Wednesday, September 17, 2014 Steller's Eider male

Seward, Alaska

The young drake STELLER'S EIDER is still in Resurrection Bay, now on the west side at Lowell Point. Robin C spotted him yesterday by Miller's Landing, and I refound him today.

As at Fourth of July Beach, where he was first spotted on August 6th, he is hanging out with HARLEQUIN DUCKS, feeding voraciously at the intertidal zone.

Back in August, the Harlequins were in eclipse plumage, very drab, and flightless. Now they have completed their fall molt; the males in their characteristic colorful finery, the females sport white round earrings. The dramatic change to his friends does not seem to affect the eider.

Squalls of heavy rain continue. Last night shortly after 11 pm a brilliant flash of lightning lit up the sky. Six seconds later, (*about a mile away) rolling, powerful thunder rumbled down Resurrection Bay for many long thrilling seconds. Seward rarely has lighting and thunder; I'm glad I was up and out in the rain, walking the dogs. The young one did not care for this unusual weather phenomenon in the least and walked us briskly back to the safety of home.
     
In other news, Mt Ash trees all over town are magnets for multitudes of ROBINS and VARIED THRUSHES. A single drake SURF SCOTER has been at Fourth of July beach for the past week or more, all alone. SANDHILL CRANES were reported flying high overhead yesterday, heading into the storm.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

*In case it ever happens again, to estimate the distance to the lightning, start counting the number of seconds as soon as you see the flash and stop when you hear thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five to get the distance in miles.









Monday, September 15, 2014 Great Blue Herons in the Pouring Rain

Seward, Alaska

Recently, several people have reported seeing one or two impressive, large, long-necked, long-legged birds with large bills flying over town or perched near the water. Normally very secretive, the GREAT BLUE HERON is actually a year-round resident. One year, the Seward Christmas Bird Count found 11 birds!

Watch for this amazing heron fishing patiently by the harbor breakwater, flying overhead with its long legs stretched behind and neck curved into an "S", roosting in spruce trees, or standing stoically on one leg in the pouring rain. It's always a surprise and a treat to see these magnificent, mysterious birds.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold






Sunday, September 14, 2014 Saw-whet Owl Concert

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:23 am, sunset 8:21 pm for a total day length of 12 hours and 57 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 25 seconds shorter.

Highs in the upper 50s, lows in the upper 40s. Rain in the forecast for the next week.

At 3 am this morning, I was startled awake by a SAW-WHET OWL playing jazz improv from a spruce tree right by my open bedroom window. The little guy with a big voice delivered a virtuoso performance, tossing in an unusual ascending progression to his principle theme of "beep, beep, beep" which was almost, but not quite on the same pitch. 

After a brief pause, he experimented further with the pitch of the "beep", first a little flat, then a little sharp, followed by more doodling. After a few more minutes, he must have taken a deep bow and silently departed.

What riveting, wild music from an unexpected musician of the night!


Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, August 16, 2014 Bank Swallows and Raptors in the Rain

Seward, Alaska

The rain continued, and the answer to the rhetorical, "Can it rain any harder?" was a hammering YES! But the incredible resultant downpour seemed to drain the clouds' reservoir, and the rest of the day's delivery was lighter with welcome pauses.

I checked out Fourth of July Beach in the afternoon, looking for the STELLER'S EIDER. I found the usual dark male HARLEQUIN DUCKS in their eclipse plumage, growing their tails from odd, long pins. A much lighter female Harlequin paddled and dove with them, only one. The females have been scarce. She could be mistaken for the Eider as they are both a light brown, and stand out among the male Harleys. But note her rounded head, face pattern, small bill, and she is the same size as the males.

Next, I checked out nearby Spring Creek beach. The STELLER'S EIDER was indeed there, just offshore, hanging out with a long line of male Harlequins. Slightly larger, lighter brown, flat head, longer bill, with different but subtle patterning.

Suddenly, a powerful, large brown raptor zoomed past my car. A PEREGRINE FALCON!! I haven't seen one all year! That was exciting! It disappeared as quickly as it came.

Another surprise awaited: swooping over the wetland pond were a dozen SWALLOWS! I thought the swallows were long gone. It took a lot of effort to try to track them in the rain and dim light and getting a photo was even more challenging. They are more erratic than bats! Finally, I caught sight of a dark breast band and identified at least a few as BANK SWALLOWS. I think some others may have been TREE SWALLOWS but it sure was hard to tell.

A flash of brown in the wetlands beyond caught my eye next: a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK in pursuit of a rattling, protesting BELTED KINGFISHER! After a short dash, the hawk veered off to settle on one of the dead trees nearby. NORTHWESTERN CROWS perched on top of various other dead trees watching the show. But there was more!

A MERLIN shot into the scene, chasing the Sharpie. Round and round they went, until the Merlin gave up and the Sharpie landed to catch its breath. The Merlin perched upright on top of a dead tree snag, and the Sharpie sat not 10' below it, in a slightly less upright posture. Waiting, watching, resting. While they sat, I checked around the clearing and found the PEREGRINE FALCON sitting on another dead tree, waiting and watching. What a lot of raptors!

After a time-out, ANOTHER Sharp-shinned Hawk materialized and took off after the first. They both chased around the clearing, dodging the dead branches and then through the nearby live spruce tree branches. They seemed pretty serious about the chase, flaring their wings and extending their yellow legs and sharp talons.

By the time they dashed off through the trees one final time, I lost track of the Merlin and Peregrine. The Crows and Kingfisher had disappeared too, smart birds!

Even though the rain made it tough to get decent photos, and the action was far away, it sure was an exciting afternoon and well worth the effort.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter











Friday, August 15, 2015 Northern Water Thrush yard bird

Seward, Alaska

Rain and rough seas all this week since the Seward Silver Salmon Derby started on Saturday, August 9th. This morning when it was only moderately raining, I heard a very loud, "CHIP!" in my yard. I grabbed my camera and tried to get a photo of the mystery bird skulking in the wet alder leaves.

Blurry though it was, Buzz identified the mystery bird as a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH. I looked so hard for this warbler in the spring at the wetlands by the Resurrection River bridge at Exit Glacier. I could hear it but never saw it. It sure was nice to have one delivered to my yard!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


Tuesday August 12, 2014 Storm birds: Red-necked Phalaropes and a Sanderling

Seward, Alaska

A series of storms rolled in from the Pacific this week delivering heavy rain, sullen gray clouds, rough seas, and… storm birds. I ventured out around 8 pm to have a look at the dramatic weather and swollen streams. Snug in my car, I scanned the little beach just south of the harbor uplands, windshield wipers banging away. A few rugged fishermen were still flailing away at the tide's edge at the mouth of Scheffler Creek, trying to snag a big one for the Silver Salmon Derby.

I had to roll down the window despite the rain to get a better look at about a dozen RED-NECKED PHALAROPES packed into the corner of the beach by the breakwater below, busily feeding in the surging wrack. Whenever a wet fisherman walked over, they blew away, but returned as soon as the coast was clear. It was really fun to watch them, and I was grateful for the big towel to wipe things down.

Looking up the beach, I spotted two well-camouflaged juvenile SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS standing stoically, looking ready for bedtime. A dark gray, almost invisible WANDERING TATTLER poked through the intertidal rocks. Then, a little light-colored ball appeared, foraging up and down the piles of wave-tossed seaweed. At least the belly was white; the back was a mixture of grays and browns. But in the dim and fading light, the shorebird really showed up. I shot off a bunch of photos, and managed to get a few of the bird next to a LEAST SANDPIPER for size (bigger), and a SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (about the same.) At one point, a similar-sized RED-NECKED PHALAROPE body bumped the bird, just bonked it out of his way!

I wasn't sure who this one was, so I sent a bunch of photos to the experts on the 'net. Thanks to Buzz and Dave for letting me know it was a SANDERLING. Seward just doesn't get this species very often, and in molt, it's confusing. Look for the size, bold white wing stripe when it flies, black legs and straight black bill.

The next day, I went back twice to try to relocate the storm birds, but the little beach was absolutely empty of birds, and full of fishermen and visitors.

In other news, at noon I watched a female or juvenile HARRIER flying over the roiling surf at Fourth of July beach, and then head to the safety of the shore where it disappeared. The STELLER'S EIDER male blended in (almost) with his HARLEQUIN friends. A DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT dove then surfaced, looking huge and black with an upturned golden bill. Tiny MARBLED MURRELETS piped and dove nearby. Two SPOTTED SANDPIPERS worked along the tide's edge. A female BELTED KINGFISHER flew high above with a giant fish in her bill, bigger than her head. I don't know how she will ever eat it!

In town, a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK spiraled up until it became a speck bird. TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS chipped from the spruce trees with CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES. All in all, despite the bouts of heavy, hard rain, it was quite an exciting birdy day.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter



















Monday, August 11, 2014 Spotted Sandpiper migration

Seward, Alaska

Scattered individual SPOTTED SANDPIPERS are on the move these past few weeks, migrating through the Seward area, stopping at every beach to fatten up for the next leg of their journey down the Pacific coast to as far as South America. The females leave the breeding sites before the males, and return in the spring ahead of the males and younger females.

It's been tricky to get a good photo as they are wary and quick to fly farther down the beach with their characteristic stiff-winged flutter and glide. I was lucky today to watch one bird flutter-glide across the Lagoon in town heading directly for my waiting camera. It landed not far away at the edge of the water and began its incessant bobbing and teetering as it picked through the invertebrates at the water's edge.

At this time of year, there are no spots on a Spotted Sandpiper, but the diagnostic white notch in front of the wing persists.

Like the Phalaropes, the larger, dominant female arrives first, choses her territory and displays to attract a male. She lays 4 eggs in the nest and then may leave the dad to incubate the eggs while she goes off to find another mate, a breeding practice called polyandry. She may breed with up to four males in temperate regions, but probably has fewer nests farther north. Some populations are monogamous and the pair will both incubate and take care of the young before she migrates south.
(http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/spotted_sandpiper/lifehistory)

There is a lot of fishing activity along the beaches now during the Silver Salmon Derby but the Lagoon is a good place to look for this interesting shorebird, especially on the north end from the boardwalk.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter