Saturday, December 13, 2014 Salmon-eating, mallard-beating Swans

Seward, Alaska

The Lagoon by Benny Benson Park on Dairy Hill Lane was packed with birds on Saturday. Thin ice over much of the Lagoon restricted waterfowl at the north end to a narrow lead of open water.  MALLARDS, COMMON GOLDENEYES, and BUFFLEHEAD warily watched the BALD EAGLES lurking in the nearby spruce, standing in the shallow water, fighting over scraps, and flying suspiciously low overhead.

The THAYER’S GULL and several GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS picked through the ragged and pitiful remains of the silver salmon bounty. RAVENS and NORTHWESTERN CROWS strode about like treasure hunters with invisible metal detectors, looking for anything remotely edible or enviable.

The main attraction, however, was the famous local TRUMPETER SWAN family of six. The huge birds certainly stood out as the overwhelming stars of the scene. One cygnet lay casually on the snow-dusted shore, its orangish webbed foot sticking out as if to air, or perhaps thermo-regulate.

I glanced over at one of the adults who was busy at work on long, worn-out gray rag, chomping it with its strong black bill, then beating it on the ground like laundry. Another cygnet stood nearby, watching with interest. I looked closer and was stunned to see the rag was an old salmon carcass. I knew mallards loved to eat salmon eggs and nibble on carcasses, but I never have seen an elegant swan eat salmon, dead or alive. Times must be tough for the royalty!

After picking off any possible scraps from the sorry carcass, the swans drifted off to join the rest of the family in the water. Watched closely by a drooling young Bald Eagle wading nearby, the swans scoured the bottom for calories. A drake mallard, one of many scouting for leftovers, apparently got too close to one cygnet. The swan grabbed the mallard by the tail and gave him a thorough thrashing, almost to the point of drowning him. Finally, the hapless drake escaped, water streaming off its waterproof head and back.

Afterwards, the cygnet rose up and stretched those magnificent angel wings, stroking them back and forth as if to take off like a dabbler. More mallards swam past, oblivious and apparently clueless to personal space issues. The young eagle learned a lesson on messing with swans. He didn’t.

The satisfied cygnet folded its wings like origami and peace returned as mallard feathers floated serenely around the crime scene.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter











Tuesday, December 16, 2014 Clever Raven!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:57 am, sunset 3:49 pm for a total day length of 5 hours and 51 minutes. Tomorrow will be 51 seconds shorter.

Rain continues with variations on heavy to light but with temps stuck in the low 30s, the roads have been icy.  Snow is a maybe for the next several days, clouds seem certain, and rain is quite likely.

About an hour before sunset, the birds were very busy gobbling up cold Mt Ash berries to tide them over the long, chilly night. BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS, PINE GROSBEAKS, PINE SISKINS, and ROBINS mobbed the trees by AVTEC. Their chirring, whistling, zzzzzing, and scolding filled the air. Suddenly, it became quiet as most of the songbirds flashed away. A raptor? No, a couple of RAVENS. The ravens took over the trees, smacking down the berries.

One raven was especially clever. She perched on a sturdy branch and gently pulled on the middle of a thin, wiggly branch laden with a cluster of berries at the end. Carefully, she brought it closer and wedged the branch against another. Then she was able to easily pluck off the berries. Whenever the branch got loose and snapped back, the patient raven once again pulled it back and wedged it. How did this bird figure out this technique? It was just amazing to watch.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter




Thursday, December 11, 2014 Swans and a WC Sparrow

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:51 am, sunset 3:50 pm for a total day length of 5 hours and 58 minutes. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 43 seconds shorter.

After several weeks of balmy but rainy weather with temperatures in the low to mid 40s, the sky cleared last night. The waning morning moon lingered in Lowell Canyon, bidding farewell to the starry night.  The sleepy sun finally rose, ushering in a sweet dawn, tingeing the snowy mountaintops pink. The clear skies lowered temps to the 30s today; tomorrow’s forecast is for mid-20s then a return to rain or snow for next week.

After not finding the TRUMPETER SWAN family since November 26, they suddenly reappeared on December 9th to thawing ponds and resumed feeding on bottom vegetation. I found them on the ol' nesting grounds at Mile 1 Nash Road where half the wetlands were still frozen.

The four 6-month old cygnets are as large as the adults, and white adult feathers peeked through the juvenile gray plumage. The adults still guarded over them, watching for dangers, but often all six heads were submerged. They are a very competent and capable family.

It’s anyone’s guess where they go, and when they will finally migrate to more predictable wintering grounds. Keep an eye out on Kenai River by Cooper Landing for a family of 6 where swans are often found overwintering. 

I looked for the PURPLE FINCH at Ava’s but instead found a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW this time. Thanks to Dave S for verification.

Town is just loaded with birds, feasting on Mt Ash berries. The BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS chime like tiny bells; PINE GROSBEAKS call musically to each other. I counted at least 20 ROBINS sitting quietly in a cottonwood while unseen VARIED THRUSHES sang their spring song. A small flock of PINE SISKINS flew in to decorate the treetops. DARK-EYED JUNCOS chased each other through the branches. 

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS flew overhead from one spruce spire to the next to enjoy the tiny seeds. A tiny PACIFIC WREN boldly scolded from dense shrubs.

Robin C reported a EUROPEAN STARLING hanging out with the robins. May any raptor please enjoy it for a special treat.

After all that rain, BALD EAGLES perched on every power pole, sometimes three abreast, hanging their soggy wings out to dry. I counted at least 20 eagles along the Lagoon. The RUSTY BLACKBIRDS are still on the north side of the Lagoon, creaking and whistling in the alders. The MAGPIES and STELLER’S JAYS like to chase them off. The EAGLES just sit and watch, wings drooping, even as RAVENS sit and watch the eagles from an annoyingly close but safe distance.

Feeders filled with sunflower seeds and suet are greatly appreciated during these short days and long chilly nights. The joy of seeing these inspiring, beautiful, mysterious and fascinating birds is well worth the effort.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter






















Thursday, December 11, 2014 Gmail subscriber help


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Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, December 3, 2014 Long-tailed Duck and Kingfisher

Seward, Alaska

Today could not have been more uniformly gray from the sky down to the ocean. Temps hovered around 33, resulting in snow one moment and rain the next.

Floating on the calm gray bay by the SMIC boat basin, I found a gorgeous, LONG-TAILED DUCK with a dashing long tail. Where was his lady to admire this magnificence? Nowhere nearby, so I did.

A patient and illiterate BELTED KINGFISHER perched on a handy no trespassing sign, looking for dinner, not ducks. Six HORNED GREBES drifted past, seemingly suspended in the gray world. A PELAGIC CORMORANT preened on a piling while three BARROW’S GOLDENEYES inspected the sides.

Over at Fourth of July Beach, one COMMON LOON dove far from shore. A smattering of SURF SCOTERS, HORNED GREBES, and HARLEQUINS paddled and dove from the cold rain to the warmer ocean. A single juvie GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL floated placidly near the beach. All in all, pretty quiet.

Back in town, a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW was reported from the Clearview neighborhood behind Safeway. The recent TOWNSEND’S SOLITAIRE is being elusive.

Closer to home, my alley this morning was alive with a dozen or more ROBINS, a few VARIED THRUSHES, some singing weakly, PINE GROSBEAKS, BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS, JUNCOS, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES.

Out at Lowell Point Beach, there must be upwards of 200 PINE SISKINS hammering the alder seeds. When they fly, it looks like a swarm of bees.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter



Tuesday, December 2, 2014 Golden Afternoon and Golden-crowned Sparrow

Seward, Alaska

After a very wet sn’rainy morning of white rain, the dark clouds suddenly lifted and let the golden sun ride its rim across the southern sky. Fog drifted off the mountains and spruce trees. By early afternoon, blue sky appeared in ragged holes in the clouds and sunbeams warmed the body and spirit. So beautiful!

The first sizeable flock of SNOW BUNTINGS for this winter, about 16, flew high overhead with the snowy mountains for a backdrop. Over 100 COMMON MERGANSERS paddled in unison south of the Uplands, with several MARBLED MURRELETS a bit farther out, and 25+ PELAGIC CORMORANTS (said to be solitary!) rafted up, chasing small fish. MEW GULLS sat on pilings waiting for opportunity to knock.

I looked for the Purple Finch at Ava’s among all the PINE GROSBEAKS, but found a GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW instead. The usual guests were busy at her feeders: HAIRY and DOWNY WOODPECKERS, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES.

Robin C found a TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE on Bear Drive and Resurrection Blvd with PINE GROSBEAKS, BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS, and JUNCOS.

At the end of the afternoon, I found the RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER busy at work, probably glad it stopped snowing.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward, Alaska