Wednesday, July 20, 2016 White-winged Crossbills, Dragonflies and Damselflies

Mile 15, Seward Highway 9

On the way home from Tern Lake, I stopped at the boardwalk at Mile 15. The once-open west end of the pond was completely covered in pond lilies, and the east side filled in with sedges and horsetails. I don’t know that this would be a suitable habitat for swans to nest anymore.

A family of MALLARDS poked along through the pond lily jungle, up and over the large leaves. None of them dove; all tipped up, sometimes in synchrony. If only they knew that they could really dive. They must have read the bird book about dabblers!

A flock of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS flew overhead, briefly perched in the adjacent spruce trees, and then flew back across the highway. It’s nice to know they are around, though totally unpredictable.

Other than that, it was pretty quiet bird-wise, so I focused on other things with wings. Giant dragonflies patrolled their pond lily territories, hovering expertly midair to investigate me, and other possible intruders, then zoomed off to give chase or snap up a fly for lunch. Straight up, straight down, hovering, and flat-out straight; what incredible flyers! Occasionally, one would venture into the nearby sedges, rattling its wings.

It was very difficult to get the camera to focus on these beauties, so when I finally got a decent photo I was thrilled. I believe it is a Paddle-tailed Darner. When hovering, the wings worked independently, one set of wings was up and one down, effortlessly maintaining position. Then, off it zoomed, its excellent compound eyes having spotted something of greater interest.

The damselflies were much easier to photograph, landing nearby to bask in the sunshine. They looked like electric blue exclamation marks punctuated with black bands and stripes, the 2 pairs of wings neatly folded back to maintain its sleek lineal statement. The damselfly also has enormous, stunning, compound eyes, but widely separated, and in this species, a futuristic metallic blue. I think it’s a Bluet Damselfly.

If anyone can correctly identify these two species, please let me know.

It was a pleasure to have time to observe these fascinating, modern versions of the 300 million year old insects that once flew with dinosaurs.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Update: Thanks to Matt Goff for the following comments:
The flowerfly looks like Eristalis anthophorina; I agree the damselfly is a bluet (Enallagma sp), but I'm not sure if it's possible to tell which species from the photos (I just know that I can't do it). Nice capture of the dragonfly in flight! It does look like a Paddle-tailed Darner to me, as well. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 Tern Lake surprises

(This is out of sequence, but I hope you enjoy it anyway!)

Seward, Alaska

Curious about the ARCTIC TERNS, I drove up to Tern Lake on this beautiful, sunny, warm, summer day. After searching all over the lake, I finally found one far-away Tern flying high, then one more.  I heard one fledgling begging, and spotted it sitting on a piece of driftwood in the middle of the lake, hoping for fast food delivery. Eventually, I counted only four Terns left, likely two adults and two fledglings. The rest of the group apparently departed since I last checked on July 12.

Close to shore and the parking lot, an amazing MALLARD family put on quite a show. Obviously, these Mallards had not read the bird book describing them as “dabblers.” The whole family of ¾ size duckling and the hen were actively and repeatedly diving, remaining underwater for many long seconds. It was hard to count them as they kept diving and popping up. Maybe 5 ducklings?

The hen Mallard fiercely defended her family and territory from an AMERICAN WIGEON family of 8 trying to swim past, chasing them off with her dabbling beak open. The much smaller Wigeon, no slouch herself, returned the threat with her outstretched dabbling beak, and eventually both families got where they were going without bloodshed.

On the east side of the lake, LESSER SCAUP hens shared parenting with their combined families. The ducklings were noticeably larger since last week, but still had fuzzy baby feathers. That didn’t seem to stop them from diving, as per the bird book.

The COMMON LOON adult was still sitting on the nest while the other parent guarded, dove, and fed. This is very late indeed for incubation, if that was still happening. On such a warm day, I can’t imagine a baby loon needing to be warmed in the nest by a parent. Should be swimming and learning how to catch a fish, one would think.

In the distance, two TRUMPETER SWANS suddenly paddled into sight, bright white, elegant birds, one slightly larger than the other. They continued to paddle closer and closer, and then paddled in front of the parking lot, full of RVs, trucks, cars, people, and dogs. It was incredible! The paparazzi took lots of photos of this unusual interaction.

I sat down on the bank to watch and take photos too. The larger swan eventually swam away, but the smaller swan stuck around. She gave me quite a long look, and suddenly I thought I knew this bird. It was really eerie and simultaneously very, very cool.

I think they are the Seward cygnets from two years ago. I’ve known her since the nest! That would explain their apparent lack of fear of people. Mom and dad will not let them hang around the ol’ homestead, so they are drifting about. Perhaps their first attempt to breed failed or they are waiting until next year to start their own families. Maybe...

My friend paddled slowly away, and then abruptly put on a magnificent show as she chased off a young MEW GULL that apparently was over the line. Giant angel wings beat the air, huge webbed feet ran across the calm water creating mini-explosions, her neck outstretched, the beak full of fury. The gull, young but not dumb, quickly got the idea and took flight. The swan glided to a stop, and settled down. Then she gracefully paddled after the other swan as if nothing had happened.

The Mallards returned to dive. A muskrat swam past underwater, heading for the protection of the pond plants. The loon paddled serenely near the nest and its mate. Vehicles zoomed past, while others paused to let the weary travelers stretch their legs and take a few photos of the surrounding scenery. And some were lucky to catch a slice of the rhythm of life here, and be surprised, like me.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, July 24, 2016 Warbler Waves

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:20 am, sunset 10:46 pm for a total day length of 17 hours and 40 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 32 seconds shorter.

Summer is whizzing past! Whether due to the hot weather the past week (up to 80ยบ!) and lack of rain, or the passing season, the formerly green-green-green vegetation now has a yellow/gold component. Fireweed flowers have bloomed up to the last inches of its flower fuse, while the lower end is ready to ignite the next round with silky seeds. Most other native plants are busily producing fruit and seeds as well.

Bird song is virtually absent, reduced to twitters and calls. Most of the RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS, and VIOLET GREEN and TREE SWALLOWS have migrated, though individual birds are still spotted.

However, today was a banner day for mixed flocks as wave after wave suddenly flitted through neighborhoods in Seward and at Ava’s Place. A well-timed sprinkler and blooming garden flowers proved to be irresistible at some hot spots.


Many of the mixed flock included families with fledglings still begging. This flocking behavior seems to indicate that migration for many is not far away.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 Tern Lake field trip

Seward, Alaska

I couldn’t stand not seeing ARCTIC TERNS any longer, and made a field trip to Tern Lake, 38 miles from Seward, at the junction of Hwy 1 and 9.

The traffic next to the road was noisy and less than idyllic, but it didn’t seem to bother the Terns. I counted at least 18, flying buoyantly around the lake, skimming the surface or diving in with a big splash. What a supreme pleasure to hear their confident cries, and the insistent begging of the youngsters!

Some of the babies are still in the nest, but several adorable fledglings were out and about, learning to hover and dive, begging and being fed when fishing was not catching. It looked like 3-spine sticklebacks were a favorite fast food for the growing young Terns. It won’t be long before they are strong enough to fly to the ocean and thence to the other side of the world. Amazing, beautiful Terns!

Another special treat was a pair of COMMON LOONS, one still sitting on the nest on a little island far from shore. It seems late, but hopefully their chick(s) will soon be ready to swim with the parents. I did not see any Bald Eagles, and that bodes well for the chicks.

A lovely mother LESSER SCAUP watched over her four ducklings in a small pond along the road. The little ones dove like pros and came up with bits of pondweed just like mom. When they got tired, they hopped up on a partially sunken branch to nap with mom in the warm sunshine.

I spotted another proud Lesser Scaup mom with nine ducklings in tow swimming in Tern Lake. A female AMERICAN WIGEON watched me for quite a while, but I never saw any ducklings, ditto a female GREEN-WINGED TEAL. I know how well the little fuzzballs can hide in the sedges, and maybe that’s where they all were.

The MEW GULLS dominated the parking lot area, feasting noisily on scraps tossed by visitors. I counted at least 16 adults. Young Mew Gulls, still sporting wisps of downy feathers, floated quietly near protective vegetation, or napped near the nest sites on the grassy islands.

I tried hard to photograph the spectacular, large blue dragonflies rattling around their territories, but failed. I did manage to get photos of a large dragonfly with an injured wing, resting on a stalk, and a metallic blue damselfly. Fascinating insects!

While I was watching the dragonflies, a muskrat quietly paddled past on a secret mission.

The Terns et al were totally worth long drive; I am so glad I went!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, July 10, 2016 Baby bird time

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:52 am, sunset 11:12 pm for a total day length of 18 hours and 20 minutes. Tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 19 seconds shorter.

With the warm weather in June and July, almost everything seems to be at least two weeks ahead of schedule. Salmonberries, blueberries, and nagoonberries are already ripe. Lupines are in seed, fireweed blossoms are opening closer and closer to the top. Everything is green, green, green.

I heard VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS saying what may have been good-bye yesterday afternoon. About 40 circled over my neighborhood, calling to each other in an urgent tone. Something important was definitely happening, and now it seems like they are gone. Poof! Bon voyage!

I haven’t seen any RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS at my feeder since the crazy activity and fireworks on the Fourth of July. Perhaps they have departed as well. Other reports would be of interest.

A ROBIN family with two spotty fledglings, and a cheeky young STELLER’S JAY enjoy my birdbath in this warm weather. Trickling water is irresistible. The ripening Elderberries are also a big attractant.

I heard a bonus RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET singing this afternoon, and a ROBIN and a VARIED THRUSH. Two PACIFIC WRENS sang the news about their territories along the Mt Marathon mountainside. Most birds are now silent, so these were a treat.

The resident TRUMPETER SWAN family is thriving at the mile one Nash Road wetlands. Sometimes they are completely hidden at the back, and sometimes they are right next to the road; it’s just luck to see them. Their white baby feathers are mostly gone and now they are sleek, gray juveniles with ever longer necks and wings.

At the tidelands, about 50 peeps, including at least one SEMI-PALMATED SANDPIPER, many LEAST SANDPIPERS, and a sprinkling of WESTERNS fed industriously along the shore. Upon approach, the Least peeps hunkered down and became as one with the surroundings like inconspicuous little rocks. They are masters of camouflage in their beach habitat.

Three SEMIPALMATED PLOVER chicks ran about like tennis balls on stilts, taught or by instinct to run like mad far away while the parent feigns distress. 

Fledgling SONG SPARROWS hopped and fluttered with one little tail feather sprouting out like Dr. Seuss’ Gertrude McFuzz. Invisible young SAVANNAH SPARROWS, hidden in the sedges, grasses, and lupines, chipped incessantly for food delivery from the harried parents. It’s amazing how they can find crane flies, moths, and other insects so quickly, and hold on to them while collecting even more.

A very protective pair of GREATER YELLOWLEGS guarded its family, bravely chasing off even the mighty BALD EAGLE flying past. Three juvenile LESSER YELLOWLEGS joined the peeps to feed themselves, apparently the product of an earlier hatch.

The ARCTIC TERNS, of course, are absent since the illegal and tragic egging in May. I have not seen any MEW GULL chicks yet, and wonder if any survived. A few ducks, a MALLARD and PINTAIL, dabbled with their ducklings in the pond, but it’s sadly quiet.

I talked to two visiting birders at Exit Glacier on Thursday afternoon. They had hiked up to the Cliffs on the Harding Icefield Trail and saw and heard an impressive number of species, including GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES, a possible TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE, and GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS. Apparently many birds were still singing higher up.

They recommended an interesting solution for bird strikes that consists of 1/8th inch nylon parachute cords installed on the outside of the window, spaced 4.25” apart. It is apparently very effective, and as the cords are not attached at the bottom, it is easy to wash the windows. Check it out at

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter