Friday, February 24, 2017 Glaucous Gulls, and American Wigeon

Seward, Alaska

The new hotspot along the waterfront at the base of Jefferson Street was even hotter today. I’m glad I stopped to check as I immediately spotted two large, very white gulls floating quietly among the other gulls. GLAUCOUS GULLS! They mostly just watched the feeding frenzy as other birds dove on herring swimming close to shore.

A few more breeding plumage BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES mixed in with the MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS. The other gulls mercilessly and noisily chased any successful gull that did not immediately devour its prize. It sure seemed like a lot of wasted energy!

It was fun to watch, and wonder if any of these other gulls might be unusual as well. There are so many different age groups, molts, and subtle differences to consider!

Another new arrival (for me) was two RED-NECKED GREBES that cautiously paddled around the outskirts of the action.

At the head of the bay, I found a single AMERICAN WIGEON in the distance, walking along the tidelands, loosely associated with MALLARDS, also foraging.

Thanks to Steve Heinl who verified my Glaucous Gull identification, and added that they are both second cycle birds. Although one has a pronounced roundish head, it still has a short primary projection. An Iceland Gull would look slim and long-winged, and furthermore, the palest Iceland Gulls that are white are also the smallest in the group. 

I’ll keep looking and studying gulls; it’s a daily and lifetime challenge.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, February 23, 2017 Common Murres return!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:12 am, sunset 6:10 pm, for a total day light of 9 hours and 58 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 27 seconds longer.

Mostly sunny, calm, and lovely weather these past three days with temps in the 20s to low 30s. The lack of new snow is a relief as there’s just no place to put it, and road crews are still clearing side roads. The forecast is for a high of 37 tomorrow, which may activate Nature’s Zamboni, before cooling off into next week.

I was very pleased today to discover that the first mile of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, aka the bike path along the waterfront, was plowed but not sanded. I enjoyed a wonderful time kicksledding back and forth in this favorable window of opportunity, watching birds with binocs and camera conveniently close.

A fish event of some sort attracted a host of hungry seabirds, six Harbor Seals, and a Steller Sea Lion right off shore.  Farther out, among the SURF SCOTERS, PELAGIC CORMORANTS, and tiny MARBLED MURRELETS, I spotted at least six COMMON MURRES, a most welcome sight after last year’s wreck. One was in breeding plumage. Dan C, one of the intrepid unAnchorage-Seward field trip birders, first spotted a Common Murre on Saturday.

The drake COMMON GOLDENEYES near shore tossed their heads so far backwards it seemed they might break their handsome necks. I hope the scattered hens among them were impressed, especially with the loud “beep” signaling the display finale. Apparently the BARROW’S GOLDENEYES were not, as they mingled but did not react.

The Steller Sea Lion kept swimming through the rafts of ducks, marked by sudden flights prior to the explosive breath and head erupting among them.


I stopped under a cottonwood tree to admire a young BALD EAGLE perched thereon. Suddenly, he took flight in a beeline for the seabirds. I could not see over the snow bank, but soon he returned with the head of a halibut in his golden-yellow talons and landed right above me. His belly was wet and he took a second to shake off before diving in with gusto. It was exciting to watch this youngster feast on the head, perhaps a scrap from the sea lion or a seal. I left him to enjoy his meal in peace, and hope that the next fish will be bigger.

But not too big! On February 20th, I watched an adult Bald Eagle snatch what appeared to be a Rockfish at Fourth of July Beach. She had a firm grip on the face of the fish; did it come up from the depths to have a look around?

The Eagle struggled mightily to haul this fish to shore, and in a final rise up to the top of the boat harbor breakwater, she dropped it! Alas, I think it sank, as the Eagle landed without supper, and vocalized loudly about her tremendous loss. So close!  

The might be a moral in this story; something about a leftover fish head for dinner is better than a fabulous Rockfish in the water.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, February 19, 2017 FOS Kittiwake, and great whale

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:23 am, sunset 6:00 pm, for a total day light of 9 hours and 37 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 25 seconds longer.

Mostly sunny today and much cooler with a low of 15 and a high of 32. The north wind kicked in and stirred up the bay, hiding many of those tiny Marbled Murrelets behind the waves. Tomorrow is forecast to be sunny and even more chilly with a low of 9 and a high of 21, and stronger winds at 10-14 mph. 

I spent some time at the beach below the Alaska Sealife Center parking lot this morning and was rewarded with a marine mammal show. While waiting for the big boy, I watched a Sea Otter tear into a large skate. The pink-tinged white meat seemed rubbery, and he peeled it off the skin with great relish. At one point, he dropped the skate buffet and swam away to preen and clean. Refreshed, he returned to the site, dove, and came up with the leftovers to continue feasting. A few GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS hovered nearby, eager for any scraps.

A pod of Steller Sea Lions boiled through, swimming in tight synchrony, their collective breath vapor trailed off in the breeze. A shiny Harbor Seal head popped up and peered around like a living periscope, then silently submerged, nose last.

Then I heard the explosive baritone breathing of the Humpback Whale, close to shore. Wow! The massive back rose up and arced, with the dorsal fin on top, and wheeled majestically back underwater. What a pleasure to hear and see a whale in the winter! The great whale swam back and forth for quite some time, surprising and delighting me every time it surfaced.

I noticed several gulls circling overhead, looking for leftovers. One gull was distinctly different from the MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS: a first-of-season BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE! When the seafood processors get back in action, there will be more, but it’s always fun to see the first ones. Another sign of spring, I saw a pair of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES mating. With all the snow piled high, it seems early and a bit optimistic.

The whale grabbed my attention again, swirling around and waving its giant, white pectoral fin in the air. How cool is that? The fin gradually sank and the whale rambled away from shore.

I rambled down to the boat harbor just to see what was happening. Many boats had been shoveled, but some looked like they would appreciate a lightening of their weighty white load. A few NORTHWESTERN CROWS took advantage of the shoveled dock and dropped freshly harvested blue mussels on it to open them up. Pretty smart birds.

The south part of the harbor was encased in soft ice with interesting cracks and promising holes, but I didn’t see any otters or seabirds there. A COMMON GOLDENEYE male swam in the middle open part as well as an otter, but they were too far to photograph.

Back on the Uplands, more Crows fed on cracked corn and birdseed, a winter bounty. Two Ravens joined them on the outskirts, ever cautious, and two SONG SPARROWS darted in for a snack where they could.

On the way home, I spied a STARLING awkwardly attacking a suet feeder at my neighbor’s. He was very pretty with all his polka dots, but I do not wish him well, as his nasty reputation for destruction precedes him.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter