Tuesday August 12, 2014 Storm birds: Red-necked Phalaropes and a Sanderling

Seward, Alaska

A series of storms rolled in from the Pacific this week delivering heavy rain, sullen gray clouds, rough seas, and… storm birds. I ventured out around 8 pm to have a look at the dramatic weather and swollen streams. Snug in my car, I scanned the little beach just south of the harbor uplands, windshield wipers banging away. A few rugged fishermen were still flailing away at the tide's edge at the mouth of Scheffler Creek, trying to snag a big one for the Silver Salmon Derby.

I had to roll down the window despite the rain to get a better look at about a dozen RED-NECKED PHALAROPES packed into the corner of the beach by the breakwater below, busily feeding in the surging wrack. Whenever a wet fisherman walked over, they blew away, but returned as soon as the coast was clear. It was really fun to watch them, and I was grateful for the big towel to wipe things down.

Looking up the beach, I spotted two well-camouflaged juvenile SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS standing stoically, looking ready for bedtime. A dark gray, almost invisible WANDERING TATTLER poked through the intertidal rocks. Then, a little light-colored ball appeared, foraging up and down the piles of wave-tossed seaweed. At least the belly was white; the back was a mixture of grays and browns. But in the dim and fading light, the shorebird really showed up. I shot off a bunch of photos, and managed to get a few of the bird next to a LEAST SANDPIPER for size (bigger), and a SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (about the same.) At one point, a similar-sized RED-NECKED PHALAROPE body bumped the bird, just bonked it out of his way!

I wasn't sure who this one was, so I sent a bunch of photos to the experts on the 'net. Thanks to Buzz and Dave for letting me know it was a SANDERLING. Seward just doesn't get this species very often, and in molt, it's confusing. Look for the size, bold white wing stripe when it flies, black legs and straight black bill.

The next day, I went back twice to try to relocate the storm birds, but the little beach was absolutely empty of birds, and full of fishermen and visitors.

In other news, at noon I watched a female or juvenile HARRIER flying over the roiling surf at Fourth of July beach, and then head to the safety of the shore where it disappeared. The STELLER'S EIDER male blended in (almost) with his HARLEQUIN friends. A DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT dove then surfaced, looking huge and black with an upturned golden bill. Tiny MARBLED MURRELETS piped and dove nearby. Two SPOTTED SANDPIPERS worked along the tide's edge. A female BELTED KINGFISHER flew high above with a giant fish in her bill, bigger than her head. I don't know how she will ever eat it!

In town, a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK spiraled up until it became a speck bird. TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS chipped from the spruce trees with CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES. All in all, despite the bouts of heavy, hard rain, it was quite an exciting birdy day.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter



















Monday, August 11, 2014 Spotted Sandpiper migration

Seward, Alaska

Scattered individual SPOTTED SANDPIPERS are on the move these past few weeks, migrating through the Seward area, stopping at every beach to fatten up for the next leg of their journey down the Pacific coast to as far as South America. The females leave the breeding sites before the males, and return in the spring ahead of the males and younger females.

It's been tricky to get a good photo as they are wary and quick to fly farther down the beach with their characteristic stiff-winged flutter and glide. I was lucky today to watch one bird flutter-glide across the Lagoon in town heading directly for my waiting camera. It landed not far away at the edge of the water and began its incessant bobbing and teetering as it picked through the invertebrates at the water's edge.

At this time of year, there are no spots on a Spotted Sandpiper, but the diagnostic white notch in front of the wing persists.

Like the Phalaropes, the larger, dominant female arrives first, choses her territory and displays to attract a male. She lays 4 eggs in the nest and then may leave the dad to incubate the eggs while she goes off to find another mate, a breeding practice called polyandry. She may breed with up to four males in temperate regions, but probably has fewer nests farther north. Some populations are monogamous and the pair will both incubate and take care of the young before she migrates south.
(http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/spotted_sandpiper/lifehistory)

There is a lot of fishing activity along the beaches now during the Silver Salmon Derby but the Lagoon is a good place to look for this interesting shorebird, especially on the north end from the boardwalk.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


Monday, August 11, 2014 Glaucous-winged Gull with tumor?

Seward, Alaska

On an evening bike ride about town, I stopped at the Harbor Uplands to watch three GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS. One of them had a startling protuberance above his bill. I've never seen this before. It didn't seem to impede his ability to vocalize or use his bill, and he seemed to interact normally with the other gulls.

The growth stretched the skin so much that it is no longer protected by feathers, thus it is a very cold spot in his waterproof armor.

If anyone knows what might have caused this, please email me.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


Thursday, August 7, 2014 Steller's Eider!

Seward, Alaska

Thanks to Tasha DiMarzio of the Alaska Sealife Center for spotting, recognizing, and reporting the amazing discovery of a second year male STELLER'S EIDER right here in Resurrection Bay. She and other ASLC researchers initially discovered the bird yesterday about a half mile south of the beach while doing a routine bay survey by boat.  Today, she refound the bird feeding with about dozen HARLEQUIN DUCKS just off Fourth of July beach on the east side of Resurrection Bay at the end of Nash Road.

Even though the light was dim even at midday due to the heavy cloud cover, the Eider really stood out from his companions. He was slightly larger, with a flat head compared to the round Harlequins', a longer, thicker bill, and was much lighter in color. Through the spotting scope, the varying shades of tans and browns was quite stunning.

Tasha noted that he is still molting, so he might be here until the primary flight feathers are in.

The raft of Harlequins and the Eider dove in synchrony, allowing a brief time to sneak closer before they popped up. They were wary, and paddled farther off shore when they noticed movement, but soon returned to chase small fish. The Eider swam compatibly with the Harlequins; there was no apparent problem with this visitor mingling and feeding with them.

Tasha reported November 28, 2007 was the last time a Steller's Eider, a female, was reported in Resurrection Bay. It is quite unusual; perhaps his arrival was influenced by the big storm that was moving in. Watch for this special visitor and any other wayward storm birds.
   
Note: If you want to stay dry, visit the Alaska Sealife Center to see and hear King Eiders up close in the bird habitat. Bring your binocs to view the Common, Spectacled, and Steller's Eiders in the outdoor enclosures. The scientists at the ASLC are doing outstanding pioneering research on Eiders.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter



                                                  Not "stellar" photos of Steller's Eider.
                                                  Hi, Ann!

August 5, 2014 Seward Killdeer!

Seward, Alaska

Late this afternoon, I heard a sweet, loud whistle. I searched the gray skies and found the bird flying very high and to the north. I banged out a series of photos of the speck bird. When I got home and zoomed in, I could see the double breast bands of a KILLDEER!

Seward hasn't had a Killdeer since mid-winter at turn of the year. It's anyone's guess whether or not this bird will come back to earth.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


Tuesday, July 29, 2014 Primrose Trail Shorebird Surprises

Seward, Alaska

It rained hard Monday night with temperatures in the low 50s. Typically this weather pattern subsides to cool overcast weather with occasional showers that persists for the week. To everyone's amazement, the weather forecast for sun and temps in the mid 70s was correct!

Tuesday dawned clear and freshly washed. It was a lovely day for a hike so we headed to the Primrose Trailhead at Mile 18 Seward Highway. The first 5 miles or so climbs through a Mt Hemlock forest with scattered spruce. The cones are abundant this year, attracting hoards of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, a species that was entirely absent last winter. Their long, complex trills filled the tops of the trees.

I followed a soft tapping to find a male AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER methodically working his way around a dead spruce tree. This is my first sighting for the year, and quite a treat!

A PINE GROSBEAK stopped to sing from a dead snag. Numerous overflights of REDPOLLS called back and forth. HERMIT THRUSHES cautioned with their soft "chway." I finally saw one watching me before it quietly flew off. The VARIED THRUSHES were silent, but I did spot one, almost perfectly camouflaged in the hemlock forest on a branch.

The blueberries along the trail were bountiful and delicious. After the disastrous 3-year attack by the geometrid moth larvae, the sweet berries are back and so appreciated by more than just snacking hikers.

We took a short spur trail at mile 2 to view thundering Porcupine Falls across the canyon. Such a huge volume of water!

Once out of the forest, spectacular views of snowy mountains cradling cirque and valley glaciers opened up to the east with Mt Ascension at 5710' dominating the west side. Small subalpine ponds dotted the rolling emerald green landscape. Fluffy white cloud reflections sailed across the calm shallow waters.

I did not expect to see a shorebird up here, but there, walking along the edge of one pond, was a SOLITARY SANDPIPER! I watched it poke and prod the muddy bank, obviously finding something to eat. I wonder if it nested close by, or if it was migrating through.

A short time later, around mile 7, a WILSON'S SNIPE flushed out of a shallow wetlands, another big surprise. It was too sudden to photograph, but the photo shows the habitat.

Glimpses of Lost Lake began to appear, then the beautiful turquoise-blue waters were below us. A wake of an unseen swimmer, a rainbow? v-ed across a little bay embellished with cloud reflections. Fat marmots whistled sharply from their rocky outposts. A daring vole dashed across the path in just front of me, diving back into the safety of the beautiful wildflowers and grasses.

At the half-way point, mile 7.5, and end of the Primrose Trail, we crossed the bridge over Lost Creek as it began its journey from Lost Lake to the sea. Stone steps led up the other side to the north end of the Lost Lake Trail. Shortly afterwards, I admired a frost-heaved rock pocket, filled with water. Looking more closely, I discovered a LEAST SANDPIPER busily hunting for insects. Another shorebird surprise!

We still had about 8 miles to hike, so regretfully we turned around to head back down the Primrose Trail. The white-winged crossbills were still singing in the hemlock forest as we plucked just a few more blueberries on the long descent. The final bird was a Chickadee, either a Boreal or Chestnut-backed, hidden in the hemlock branches, as we trundled through the Primrose campground back to the parking lot.

What a gorgeous and surprising place, the high country of Lost Lake!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

































Sunday, July 27, 2014 Hummingbird Report

Seward, Alaska

After about a week of steady feeding and frequent sightings, my RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD has not been seen since July 23. Another feeder in town reported her hummingbirds seemed to have departed by July 19.

Today, however, about 7 miles south of Seward alongside a creek feeding into Resurrection Bay, I spotted a hummingbird feeding on one of the last blooming red columbines. It seemed larger than a Rufous Hummingbird, though small is small. A possible candidate is an Anna's Hummingbird, a quarter inch larger at 4". Regardless of what species, it was a big surprise and thrill to see a hummer in the wild at this late date. A CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE cheerfully inspected a spruce branch for insects.

Also spotted along the kayak trip, several adult and juvenile PIGEON GUILLEMOTS, MARBLED MURRELETS, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, 7 HARLEQUIN DUCKS in eclipse plumage, and BALD EAGLES.

MEW GULLS plundered the freshly laid eggs of the returning Dog/Chum Salmon spawning in Tonsina Creek. Two SPOTTED SANDPIPERS, sans spots, flew along creek, then landed and emphatically jerked their heads up and down in their weird but characteristic manner while bobbing their tails. It's a wonder the spots don't fall off sooner!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter