Tuesday, May 19, 2015 Arctic Tern courtship

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:09 am, sunset 10:40 pm for a total day length of 17 hours, 30 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 26 seconds longer.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of observing a sleek male ARCTIC TERN courting his equally beautiful true love. While the light of his life watched, he flew buoyantly over the water, searching for fish. Once spotted, he hovered expertly, swooped lower for a better look, and then dove headfirst with a big splash. Sometimes he emerged, shaking off water droplets, without a fish. Occasionally he ate a very small one, but he repeated the hunt until he had a perfect, small fish to deliver.

Upon his approach, the female ratcheted loudly in anticipation. The male hovered overhead, delicately transferring the offering into her waiting red bill. What a gorgeous suitor, with his jet-black crown, red bill, red legs, white body and angel wings! Delivery accepted, he would sit nearby, taking a little time to bask in her adoration.

She, however, was done adoring, and continued to wait expectantly, her petite little red foot tapping impatiently. So off he went to seek yet another treat. After some time, he nailed a 3-spine stickleback. What a prize! He proudly flew back to his darling and offered it, as before. Her happy cries abruptly ceased when she got a look at the formidable spines, pointing her direction.

She snapped her red bill shut while he hovered anxiously overhead, gently bumping her bill with the stickleback, then the back of her head when she turned away, giving him a very clear message. He couldn’t believe that she didn’t want it, and continued to try, futilely hitting her on the back and neck. Finally, he got the message and settled down nearby to deal with this fish himself.

He sat for several minutes with the head down his throat, the 3 dorsal spines sticking out on one side, the 2 orange barb-like ventral spines on the other. The stickleback fought valiantly, flipping its tail up and down, keeping those fierce spines erect.  It took a long time, but finally, the fish must have relaxed due to lack of oxygen. The tern opened his bill even wider and somehow managed to swallow it, a huge bulge showing its progress down the hatch. 

The female, watching the whole show, stretched and might have even yawned. Maybe there was a little prompting cough. He was soon back at work, cruising up and down, finding delicious, small fish without spines for her enjoyment. Courtship is hard work!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 Baby Dippers!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:23 am, sunset 10:26 pm, for a total day length of 17 hours, and 2 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 48 seconds longer.

Gorgeous blue sky, sunny, calm morning, with temps in the upper 40s rising to 55ยบ by mid-afternoon. Then the day breeze kicked up and the clouds rolled in.

This afternoon, I visited the Bear Lake weir where thousands of 2-year old silver salmon smolt from the Moose Pass hatchery are imprinting on Bear Lake water prior to their release into the stream and thence to Resurrection Bay. They looked big and healthy, ready for their perilous journey in the ocean.  In a year or two, the survivors will return as adults. It was amazing to look at the future, milling around below.

The sharp call of an AMERICAN DIPPER caught my ear as a sleek gray adult flew to perch on a handy railing to take a little rest. The nesting season started early, as it has for siskins, crossbills, and pine siskins.

I wandered down the stream and across the road to look for the babies. First one little gray ball of feathers with a stubby tail and yellow bill, then another, fluttered up on a mossy log mid-stream. They focused like radars, searching for any sign of a parent bearing food. When one came in range, pandemonium broke out, each vying with wide-open beak, outstretched fluttering wings, and insistent cries.

Only one baby could be fed at a time. The parent quickly rammed the stash of macroinvertebrates down its yellow gullet before dashing off to forage for more. The babies immediately settled back down to wait, idly plucking moss and tiny bits of bark in the remote chance that they too were edible. 

At this age, the source of food is definitely mom or dad, and where the parents get it is a big mystery. Soon, their random sampling will evolve to real foraging and as their skill increases, food service will decline.

If all goes well, the parents could raise 3 or more families this summer. I sure hope so! It is such a delight to watch and hear the dippers in any stage of their phenomenal lives.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

May 7, 2015 Shorebird action

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:36 am, sunset 10:13 pm for a total length of day of 16 hours and 37 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 2 seconds longer.

More birds and new species are arriving daily!

April 28: First swallows (2) reported over Nash Road wetlands, too far for ID. WILSON’S SNIPE, at least 8, winnowing in the evening.

April 29: Last sighting of resident TRUMPETER SWAN cygnet, without sibling. I hope they are both fine, somewhere.

April 30: 2 TREE SWALLOWS reported by Tasha near Alaska Sealife Center. First SEMI-PALMATED PLOVERS (3), 3 BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS.

May 1: First FOX SPARROW singing his sweet song in the ’hood, a slightly different dialect from our local nesters. Midnight SAW-WHET OWL calling from Mt Marathon. Either I haven’t been out late enough, or he took a break for a while.

May 2: Persistent ROBIN woke me up with its cheerful song at 4:30 am. The males are singing past 11 pm. Long day! First RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, female, at my feeder. Several more reports around town.

May 3: Last report of male STELLER’S EIDER at Spring Creek Beach. He has disappeared for a few days before, but his Harlequin family may be leaving soon to nest. What will this lost bird do? Milbert Tortoiseshell butterflies sailing around in the sunshine; bumblebees zooming around willow and blueberry flowers. Robin C reported WHIMBRELS.

May 4: Robin C reported 2 CASPIAN TERNS!
GREAT HORNED OWL flew between trees and hooted once, spotted by Jim H and Kerry M by Civil Air Patrol pond. 2 male and 1 female RING-NECKED DUCK in the pond. First ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, and YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER spotted in the willows along the pond; more singing nearby.


May 6: First TOWNSEND’S WARBLER heard singing, almost drowned out by louder RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET. SNIPE calling nearby. 2 VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS zipped past, chasing the growing population of mosquitoes. LEAST and WESTERN SANDPIPER numbers are building.

11 pm: a flock of 25 SANDHILL CRANES flew silently overhead at mid-level, heading north. One excited crane just had to make a comment or two, alerting me to their presence. Otherwise, I probably would not have known. I thought their migration was over.

Salmonberries and yellow violets are blooming; male cottonwood flowers are already spent and on the ground.

May 7: GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS singing around town. PINE SISKIN numbers continue to build, perhaps swelled by juveniles. Many RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS and FOX SPARROWS singing.


Jim H and Kerry M reported Violet-green swallows (6), Long-billed Dowitchers (12), Yellowlegs (2), Least and Western Sandpipers in large flocks of up to 25-30, Dunlin (2), GODWIT (debating Marbled or Hudsonian) (1), Greater White Fronted Geese (10), Canada (2), Semi-palmated Plover (4), and  the many usual suspects.  

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, May 7, 2015 Hummer time!

Seward, Alaska

Ava called yesterday with an excited report of a new hummingbird, larger than a Rufous, all green, with a black gorget. Joe Staab checked it out this morning and identified it as a male ANNA’S. I went a few hours later, and did not see it. But I enjoyed watching a female and stunning male RUFOUS at the feeder. Such little jewels! Ava noted that down south, the hummers swarm and share the feeders, but here in their breeding territory, they are very aggressive. The female seemed to dominate the feeder and the male waited until she was gone before zipping in to sip.

Seward has had Anna’s here before, but usually they are recognized after mid-July when the Rufous all leave. In 2010, a young female lingered until October 10th. Lowell Point has also reported Anna’s, possibly breeding, over the years.

Keep those feeders clean and full. 4 cups boiled water (if city water) and 1 cup granulated sugar. No red food coloring. If you have a small-necked feeder, try swirling a tablespoon of BBs with dish soap solution to clean off any fungus. Vinegar kills mold and fungus, but hopefully your feeder won’t get that bad. I really like the dish-style feeders with the handy perches. They are really easy to clean and fill.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, April 27, 2015 Crazy April

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:06 am, sunset 9:46 pm, for a total day length of 15 hours and 40 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 18 seconds longer.

The winter that almost wasn’t arrived in April with unwelcome snow surprises, and day after day of chilly temps in the low to mid 30s. Repeated squalls punctuated with strong winds, hail, and even a dash of unusual, rolling thunder was a terrible challenge for both local and migrating birds.

Now, brave new green leaves poke through the brown lawn thatch, Tiny, perfectly folded origami shrub and tree leaves unfold a bit more every day. Dandelion rosettes of course, are looking perky and ready to rip. As the calendar eases into May, more seasonal April showers are in the forecast with steadily increasing temperatures into the mid to high 40s, possibly even the low 50s.

In the midst of all this wild weather, I have received several reports of baby birds. Already! Ava reported her first baby of the year, a PINE SISKIN, on April 17th. Another reported fledgling PINE SISKINS, WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, and PINE GROSBEAKS on April 23.

The squalls and dark clouds delivered birds mixed with snow. On April 15 I received a credible report of about 75 SANDHILL CRANES flying north up Resurrection River valley towards Exit Glacier. The first bumblebee took a test flight. A GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE and 2 AMERICAN WIGEON were reported.

April 16: An excited flock of 32 swans including TRUMPETER and at least 14 TUNDRA SWANS touched down for a brief rest, also 50 CANADA GEESE, and 2 NORTHERN HARRIERS.

April 17: First report of BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS at Lowell Point. 32 SANDHILL CRANES spotted, and 2 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE.

April 19: the hard rain, hail, and southerly squalls delivered several dozens of STORM PETRELS to the inner bay. They danced so lightly on the surface amid the hulking gulls, like delicate gray and white butterflies. The opportunistic BALD EAGLES added them to their menu, strewing their feathers and small carcasses along the roads and into the forest.

April 20: first RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, male, reported at a waiting feeder on Nash Road at 6 pm, right after it stopped snowing. That person was a real optimist and she was right! 150 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE reported as well as flocks of birds overhead.

April 21: ROBIN singing sweetly in the snowstorm. Ava reported her first RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, male, near Nash Road.



April 24: First ARCTIC TERNS (5)!
Three large flocks of SANDHILL CRANES flew high over town about 7 pm, milling about, seemingly uncertain of which route to take. One group split up and the leaders formed a small but tidy V. The rest of that flock formed a straight line connecting to the V in an absolutely perfect arrow pointing north! And north they all flew. It was astonishing!

April 25: First RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, singing in my yard.
Report of SNIPE winnowing over wetlands. Large flock of geese migrating north about 9 pm.

April 26: First RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, male, reported in town.

April 27: A few more PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVERS, and BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS spotted at a distance. Report of a few WESTERN and LEAST SANDPIPERS trickling in.

Despite the inclement weather, Spring is definitely here. Bravo!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter