Monday, November 14, 2011 Smashing news!

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report 

I enjoy having interesting birds delivered to my house. Meaning, of course, Cassin's finches in the front yard, Cedar Waxwings in the surrounding cottonwoods, and other benign but exciting sightings. Today's delivery was smashing!

When I returned home this afternoon from the monthly COASST survey, I shucked my winter gear, gathered my two cameras, and headed upstairs to return a phone call to a friend. Engrossed in the conversation, I casually looked out the window and saw a little gray feather stuck to one of the two windows. Hmmm. Pine grosbeak window strike? I thought I had enough stuff hanging in the window to discourage any hits. We chatted some more and eventually my gaze shifted to the adjacent window.

GOOD GRIEF! The window looked like a rock had been hurled through it! There was a huge hole, with jagged pieces of glass barely hanging on, the previously invisible protective membrane flapping stoically as if to say, "I tried!" Glass shards glittered menacingly, strewn all over the cabinet under the window. I stood up abruptly and looked closer. A large brownish, streaked bird about the size of a fat raven sat stunned on the roof, all fluffed up, a foot away. I had no idea what it was, except a raptor of some sort but not an owl. I hastily excused myself and hung up. Wow! The glass was everywhere, from tiny sparkles to larger shards blasted over 6 feet away from the window, on the carpet, on top of papers, in open boxes.

But of more interest was this quiet, stunned bird. It sat there, deep brown eyes closed, then open, just resting. Whatever enticed it to hurtle at high speed with enough force to break two panes of glass was no longer of interest or even in memory. As I watched, fascinated, I remembered my camera. What a unique opportunity for close-ups of a raptor! The through-the-glass photos were a bit cloudy. Then I noticed the convenient access through the split plastic membrane. I got some great shots of this magnificent bird.

Suddenly, it gathered enough reconnaissance to realize what was happening and managed to fly off to the nearby Mt Ash tree and crash land. It hung there, almost suspended, wings out, unable to really get a grip on a branch for a proper landing. After a short time, it let go and flapped towards the ground. I rushed to the downstairs window and saw it resting near the house on the deck. Bird 911 time.

I called the Alaska Sealife Center rescue number and talked to Tim. He gathered the information and mercifully agreed to send a crew even though it was not a marine mammal or seabird. Then the interminable wait began. How agonizingly slow it seems before aid arrives! It was not long however, before an inquisitive Steller's jay discovered the inert raptor, sitting on the deck. Up went the alarm and soon five jays danced around the eerily quiet predator. Black-billed magpies answered the call and joined the taunting and outcry. The only positive result of all this harassment was I could determine that at least the bird's neck wasn't broken. It could turn and look this way and that at first one tormentor then the other. Luckily, the alarmed birds kept a safe distance, but I did not know how long their fear would last. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

After an interminable (but in reality probably short) time, Seth and Julie arrived with a small crate, blanket, and long-handled net. Sneaking around the side of the house, it was almost anticlimactic to gently lay the net over the unprotesting bird and bag it. After untangling the formidable looking talons, the bird was wrapped in a blanket and transferred to the crate. Off to the ASLC for observation.

I cleaned up most of the glass shards and installed a temporary cover over the shattered window, then emailed photos for ID. Opinions were mixed, but either a PEREGRINE or GYRFALCON. That bird could have hit the window at 200 mph! It sure looks that way! It's incredible that he survived. Wow!

In the future, I will be content to travel a bit to find awesome birds in lieu of replacing any more windows!

Many thanks to the Alaska Sealife Center for taking care of this magnificent bird.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter