Monday, January 30, 2012 Humpback Whale and Yellow-billed Loons

 Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:17 am, sunset 5:05 pm, length of day 7 hours, 47 minutes; tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 56 seconds longer. Waxing half moon rides with Jupiter across the cloudy sky.

Weather: Ahhhh. Winter relaxed its frigid grip overnight and temperatures rose steadily throughout the day into the 20sº.  Intermittent light snowfall didn't add much more that a thin white topcoat. And best of all, the wind took a nap. What a difference!

I dashed out of the house just before noon today and drove my snow-crystal- studded car to the Lowell Creek waterfall. Climbing up on the snow bank, I heard the loud exhale first and then saw a long, beautiful dark back and craggy dorsal fin arc out of the water just off shore, then gracefully submerge. A humpback whale! Again and again, the paired nostrils, the powerful blow, long back, small triangular dorsal, and smooth submerge.

Nervous rows of COMMON MURRES paddled out of its way, looking very small in comparison. Then, the blow, the fin, and an ever so smooth, tight arc followed by a dripping butterfly-shaped tail, and down it went for a deep dive.

Numerous, heavy explosive exhales disturbed the calm, gray water as a large pod of Steller sea lions burst up for air. It was hard to count the milling, diving, surging sea mammals; there may have been 20 or more. After a minute or two of heavy breathing, down they went and all was calm and very still for several minutes. A casual passerby would think there was nothing to see and move on, when everything was happening.

"Booooohhhhhh!" The mighty whale was back, surface diving, a bit farther out. "Paaah! Paaah! Paaah!" The sea lions boiled back up, rolling, panting, and snorting. The percussive interlude continued, the whale providing a steady deep bass, the sea lions their higher, faster staccato, until everyone dove.  Then all that remained were the gentle waves lapping rhythmically on the shore. It was a fascinating, riveting, spectacular performance with many encores. I still do not know what, whether herring, needlefish, or other food, is attracting all these sea mammals and seabirds to the inner bay, but it must be abundant and nutritious.

Mixing with the murres, were 2 YELLOW-BILLED LOONS, a PACIFIC LOON, a RED-NECKED GREBE warming up its loud breeding voice, and a few GOLDENEYES. A flock of COMMON MERGANSERS flew by low over the water. Notably absent were the gulls. I probably missed a few species, but I had a good excuse to be distracted.

What a place, Seward!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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