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




Saturday, July 26, 2014 Warblers in Willow

Seward, Alaska

Just when it seemed like all the songbirds had abandoned Seward, I found a Sitka Willow bustling with a family of TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, a BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE, and PINE SISKINS. The female tree was loaded with tiny insects and the birds were only too happy to perform extermination services.

I watched a Pine Siskin glean a black insect from the underside of a willow leaf. The Chickadee pounded a small dead branch with its tiny bill, then extracted an insect larva for lunch. The Townsend's Warblers chipped constantly, as they flitted from one branch to another, snacking and remarking on the bounteous feast.

An Orange-crowned Warbler perched precariously on a nearby cow parsnip, upside down, sideways, and on top, gleaning insects from among the developing seeds.

Two speckle-breasted young ROBINS hopped about in the grass, looking for invertebrates, happy to find a worm.

It was quite an unexpected treat to both hear and see these busy songbirds. I hope the willow feast will fuel them for many miles on their journey south.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter









Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Raven Kiss

Seward, Alaska

It's usually quite difficult to spy on COMMON RAVENS, much less get photos. They are wary and private, and do not tolerate paparazzi spying on their personal lives. By happy circumstance, while studying the raucous gulls at the NE Beach fish cleaning station, I found a family of oblivious RAVENS parading along the beach. The three youngsters looked disheveled, their feathers stained with fish oil from the delectable feast thrown into the fish bin by the fishermen. But raven teenagers always look unkempt, losing and gaining feathers like a human teenager outgrows baggy jeans and shoes, so this was normal.

The mom was also a mess, her feathers in disarray and likewise streaked with fish oil. I could almost see her pink foam hair curlers sliding off, her wrinkled and worn house dress, and her shabby slippers, exhausted from a busy day minding the kids and rustling up dinner. The dad, in contrast, was magnificent, glossy and iridescent, impeccably attired with impressive shaggy throat feathers. He looked like a VIP, possibly the CEO of the boat harbor.

The pair ignored their children while they shared a few tender moments together. The dad, a perfect, gallant gentleman, saw only the beautiful bride and mother of his handsome family. After a little bowing and horn display (the female's are smaller and shorter), they tenderly exchanged a raven kiss where the female gently grasped the male's beak in hers. These are powerful tools that can rip branches off a tree, so it was quite an act of trust. Their sky blue nictitating membranes flashed across their black eyes from back to front. Afterwards, they both burst into a cascade of croaking and celebration followed by more respectful bowing to each other.

Unfortunately, my DSLR camera makes quite a racket as the mirror slaps up and down. The amorous pair paused and glanced in my direction several times. Finally, with great dignity, the stars walked off stage, side by side, little hearts zipping between them.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter








Friday, July 18, 2014 One thing after another!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:06 am, sunset 10:59 pm, for a total length of day of 17 hours and 53 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 4 seconds shorter.

After several overcast days that promised rain without delivering and temps in the mid 50s, the clouds took a break and let that blue sky and sunshine reign instead. A soft south breeze with a high of 64º was a lovely and welcome combination. Late in the afternoon, I sallied forth to see what I could see.

It turned out to be a Larid afternoon, short for gulls and terns. A dainty little gull with a black bill and matching black earrings flew overhead and landed just offshore in the brown, silty waves (lots of glacier melt going on.) A BONAPARTE'S GULL, perhaps the same one I spotted last month. I've only seen one at a time this summer; they are not common here like they are in Anchorage. When the little gull flew off, the black band on the tail and distinctive black markings on the wings flashed.

As I followed the gull's flight, I caught sight of a life and death drama being played out high over the bay. An adult BALD EAGLE and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL rapidly exchanged positions of pursuit. The eagle gained the upper hand and the gull gave flight as they raced across the sky, ever lower. At times, they were in perfect synchrony, as if choreographed. Finally, with both birds' beaks open and panting, the gull pulled away. The eagle broke off and flew to the beach where it landed in the water to cool off. ARCTIC TERNS immediately bombarded it, trying to drive it off, to no avail. Too tired.

A random glance at other Arctic Terns in the distance made me jump! The ratcheting Arctic Terns were escorting a jumbo tern with a huge red bill and black-tipped wings. I've been looking for a CASPIAN TERN all summer, and here it was!  It didn't linger over the feisty smaller terns' territory, but took leisurely loops and soon disappeared. No one messes with Arctic Terns!

As I headed back, small groups of invisible LEAST SANDPIPERS flushed out of the seaweed wrack. They blend in so well, it's hard to spot them until they move. Migration is well underway as the season races along.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter
















Sunday, July 6, 2014 Rufous Hummingbird banding project

Seward, Alaska

Stacy Jon Peterson and his well-trained family set up a hummingbird banding station at Ava's this weekend. To catch the hummers, a hummingbird feeder was placed inside a specially designed cage. The only door was held open by a long piece of fishing line attached to the attendant, either one of the two Peterson kids. When a hummingbird ventured inside, down came the wire screen door. Then it was just a matter of catching the little hummer and delivering it to the banding table.

The first hummingbird of the morning was a female that was banded about the same time last year! The rest of the day's 5 hummers were previously unbanded, including 3 males of this year's hatch.

After a brief inspection, the bird was weighed, measured, and banded with a miniscule leg band. Think toothpick for a leg size, the skinny kind. Then the top of the head was marked with a dab of water-soluble marker to ensure quick recognition and release if recaptured.

A lucky volunteer gets to release the miniature jewel, placed gently on an open palm. I could feel his tiny heart beating so fast it was just a vibration, "hummmmm." After a short time, zing! off he shot with stories about being abducted by aliens, with a band on his leg and white paint on his head to prove it.

Fifteen wondrous Rufous Hummingbirds were banded at Ava's over the course of two days. Several were this year's hatch, and the majority were males. Last year, 11 were banded, and 11 others had already been branded. One can only hope that these missing birds are nesting somewhere else...

 were If you are lucky to have hummers, clean and refill your hummer feeder 4:1 sugar water solution often so it's nice and clean for the newly fledged hummers and their hungry moms.

In addition to the hummers, once again, it's baby bird time at Ava's: DOWNY and HAIRY WOODPECKERS, PINE GROSBEAKS, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, TREE and VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS, SONG SPARROWS and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES. PINE SISKINS, which were rare this past winter, nested nearby. It was so nice to see and hear them again, with fledglings.

Another treat was a brief appearance of at least two CROSSBILLS. They flew off before I could identify the species, but WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS have been in the area for the past several weeks. Robin C reported the first RED CROSSBILLS of the year recently, over by the Seward Elementary School, so both species are in the area.

Stop by Ava's for a bird fix; it's just buzzing with action. If you can, please bring black oil sunflower seeds to help her keep up with all those hungry birds. She has found this to be the preferred food, summer and winter.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter









Thursday, June 26, 2014 Arctic Tern fracas!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:34 am, sunset 11:26 pm, for a total day length of 18 hours and 25 minutes. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 6 seconds shorter.

Cool cloudy weather continues with occasional sprinkles and sunshine, temps in the mid 50s. The forecast, if it is to be believed, is for 72º on Saturday with more sunshine on Sunday. We shall see!

It was a pleasure, as always, to watch the graceful ARCTIC TERNS today, full of moxie, zipping after BALD EAGLES and RAVENS like fighter jet escorts at the border.  One caught a rather impressive fish and paraded that fish around and around, crying exultantly, openly bragging, long after the poor fish was asphyxiated. I hope that eventually the tern remembered to haul it back to any chicks, waiting hungrily for delivery.

Another tern dove with a big splash and caught a minute fish, smaller than a chick snack. To my astonishment, another tern dove down and ATTACKED the fisher, grabbed one of its outer tail feathers with its strong red bill and pulled hard. The attacked tern struggled to fly away. Weighed down by the intruder, it almost went into the water. You can imagine the racket as both birds screamed, one in surprise and indignation, the other hurling bad, bad tern words. Maybe both were.

It was over in a trice; the attacker released the feathers and the victim flew free, feathers intact, still holding the tiny fish between its clenched bill. I have never witnessed a tern attack another tern. I cannot conceive why. Certainly, it wasn't because of the fish, which was no prize. Very puzzling. But what a drama!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter










Tuesday, June 24, 2014 Seward Hudsonian Godwit

Seward, Alaska

A surprising discovery today was a HUDSONIAN GODWIT feeding at the tide's edge. Its bill was bicolored, with a black tip, and the rest a very dull and vague pink. The sides were barred with black, light rufous, and gray. I think it was a female. When it flew, (sorry!) the black tail, white rump, and narrow white stripes flashed. I did not see the color of the wing linings, which are dark in Hudsonians and dark in Black-tailed Godwits (should I ever be so lucky!)

I understand that recently there were many on the island in Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage. Is it possible that they are already migrating south en route to Amazonian Colombia and thence to Isla Chiloe off the coast of Chile?

Nathan Senner's PhD research links at:

There's always something interesting happening on the Nature Channel!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter