Sunday, December 4, 2016 Snubbed by a Hummer

Seward, AK
Sunny today, a marvelous change from yesterday’s gloomy gray, though it lifted spirits, not the temperature. The NNW wind remained strong, from 23 to 31 mph with gusts to 46 mph. With temps ranging from 12º to 18º the wind chill ranged from -8 to -2º. Brrrr!

Last night I rounded up two no-longer-needed round trashcan lids and cut a scavenged piece of greenhouse Lucite ripple to 36” high.  I learned how to use a rivet tool to attach the Lucite to the top and bottom lids. Once I had the basic cylindrical structure, I used pieces of scrap white electric wire to hang the clamp lamp from the top lid, then screwed in a broomstick dowel near the top across the diameter with an eyehook to guide the line holding the hummingbird feeder. Other eyehooks guided the lamp cord and feeder line along the edge of the Lucite to keep the opening clear. I added two long cords to the opposite sides of the bottom lid to for tiedowns to keep it stable in the wind.

First thing this morning, I hit upon the idea to use the cut off sleeve-down part of an old T-shirt to fit over the top and further reduce the opening and draft, and another old T-shirt around the bottom to raise up. This is adjustable, depending on the wind and temperature. I scrounged around for some red ribbon and decorated the upper circumference to further attract the hummer to this contraption.

In the predawn twilight, I struggled on a ladder against the buffeting wind to drill a hole overhead in the soffit, screw in a hook, and then hang it. Luckily, it was very light. I drilled two smaller holes down lower and screwed in the lower eyehooks and tied it tight. Nice and solid. I plugged in the 60-watt lamp, lowered the feeder ring, hooked up the feeder half-filled with fresh, warm solution, and raised it close to the lamp, secured by a chain to another eyehook for maximum adjustability. Voila! In business!

Just then, I heard ticking from the nearby spruce tree. Official dawn, 9:40 am! The hummer! I was so excited! I stepped back from my whizz-bang Super-Deluxe Hummingbird Windbreak and Feeder. The ANNA’S buzzed over, looked it up and down and zipped away. What?! Snubbed by a hummer! 

How could he afford to be picky after sitting somewhere in the dark for 18 hours, buffeted by the wicked north wind gusting to 46 mph, and temps in the teens? He is one tough hombre!

My neighbor reported that he was back at her feeder, licking the concentrated sugar solution that froze under the yellow plastic flowers when it was accidentally tipped. Hard to compete with frozen sugar pops, but at least he knows I plan to be in business if he ever needs my contraption’s offerings. 

I monitored the feeder throughout the day, and though it was mighty cold, the solution did not freeze. THAT is a huge improvement. I plan to leave the lamp on all night and see if it remains liquid by morning. 

It’s astonishing how a tiny bird weighing less than two thin dimes can make adults go to such great pains to accommodate their particular needs. But, just to hear his brave ticking and see him after surviving another frigid Alaskan winter night makes it all worthwhile.

While I was busy installing the Super-Deluxe, I heard and watched ROBINS flying in to feed on my Mt Ash trees, joining the cheerful whistling PINE GROSBEAKS. An adult BALD EAGLE soared overhead, and RAVENS played in the wind. 

Just before noon, I headed out again. A flock of about 20 Robins plucked red berries from a neighbor’s Mt Ash trees; the berries must be frozen and hard as little rocks, but down they hatch they went. I heard the chirring of BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS and found a dozen sitting in a nearby Mt Ash; only a few were actively feeding. Such handsome birds!

A few blocks away, whitecaps whipped across Resurrection Bay and sea smoke streamed south like whirling ghosts. Three PELAGIC CORMORANTS braved the sea smoke as it swirled around them. In the lee of the bank by the Alaska Sealife Center, a small mixed flock of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES and COMMON MERGANSERS circled around, searching for small fish. 

GLAUCOUS-WINGED and MEW GULLS patrolled along the waterfront, dipping into the wind and down to the water. Two sea otters bobbed placidly in the waves, holding their paws up out of the chilly water, disturbed only when one paddled backwards into the other by mistake. The shiny, round head of a HARBOR SEAL poked up to look around then quietly descended like a periscope.

At the harbor mouth, two MARBLED MURRELETS, a small flock of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, and COMMON MERGANSERS dove after small fish. NORTHWESTERN CROWS scavenged along the beach or sat forlornly, fluffed up against the cold. RAVENS looped and called, quite pleased with the wind toy. More Goldeneyes and Common Mergansers swam in the boat harbor.

I checked the Stash and Store Pond at mile 3.5 Seward Highway and immediately found the male HOODED MERGANSER, looking debonair, in the company of a tiny female BUFFLEHEAD.

Over at Fourth of July Beach, many Northern Sea Nettles lay frozen where the tide left them early this morning. They glowed like little suns in the low afternoon light. Upside down, they resembled frozen confections. 

Several GLAUCOUS-WINGED and MEW GULLS fed on partially thawed sea nettles as the tide slowly rose to engulf them. Earlier this winter I noticed the gulls feeding on live ones as they drifted in to shore. Jellies seem to be a food source for gulls, and they are plentiful. Another gull with much darker gray primaries that I think is a GLAUCOUS-WINGED X HERRING hybrid also fed on the thawing, submerging jellies.

The birds, scenery, and the sun warmed my spirits but not my body, so I reluctantly retreated to the shelter of the warm car and drove home. Though I patiently stared at the Super-Deluxe in hopes of conjuring up the hummer, it was in vain. But tomorrow is another day of hope for everyone.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, December 3, 2016 Hummers in Winter

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:38 am, sunset 3:56 pm for a total daylight of 6 hours and 17 minutes. Tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 52 seconds shorter.

Overcast, with a howling north wind 25 to 35 mph with gusts to 45, temperature ranged from a low of 8º to a high of 20º, wind chill below zero, swirling ground blizzards, and generally pretty brutal conditions.

Tomorrow’s forecast is for sunny but much colder, with a high of 12º, but warming to 31º by Wednesday.

Winter really slammed into Seward yesterday. It has been challenging for anything to be outside during the day, not to mention the bitter cold and windy nights.

My hummingbird feeder was frozen solid on top of the 7-watt heater box. I swapped it out for the room temperature feeder, but that didn’t last long without a better windbreak and higher wattage. I set off to see how the other feeders fared.

My neighbor wrapped heat tape around the base of her feeder with foam insulation around the glass, and moved it to the south side of the porch where it was partially sheltered from the north wind.

After a short wait, at 10:50 am, I heard the familiar sharp ticking from a spruce tree, then ZOOM, in he came, the amazing male ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD! It looked like he was licking sugar water from the base of the yellow flower; not sure why. Maybe the port was frozen? As I watched, inspired and grinning, he zoomed around the yard, from the feeder to the spruce and back, then launched himself to parts unknown, just a little zing in the blasts of wind.

How do they survive the almost 18 hours of darkness, stir from their long state of torpor and zip to a feeder to revive?

Next hummer stop was Ava’s Place. Ava moved the front deck feeder to the carport, warmed by a clamp lamp with a 70-watt bulb. She also installed a windbreak of clear plastic on the north side of the feeder in the back, and a short, pitched roof. Another clamp lamp with a 70-watt bulb throws heat and light on the bare feeder; two cheerful oases in the grim, gray, bitter cold and biting wind.

I stood, all bundled up but chilled, waiting expectantly. After what seemed a long time, but likely less than 10 minutes, I saw a tiny blur land on a bare willow branch. Hunched a bit, the green speck of life surveyed his kingdom and me.


Sadly, one of the Black-capped Chickadees had a deformed upper bill, the first Ava has seen in a long time. It seemed to use the upper bill to scrape the homemade suet from the suet log, and then had to use its tongue to scrape the suet off the bill. Despite the difficulties, it persevered, and was successful.

Ava also reported a large hawk recently, possibly a Northern Harrier, attracted by all the action and probable voles. I did not see it today.

After a minute or two, the Anna’s zipped back and approached the feeder. Never landing, he sipped from one yellow plastic flower to the next, hovering in between to watch me watch him. What a handsome hummer, especially when the light caught his rosy gorget! Then, quick as he came, off he went, as if it were a balmy spring day.

On my way home, I checked on my neighbor’s feeder and caught a glimpse of the ’hood Hummer, in for a quick refill at 2 pm.

Then I got to work, building a wind shelter with a clamp lamp and 7 watt base heater for my house. I will install it tomorrow and monitor the temperature. I sure hope it works in case the Hummer comes calling!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, November 19, 2016 Anna’s Hummer, no Cassin’s Auklet

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:08 am, sunset 4:17 pm for a total day light of 7 hours, 9 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes, 19 seconds shorter.

SNOW! It snowed! Overnight, Seward became a winter wonderland with at least 7” of fluffy, white snow hiding the green grass and red Mt Ash berries piled at the base of every tree. More snow or snow showers are in the forecast with nighttime temps in the mid 20s, rising to a high of mid 30s.

I received a report of the ‘hood ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD at my neighbor’s house just after dawn at 9:20 am. Yea! He survived the long, snowy night and a low of 24º! I changed out my feeder with warm solution, but alas, did not see him. 

On Thursday afternoon, the hummer on the Cliff zipped out from a nearby spruce and fed from the feeder as the surprised homeowner was about to rehang it. Close encounter of the most amazing kind!

This noon, I tried to refind the CASSIN’S AUKLET first reported by Sadie yesterday, 50m offshore of Spring Creek Beach. The road to the beach at mile 5 Nash Road was not plowed, but it was easy to drive through the powdery snow. I parked before the sunken parking lot just in case it proved too slippery to get out.

The bay was as gray as wet concrete, with a brisk NNW wind. First bird was an adult BALD EAGLE standing on the rocky jetty attended by NORTH-WESTERN CROWS exploring the tideline wrack. A few GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS poked at dead jellies.

A COMMON LOON stretched and dove not far offshore near a small raft of SURF SCOTERS and HARLEQUIN DUCKS. The first alcid was a single PIGEON GUILLEMOT paddling along by itself.  A pair of HORNED GREBES dove together. Two COMMON MERGANSERS flew downwind.

A small stream gushes out of the nearby wetland pond; knee high boots are necessary to cross, preferably at a low tide. A KINGFISHER rattled from a favorite perch overlooking the partly frozen pond.

As I rounded the point past the old chip mill dock, I saw my second alcid species, two MARBLED MURRELETS bobbing and diving in the waves. I was hopeful that the Cassin’s Auklet might be nearby. Though I glassed the bay for a long time, the tiny gray alcid eluded me.

A single RED-BREASTED MERGANSER popped up then disappeared. More HARLEQUINS and a nice flock of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES busily fed right offshore by the rising tideline. That, and the brrrrisssskkk north wind finally convinced me to turn around. Instead of the needle in a haystack, the Cassin’s is an alcid in the ocean, and as challenging to find.

I stopped at Ava’s Place on the way back. It wasn’t windy, but still cold. Here, the world turned from black and white to color. Red, russet, and olive PINE GROSBEAKS squabbled over the several sunflower seed trays on her deck railing. BLACK-CAPPED and CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES dashed in to grab a single seed, take-out. Both DOWNY and HAIRY WOODPECKERS gobbled down homemade suet. RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES took a turn too.

“Click, click, click!” A tiny, long-billed bump perched on a snowy twig and announced his presence. Ava’s male ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD was as perky as ever, watching over the throng of birds as if snow was completely normal. His green body echoed the green lichens on the tree trunk, but when he turned his head just right, the blaze of fiery, rosy magenta made my heart leap. What a spark of life, this exotic bird, unfazed by winter. Best of luck to all 3 amazing Anna’s in Seward!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter