Friday, July 18, 2014 One thing after another!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:06 am, sunset 10:59 pm, for a total length of day of 17 hours and 53 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 4 seconds shorter.

After several overcast days that promised rain without delivering and temps in the mid 50s, the clouds took a break and let that blue sky and sunshine reign instead. A soft south breeze with a high of 64º was a lovely and welcome combination. Late in the afternoon, I sallied forth to see what I could see.

It turned out to be a Larid afternoon, short for gulls and terns. A dainty little gull with a black bill and matching black earrings flew overhead and landed just offshore in the brown, silty waves (lots of glacier melt going on.) A BONAPARTE'S GULL, perhaps the same one I spotted last month. I've only seen one at a time this summer; they are not common here like they are in Anchorage. When the little gull flew off, the black band on the tail and distinctive black markings on the wings flashed.

As I followed the gull's flight, I caught sight of a life and death drama being played out high over the bay. An adult BALD EAGLE and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL rapidly exchanged positions of pursuit. The eagle gained the upper hand and the gull gave flight as they raced across the sky, ever lower. At times, they were in perfect synchrony, as if choreographed. Finally, with both birds' beaks open and panting, the gull pulled away. The eagle broke off and flew to the beach where it landed in the water to cool off. ARCTIC TERNS immediately bombarded it, trying to drive it off, to no avail. Too tired.

A random glance at other Arctic Terns in the distance made me jump! The ratcheting Arctic Terns were escorting a jumbo tern with a huge red bill and black-tipped wings. I've been looking for a CASPIAN TERN all summer, and here it was!  It didn't linger over the feisty smaller terns' territory, but took leisurely loops and soon disappeared. No one messes with Arctic Terns!

As I headed back, small groups of invisible LEAST SANDPIPERS flushed out of the seaweed wrack. They blend in so well, it's hard to spot them until they move. Migration is well underway as the season races along.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, July 6, 2014 Rufous Hummingbird banding project

Seward, Alaska

Stacy Jon Peterson and his well-trained family set up a hummingbird banding station at Ava's this weekend. To catch the hummers, a hummingbird feeder was placed inside a specially designed cage. The only door was held open by a long piece of fishing line attached to the attendant, either one of the two Peterson kids. When a hummingbird ventured inside, down came the wire screen door. Then it was just a matter of catching the little hummer and delivering it to the banding table.

The first hummingbird of the morning was a female that was banded about the same time last year! The rest of the day's 5 hummers were previously unbanded, including 3 males of this year's hatch.

After a brief inspection, the bird was weighed, measured, and banded with a miniscule leg band. Think toothpick for a leg size, the skinny kind. Then the top of the head was marked with a dab of water-soluble marker to ensure quick recognition and release if recaptured.

A lucky volunteer gets to release the miniature jewel, placed gently on an open palm. I could feel his tiny heart beating so fast it was just a vibration, "hummmmm." After a short time, zing! off he shot with stories about being abducted by aliens, with a band on his leg and white paint on his head to prove it.

Fifteen wondrous Rufous Hummingbirds were banded at Ava's over the course of two days. Several were this year's hatch, and the majority were males. Last year, 11 were banded, and 11 others had already been branded. One can only hope that these missing birds are nesting somewhere else...

 were If you are lucky to have hummers, clean and refill your hummer feeder 4:1 sugar water solution often so it's nice and clean for the newly fledged hummers and their hungry moms.

In addition to the hummers, once again, it's baby bird time at Ava's: DOWNY and HAIRY WOODPECKERS, PINE GROSBEAKS, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, TREE and VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS, SONG SPARROWS and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES. PINE SISKINS, which were rare this past winter, nested nearby. It was so nice to see and hear them again, with fledglings.

Another treat was a brief appearance of at least two CROSSBILLS. They flew off before I could identify the species, but WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS have been in the area for the past several weeks. Robin C reported the first RED CROSSBILLS of the year recently, over by the Seward Elementary School, so both species are in the area.

Stop by Ava's for a bird fix; it's just buzzing with action. If you can, please bring black oil sunflower seeds to help her keep up with all those hungry birds. She has found this to be the preferred food, summer and winter.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, June 26, 2014 Arctic Tern fracas!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:34 am, sunset 11:26 pm, for a total day length of 18 hours and 25 minutes. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 6 seconds shorter.

Cool cloudy weather continues with occasional sprinkles and sunshine, temps in the mid 50s. The forecast, if it is to be believed, is for 72º on Saturday with more sunshine on Sunday. We shall see!

It was a pleasure, as always, to watch the graceful ARCTIC TERNS today, full of moxie, zipping after BALD EAGLES and RAVENS like fighter jet escorts at the border.  One caught a rather impressive fish and paraded that fish around and around, crying exultantly, openly bragging, long after the poor fish was asphyxiated. I hope that eventually the tern remembered to haul it back to any chicks, waiting hungrily for delivery.

Another tern dove with a big splash and caught a minute fish, smaller than a chick snack. To my astonishment, another tern dove down and ATTACKED the fisher, grabbed one of its outer tail feathers with its strong red bill and pulled hard. The attacked tern struggled to fly away. Weighed down by the intruder, it almost went into the water. You can imagine the racket as both birds screamed, one in surprise and indignation, the other hurling bad, bad tern words. Maybe both were.

It was over in a trice; the attacker released the feathers and the victim flew free, feathers intact, still holding the tiny fish between its clenched bill. I have never witnessed a tern attack another tern. I cannot conceive why. Certainly, it wasn't because of the fish, which was no prize. Very puzzling. But what a drama!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 Seward Hudsonian Godwit

Seward, Alaska

A surprising discovery today was a HUDSONIAN GODWIT feeding at the tide's edge. Its bill was bicolored, with a black tip, and the rest a very dull and vague pink. The sides were barred with black, light rufous, and gray. I think it was a female. When it flew, (sorry!) the black tail, white rump, and narrow white stripes flashed. I did not see the color of the wing linings, which are dark in Hudsonians and dark in Black-tailed Godwits (should I ever be so lucky!)

I understand that recently there were many on the island in Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage. Is it possible that they are already migrating south en route to Amazonian Colombia and thence to Isla Chiloe off the coast of Chile?

Nathan Senner's PhD research links at:

There's always something interesting happening on the Nature Channel!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

June 19, 2014 Bird Tour to the Chiswells

On Thursday, June 19, I joined Captain Eric Clock of Semaka Charters on the Seafarer with six birders, including the leaders Ed Harper and Susan Scott of Sandpiper Journeys Tours.

The 9-hour trip featured the rugged coast of Resurrection Bay, the glaciers and spectacular scenery of Aialik Bay, and the famed Chiswell Islands in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Some highlights of the trip included watching a tiny PARAKEET AUKLET; a RED-FACED CORMORANT that flew around the boat several times, flashing not only its large white flank patches, but also its very red-orange-blue face; upwards of 40-50 RHINOCEROS AUKLETS feasting on herring detected by the fish finder; a BALD EAGLE striding purposefully up a grassy slope topping a cliff; a GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL we clocked at 26 knots, flying with the boat; a branded Steller sea lion, resting harbor seals, mammoth humpback whales, and a pod of 4 stunning orcas with a precious calf.

I learned from the Alaska Sealife Center that the branded sea lion gave birth on the rookery at Chiswell Island this summer on June 3. The researcher thought she must have been taking a break during a foraging trip as she was observed the next morning by remote cameras at the rookery tending to her pup. The mom was born on Chiswell 7 years ago, and gave birth for her first time in 2012 at the age of 5. This is her second pup. Any reports, especially with photos documenting branded sea lions are greatly appreciated by the researchers at the ASLC.

Another research project, conducted by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, concerns the management of Pacific halibut. The Victoria, British Columbia fishing vessel, Waterfall, flying both the Canada and USA flags, was heading out into the Gulf of Alaska as we turned homeward into Resurrection Bay.

Captain Eric was very flexible in his route, accommodated any reasonable request to check out potential hot spots, lingered there once found, and told great sea stories. It was wonderful to share this wild Kenai Fjords coast with the excited and appreciative birders/photographers. 

Here's my list, there may be a few species missing:


Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, June 22, 2014 Summer Sandpipers and Angry Eagles

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:32 am, sunset 11:27 pm for a total day length of 18 hours and 55 minutes. Tomorrow will be 21 seconds shorter!

Although the forecast has been for rain the past week, after the big rainstorm on Monday, it has only rained overnight or just for parts of the day, leaving much of the day unexpectedly sunny and bright. Everything is green and blooming, including tree-size lilacs and honeysuckle bushes in town. The hummingbirds have many choices with all these flowers plus wildflowers and annuals in hanging baskets. The very pleasant temps linger in the fifties to low sixties.

A walk along the tide flats proved surprisingly productive today. Two GREATER YELLOWLEGS poked and prodded along the tideline. One struck an enviable yoga pose as it preened; a master at ease. A SPOTTED SANDPIPER flew up, calling, then settled down to feed, teetering dramatically like a tightrope walker on the flat, stable mudFLAT.
I wonder why so many shorebirds do that?

Three small bits scampered ahead along a streamlet. I looked closer and discovered about 13 WESTERN SANDPIPERS, 1 LEAST SANDPIPER, and 1 SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, all adults in breeding plumage. These birds could represent failed nests, not sure. I believe it is too early for the juveniles to be present; at least I haven't seen any yet.

While I was engrossed in watching these tiny peeps, I heard a screeching racket and looked up to see a BALD EAGLE flying straight towards me, carrying a fish carcass. I clicked madly, trying to track the fast-flying, angry bird. Suddenly, another pair of talons appeared in my telephoto lens; another Bald Eagle grabbed onto the prize and ripped some of it off. No wonder the eagle was furious!

The fantastic scene was too close to fit in my lens as they flew right overhead. The marauder peeled off with the stolen goods while the first eagle headed for home with the remains of the remains. ARCTIC TERNS and MEW GULLS peppered the eagle with insults and threats all the way through their territory. I can imagine the exasperated eagle complaining to the eaglets and spouse, "What a day!" as it tossed dinner into the nest and collapsed on the couch.

The second summer BONAPARTE'S GULL fished for sticklebacks and other tidbits in a very shallow stream. To date, I've only seen one among all the other gulls.

I heard an ALDER FLYCATCHER calling from, yes, alders, and heard the winnowing of a WILSON'S SNIPE. SAVANNAH, SONG, and LINCOLN SPARROWS' songs rang out.  ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, YELLOW WARBLERS, VARIED THRUSH, HERMIT THRUSH, and ROBINS sang from the willows and cottonwoods. A pretty fine summer afternoon!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter