Saturday, November 23, 2014 Rare Bird Alert: Purple Finch!

Seward, Alaska

Another blue-gray day, the clouds weary of their heavy burden and glad to release it. After yet another downpour, the curtains parted to let a shred of blue sky peek through. Parked at Ava’s, birding from the car, I spotted a smaller bird in a nearby cottonwood with the chunky PINE GROSBEAKS and one ROBIN. She was busy feeding off something on the cottonwood buds.

I fired off a series of shots to study closely at home. As I suspected, PURPLE FINCH! She (or first year male) has a broad white eyebrow, dark cheek patch and white stripe below, no eye ring, and white undertail without any streaks.

This species has been seen in Seward before, several years ago, but is not a regular. Its winter range is supposed to be in southern BC down along the Pacific coast to Mexico. I have records for January 25, 2006 Ava’s, April 12, 2007 Ava’s, and January 1, 2008 AVTEC.

The species is listed as “rare” in the 2014 Checklist of Alaska Birds, “Annual or possibly annual in small numbers; most such species occur at the perimeter of Alaska, in season; a few are scarce residents.”

I hope she hangs around!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter





Friday, November 21, 2014 Trumpeter Swan Family

Seward, Alaska

Gray skies continue, grays of every shade. At least it hasn’t rained hard recently, just light rain with mild temperatures in the mid 40s. Some lawns in town are still a vibrant green. Very strange.

The TRUMPETER SWAN family is back at the thawed wetland homestead at Mile 1 Nash Road. I spotted them at the nest site this afternoon, all preening madly. One of the adults took an energetic bath, black bill open wide, tossing water over its back as it dipped continuously into the cold water. Then it spread those gigantic white angel wings and beat them back and forth, back and forth, to throw the water off.

The other parent stood on the nest site with the four large cygnets, now about five months old. All were preening, preening, preening, getting those feathers ready for a big flight, maybe sometime soon. One after the other, they spread their wings and beat them vigorously. Sometimes, two swans stretched simultaneously, and only by careful alignment, avoided hitting the other. It was pretty impressive to see them all standing so close together, long necks looping here and there, working away.

It’s also impressive to think of the beauty, utility, and fragility of a single swan feather, the tiny components all hooked together like Velcro. United, they become an armor that insulates, waterproofs, colors, and permits flight. The cygnets have grown and molted untold numbers of feathers since they hatched in June, and have many more to go until they attain the white plumage of their spectacular parents.

When I returned a few hours later, the swans were once again feeding, gathering energy to grow more feathers, and perhaps to fuel their next flight.

I wonder how much longer they will linger in this unusual warm November? Until then, it’s a pleasure to just watch.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter








Seward Christmas Bird Count Saturday December 27th

Seward, Alaska

This year's Seward CBC will be Saturday, December 27th. Field Counters will meet at 9 am at Rez Art at 320 Third Ave to confirm their area and team assignments. Be prepared to walk and drive with the car windows open. Dress for the weather, and bring more layers in case; bring lunch, snacks, and beverages for a full day outside. Binoculars, spotting scope, and bird book are helpful. A great attitude is the best tool!

The backup weather day will be Sunday, December 28, and if that fails, we'll try for the next weekend January 3/4 TBA. 

Results will be tallied at 4 pm at the Rez Art. Feeder Watchers are welcome to attend the tally or to email their results.

Count Week is December 24-26, and December 28-30.  During Count Week, only the kind of bird is noted, not the numbers. If you hear owls or see any unusual birds, let me know. You do not have to be a Count Day participant to share your Count Week birds.

Like last year, the National Audubon Society no longer requires the $5 fee as the national results will be posted on-line. Donations to help with the CBC are always appreciated.

Please contact Carol Griswold at c_griz at yahoo.com for more information. Let me know if you plan to participate either as a Field Counter or as a Feeder Watcher. Out-of-town birders are welcome.


Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward CBC Compiler

Wednesday, November 19, 2014 Pacific Loon, Swans, and Magpie with flat fish

Seward, Alaska

After days of rain punctuated by torrential cloudbursts mixed with sn’rain, the precipitation finally stopped this afternoon. BALD EAGLES seized the opportunity to perch with their wings hung out to dry. Mixed flocks of passerines emerged to seek soggy invertebrates and cold insects on tree branches: DOWNY WOODPECKER, CHESTNUT BACKED CHICKADEES, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, JUNCOS, and GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS. BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS, PINE GROSBEAKS, and PINE SISKINS feasted on freshly washed Mt Ash berries. At least one VARIED THRUSH called with a convincing spring song. CROSSBILLS flocked overhead.

I spied a PACIFIC LOON over at Fourth of July Beach, the first of the winter with its white throat and thin, dark necklace. A COMMON LOON drifted nearby. Three SURF SCOTERS, a dozen HORNED GREBES, HARLEQUIN DUCKS, PELAGIC CORMORANTS, and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS spread out in front, following small schools of fish.

A BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE flew past with a small flatfish, a flounder (?) for a feast. A staccato outburst alerted me to a DIPPER in the rushing stream.

The Nash Road wetlands has once again melted. The TRUMPETER SWAN family returned home to rest and feed.

Shortly after dawn yesterday, in a short interlude before the rain resumed and the wind kicked up, three BALD EAGLES soared overhead. One chittered to another in greeting. Soon another joined in, then another and another until there were seven eagles spiraling upwards, higher and higher. What a great way to start the day!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter






Sunday November 16, 2014 Orca breaching!

Seward, Alaska

The weather switched 180ยบ to deliver spitting rain and a brisk north wind by late morning. I headed out to Lowell Point Beach to check the west side of the white-capped bay. Imagine my surprise and delight to spot a small cloud of white vapor in the middle of the bay followed by a tall black dorsal fin. Orca! I watched the black triangle surface and dive as the male orca moved south, accompanied by smaller spouts and dorsal fins. I believe there were at least 4, but it was hard to get an accurate count as they dove and surfaced.

I ran back to my car to grab my camera and returned just in time to refind them and then photograph one breaching! The powerful orca suddenly erupted out of the gray waves, turned, and hit the water with its back in a mighty, satisfying splash. Wow! I watched for a long time, hoping for an encore, but they steadily swam south and out of sight.

I never imagined that the Nature Channel would feature Orcas today. What a treat!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter