Saturday, November 28, 2020 Cassin’s Finch, and Rusty Blackbirds

Seward, Alaska

Another monochrome day of deep slush, heavy snow (on the ground and trees), and sn’rain showers in the afternoon.


I wandered where I could today by foot and carboat, not finding anything unusual. I cruised through the ASLC parking lot twice, scanning the cottonwood and Mt Ash trees but finding nought.


Even the Gulls by the silent seafood processor on Lowell Point Road had mostly dissipated. I happened to find Robin C, also out birding (surprise!). He told me about a report of 4-5 RUSTY BLACKBIRDS along Resurrection Boulevard, an exciting new arrival. I debated going there, but instead followed him into the ASLC for one more look before it got too dark (humph! Only 1:30 pm!)


Immediately after getting out of my car, I spied a RUSTY BLACKBIRD in a nearby young spruce! Another one flew between spruce trees. How convenient! They were too flighty to get a photo, but I got a good look at the startling yellow eye.


The BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS and PINE GROSBEAKS had inexplicably returned from wherever they had been dining. I walked over to the sidewalk and rows of Mt Ash trees. Suddenly Robin pointed out a smaller bird eagerly feeding on the Mt Ash berries with the others.


My mystery bird from yesterday! Again conveniently at eye level, the female or immature male plucked berries and juiced them like the Pine Grosbeaks. It seemed at ease with two birders clicking away and clusters of visitors walking past. 


At first, I thought it was a Purple Finch with that broad whitish eyebrow. But when I got home, I noticed it had a white eye-ring that clinches the ID as a CASSIN’S FINCH. The undertail coverts were also streaked vs plain white on the Purple Finch.


The subtle differences of slightly larger, clunkier body, slightly longer, heavier, and conical bill with a nearly straight culmen (top of bill) of the Cassin’s Finch compared to the Purple Finch are head spinners when you don’t see them very often and have nothing to compare with.


The first and last time I saw a Cassin’s Finch in Seward was in 2009, a male in my yard in February dining on sunflower seeds, continuing to April when a female joined him. 

This species is listed as "Casual" in Alaska, more rare than "Rare."


While clicking merrily away, something alarmed the entire flock and they erupted from the trees as one and flew off. We did not see anything suspicious like a Sharp-shinned Hawk or other predator, but that was that! 


A short time later, Tasha refound the Bohemian Waxwings, Pine Grosbeaks, Cassin’s Finch, and four Rusty Blackbirds feeding on the Mt Ash berries at Resurrection Art, a few blocks north on Third.  Yay!


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, November 27, 2020 Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks

Seward, Alaska

Thanksgiving dawned clear and calm at 33 degrees, but gradually reverted to borderline precipitation wavering between rain and sn’rain, repeat. A degree or two colder transformed the afternoon snow showers into 8 to 12” of wet snow and the evening into a winter wonderland, unless one was trying to drive the unplowed streets.  


Friday afternoon I checked out the town, driving my car-boat through shallow lakes along plowed roads, leaving a wake and spraying water in high arcs to the sides. Most of the access routes to the waterfront proved too deep and slushy, but fortunately, the drive and parking lot for the Alaska Sealife Center was plowed. 


Much to my delight, I heard the soft churring of BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS as soon as I got out of my car. I counted about 50 silhouetted against the gray sky at the top of the nearby Hoben Park cottonwood. They flew down to the berry-laden Mt Ash trees along the sidewalk in small, cautious groups, then back up as masked visitors walked past.


I grabbed my camera and enjoyed wonderful views, almost at eye-level, as the elegant Bohemian Waxwings and bright PINE GROSBEAKS plucked the red Mt Ash berries from the cheery clusters. 


The Bohemian Waxwings wasted no time, tossing the whole fruit down then grabbing the next. They seemed flighty and hurried. The calmer and more fastidious Pine Grosbeaks plucked one fruit, then carefully juiced it, the hull and seeds dribbling down their beaks, before contemplating which berry to pluck next.


I caught a glimpse of a smaller bird during one of the flights between the cottonwood and the Mt Ashes, but could not tell if it was a Cedar Waxwing or other species. 


Though it was only 2:30 in the afternoon, the dark skies and dimming light made further birding and photography challenging. Such is the brief window of opportunity in the winter! I drove my car-boat home and got a free car wash on the way, eager to see my photos. 


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


"Cling Like Hell to Your Rock!"

The Marine Detective just posted a rollicking poem by Robert Service about a limpet's misadventures:


Who knew the famous Bard of the Yukon knew so much about limpets? 


The timely conclusion is to “Cling Like Hell to Your Rock!”


Wishing you all a safe and very Happy Thanksgiving!

Carol Griswold

A limpet in Seward, Alaska


Check out the Marine Detective blog for beautiful underwater photos and thoughtful essays about the wonders of life in the NE Pacific Ocean.


Security by Robert Service


There once was a limpet puffed with pride
Who said to the ribald sea:
“It isn’t I who cling to the rock,
It’s the rock that clings to me;

It’s the silly old rock who hugs me tight,
Because he loves me so;
And though I struggle with all my might,
He will not let me go.”


Then said the sea, who hates the rock
That defies him night and day:
“You want to be free – well, leave it to me,
I’ll help you get away.

I know such a beautiful silver beach,
Where blissfully you may bide;
Shove off to-night when the moon is bright,
And I’ll swig you there on my tide.”


“I’d like to go,” said the limpet low,
“But what’s a silver beach?”
“It’s sand,” said the sea, “bright baby rock,
And you shall be lord of each.”

“Righto!” said the limpet; “Life allures,
And a rover I would be.”
So greatly bold she slacked her hold
And launched on the laughing sea.


But when she got to the gelid deep
Where the waters swish and swing,
She began to know with a sense of woe
That a limpet’s lot is to cling.

But she couldn’t cling to a jelly fish,
Or clutch at a wastrel weed,
So she raised a cry as the waves went by,
But the waves refused to heed.


Then when she came to the glaucous deep
Where the congers coil and leer,
The flesh in her shell began to creep,
And she shrank in utter fear.

It was good to reach that silver beach,
That gleamed in the morning light,
Where a shining band of the silver sand
Looked up with a welcome bright.


Looked up with a smile that was full of guile,
Called up through the crystal blue:
“Each one of us is a baby rock,
And we want to cling to you.”

Then the heart of the limpet leaped with joy,
For she hated the waters wide;
So down she sank to the sandy bank
That clung to her under-side.


That clung so close she couldn’t breathe,
So fierce she fought to be free;
But the silver sand couldn’t understand,
While above her laughed the sea.

Then to each wave that wimpled past
She cried in her woe and pain:
“Oh take me back, let me rivet fast
To my steadfast rock again.”


She cried till she roused a taxi-crab
Who gladly gave her a ride;
But I grieve to say in his crabby way
He insisted she sit inside. . . 

So if of the limpet breed ye be,
Beware life’s brutal shock;
Don’t take the chance of the changing sea,
But – cling like hell to your rock.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020 Lapland Longspur

Seward, Alaska


Brrr! Only 33ยบ but the 13mph north wind gusting to 19 mph made it feel much colder. The previous day’s soft ice froze hard and slick last night.


Anticipating a series of winter storms moving in, I bundled up, put on my ice grippers, and headed to the tidelands. A weak sun put on a brave face and the illusion of warmth before the clouds wrapped it up in a soft, blue-gray shawl.


WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS dashed to the top of a nearby spruce tree by the car; the wind whisked away with their chatter.


The small mixed flock of mostly ROCK SANDPIPERS, likely with a few DUNLINS, fluttered along the receding tideline; hard to discern details. Five MEW GULLS in winter plumage poked through the wrack on the recently exposed shore.


In the distance at the mouth of the Resurrection River, two BALD EAGLE adults swooped low over the water and hovered ponderously in the midst of hundreds of excited Gulls. There must have been something worthwhile for all that effort. 


As I approached the end of the beach, a LAPLAND LONGSPUR popped up and posed for a few images before disappearing. I’ve only had a few tantalizing glimpses of this mystery bird for over a month. Assuming it’s the same bird, maybe it felt sorry for me, left to wonder who flitted deep into the beach rye grass every other time. Nice to finally meet!


When I arrived home, I surprised an inquisitive PACIFIC WREN inspecting my house perimeter. It did a pretty thorough job before disappearing around the corner. I could almost see its tiny hard hat and clipboard!


In other news, yesterday a swarm of about 60 PINE SISKINS swirled into nearby spruce trees, grabbed a bite, then zipped up, up, and away! Seward has not seen many this winter; I hope they stay and bring a few Redpolls with them. 


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter




Sunday, November 22, 2020 Raven pair bonding, Murrelets in the clouds


Seward, Alaska


Sunrise 9:18 am, sunset 4:12 pm for a total day length of 6 hours and 53 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 2 seconds shorter.


As forecast, a series of storms rolled through (and continue), delivering rain (light, moderate, and heavy), sn’rain, sleet, glory holes and sunbeams, warm sunshine (surprise!) and a bout of fun, harmless hail. Sometimes all in one day. The temp rose to the mid 30s, and mercifully, the wind snoozed for several days. 


On Wednesday, November 18, I ventured out between the squalls and chanced upon three RAVENS perched quietly in the leafless cottonwoods above my parked car. Uncharacteristically, they did not fly off in a huff when I dared to look their way, and not even when I finally got out my camera. 


Two perched on adjacent branches, close enough for a few tender beak- to-beak kisses. Then the male gently preened his lady on the back of her neck and head while she remained perfectly still. I felt quite the lucky voyeur, allowed to watch their intimate pair bonding.


Other highlight of the day, 40 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS flew in a tight ball high over town, their yellow-flamed tail feather tips flashing and winking against the glowering clouds.


Thursday, November 19 highlights: At the tidelands, a far flock of 21 ROCK SANDPIPERS and DUNLINS intently fed at the tide’s edge. Over 50 SNOW BUNTINGS rocketed across the sky, unsettled and flighty, calling, “tew, tew!” By the harbor, two GREAT BLUE HERONS stoically decorated the coal dipper, evidence of the lack of wind.


Saturday, November 21: I snapped to attention at 9:53 am on my walk when I heard the piercing location cries of MARBLED MURRELETS commuting from their secret forest roosts to the ocean to feed. I could not see them through the low clouds shrouding the flank of Mt Marathon, compounded by the dim light. Now that I no longer have school bus duty, I usually am not out just before sunrise to hear this magical event. This flock must have overslept!  


Around noon, I carefully skirted around a magnificent flock of 15 TRUMPETER SWANS, including the resident Swan family with their two growing cygnets. They stood at the outgoing tideline at Afognak Beach, apparently finding enough to eat to sustain them through the short days and long nights. The ocean provides, even for Swans.


When the clouds occasionally parted, the monochrome landscape transformed into a wonderland of surreal blue sky, snow-cloaked mountains, and serene reflections. THAT, and the joy of birds, is fuel to sustain a soul though the short winter days and long nights!


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter









Friday, November 13, 2020 Trumpeter Swan cygnet rescue and release

Seward, Alaska

When I awoke this morning, I did not expect to stroke a sweet cygnet’s soft feathers a few hours later. 


Since Wednesday, many birders noticed a lone swan at the far north end of Bear Lake when searching for the Wood Duck. Yesterday, as the lake froze to 99.9%, it was much closer and obviously a cygnet. Today, with the specter of death lurking nearby, Robin C activated Tasha who had an ADFG permit and the skills to rescue it.


As I waited in standby mode in town to buy fresh kale and deliver a dip net from the Alaska Sealife Center, Tasha donned her waders and did her magic. I got the wonderful news from Robin that they were carrying the Swan, safe in the dog kennel, down the Iditarod Trail and back to the car.


After some deliberation, we decided the best release site was the airport wetlands. Our spirits rose when we spotted the resident TRUMPETER SWAN family at the far end, paddling through vegetation flooded by a 12.4’ high tide. They and hundreds of MEW GULLS, standing on remnant ice on the pond, watched us warily.


Tasha extracted the calm cygnet from the kennel and expertly assessed its beak, neck, wings, body, feet, and body weight, finding nothing out of the ordinary. Then she carried the cygnet snugly, noting the importance of keeping the powerful wings and strong feet folded. It was truly heartwarming to see this innocent, trusting youngster, so recently close to death, quietly looking ahead as we sloshed down the flooded and icy path, as if it knew hope lay ahead. 


Tasha let me stroke its soft feathers; what a thrill! It didn’t seem to mind. Be still my beating heart!


Then it was time to gently set the cygnet down at the water’s edge. Unfazed, it slowly paddled off toward the Swan family. We were all bummed when the family took off, but hopeful that they or other Swans would eventually fly back and adopt or at least tolerate this little orphan. Or best of all, be reunited with its parents.


Team Tasha and Robin did as much as they could; now it’s up to Nature to deal the next hand. At least the odds are much better here where there is food, the nearby creek will not freeze, and other Swans will visit.


Three cheers!


And yes, after a long time and anxious wait, Anchorage Audubon Commander-in-Chief Keys found the fabled WOOD DUCK when it flew back from wherever to join the rest of the duck gang at the rapidly shrinking open spot at Bear Lake. Sometimes perseverance is rewarded! 

Congratulations to all on a very satisfying day!


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter