October 5, 2014 Tern Lake Trumpeter Swan Cygnets, Spawning Red Salmon, and Dippers

Tern Lake, 38 miles north of Seward, Alaska

On my way home, I took a break at Tern Lake. The weather had not improved, indeed it was trying harder to snow/sleet and that north wind was chilling. I forgot all about it as I approached the little boardwalk at the Tern Lake picnic area on the west side of the lake. Hundreds of Sockeye or Red Salmon, now maroon and green, packed against the banks of Dave's Creek, almost motionless in the still water. Others swished and swirled in the current closer to the bridge, actively spawning. If I remained quite still, several pairs ventured closer, almost under the boardwalk. When I moved, they darted away. What a sight!

I heard the cheery announcement of a DIPPER as one zipped past and landed on a rock near the bridge. What a busy little gray bird! It bobbed and darted, stuck its head under the cold rushing water, popped back, picked and poked along the slippery rocks, flipped a yellow cottonwood leaf off its rock into the current, and chattered and clattered. Though the yellow bill was fading, it marked this one as a youngster.

Much to my delight, two more Dippers buzzed in and the trio took over the bridge, first perching on the railing then peering at the stream from the walkway just like tiny tourists. Then they all dashed to the stream, briefly investigated the rocks and flashed away downstream. As Dippers tend to be solitary, I suspect this was a family group out enjoying another fine day, singing to the stream and the sleet, happy to be in this fabulous home.

Back on Highway 9, I immediately pulled over to watch 5 adult TRUMPETER SWANS and 7 CYGNETS. What a collection of grey feathers, long necks, and pink bills packed together! It was such a treat to see so many cygnets; there weren't any at Potter's Marsh, and few along the highway ponds. They fed on the underwater vegetation industriously, stretching deep underwater, and surfacing only to get another breath before submerging again. Two adults guarded these precious cygnets; could it be they raised all seven? Regardless, this flock seemed content to be together, ready to care for each other on their long journey south, far from the impending snow and ice. Bon voyage!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter










Sunday, October 5, 2014 Tundra and Trumpeter Swan on the move

Potter's Marsh south of Anchorage, Alaska

Sunday, October 5, 2014 Tundra and Trumpeter Swans on the Move
Potter's Marsh south of Anchorage, Alaska

Mid-afternoon and 120 miles from Seward, I stopped briefly at a Potter's Marsh pullout to enjoy watching a small group of swans. A single TUNDRA SWAN, smaller, and with a yellow patch on its bill, lingered near the scattered pairs of TRUMPETERS that were busy preening and paddling to and fro. Spitting snow and a cold north wind lent a sense of urgency to the scene. Accompanied by murmurs and gentle honking, the swans bobbed their graceful heads up and down, sometimes alternately, sometimes in synchrony. Decisions were being made.

Abruptly, one Trumpeter bobbed deeply and then dramatically reared back, wings raised wide and ready for action. The targeted swan stretched its giant wings in response but quickly turned to half-run, half-fly just out of reach of the threatening open beak and arched neck of the angry swan. The sudden attack ended after a short chase, no physical harm inflicted, just wounded pride. The Tundra swan watched it all from a safe distance behind them. All is not peace and harmony with these angelic-looking swans!

Further consultations by the aggrieved Trumpeter swan pair, evidenced by the increasing tempo of head bobbing, (so fascinating to watch!) resulted in a decision to fly off to another section of the marsh. The smaller Tundra swan flew off with them, apparently accepted as an amicable migratory companion.

The spectacular swan show resolved, I got back to the welcome warmth of my car and migrated down the road, south, to my home.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter
on the road















Monday, October 7, 2014 From the Ocean to the Ice and Out into Space


Seward, Alaska

Seward is an astonishing, spectacular place. While watching the STELLER'S EIDER dive and preen at Fourth of July beach, I also took notice of the golden cottonwood leaves framing Godwin Glacier. Jellies, symmetrical, graceful aliens from the ocean universe, pulsed gently just feet from the beach, their last gasp at the end of their brief life cycle. Others glistened along the shore, gelatin masterpieces.

A short drive up Resurrection River valley led to Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. The crisp air smelled like fall, all of summer's memories captured in the faded cottonwood leaves rustling across the trail.

Fourteen snow-white mountain goats dotted the steep mountainside; two rested regally at the very top, with a royalty's view of their kingdom. Exit Glacier lay half in shadow, half in sun, a suiting description of the season.

Shortly after sunset, a stunning moon popped over the mountains framing Resurrection Bay. A GREAT BLUE HERON squawked overhead, circling; an adult BALD EAGLE veered away from its last minute, futile attempt at dinner.

And over at the Seward Founder's Monument, the weathervane train tipped to the north, north to the future; the lights of the Seward shipyard glowed along the shore.

From the ocean, to the beaches, the wetlands, coastal rainforest, to the mountains and ice, and out to space, may Seward cherish her beauty, birds, wild life and habitat while embracing the businesses that seek success. It is a challenging partnership.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter













Monday, October 6, 2014 Steller's Eider refound in new finery

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:15 am, sunset 7:14 pm for a total day length of 10 hours and 58 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 26 seconds shorter.

Another rare thunderstorm rolled and growled in the bay for an extended period on Saturday between snatches of sunshine and bouts of heavy rain. When the clouds lifted, nature's lacy white handiwork glistened from every mountain, including Mt Marathon above town. The daytime temperature dips ever downward into the upper 30s to low 40s, but it seems cooler with the brisk north wind. Overnight, under clear starry skies, it's freezing to the mid 20s. It's farewell to summer, maybe even to fall, and hello to studded snow tires.

The STELLER'S EIDER immature male is still in Seward and getting more handsome by the day! I refound him at Fourth of July Beach this afternoon, initially with a flock of colorful HARLEQUIN DUCKS. When the flock flew, the Eider's bright white wings flashed, alerting me to a non-harlie. Fortunately, they did not go far, and soon resumed diving. Nearby, several GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS snacked on the abundant jellies (jellyfish) that floated near the surface.

The Eider, once a rather plain brown sea duck, now has a brilliant blue speculum bordered by snow-white feathers. In the shadows, the speculum loses its luster and looks black. The young male's head and body remains brown, and characteristically flat-topped. If this special species winters in Seward, it will be very interesting to note the changes as he continues his many molts to maturity.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter





Wednesday, September 17, 2014 Steller's Eider male

Seward, Alaska

The young drake STELLER'S EIDER is still in Resurrection Bay, now on the west side at Lowell Point. Robin C spotted him yesterday by Miller's Landing, and I refound him today.

As at Fourth of July Beach, where he was first spotted on August 6th, he is hanging out with HARLEQUIN DUCKS, feeding voraciously at the intertidal zone.

Back in August, the Harlequins were in eclipse plumage, very drab, and flightless. Now they have completed their fall molt; the males in their characteristic colorful finery, the females sport white round earrings. The dramatic change to his friends does not seem to affect the eider.

Squalls of heavy rain continue. Last night shortly after 11 pm a brilliant flash of lightning lit up the sky. Six seconds later, (*about a mile away) rolling, powerful thunder rumbled down Resurrection Bay for many long thrilling seconds. Seward rarely has lighting and thunder; I'm glad I was up and out in the rain, walking the dogs. The young one did not care for this unusual weather phenomenon in the least and walked us briskly back to the safety of home.
     
In other news, Mt Ash trees all over town are magnets for multitudes of ROBINS and VARIED THRUSHES. A single drake SURF SCOTER has been at Fourth of July beach for the past week or more, all alone. SANDHILL CRANES were reported flying high overhead yesterday, heading into the storm.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

*In case it ever happens again, to estimate the distance to the lightning, start counting the number of seconds as soon as you see the flash and stop when you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five to get the distance in miles.









Monday, September 15, 2014 Great Blue Herons in the Pouring Rain

Seward, Alaska

Recently, several people have reported seeing one or two impressive, large, long-necked, long-legged birds with large bills flying over town or perched near the water. Normally very secretive, the GREAT BLUE HERON is actually a year-round resident. One year, the Seward Christmas Bird Count found 11 birds!

Watch for this amazing heron fishing patiently by the harbor breakwater, flying overhead with its long legs stretched behind and neck curved into an "S", roosting in spruce trees, or standing stoically on one leg in the pouring rain. It's always a surprise and a treat to see these magnificent, mysterious birds.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold






Sunday, September 14, 2014 Saw-whet Owl Concert

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:23 am, sunset 8:21 pm for a total day length of 12 hours and 57 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 25 seconds shorter.

Highs in the upper 50s, lows in the upper 40s. Rain in the forecast for the next week.

At 3 am this morning, I was startled awake by a SAW-WHET OWL playing jazz improv from a spruce tree right by my open bedroom window. The little guy with a big voice delivered a virtuoso performance, tossing in an unusual ascending progression to his principle theme of "beep, beep, beep" which was almost, but not quite on the same pitch. 

After a brief pause, he experimented further with the pitch of the "beep", first a little flat, then a little sharp, followed by more doodling. After a few more minutes, he must have taken a deep bow and silently departed.

What riveting, wild music from an unexpected musician of the night!


Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter