Sunday, July 16, 2017 Love and Tough Love at Alaska Sealife Center

Seward Alaska

It's not birds, but it's interesting!

Eleven days ago, the baby walrus was less than enthusiastic about feeding from a bottle. Today, he waited impatiently and watched anxiously as the Alaska Sealife Center staff prepared his bottle. It apparently took forever; he alternately drooped against the enclosure door, stood up on his hind legs for a better view, checked out the big white towel on the floor, and went back to peek through the netted door. If he could ring a service bell, it would have been long and loud.

Finally, the magic door opened and the Stranding Staff stepped in with the giant baby bottle. According to the ASLC, he is fed a special wildlife brand of powered formula plus salmon oil and vitamin and mineral supplements every three hours. It took him about four minutes to suck down the contents and he didn’t spill a drop.

About an hour later, out came the “nudge board.” Time for a swim! Swimming is not only an important skill to learn but is also for exercise and to help his digestive process. Unlike the little red spa pool filled with 80º water, the water in his enclosure is right from the bay, about 50º. The little tyke does not like it! So gently but firmly, the staff nudged him over the edge with the board where he entered with a big, ungraceful, full body splash.

He spent the next required 20 minutes trying to get out. The water was just deep enough that he couldn’t push off from the bottom, so it was quite a workout for his upper body. He did actually swim around a little, and got up on the floating raft. But every time he tried to get out, there was that red nudge board. Darn!

After a perceived eternity, pool time ended. The staff removed the nudge board and increased the flow to raise the water level. He tried and tried and tried, his front flippers braced on the deck, back flippers churning furiously. As the visitors watching from above cheered, he almost succeeded then slipped back down. “A” for effort!

Whether it was the higher water level, or sheer persistence, he at last wriggled his way onto the deck. Yay! Within a minute, he was cuddling with a seated staff member, ready for a nap. Quite an exciting afternoon in the life of a 7-week old baby walrus!

The ASLC is open Monday through Thursday from 9 am to 9 pm, and Friday through Sunday from 8 am to 9 pm. Walrus talks are presented daily at noon and 7 pm.

Carol Griswold

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 Tern Lake Treasures

Tern Lake, Mile 38 Seward Highway

Sunrise 4:55 am, sunset 11:09 pm for a total day light of 18 hours and 14 minutes. Tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 30 seconds shorter.
Sun, sun, sun! Yesterday’s high reached 72º, today’s high was 66º at 6 pm, and a low of 52º at midnight. Tomorrow’s high is forecast to be 82º which is HOT for coastal Seward.

On the way back from an errand to Cooper Landing this afternoon, I stopped at Tern Lake for a couple hours to enjoy the birds. First stop was the Picnic Area where a Tiger Swallowtail fluttered through on its seemingly random yet purposeful flight. So many silky white parachutes tumbled from the tall cottonwoods it looked like it was snowing despite the blue sky and warm temps.

Next stop, the main parking lot. ARCTIC TERNS looped around the lake, expertly scooping up small fish to feed to their begging fledglings. While waiting for delivery, two adorable fledglings preened and loafed on a little log. When the winged food delivery angel was sighted, they commenced a ratcheting racket, beaks wide open, “Feed me! Feed ME!”

Whoosh! In flew the angel, pausing momentarily to transfer the fish, then up and away to get more. This worked most of the time, but one time the parent overshot its mark, leaving both babies following the surprise move, still begging with open beaks while the parent abruptly banked and turned around to try again (successfully.)

I only saw the left fledgling fed once, while the right fledgling was fed repeatedly. Only when the left baby finally flew off and landed in the lake a short distance away did the parent dip down and feed it.

I counted about 20 Terns flying around the lake, plus there were others resting I could not count. How wonderful to see these graceful, elegant terns and their babies!

On the far side of the lake, I spied a COMMON LOON and its two fuzzy brown chicks close to a green, wind-blown grass and sedge  island. The parent dove repeatedly nearby and fed the babies. They were too far away to determine how equitable this food service was.

Two TRUMPETER SWANS preened a short distance away on a higher area that may be their nest site. I was surprised to see both species here as they are both known for their fierce territoriality and aggressive defense of home base.

After a while, the Swans serenely paddled around the point near the Loon family without incident, and lo and behold! There was a single, light gray cygnet between them! The little family paddled near the road to feed on the emerging pond plants for a while.

The cygnet looked about the same size as the three cygnets at Nash Road. At one point, the little guy inadvertently ran into its parent, poking it in the butt. The goosed parent leaped ahead, honking in surprise. Whoops! Realizing what happened, calm soon returned, but it was hilarious to see!

While I was watching the Tern babies, a GREEN-WINGED TEAL momma with about 8 tiny ducklings swam past. Their heads were mostly yellow with a strong brown eye-stripe extending from the back of their dark eyes and a large brown spot below the eye-stripe. The crown was also brown like a little mohawk, and the brown fuzzy body had large yellow spots sprinkled around for camouflage.

Then a momma LESSER SCAUP got brave and also paddled quite close to the road with her 8 little puffy ducklings. It looked like they still had an egg tooth at the bill tip. Their faces were mostly light yellow with a faint eye-line through their bright brown eyes in an otherwise brown head and body. So cute! It was great to see the two duckling species for comparison.

Just past the Terns, the other Common Loon appeared, half- submerged like a stealth submarine. It puttered along, then silently slipped underwater and disappeared.

 MEW GULLS dominated the air, both in sound and numbers. Two babies rested in the sun just around the corner from the Tern youngsters. One easily flew around and returned.

Suddenly pandemonium broke out. The Loons yodeled in alarm from their positions across the lake from each other. Wow! The Terns ramped up their rasping cries and the Mew Gulls tooted their tinny horns loudly. I looked around and found the perpetrator, a BALD EAGLE. He flew high across the lake, feigning innocence on his reconnaissance flight, accompanied by a bomber squad of Mew Gulls and Arctic Terns that made sure he kept moving along. It took some time for the excitement to subside and the normal rhythm to return.

I stopped on the east side of the lake to see a family of RED-NECKED GREBES with 3 zebra-striped chicks resting in the tangle of pond vegetation along the shore. I was glad to see them as road construction near the Mile 15 Lily Pad Pond make it hard to visit the Red-necked Grebe family there.

All in all, a wonderful time enjoying the Tern Lake treasures!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday June 28, 2017 Red Crossbills and Hairy Woodpecker fledgling

Seward, Alaska

Ava’s Place was hopping with birds, literally! Scores of PINE SISKINS squabbled over the sunflower seeds spilled below the feeders while others tried to dominate the actual feeders. Wide-eyed fuzzy and less aggressive fledglings took notes for future reference.

A young RED CROSSBILL fed happily on loose sunflower seeds in a hanging platform feeder, occasionally driving off a pesky Pine Siskin. A golden female, possibly his mom, expertly used her tongue to help extract sunflower seeds from a wire feeder. Then she manipulated the hard-shelled seed into her nutcracker, shucked the shell and ate the heart.

A large fledgling HAIRY WOODPECKER male figured out how to hang onto the vertical log suet feeders and gobbled up Ava’s special suet mixture. His worried mother also collected gobs of suet for her son, often from the same feeder, and tenderly fed him. She looked a bit ragged; he looked fat and healthy. Lucky boy!

A male adult Hairy Woodpecker also blasted in to gather suet; I suspect he had babies still in the nest or nearby to feed.

Both a mom and dad DOWNY WOODPECKER gathered suet and carried it off to their babies. It will be fun to see their fledglings!

PINE GROSBEAKS fended off Pine Siskins on the railing feeders, apparently there to dine, not gather. Another female gorged on unripe May Day tree berries until her crop was full to bursting, presumably to feed the kids.

A SONG SPARROW flitted about the ground, deck, and railing. In a pause between woodpeckers, it flew up to the log suet feeder and hung on precariously, chowing down on suet. A RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH female also zipped in to get the rich suet for her babies.

I heard a RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD at a sugar water feeder but too many leaves were in the way to see it.

Ava’s Place is such a great place to watch and listen to birds year-round! She really appreciates donations to help with the expense of feeding these fabulous birds.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 Hot Action at Alaska Sealife Center

Seward, Alaska

There were more than just RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKES flying around the avian habitat this evening: hormones! The spectacular KING EIDER drake paddled after his vocal brown goddess, pausing frequently to puff out his chest and coo in his beautiful, bell-like voice. Around and around they swam, the courtship intensifying.

Suddenly the drake jumped on the hen’s back and they started to sink. He grabbed onto the feathers at the back of her head for stability and held on tight. It was too fast to tell, but I hope she snatched a breath before she submerged. Eiders are splendid divers, so this was not an attempt to drown his sweetie.

It seemed longer, but it was only 3 seconds before she came up for air. He held on briefly then let go. They swam off in different directions to regroup and preen. “North,” a sturdy young male and a lovely brown female are proof of last year’s successful breeding.

With good luck and ASLC’s expertise, there may be King Eider chicks again this year!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter