Wednesday, April 22, 2015 Hot Tub Drama

Seward, Alaska

Last night, shortly after 9 pm, I received a call from a neighbor. While he was relaxing in the hot tub between snow squalls, two BALD EAGLES burst into the tranquil night.  An adult was in hot pursuit of a juvenile that was clutching a COMMON MURRE. The eagles collided with some spruce branches and the murre crashed to the ground.

As the startled eagles flew off to reconnoiter, my quick-thinking friend tossed a towel over the stunned murre to calm it down. Then he called me.
I arrived to find the white towel covering the prostrate bird, wings still outstretched as it had fallen. I carefully tucked the wings back in place and placed the package on newspapers in a cardboard box. There was no struggle and fortunately, no blood.

I drove the victim to the Alaska Sealife Center and alerted a security guard who called the rescue person on duty. While I waited in the car, I listened to the steady, slow, rhythmic breathing of the bird-in-a-box on the passenger seat. That was a real thrill for me.

Countless times I have watched bald eagles snatch these remarkable seabirds from the bay, obviously alive and peering about, firmly grasped in sharp talons en route to a dining perch. Then the valiant fight even while on the table, trying to escape. Finally, the almost inevitable end, as feathers fly and they are ripped to shreds, not always mercifully dead. Murre carcasses lie on the forest moss, city sidewalks, yards, and washed up on beaches. They seem to be the eagles’ favorite target.

While I do understand predators must eat, just once in a while, it is tremendously satisfying to be able to take advantage of a situation and intervene.

Halley arrived in about 15 minutes and gave the murre a quick check. Surprisingly, there were no puncture wounds, the feet were fine, the head looked fine. Judging from the partly digested small fish the bird had thrown up, it had recently eaten, a good sign.

We discussed a quick release back to the bay as another snow squall began. It was possible there was no harm done. Then we discussed the other option, an overnighter at the Alaska Sealife Center with a dish of fish. Given the bird had suffered a tremendous shock and fall, the choice was obvious, and the bird was checked in.

I called this morning, hoping for some good news. Unfortunately, the murre did not survive. Perhaps there was hidden internal damage from being clutched, or from the crash. Nonetheless, the ASLC will study this bird, try to learn more about it, and understand why they are struggling to survive while other seabirds seem to be finding adequate food.

Thus, the hot tub drama ends. Two eagles were disgruntled and one did not get supper. But one small seabird touched the lives of a few people and my heart, and just possibly contributed a little bit to science.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, April 20, 2015 HUMMINGBIRD IN SEWARD!!!

Monday, April 20, 2015
Seward, AK

This is almost unbelievable, but the report is reliable. After a week of nasty weather including snow, rain, sleet, thunder, hail, etc, the sun broke through late this afternoon. Almost immediately, a RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD materialized at a hummer feeder on Nash Road and returned for seconds. This is incredible considering the weather and early arrival. I am amazed the little guy did not get killed by the large snowflakes or hail.

Wash up those feeders and get 'em hung. Spring is here on the wings of a miracle!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, April 11, 2015 Wintery Spring

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:52 am, sunset 9:06 pm for a total day length of 14 hours and 13 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 28 seconds longer.

Squalls this past week delivered a smorgasbord of rain, snow, hail, sunshine cameos, strong winds, white caps and heavy surf.  Cold air funneled down from the north, turning April showers into more snow than we had all winter. Daytime temperatures in the high 30s and low 40s soon melted it off in town, but the mountains are still clad in fresh white. It’s a very cool spring so far.

Nonetheless, many shrubs including elderberries and blueberries are budding out, joining the willows that began flowering in the false spring in February. Stoneflies and caddisflies hatched out from clear creeks a few days ago. I even saw a wolf spider on the snow, hungry and quick.

This past week, I have heard more PACIFIC WRENS singing in the forest than ever. The VARIED THRUSHES continue to sing, but it seems that the large numbers have diminished, perhaps due to migration. PINE GROSBEAKS are also still around, but harder to find, except at Ava’s Place. The WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS numbers are also down.

April 2, a pair of LESSER SCAUP popped up at Lagoon with the usual MALLARDS, COMMON MERGANSERS, and COMMON GOLDENEYES. The two resident TRUMPETER SWAN cygnets, about 10 months old, are on their own, and occasionally feed here. Their plumage is getting much whiter, but the head is still brownish-gray.

PIGEON GUILLEMOTS in breeding plumage are moving into the bay. COMMON MURRES are very common in the bay just offshore, and continue to be the #1 meal for BALD EAGLES. Murre carcasses are washed up at every beach, or scattered on the ground in town under favorite dining trees. It is strange that the murres are starving and suffering while so many other seabirds seem to find food.

April 4, sunny! A pair of DIPPERS shared a mountain stream, one singing its gurgling stream song. As these birds are very territorial, perhaps they are a pair thinking about family matters. A NORTHERN SHRIKE perched on a fallen tree sang a surprisingly sweet song.

April 7, Robin C reported a GLAUCOUS GULL at the Uplands, and 2 THAYER’S GULLS at Lowell Point between the squalls.

April 8, Robin reported 2First Of Spring CANADA GEESE. Also spotted were 2 NORTHERN SHOVELERS with increasing numbers of NORTHERN PINTAILS. I heard a GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW singing its "O, dear me!", but it may be one that over-wintered.

April 9, VARIED THRUSHES singing in the snowstorm. Such optimists!
The overwintered TRUMPETER SWAN parents continued work on their nest at Mile 1 Nash Road in about the same spot as last summer. They looked like angelic white excavators; the male pulled up dead grasses and swiveled smoothly to deliver to the female who added them to the nest, back and forth like geared clockwork. They have about a 2-month start over last year. The STELLER’S EIDER male spotted, still hanging out with the HARLEQUINS at Spring Creek. FOS GREEN-WINGED TEAL.

April 10, Robin found a FOS HARLAN’S HAWK being harassed by crows, Steller’s jays, and magpies. I found 3 CANADA GEESE, a single SNOW BUNTING, 4 AMERICAN PIPITS, and wonder of wonders, a single FOS GREATER YELLOWLEGS, "Tew! Tew! Tew!" How any of these birds survived the tremendous winds, hail, and squalls is unfathomable. They are tough survivors!

April 11, frost on the ground this morning, but sunny with blue skies until early evening. (Un)COMMON REDPOLLS, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES, VARIED THRUSHES, and 2 PACIFIC WRENS serenaded from the forest at the edge of the Marathon Trail. Nine TRUMPETER SWANS reported by the Trail River Bridge north of town, standing on ice.

It’s quite a conundrum, wanting to hear and see the migrating birds, but not  wanting them to risk flying through squalls, hail, and snowstorms. Spring may be wintery, but it is irrepressible. The birds are too. I’ll be waiting and watching, hoping, and cheering.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 Trumpeter Swans in the snow

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:22 am, sunset 8:41 pm for a total day length of 13 hours and 19 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 29 seconds longer.

The weather pulled a fine April Fools’ joke this morning with a little snowstorm. It snowed enough to refresh the mountains’ dignity, surprise the colorful crocuses, tick off a disapproving ROBIN, and coat everything white. Fortunately, the joke was short-lived and by early afternoon the clouds parted to reveal a startling blue sky and a smiling sun. Maybe that was just another bad joke; a few hours later the clouds ganged up. Scattered snow and rain showers are in the forecast until Friday. Ha, ha.

On Monday, Joe was barely back when he found 2 FOS AMERICAN PIPITS on Monday. Many more NORTHERN PINTAILS have arrived, sharing the wetlands with a pair of GADWALL and MALLARDS. 

Tuesday on the Tonsina Trail, I flushed a non-migratory SPRUCE GROUSE eating gravel. As it flew to the safety of the trees (spruce of course) it fanned its black tail with a chestnut brown band. I spotted a COMMON LOON far out from shore, a rare sight all winter.

Today at Ava’s Place, I spied the PURPLE FINCH, looking much the same as it did all winter. PINE SISKINS and PINE GROSBEAKS still dominated the feeders and seed on the ground with DOWNY WOODPECKERS zipping in and out from the suet feeders.

At the tidelands, I saw four likely PIPIT suspects but they were too far to verify. It was easy to spot the four newly arrived, brilliant white TRUMPETER SWANS that joined the two local cygnets to rest and feed in the sn’rain. 

The 9-month old light gray cygnets won’t be ready to breed until they are two years old, but maybe they will migrate to new territory with other swans. Mom and dad reign over their nesting area at mile 1 Nash Road and seem to have said adios to their beloved and well-cared for 2014 kids.

During that brief break in the clouds, I watched five more snow-white TRUMPETER SWANS fly overhead with strong, steady wing beats, honking softly, discussing travel plans. What a gorgeous sight against that blue-sky window! Apparently they decided to push north, ever north.

Spring migrants are on the way and that is no April Fools!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, March 27, 2015 Spring trickles in

Seward, Alaska

Today is the 51th anniversary of the Great Alaska Earthquake and Tsunami of March 27, 1964.

Sunrise 7:37 am, sunset 8:29 pm for a total day length of 12 hours and 51 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 30 seconds longer.

Mornings this past week started a little cool in the low 30s, and by afternoon the thermometer rose to the high 40s. The forecast was actually vaguely correct: we had a mix of sun for a few spectacular days, then hard, hard rain that dusted the mountains with fresh snow, some wind, but mostly light. It’s the special spring mix of rainbows and southerly squalls that delivers the migratory birds to the melting ponds and brown but budding landscape.

Until recently, it’s been hard to tell if spring was here. Due to the mild winter, the TRUMPETER SWAN family never left, the young GOLDEN EAGLE lingered, a few NORTHERN PINTAILS hung around, as did a small flock of DUNLINS and ROCK SANDPIPERS. The BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES arrived way early, and 2 juvenile RED CROSSBILLS popped up.

Singing is not a good clue as PACIFIC WRENS, VARIED THRUSHES, and PINE GROSBEAKS have been singing since December. The dapper DIPPER sings no matter how inclement the weather seems to us, and the sweet SONG SPARROW seems inspired regardless of the calendar.

All winter, the multitudinous WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS filled the air with their songs, winding up like a musical toy, crank-crank-crank, followed by a torrent of rapid notes. SAW-WHET OWLS took over the night duty, with GREAT HORNED and infrequently, WESTERN SCREECH OWLS. In early March, the DARK-EYED JUNCOS began ringing their little bells. They’ve been here, but had sense to wait.

On March 17, I spotted my first PIGEON GUILLEMOT in breeding plumage, and a GADWALL flew by. On March 18, the first wave of Euphasid krill washed up on the beaches. I don’t know why they die in the spring, but it’s now a usual March event.

On March 21, I spotted my first of spring HERRING GULLS, crying and carrying on in small flocks overhead, glad to be on their way north. RAVEN pairs carried wads of moss and dead grass to line their nests. They know it’s time.

On March 24, I heard five PACIFIC WRENS singing along Tonsina Trail. A few more sing in the morning along the forested slopes of Mt Marathon, and along Lost Lake Trail. That seems like enough birds to include at least a few migrants. 

Today there were a dozen or more NORTHERN PINTAILS feeding with the usual MALLARDS. Robin C spotted a FOS HARLAN’S HAWK.

The squalls forecast for the coming few days bear winged gifts. Keep your eyes open and ears to the sky.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter