Wednesday, December 11, 2019 Thick-billed Murre closeup, 4 Great Blue Herons

Seward, Alaska

44º today, even with a north breeze! Crazy!

John Maniscalso kindly shared a photo of the Thick-billed Murre taken yesterday from a boat. The faint white bill-line can be seen. I did not refind the Murre today.

At 10 am, I watched a GREAT BLUE HERON flying high over the Lagoon towards the bay. I wondered if it had spent the night roosting in a nearby spruce tree. A few hours later, I found four Great Blue Herons perched comfortably on the guy wires of the blue coal dipper. One was so relaxed, it was preening. Very versatile birds!

In town at the Madison and Second hot spot, I received a report of Red (Interior) FOX SPARROW visiting on Monday with 3 young GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS that have been there all fall. One has to wonder if this handsome Fox is the same bird that lingered last winter.

Yesterday, the homeowners watched 4 WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS with golden-yellow bills, hopping around the underbrush under the suet feeder. Also a VARIED THRUSH, a ROBIN, a dark SONG SPARROW, about 12 DARK-EYED JUNCOS, a DOWNY WOODPECKER, a couple of CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES. Most of the birds swept in, grabbed a bite, and left in a loose flock. Timing is everything!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

For a few photos, please visit my blog at https://sporadicbird.blogspot.com






Tuesday, December 10, 2019 Thick-billed Murre!

Seward, Alaska

Thanks to John Maniscalco, who spotted a THICK-BILLED MURRE this morning. It was about 200 yards offshore from the Diversion Tunnel Waterfall at the start of Lowell Point Road. A Murre of either species is unusual in the inner bay any time of year; a Thick-billed Murre is unheard of, almost. Perhaps the recent storm and strong south wind blew it in.

I dashed down and refound the Murre, floating peacefully or perhaps lethargically. I thought of the starving Murres in previous years that soon became lunch packs for watchful Eagles. Finally, the Murre dove and gave me hope that it was trying to feed. 

As I’ve never seen a Thick-billed Murre in winter plumage, I had to look it up. Uria lomvia

The bill is thicker and heavier than the very similar-looking Common Murre (hence the name). Nonbreeding birds have white on the throat and the lower part of the face. The Common Murre has a white cheek with a dark line descending from the eye. I could not see the thin white bill-line, if present, from that distance.

I included a photo of a COMMON MURRE in winter plumage from the Alaska Sealife Center for comparison.

On the topic of Murres, check out this Audubon article on why Murre eggs are so pointy:

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter






Sunday, December 8, 2019 Winter? Birds

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:47 am, sunset 3:54 pm for a total daylength of 6 hours and 6 minutes. Tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 17 seconds shorter. 

After a short week of seasonal temperatures in the mid-20s topped by a skim of real-on-the-ground snow, the thermometer shot up to 40 F, the snow and the Lagoon ice melted. The first of several big storms blew in with a strong south wind and heavy rain. Forecast for the next few days is more winter storms with temps to 45º, ESE wind at 20-30 mph, and heavy rain, starting this evening.

With that in mind, this morning was a huge surprise: calm with clear skies (except for the clouds lurking to the south)! As I walked just after dawn, a PACIFIC WREN burst into song, albeit about half the length of a full song, but beautiful and unexpected. Another Wren piped up; seems like a lot of Wrens are still here so far.

Encouraged by the wan but uplifting sunshine, I headed to Ava’s where I had seen 2 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS, an AMERICAN TREE SPARROW and two RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS on December 5. Two PINE GROSBEAKS had carefully juiced the red Mt Ash Berries, discarding the pulp, while the Waxwings tossed down whole black Mayday Tree berries.

I didn’t see the Tree Sparrow or Waxwings today, but one or two Kinglets zipped in to feed on the freshly resupplied suet. They are tiny, but quick as a warbler and chatty as an Anna’s Hummingbird; fun to watch and hard to photograph.

Two DOWNY WOODPECKERS, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES also feasted on the suet.  DARK-EYED JUNCOS hopped about on the ground gleaning seeds. A flock of about 50 PINE SISKINS flew in to feed on nearby alder seeds and an immature BALD EAGLE soared overhead. It’s always fun to see what’s at Ava’s Place.

Also this past week during the cold snap and brief snow, I counted 15 TRUMPETER SWANS, including the 3 cygnets of the resident Swan family at the head of the bay. What an amazing sound and sight! 

In town, a feeder-Mt Ash combo attracted 30+ ROBINS and one male VARIED THRUSH as bright as a pumpkin. 

A large flock of about 20 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS dined on successive spruce tree cones, and about 20 PINE GROSBEAKS visited Mt Ashes. So great to hear their sweet calls as they fed and flew. About 30 PINE SISKINS wheeled and swarmed like bees high above, scoping for feeders and alders.

As the familiar sound of rain returns, it will be interesting to see if any unusual birds blow in during these next winter storms like the SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER that flew over to Aaron Lang and landed at Lowell Point last weekend. Delivered!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


















Tuesday, November 12, 2019 Lowell Point Road Seabirds

Seward, Alaska

Another mild, calm, overcast day with unseasonably warm temperatures continuing in the 40s.

I drove slowly along Lowell Point Road, stopping at pullouts to enjoy the seabirds. A frenzy of Gulls, mostly GLAUCOUS-WINGED and MEW GULLS, with a sprinkling of BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, flocked and squawked at the seafood processing plant. At least five STELLER SEA LION’S dove among them, adding to the chaos when they suddenly surfaced and the seabirds leapt up. Goosed?

The only vessel on the bay besides the outward-bound USCG Cutter Mustang, was the Alaska Sealife Center seabird survey crew doing their monthly count. 

They reported the Gulls, lots of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES and a good number of MARBLED MURRELETS, an unusual PIGEON GUILLEMOT (not usually here in November), several COMMON LOONS, a possible YELLOW-BILLED LOON (not confirmed), and seven GREAT BLUE HERONS perched on the blue coal dipper just outside the harbor. Other expected species included MALLARDS, COMMON GOLDENEYES, HARLEQUIN DUCKS, SURF SCOTERS, COMMON MERGANSERS, HORNED GREBES, and PELAGIC CORMORANTS.

A raft of handsome Barrow’s Goldeneyes paddled serenely just offshore until the leaders dove, followed by successive ranks until no birds were visible. After a short time, they popped up nearby and resumed hunting.

I enjoyed watching and listening to a pair of Marbled Murrelets in winter plumage call to each other as they paddled side by side before diving in synchrony. They swam a surprising distance before reappearing.

Two COMMON LOONS fished successfully just off Lowell Point Beach. So great to see Loons!

To my amazement, there were many dozens of tiny sea stars and a few baby green sea urchins and clams scattered along the wrack on the west end of the beach like stars fallen from the sky. I have never seen this. A scientist at the ASLC speculated that the warmer water temperature may be responsible. It would be interesting to learn if this phenomenon is occurring in Kachemak Bay, Kodiak, or other coastal communities.

I was fascinated by the miniatures and arranged them for photographs. Even in death, they added beauty and mystery to a continually changing, dynamic environment.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter 




















Sunday, November 10, 2019 Resident Trumpeter Swan family

Seward, Alaska

After an absence of many days, the resident TRUMPETER SWAN family with all three cygnets returned to the ol’ homestead at Mile 1, Nash Road. They have been spotted and recognized from Mile 15 to Bear Lake to various spots in Seward.

It was fun to watch them feed, bottoms up, in a loose group. One cygnet fed quite close to first one parent and then the other, providing a nice comparison of 5-month old to an adult. 

The cygnet is almost if not as large as an adult. The plumage on the back and wings is rapidly changing to white, but the neck and head remain gray. The youngster’s bill is still pink between the black base and tip.  

The family looked healthy and well-fed, perhaps enjoying the extended availability of vegetation in this ice-free November so far. I expect them to remain all winter as residents. We’ll see!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter





Saturday, November 9, 2019 Reflections!

Seward, Alaska

Every once in a while, the persistent clouds part to allow the sun out to play. Today, it performed a magic show with reflections. And the sun even felt warm. That's a good trick for November!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter











Sunday, November 3, 2019 Eagles and the Giving Salmon

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:26 am, sunset 4:58 pm (Standard Time), for a total daylength of 8 hours and 31 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 8 seconds shorter. Warmer than normal temperatures continued with a high today in the low 40s, lows dipped to mid-30s overnight. Calm, overcast, intermittent showers. Not much change in the 10-day forecast.

A handsome male silver salmon swam from the bay into the Lagoon last week, then thrashed his way up the tiny creek paralleling Second Ave past houses and driveways. Finally, he entered First Lake in the heart of Seward. This migration is an annual event (most years) since anyone can remember, but far fewer salmon have made it to the stream and lake this fall to spawn.

On October 31, the salmon lay, exhausted and gasping in the inlet stream at the lake’s edge. Sharp teeth erupted from a fierce, curved snout. Rival salmon tooth marks and scrapes scarred his face, badges of honor marking battles fought. Golden eyes saw, what? The sky and the gravel below? Or far beyond into the past and future? 

His body glowed despite the gray, rainy day, from his greenish head to his bright maroon body, spangled with black spots. What a magnificent salmon, transformed by hormones and fueled by an ancient urge to protect his genes and return home to spawn.

I checked on him the next day. He had starting giving food to the birds, though the golden eyes remained, staring dully as if still watching from a distance. 

Today, I heard BALD EAGLES screeching and headed to the lake. As I approached, an adult Eagle flew from a tree and away across the lake. A BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE hopped in to scavenge. The salmon still lay near the water’s edge, but now he had given his nutrient-rich eyes, brains. and most of the organs. The muscled body that we prefer was untouched. 

I headed to the opposite north shore to watch discretely. A female adult Bald Eagle had returned, dragged the salmon carcass to the beach and busily tore off chunks. She paused to look around every now and then with good cause. A hungry juvenile Eagle watching from the trees swooped down but bailed. Then a male adult Eagle made a pass to test resistance (yup!) and lurked in a nearby tree, watching intently for opportunities. The Magpie bravely landed near the diner and darted in and out for scraps as the fish fed the Eagle.

After watching the fish give and give and give, the treed Eagle dove and, gaining speed, attacked. The Magpie fled; the diner rose up tall and spread her enormous wings in defense. Undeterred, the attacker knocked her over backwards into the water. Wheeling midair, he returned at top speed, blasted past the still-recovering Eagle, snatched up the remaining salmon, and roared off with his prize.

The robbed Eagle seemed stunned. After a few moments, she took a drink from the clear stream, waded in the cold water, perhaps reflecting on the gift of the salmon and sudden loss. Then she leapt in the air and departed through the Park past the pavilion. Anyone who happened to be walking to the lake would have been startled to meet the disgruntled high-speed Eagle at eye level.

Nothing remained for the salmon to give but scraps and a stripped backbone. The Magpie thought that was just fine, and dined in peace.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter