Saturday, May 30, 2020 2019 Cygnet sighting


Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:49 am, sunset 11:04 pm for a total daylength of 18 hours, 15 minutes. Crazy amount of daylight! Tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 21 seconds longer.

Temps in mid-40s to 50s. Welcome rain returned today to water Nature’s booming garden. More showers in the forecast for the next few days.

SAVANNAH SPARROWS now proclaim territories from driftwood, last year’s beach rye stalks, and even dried cow parsnip flower umbels. They sing, pause to listen and receive, then lustily sing again. Beautiful sparrows! 

After many weeks without success, I chanced to refind last year’s three resident cygnets, now almost a year old and very wary. Overall, their plumage is now mostly white but their heads are still dark gray. It’s great they have all survived their first year and these past two months solo together. The 2020 cygnets should be hatching any day now. I wonder how many?

A single GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE joined the 10 CACKLING GEESE spotted yesterday. I thought the GWFG had all migrated through too, but one never knows with birds!

I witnessed an endearing moment between a pair of ARCTIC TERNS. He, justifiably very proud, landed near his waiting lady love with a prized herring. With much excited chatter between them, he gallantly offered it. She graciously accepted it, and flew off, hopefully sealing the bond between them. Or not. Either way, the gift was very generous and well done.

The glorious month of May brought the excitement of migration, the return of local residents, sweet birdsong, nest building, and the eruption of leaves and flowers.

Stand by for June and babies!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter
















Friday, May 29, 2020 Feeding Frenzy

Seward, Alaska

Tiny specks in the distance dotted the deep blue sky above the Resurrection River valley, sandwiched between the mountains. I would never have seen them without the sharp eyes of my companion. Even with binoculars, I could barely see the white heads and tails.  I took photos and later counted 39 BALD EAGLES in one soaring kettle and 23 in another. At least 62 Eagles spiraled around and around, aided by the south wind. 

It seems late for these Eagles to be migrating; most locals are nesting. It’s also unusual for them to be so far from the bay and hooligan (euchalon) action. I have no idea why. Fascinating!

Meanwhile, a blizzard of gulls, mostly GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS and BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES feasted on hooligan and a smaller fish (salmon smolt? Herring?) in the Resurrection River. 

I didn’t know Glaucous-winged Gulls could hover, but hover they did with considerable effort, to get a fix on the hooligan. Then, down they dove, splashing into the water and frequently emerged with a fish. Others rode the river like a shrieking conveyor belt, effortlessly scooping up fish, then flew back upstream for another float-and-eat-and-screech down.

The smaller Kittiwakes had trouble gobbling up the hooligan and seemed to haul their fish off to eat, which subjected them to piracy. The Arctic Terns were absent; the hooligan were much too large.

Nine or more Bald Eagles perched on nearby snags or just the sand, watching. Occasionally one would barrel through, scattering the crowd, chasing a Gull for dinner. I did not witness any success. An immature, perhaps 3 or 4 years old, dined peacefully on a flounder.

Forty or more Steller sea lions piled up at the river mouth, feasting on hooligan and, presumably, the first run of red salmon. They flowed as one, at flipper’s length or closer, swimming back and forth along the ever-moving tideline. Their bellows could be heard a mile away. Four Harbor Seals cautiously poked up their shiny heads for a look around then silently slipped back into the water. 

Human snaggers flogged the water from above for reds, some more lucky than others. Fishers, all.

I watched a NORTHWESTERN CROW repeatedly fly up with a clam in its beak, drop it from a height, and follow it back down. Unfortunately for the Crow, the sand proved too soft to open the treat. The Crow told the world about this sorry state of affairs. 

Later, four Crows harassed a molting immature Eagle, maybe the same 3 to 4-year old. They were very persistent, perhaps guarding a nesting territory, and drove the huge bird away.

On this day of wonders, the big surprise was 10 CACKLING GEESE flying above the beach. I thought this migration was over, but maybe not.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

























Tuesday, May 26, 2020 Update on banded female Rufous Hummingbird


Seward, Alaska

Todd Eskelin reported that the banded female RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD was originally banded as an adult at Ava’s on July 7, 2013. She hatched at least in June 2012, making the minimum age of encounter at 7 years, 11 months old. She was caught again at Ava’s in 2014. 

According to the USGS, the current record age for banded Rufous Hummingbirds is 8 years, 11 months. Maybe she will break the record next year! Pretty amazing little lady!

Check out the USGS Longevity Records of North American Birds at https://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/BBL/longevity/Longevity_main.cfm

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, May 15, 2020 Rufous Hummingbird Banding

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:18 am, sunset 10:32 pm for a total daylength of 17 hours and 13 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 39 seconds longer.

Mostly sunny today with a high of 67, south wind 18 mph. Partly cloudy for the weekend with temps in the high 50s, rain on the way to maintain the green eruption. Almost all the dead-looking plants burst into leaf; alder catkins dangle in the breeze, miniature elderberry and Mt Ash flowers unfold. The darn dandelions are already in bloom.

A surge of migrating RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS hit feeders all over the Seward area last weekend with many people reporting multiple hummers. On Sunday May 10, Todd Eskelin banded hummingbirds at Ava’s Place. She thought she had at 10, maybe more, fighting over the four feeders, chasing, and acting very territorial. Much to everyone’s surprise, Todd banded 4 males and 16 females for a total of 20!

Todd returned this morning and banded 3 males and 9 females in Old Mill Subdivision. Then he returned to Ava’s and banded 3 more males and 12 females. Around 10 am, he caught a recently banded female that was not banded in Alaska. The report has apparently not yet been filed, so we will have to wait to find out where. Pretty exciting refind! All this work nudges our understanding of Rufous Hummingbird migration patterns.

Todd made two very functional cylindrical traps out of 1/4” wire mesh with a slide-down door. Each door is controlled by a line on a fishing reel, monitored at the processing table. When a hummer flew into the trap to feed on the enclosed hummingbird feeder, Todd quickly gave the line some slack and it slid shut.

While the hummer buzzed around inside the trap like a mad bee, he gently reached in, trapped it in his hand, and then popped it into a cloth bag.

Amazingly, the hummer became almost completely docile, as if in abject resignation. Caught by aliens! Play dead! 

After checking for a previous band, the first task was to band the impossibly tiny, toothpick-thin leg with his special tools and professional expertise. Next, overall assessment, wing and bill measurements, weigh-in, and finally a dab of water-soluable blue paint on the top of the head. This marker readily identifies a bird that has already been banded, like “Pete” and “RePete”, a male that apparently didn’t mind getting trapped.

Other males seemed to be very wary, recognizing the trap as something different from normal. Todd related how one male scrutinized the trap with suspicion, then followed the line directly back to Todd and hovered in front of his face, bristling with accusations. Pretty smart hummer!

After all the processing, the hummer is ready for release. I felt so fortunate when Todd placed the little jewels in my outstretched palm. Most lay quietly, adjusting to the newness of it all, wondering if they were really free. I could feel the heart beating so fast it was truly a hum. Then without warning, they shot off. Many headed straight back to the uncaged feeder, hungry and making up for lost time.

Prince William Sound, where Kate McLaughlin bands hummers in Cordova, is on the migration pathway leading to Seward. Another hummer congregating hot spot is at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center by Portage. From observations, it seems the hummers are breeding while migrating to their final destinations here and in coastal rain forests farther west. 

So much to learn about these incredible marvels of Nature!!

Thanks to Todd, Kate, and hummingbird banders across the nation and in Alaska who help provide invaluable data to help us understand them better.

Note George West authored an excellent identification guide, “North American Hummingbirds.” Check out Kate McLaughlin's article on considerations and details of feeding hummers at https://www.thecordovatimes.com/2020/05/02/commentary-to-feed-the-hummingbirds/

Todd requests that if anyone happens to spot a Rufous Hummingbird with a blue paint dot on its head, not at Ava's, to please send him an email at 
todd_eskelin@fws.gov.  That information may give a sense of distribution from the two banding sites. The blue dot is only visible up close or with binocs, and will not be easily noticed.

Todd also did a Facebook live event recorded on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Facebook page on Hummingbird Banding. There are a few glitches that will be fixed when the staff is able to get back to work and access their normal suite of tools.
https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=218860046022226&ref=watch_permalink

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


















Wednesday, May 6, 2020 Warblers and Hummers

Seward, Alaska

Spectacular, sunny spring day! A new high of 62ยบ, south wind. Full moon!

Even more RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS and VARIED THRUSHES sang along Exit Glacier Road today. About every 500’, ROBINS hopped along the roadside feeding in the new grass along the warm edge of the pavement. WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS chattered from the cones clustered at the top of the spruce trees. A Woodpecker drummed.

While sitting on a comfy rock in the warm sunshine by the deserted Exit Glacier Nature Center, listening to the rustle of dry cottonwood and alder leaves swirling past my feet, I heard a familiar descending trill. Yes! First ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER! I leapt up and eased closer to the sound.

Sure enough, he was busy picking off insects pollinating and feeding on a blooming willow, the warbler magnet. He sang and snacked his way through the branches. Another Orange-crowned Warbler answered. A COMMON REDPOLL joined him briefly then moved on.

Farther back, I then heard the rolling warble of my first of year YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER. Another answered. Yay!

I was surprised to see a juvenile WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL on a nearby spruce. This species can breed any time of year, as long as there’s enough food.

The cottonwood trees here just burst into bloom as well, the male trees’ reddish catkins expanding like a Slinky popped from a box in slo-mo. Although the trees are wind-pollinated, birds are attracted to the insects on the sticky buds and stems.

The dormant deciduous trees and shrubs look dead, and stubborn patches of snow linger, but spring is definitely on its way at Exit Glacier.

Back in town, First-of-season TOWNSENDS’ WARBLERS sang from a spruce forest near Afognak Beach. FOX SPARROWS sang from hidden perches. A Yellow-rumped Warbler found my blooming Sitka willow. VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS checked out the airspace over my house and one even sat on the power line near a nest box. Fingers crossed! 

Although I have yet to see a Rufous Hummingbird at my waiting feeder, I received several reports today of hummers just out of town at Lowell Point, Ava’s Place, Nash Road, and Woodland Hills off Nash Road. A neighbor reported hummers every day this week. Overall, they are a week late after the expected date of April 29, according to record guru Todd Eskelin of the USFWS.

After such a warm day, buds are bursting into miniature leaves or flowers all over town. The rain on Monday painted the lawns green. Everything is springing to life; what a perfect word for the season!

Happy Birding wherever you are!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, May 1, 2020 Arctic Tern drama

Seward, Alaska

One might think birds that had just flown over 11,000 miles together from Antarctica to Alaska might be well-adjusted and compatible. Or perhaps all that travel time made them cranky like kids stuck in the back seat on a long road trip. Or maybe hormones kicked in once on the breeding grounds and caused tempers to flare.

Whatever the reason, a fierce twittering alerted me to a battle snarling high above. A whirlwind ball of white pointed wings and tails rolled across the blue sky. The sharp red bills of the two opponents flashed like daggers, a duel fit for the masters. Again and again they flew at each other and attacked, sometimes right-side up and sometimes upside down. Even while fighting, they displayed exceptional athleticism, grace, and beauty.

The fierce attack did not last long, and I have no idea who won, or if the presumed lady Tern was impressed. I didn’t witness any feather attacks or body damage, which I thought showed great restraint and respect for the essentials.

After peace returned, males resumed fishing for food and courtship. Silvery herring, long, skinny sand lance, and tiny salmon-type fry circled round and round as the proud suitors showed them off. Somehow, they broadcast the happy news with their bills firmly clamped down on their surprised prizes. 

What a joy to witness these marvelous avian wonders!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter














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