Wednesday, October 29, 2014 Steller’s Eider and company

Seward, Alaska

The young male STELLER’S EIDER is all dolled up in quite a spectacular outfit that now more closely resembles the pictures in the bird books: white head, black eye patch, black chin, greenish head patches, and peachy body. The head is not quite all white, and the wings lack the artistic black brush marks of the full male breeding plumage, but he’s getting close.

The past several days, the standout eider has been spotted with his adopted companions, the slightly smaller HARLEQUIN DUCKS, at Spring Creek Beach at Mile 5 Nash Road, north of the boat basin, and at Fourth of July Beach. Fourth of July Beach is accessed at Mile 5 Nash Road by driving around the Seward Marine Industrial Center boat yard and drydock. Turn left on Jellison Avenue, right on Delphin Street, then another right at the T; continue straight all the way to the small parking lot at the beach. Bring a scope and move slowly as they are very sensitive to disturbance.

Also spotted today at the beach, two brown sea ducks with white face patches: a single female SURF SCOTER with a female HARLEQUIN DUCK. Small numbers of MEW GULLS and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS scrambled after surface fish; 7 HORNED GREBES dove nearby on the same school. COMMON MERGANSERS really know how to scurry after those little fish, planing along in a frenzy of wings, feet, and splashing before plunging underwater to snap them up.

BARROW’S GOLDENEYE numbers are on the upswing. During a recent very high tide, a beautiful flock of 50 paddled right along the water’s edge, almost to the beach ryegrass, where normally one would walk. They were very wary, so the only way to enjoy the sight was to peek from behind the grasses.

On October 23rd, I flushed a single female LAPLAND LONGSPUR feeding on fallen beach ryegrass seeds.

Watch for Steller sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, BALD EAGLES, and the rattling BELTED KINGFISHER that whizzes through very now and then.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter











Wednesday, October 29, 2014 Silver Salmon Show

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:13 am, sunset 6:08 pm, for a total day length of 8 hours and 54 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 16 seconds shorter. The week of clear, cold weather seems to be changing to warmer with precip of some sort.

The recent appearance of thin ice on local ponds, wetlands, and the Lagoon has locked waterfowl out of their usual pantries, concentrating them in the moving waters at the inlets and outlets, or pushed them to the ocean.

Silver salmon, which returned in near record numbers this fall, continue to school up in the Lagoon and migrate up freshwater streams. Their colorful corpses and scattered eggs provide welcome nutrition to a host of birds including BALD EAGLES, RAVENS, NORTHWESTERN CROWS, MAGPIES, KINGFISHER, DIPPERS, STELLER’S JAYS, MALLARDS, COMMON GOLDENEYES, BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, and perhaps HARLEQUIN DUCKS and GREAT BLUE HERONS.

The Lagoon beach by Benny Benson Park off Dairy Hill Lane, and the beach in front of Scheffler Creek, south of the harbor uplands are good places to spot salmon and their feathered predators.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter







Tuesday, October 28, 2014 Ghoulish Activity!

Seward, Alaska

How would you like to find a large headless bird plopped in your driveway in a pool of fresh, red blood with scattered blood splatters leading to it? This was not a Halloween trick and my friend was mystified.

We inspected the evidence, a large plump body with short wings and strong feet reminiscent of a chicken’s, with feathers. The black and white breast feathers looked like an artist painstakingly painted each one; the dark tail was tipped with a complementary chestnut brown. This was a bird of the dim and shadowy forest, perfectly camouflaged for sitting on a spruce branch. All in all, a remarkably lovely bird despite the gruesome circumstances and pencil-sized hole under one wing.

Even without the head, I recognized the species and gender. Do you? Answer revealed at the end!

Noting that this forest bird was not a strong flier nor a migratory species, one way it ended up splat on her driveway could be that a raptor of some sort grabbed it in the nearby forested mountain slopes, its sharp talons piercing the body. After ripping off the head (ew!) the predator must have been disturbed, perhaps by another hungry bird, and flew off with the prize. Perhaps there was an aerial altercation and the hapless, headless bird was dropped just before the two antagonists hit her house.

Before they could compose themselves and grab the tasty meal, here comes the homeowner in her car, about to receive a shocking surprise.

While I know the prey, I don’t know the predator. I wonder if perhaps a NORTHERN GOSHAWK is in the ‘hood. They would be more likely to hunt down this forest bird than the often seen BALD EAGLES. I have not seen any goshawks, but am now on the alert, as it is very possible.

So, the answer to the riddle: it is a male SPRUCE GROUSE.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter








Sunday October 12, 2014 Seward swan family visits the Seward Boat Harbor

Seward, Alaska

A chilly, dark, fall afternoon; sn’rain spit intermittently at sea level while snow accumulated on the mountainsides. A good day to bird from the car. I parked by the Mariners’ Memorial on the harbor uplands to look for seabirds. Immediately, my attention switched from dot birds to a majestic flotilla of six TRUMPETER SWANS, two adults and four cygnets, paddling directly below me along the rocky breakwater, honking softly. They looked apprehensive and uncomfortable in this unusual habitat, as well they should.

I snapped a few photos from my car blind. The leader lowered his/her head to take a sip of saltwater, and unsurprised, raised its long neck to swallow it down. No one followed suit or stopped paddling. I watched them slowly disappear around the corner into the entrance of the Seward Boat Harbor. Hmmm, sez I, I wonder if I could sneak over to the fish cleaning station on the nearby float and catch them steaming into the boat harbor? So I did! We had about the same distance to cover, but I walked faster than they paddled.

Shortly after hiding myself behind the cover of the fish cleaning station, sure enough, here comes the leader with all four cygnets paddling in a line behind him/her with the other adult guarding the rear. The lead adult nervously stretched its magnificent, powerful wings, then resumed the impromptu tour.

Despite the lousy weather, of all things, a boat decided to head out. The swans moved to the other side as the delighted skipper took a few photos on his way out. One does not often have to navigate around swans here! Another boat snorted to life and the swans milled about, not very happy about this alien scene. A few BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, MEW GULLS, and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS circled hopefully over the fish cleaning station, a harbor seal popped its shiny head up to look at the new visitors; a sea otter nonchalantly cruised backwards, oblivious, crunching noisily on a mussel.

Hey kids! What doesn’t belong in this habitat? The swans took the hint and were soon beating their giant wings and running along the water next to the US Coast Guard Cutter Mustang, gaining momentum and lift-off. They soared over the tall harbor lights, over the coal loading conveyor, and aimed for the familiar wetlands at the head of the bay. THIS Sunday afternoon expedition was over, and the lesson learned.

I stayed a bit longer to enjoy the sight and sounds of the sea otter, enthusiastically smacking on yet another mussel as a SONG SPARROW sang from the breakwater, and NORTHWESTERN CROWS cawed nearby. I wonder what they thought of those big, white, long-necked visitors from another world in their boat harbor?

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter