Wednesday, July 28, 2021 Sabine’s Gull!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:30 am, sunset 10:40 pm for a total day length of 17 hours and 9 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 42 seconds shorter.

 

Typical mild weather continues with cloudy skies, temps in the mid-50s and south wind. We are so fortunate, especially compared to the extreme weather elsewhere.

 

Thanks to a hot tip, I refound a juvenile SABINE’S GULL this morning, a LIFE BIRD that I’ve been trying to see for years. I love it when rare birds are delivered to Seward!

 

I carefully scanned the raft of bobbing BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS by the Diversion Tunnel waterfall near the seafood processing plant on Lowell Point Road. Where’s Waldo? It seemed hopeless.

 

Then, I happened to catch sight of a small, dark gull about a yard from shore, paddling along, picking minute food particles and at least one drowning insect from the wave-splashed surface. Three people stood nearby, casing out locations to fish. The tiny gull didn’t seem to mind their close presence; they didn’t seem to notice it and wandered off.

 

I eased my way down the shore and started clicking away. Far from the madding crowd, the rare gull paddled serenely back and forth, minding its own business. A wave back-splashed and startled the gull into a brief flight, flashing the striking white wing wedge.

 

Occasionally a giant Black-legged Kittiwake flew overhead, perhaps curious but not aggressive. One landed briefly nearby for a good size comparison: 17” vs 13.5”.

 

The Sabine’s Gull has a cool Latin name, Xerna sabini, named for Sir Edward Sabine, (1788-1883), an Irish scientist of many accomplishments. 


The gulls breed on coastal wet tundra along the rim of the arctic, including western and northern Alaska and across the top of the world. During migration to the southern hemisphere, they are pelagic and seldom seen from shore.

 

Pretty special to find this one so close!

 

Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter








 

Friday, July 9, 2021 Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels and Common Murres!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:51 am, sunset 11:16 pm, for a total day length of 18 hours and 24 minutes. Tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 5 seconds shorter.

 

Cool temperatures reign with a high of 54 and a low of 45. Overcast skies started drizzling by early afternoon and then a big front moved in from the Gulf of Alaska bearing heavy rain and south winds. More rain is in the forecast with temps in the 50s until next Wednesday.

 

Who but a birder would watch a storm with the car window wide open and a towel draped over the opening to mop up the rain? The good reason? The solid wall of hard rain delivered dozens (or more) FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS to inner Resurrection Bay. 

 

What a pleasure to watch these graceful “sea swallows” dip and glide over the water, occasionally pattering along, and even diving completely underwater. Even better was the delivery, sparing me the effort of a long and rough boat tour far out into their open ocean habitat.

 

A flock of about 22 COMMON MURRES caught my eye, flying south down the middle of the bay. This is also an unusual, storm-driven, summer sighting. Then a PIGEON GUILLEMOT flew up the bay, and a MARBLED MURRELET popped up near shore then dove. How exciting to see all these alcids from shore!

 

At least four ARCTIC TERNS flew past, a dwindling remnant as the parents lure their fledglings from the land and all prepare for their long migration south to Antarctica. I will miss them!


BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, and MEW GULLS dashed and splashed. A Steller Sea-lion surged along in the waves.

 

With the stormy weather forecast for the next several days, there may be more and other storm birds arriving. I will have a dry towel or two handy!

 

Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter














Wednesday, June 23, 2021 Alder Flycatcher, and Sandpipers

Seward, Alaska

Today, I finally heard my first-of-season ALDER FLYCATCHER and found him perched in a dead Elderberry branch. Flitting from branch to branch, he occasionally dashed out for a little fly-catching, as per his name. Typically, I find they arrive much later than the other migrants from the tropics. So nice to welcome him back! 

 

Along the high tideline, a dozen handsome SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS probed in the thick wrack and mud. Joining them were a few SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPERS and LEAST SANDPIPERS. The Semipalmated Sandpipers were smaller than the Plovers but a bit larger than the leastest sandpipers, with a more pale face, tubular, shorter black bill, and black legs.

 

Another treat, a SPOTTED SANDPIPER, strolling along the wrack line, noting my presence but approaching anyway as it fed, gently bobbing its rear end.

 

The approaching rainstorm hastened my departure from these beautiful and hardy shorebirds, stuck with whatever the tides, winds, and weather delivers.

 

Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

 

 

 










Monday, June 21, 2021 Two Caspian Terns!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:33 am, sunset 11:28 pm for a total day length of 18 hours and 54 minutes. Tomorrow will be 0 minutes and 9 seconds SHORTER. Civil twilight: set at 1:17 am, rise at 2:43 am. No wonder those ROBINS, HERMIT THRUSH, and FOX SPARROWS are singing at 3 am!

 

The sun shone in celebration of the first day of summer today, but rain is in the forecast until next week with temps consistently in the mid 50s. June is like a firehose with more flowers bursting forth every day and frantic parents feeding their hungry newly hatched babies. With the exception of winter-dead lawn patches, everything is green, green, green.

 

Today I heard a grating, primal cry and followed the sound to a pair of suspicious-looking gulls. As they flew closer, I realized with joy that they were CASPIAN TERNS! It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen them here in Seward. Both Cordova and Homer have reported these large, red-billed Terns, so it’s about time they showed up in Seward again.

 

The resident ARCTIC TERNS and MEW GULLS did not seem to be disturbed by them as much as the numerous BALD EAGLES that dared to fly through their airspace and territories. These predators were escorted away by brave, screaming, parents. I watched the Caspian Terns plunge into the nearshore bay water, just like the Arctic Terns, likely after the same fish. 

 

It will be interesting to see if they stick around, and observe their interactions with the other resident birds.

 

Of note, 12 BRANT following the tideline, feeding on Saturday, June 19. A few other Brant were also reported recently in Kasilof.

 

On my Exit Glacier Road bike ride today, I did not hear either the Swainson’s or Gray-cheeked Thrush. The VARIED THRUSH, HERMIT THRUSH, and ROBIN continue to sing and scold along with RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, FOX SPARROW, WILSON’S WARBLER, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, and YELLOW WARBLER. Could be the time of day (mid-afternoon) or many birds are now busy feeding their young.


Summer just started, but the season is moving along fast!


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter






 

 

 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021 Bald Eagles hunting

Seward, Alaska

As it sometimes happens, I innocently stepped out of the car smack into a life-and-death drama, this time at Fourth of July Beach. Four BALD EAGLES swooped low over the water just off the beach, talons extended, then rose up, circled, and dove again. 

 

The two adults and two sub-adults expended an enormous amount of energy, stroking their massive wings constantly. They only rested briefly as they swept down, skimming low as their shadows raced over the tops of the waves beneath.

 

I could not tell what they were hunting: Herring or sand lance? Fish carcasses? Suddenly, with a splash, one Eagle managed to grab its target and snacked on it mid-air, reaching down to those deadly talons to rip off a bite. 


The other Eagles gave chase and three dashed away over the beach. They soon returned and continued the hunt, frequently squabbling over the airspace, screaming, talons-to-talons, hunting wing-to-wing.

 

After about 15 minutes of hunting with occasional success, the show petered out and the great birds dispersed to the forest for a rest, leaving me mystified. 

 

The only other people there were four visitors from Florida who watched in amazement nearby. They told me they had been hoping to see a Bald Eagle on their trip and just happened to be admiring the view when not one but four Eagles appeared. They wondered if this action was normal. I assured them that it was very unusual. I wished I had asked them how long they had been watching before I showed up, but I forgot.

 

I asked if they knew what the Eagles were hunting. They replied, “five ducklings!” I was astonished, but when I got home to check my photos, I clearly saw the tiny head of a duckling. The only duck I had seen was a female RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, first paddling offshore, then resting on shore afterwards, quite alone, and now, I realized, bereft. She had not put up a fuss, wisely realizing the Eagles might grab her too.

 

What a dangerous journey she had undertaken with her little family! Where was her nest in this unlikely habitat? Why was she so far off-shore? Where was she going?


How did those brave little duckling know to dive, leaving nothing but a blip, when the Eagles swooped past in frustration? They can’t have gone very deep with all those downy feathers. It was impressive how long they managed to evade the master predators.

 

As for the Eagles choice of prey, how many calories are in a tiny duckling? Could the Eagles’ tremendous efforts justify the meager return?

 

I realized I have a lot more empathy for ducklings than fish, feeling very sad indeed at their demise and the mother’s loss. I scarcely consider that dynamic when a majestic Eagle snatches a fish out of the water vs the ruthless bully picking on defenseless babies. 

 

Life and death, right before my eyes, predators and prey. Wow.


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter








Sunday, June 6, 2021 Short-billed Dowitcher

Seward, Alaska

 

Sunrise 4:40 am, sunset 11:15 pm for a total day length of 21 hours and 42 minutes. Tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 26 seconds longer.

 

I thought the Dowitchers had all moved on several weeks ago, so I was surprised to find a single SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER feeding in the exposed mudflats. It’s the first time I’ve seen its legs as usually they are feeding up to their knees in water. It eyed me with caution but did not fly. 

 

After probing the mud a few times, it decided to disappear by sitting down with its bill towards the ground and tail up. Remarkably, the shorebird somewhat resembled a piece of wood, except when it raised its head to peek at me. I was very impressed and walked slowly away.

 

A while later, I refound the bird walking along the beach, again habitat I would not have expected. This time, it slowly walked away and then flew over the beach rye grass and disappeared.

 

I read that the subspecies that breeds in Alaska is caurinus, and is the most strongly marked subspecies, showing orange tones below as far as the legs. 

 

Another interesting sighting was that of a SONG SPARROW with its bill open, a sign I interpreted of a hot bird on a warm day, about 66ยบ. I felt the same way and welcomed the cooling fog approaching from the head of the bay.

 

For photos and updates, please visit my blog at https://sporadicbird.blogspot.com

 

Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter












 

Saturday, June 5, 2021 Exit Glacier: Five Thrush Species!

 Seward, Alaska

Thunder rumbled twice as I stood by the side of Exit Glacier Road at 8:30 pm, listening to SWAINSON’S THRUSHES singing on both sides. We hardly ever hear thunder, and I had just left a sunny, blue-sky Seward. The weather can be quite different out the road!

 

I searched through the canopy of cottonwood leaves without much hope but finally found the closest  Swainson’s singing on a cottonwood branch. What a lucky find! It may have been a different Swainson’s, but I also heard a call that reminded me of water dripping in a cave, a rich, round sound. I looked it up later in iBird Plus and found it described as a “whit” call, used as an alarm or distraction call.

 

I drove on slowly and discovered a VARIED THRUSH poking industriously through the underbrush. How could such a brightly colored bird be so invisible in the forest?  He had something in his bill, but I couldn’t tell if it was building materials or food. Other Varied Thrushes joined the chorus of birdsong in the woods.  

 

All along the road between the bridge and the parking lot, HERMIT THRUSHES sang, their sweet notes cascading down like peace offerings. I was unable to find one close enough to try to find.

 

Around 9 pm, I was very pleased to track down a GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH, singing and listening to another’s song, both taking measured turns. Feeling more optimistic after finding the Swainson’s and Varied Thrushes, I searched through a screen of cottonwood and willow leaves. There he was! Fortunately, he was perched on a dead branch in a clearing so I could actually watch him tip his chin up and sing. The elusive Gray-cheeked! So exciting to hear and see him!

 

Not to be left out, a ROBIN perched in a spruce tree, singing his cheerful carol, loud and long, just like those in town. 

 

Five thrush species! All of them sweet songsters!

 

Across the road near a stream, a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH kept up a steady conversation with more distant males, again politely taking turns. He thrust his head all the way back and delivered his rich warble to the sky. 


Though his name is confusing, he is not a thrush but a wood-warbler. He still counts as a valuable member of the symphony. Other warbler songsters included ORANGE-CROWNED, YELLOW-RUMPED, YELLOW, and WILSON’S. I didn’t hear a TOWNSEND’S until I reached the denser spruce-hemlock forest in the Chugach National Forest down the road.

 

All the time I was birding, it rained hard a few miles away. It looked like a street cleaner had thoroughly sprayed the road to the highway. Quirky clouds!


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter