Sunday, April 23, 2017 Canvasback, Ring-necked Ducks, Pipits, DC Cormorants

Seward, Alaska

The forecasted rain slowly crept in last night as if unsure of its welcome. Yes! We need the rain to magically convert brown to green, open buds, activate flowers AND melt the remaining stubborn snow piles. It’s a big job!

Yesterday I refound the BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER hanging out with a GREATER YELLOWLEGS. A FOY NORTHERN HARRIER, flashing its white rump, teetered over the brown sedges and grasses, hunting voles.

Today, the FOY RING-NECKED DUCKS, about 24, and a single drake CANVASBACK joined the Pintails, Green-winged Teal, and Mallards. Two AMERICAN PIPITS rocketed up and away from the beach.

I checked the old B Street pilings along the Waterfront and found 8 of them occupied by DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, preening and generally looking quite at home. There were no others paddling around below and a few pilings were vacant, so this may be all of the first arrivals. Many sported the fancy, fluffy eyebrow tufts characteristic of the western birds.

Around 9 pm, I received a report of SANDHILL CRANES flying over town. At the same time, a GREAT HORNED OWL hooted softly from the mountainside while a ROBIN sang its cheery song. Quite the juxtaposition of birds!

I’m heading to Juneau for the week and will be off the computer. While that is exciting, I will miss greeting the new Seward arrivals. It will be very fun to see the changes when I get back. That snow better be gone!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter





Friday, April 21, 2017 Geese, Cranes, Swans, mosquitoes

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:21 am, sunset 9:32 pm, for a total day light of 15 hours and 10 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 23 seconds longer.

Overnight lows are still swinging below freezing; daytime highs reach into the mid to high 40s. It’s a slow breakup, which is appreciated to avoid flooding.

After a cold, dry winter with concrete-hard snow cover, area-wide spruce trees are so dry their needles litter the ground. Shake one for a shower of needles like a neglected Christmas tree. I started watering my trees yesterday, ironically climbing over a snow pile to reach the faucet. Clouds moved in this morning with a chance of rain in the forecast that will help break the drought.

On April 15, Ava reported 5 RED CROSSBILLS at her place. She never took down her hummingbird feeders, but I put mine out again in case the Rufous Hummers are a bit early.

On April 19, I found four dainty BONAPARTE’S GULLS feeding with the much larger MEW GULLS at the tideline. Tasha found the First of Year Bonaparte’s yesterday off Lowell Point Road. GREATER YELLOWLEGS and a LESSER YELLOWLEGS also reported by Tasha, and a single BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER that Sadie spotted yesterday evening seem to be the only shorebirds thus far.

The recent bright sunny weather enticed migrating geese and cranes to keep flying north. On April 19 around 5 pm, I heard but did not find a flock of SANDHILL CRANES flying high overhead. It was so exciting to hear their joyous bugling but I was disappointed not to see them. Later that evening at 8:15 pm, I heard another flock and counted 76 jubilant Cranes in a broad bow, heading north.

On Thursday, Exit Glacier Road aka Herman Leirer Road, was opened to vehicles as far as the Chugach National Forest gate. That evening, I decided to listen for the Western Screech Owl at the 40 mph signs, 1.4 miles past the Box Canyon gate at the junction of Old Exit Glacier Road.

Long after town was in shadow, the sun shone brightly down the Resurrection River valley. The surrounding snowy mountains and glaciers gleamed in the late sunshine. A shaggy, lone Mountain Goat peacefully grazed on impossibly steep terrain. Hidden VARIED THRUSHES sounded off from just about every tree. I also heard a few RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, little but loud. The FOY was April 16, also along Exit Glacier Road.

As the sun slowly sank behind the mountains and twilight descended, the Thrushes gradually fell silent. Large, slow, overwintered mosquitoes emerged and discovered my open car window. All was quiet except for the distant shushing of recently thawed mountain waterfalls.

At 10 pm, a gabble of voices erupted overhead. I leapt from the car and fired off a few images of 84 Geese in a ragged arc heading north. Quite the thrill!

I heard owls in the distance and giving up on the Western Screech Owl site, headed to Seavey’s Corner. A NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL steadfastly beeped in the distance, but that was all. As I drove back down Exit Glacier Road I saw a large owl fly up into a cottonwood tree next to the river.

I stopped and glassed it with my binocs. Even in the dark, I could just barely make out its ear tufts, a GREAT HORNED OWL! It sat on a branch, turning this way and that, and likely unhappy about discovery, dropped off the branch, opened its large wings, and disappeared into the night. A fine finale to an interesting and beautiful evening!

The pair of “intruder” TRUMPETER SWANS continues to stake out Nash Road, enjoying vegetation found in ever-widening leads and openings as the ice melts. After a 10-day absence, I believe I saw the resident swan parents with “Daddy’s Girl” cygnet today. The whereabouts of the other two cygnets is unknown. If the parents wish to reclaim their Nash Road residence, there will be a terrific battle for possession.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter





















Tuesday, April 18, 2017 Owl time

Seward, Alaska

On Sunday, April 16, I received two separate reports of NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS calling around 11 pm in the Bear Lake area.

This evening just after 10 pm when it was amazingly not yet dark, I spotted a large bird fly across the street. At first I thought it was an unusual, very late-flying Raven, but then I heard a GREAT-HORNED OWL hooting nearby. Another answered, even closer. Wow!

Happily, a neighbor popped up with binocs and we watched the Great-horned Owl perched at the top of a spruce tree in the deepening twilight. I had imagined an owl sitting stiffly upright like a plastic bird detractor when it hooted, but no! This owl put some pizzazz into his performance, leaning far forward, all fluffed up, and flipped his tail upwards to deliver his loud, deep hoots. It seemed the underside of the tail flashed white. Very impressive and so fun to be able to actually SEE a Great Horned Owl calling.

Another neighbor drove up and reported a Saw-whet Owl had just flown across Nash Road front of her car. As we listened and visited, the Great Horned Owl flew silently overhead, down the street and back to the mountainside where its mysterious and secretive night continued.

What a fabulous bonus for the walk around the block!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, April 17, 2017 Wilson's Snipe


Seward, Alaska

While driving slowly down a quiet road in Forest Acres, a bird suddenly flew low in front of my car and landed at the side of the road. A WILSON’S SNIPE! I immediately stopped, turned off the ignition, and rolled down the window to watch.

The snow had recently retreated right next to the road, revealing a bedraggled assortment of spruce cones, spruce needles, twigs, gravel, dirt, and emerging dandelions. The brown streaky-stripy-spotted Snipe blended in perfectly. Fortunately, after long seconds of watchful immobility, the long-billed Snipe chose to ignore the paparazzi in the car blind.

It was fascinating to observe the chunky shorebird with short legs and long toes bob gently as it deliberated, then thrust that long beak into the dirt. Probing deep into the duff, it pulled out several invertebrates including what looked like a small earthworm. By vibrating its head like a tiny jackhammer, lunch quickly shot up the bill and down the hatch.

I understand the tip of the bill is quite flexible and can also determine the difference between a small cold pebble and a small cold invertebrate. 

The Snipe mined the rubble along the roadside and found a treasure-trove of delicacies to eat. I would not have recognized the café potential here, and was impressed and pleased to learn from an expert. As a dandelion-weeder, I too have often found earthworms and slugs in the dandelion roots. I wonder if the emerging dandy greens attracted the Snipe?

This unexpected encounter of a usually hard to observe Snipe sure made my day!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter




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Thursday, April 13, 2017 Snipe, Butterflies, and Bumblebee


Seward, Alaska

Sunny weather continues with temps ranging from the low 30s to mid-50s. There’s still a lot of snow on the ground, but it’s disappearing fast.

Two FOY (First of Year) WILSON’S SNIPE showed up yesterday. As the temperature rose above 50º a FOY Milbert’s Tortoiseshell butterfly fluttered along in the breeze. It landed often to bask in the sunshine, displaying its owl-like face. This beautiful butterfly overwinters as an adult and thus is the first one out in the spring. Nearby, sharp green spears of beach ryegrass emerged from the last year’s clumps of dead and tattered leaves. A time lapse of their growth would be fun to watch.

I enjoyed a nice kick sled trip on Exit Glacier Road today. VARIED THRUSHES sang all along the road, proclaiming territories in a still snowy landscape. I passed many wolf spiders and caterpillars crossing the icy road. The road crew was busy plowing, trying to get the road ready to open soon. Winter and I are on borrowed time!

Back home, while taking photos of my bright and cheerful crocuses, I heard a loud droning. I didn’t have long to wait! The FOY bumblebee headed straight for the open flowers and soon doused herself with delicious pollen.

Crocuses are one of the first pollen sources available to bumblebees in the early spring. The flowers poke through snow to bloom, and only open in the sunshine to protect their precious pollen. When the shade returned, they closed up shop. The bumblebee made good use of the short window of opportunity.

Willows, which are insect pollinated, are also starting to bloom and will provide much appreciated pollen for insects which will in turn attract warblers and other birds. We are all waiting for the table to be set and the guests to arrive!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter