only positive consequence of this tragic death would be the installation of bird deflectors on these power lines to help prevent future collisions. I am hopeful that the city electric department will be able to do this soon.

Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

2018 Seward Christmas Bird Count Results

Seward, Alaska

Short version: 56 Count Day species, 5 Count Week species, for a total of 61 species, with 1984 birds in all. 

Long version: 
December 22, 2018 Seward CBC
The sun leisurely rose at 10:01 am, and set at 3:52 pm for a total daylight of 5 hours and 51 minutes. The temperature rose from the low 20s in the days just prior to the CBC to a high of 43º. The day was mostly calm with a 10-mph north wind by afternoon, and occasional light rain/snow showers except on the Lost Lake Trail route where the skiers encountered heavy snowfall on top of 72" of snow. 

One of the highest tides of the year, 13.1’ at 12:21 pm, enabled the boat crew to count close to shore, but hindered beach access for several other field counters, and eliminated intertidal bird habitat. Snow also hindered access due to unplowed peripheral roads, pullouts, and parking lots, and the depth up to 30” made it difficult for those without skis or snowshoes. A few routes were not covered.

Most feeder watchers, with the exception of Ava’s Place, reported few or no birds, not only for the CBC, but for the winter so far. Irruptive species including Common Redpolls, White-winged Crossbills, and Red Crossbills were absent. Pine Siskins just started to show up to feed on alder seeds and on sunflower seeds at some feeders. Normally common or regular winter birds, such as Pine Grosbeaks (3), Red-breasted Nuthatches (20), Black-capped Chickadees (34), Steller’s Jays (10), and Dark-eyed Juncos (38) were notably low in numbers.

Overall, it seemed the seabird numbers were much lower than normal. Regular bay surveys by the Alaska Sealife Center may substantiate the low Count numbers. No Yellow-billed Loons, an international species of concern, were counted, and only 3 Common Loons and 3 Pacific Loons were counted.

The highlights included a first for Seward CBC, a rare Pied-billed Grebe, a continuing bird first reported on November 28 in the boat harbor. I am amazed the juvenile grebe stayed in the harbor throughout the Nordic Viking sinking and subsequent salvage commotion which ended during Count Week with the removal of the vessel.

A male Killdeer popped up to be counted, for the fifth time. A ghostly white male Short-eared Owl wafted in for Count Week, only the third time. Ten Trumpeter Swans graced the Count: 2 adults plus the resident swan family with six, seven-month old cygnets, one swan fewer than last year, and for the sixth time.

A female Hooded Merganser carried on the tradition for the 19th time, as did seven secretive Great Blue Herons for the 26th time.

A surprise was four Green-winged Teal that had not been seen prior to Count Day, and a handsome Glaucous Gull that materialized for Count Week with several Thayer’s Gulls. Robins (6), and Snow Buntings (12) disappeared on Count Day.

Several other species squeaked into the Count with only one individual: Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck, Red-necked Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Dunlin, Northern Shrike, and Pacific Wren. The Barrow’s Goldeneye with 278 had the highest count, though far below normal numbers (480 in 2016). Twelve Rock Sandpipers joined the Dunlin and Killdeer for three sandpiper species.

The biggest surprise was a Black Bear wandering down a path by the schools, spotted by an intrepid handcycler. She turned around and sped off without incident. (Whew!) The informal mammal count included 15 harbor seals, 10 sea otters, 14 Steller sea lions, 3 river otters (in the bay), 7 scolding red squirrels, and one Count Week moose.

Many thanks to the 20 field counters and 7 feeder watchers who volunteered many hours and effort to look for birds and keep track of statistics for this citizen science effort. Thanks to Resurrect Art Coffee House & Art Gallery for graciously hosting the birders before and after the Count. Special thanks to Captain Mike Brittain who once again donated the M/V Dora, the fuel, and his time to safely transport the boat team around Resurrection Bay.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward CBC Compiler

2018 Seward CBC List:
Trumpeter Swan 10
Gadwall cw 
Mallard 88 
Green-winged Teal 4
Greater Scaup 1
Harlequin Duck 45 
Surf Scoter 56
Long-tailed Duck 1 
Bufflehead 45 
Common Goldeneye 90
Barrow's Goldeneye 278
Hooded Merganser 1
Common Merganser 110 
Red-breasted Merganser 59
Pacific Loon 3 
Common Loon 3
Pied-billed Grebe 1
Horned Grebe 32
Red-necked Grebe 1
Double-crested Cormorant 1
Pelagic Cormorant 45
Cormorant sp     2
Great Blue Heron 7 
Sharp-shinned Hawk 2
Bald Eagle 32 
Killdeer 1
Dunlin 1
Rock Sandpiper 12
Marbled Murrelet 20
Mew Gull 33
Thayer’s Gull cw
Herring Gull 4
Thayer’s Gull cw
Glaucous-winged Gull 81
Herring x Glaucous-winged Gull cw (not a species)
Glaucous Gull cw
Gull sp 1
Rock Pigeon 175
Great Horned Owl 2
Short-eared Owl cw
Belted Kingfisher 7
Downy Woodpecker 5
Hairy Woodpecker 5
Northern Shrike 1
Steller’s Jay 10
Black-billed Magpie 56
Northwestern Crow 150
Common Raven 164
Black-capped Chickadee 34
Chestnut-backed Chickadee 59
Boreal Chickadee 2
Chickadee sp 3
Red-breasted Nuthatch 20
Brown Creeper 5
Pacific Wren 1
American Dipper 3 
Golden-crowned Kinglet 138
American Robin cw 
Snow Bunting cw
American Tree Sparrow 2
Fox Sparrow 2 
Dark-eyed Junco 38
Dark-eyed Junco, Oregon 3
White-crowned Sparrow 2 
Golden-crowned. Sparrow 2 
Song Sparrow 5 
Pine Grosbeak 3
Pine Siskin 117