Monday, January 9, 2012 Three fabulous species!

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:54 am, sunset 4:15 pm, length of day 6 hours, 20 minutes; tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 11 seconds longer.

Weather: Yesterday's heavy clouds vanished by show time last night. The full moon arced across a completely clear sky, casting brilliant moon shadows on the snowy landscape and shimmering sea. Today, the sun ruled a clear sky all day providing psychological warmth despite temps in the low to mid teens and a freezing north-northeast wind. By early evening, the wind died down and a thick gray cloud blanket returned to tuck Seward to bed with a dose of steady snow.

Once again, there's a blizzard warning in effect from midnight to Tuesday evening north of Moose Pass with heavy snow, strong winds and limited visibility.  A massive storm is on its way; hold on to your snow shovels!

Today I heard the excited racket of MAGPIES and STELLER'S JAYS in my neighbor's spruce trees as soon as I stepped outside. These guard birds are one of the best ways I know to find a hidden raptor. I grabbed my binocs and camera and staked it out from a vantage point across the street. As I peered into the shadowy branches, a soft clucking led to a VARIED THRUSH. Two more glowing orange thrushes hopped nervously from one branch to the next. The jays and magpies fussed; some left as others arrived. I heard an occasional unfamiliar chattering that rose at the end. What was it? Jim H happened by on his errands and stopped to help look. No luck. Nothing flashed from the tree but magpies and jays.

My neighbors came out, on their way to buy more birdseed. After a brief explanation of what we were doing scrutinizing their trees, they looked up and exclaimed, "There's a owl!" We hurried over, and sure enough, a petite
NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL perched on a dead twig next to the spruce trunk about 12 feet up. It looked at us calmly, hardly opening its eyes. What a treat to see the maker of the endless and remarkably loud "back-up bell" call.

After a short while it seemed the Corvid cousins got tired of their security guard duty and flew off. GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS hopped on the ground right under the owl. A pair of noisy RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES bravely tooted their little horns, nervously dancing down and retreating up the scaly trunk, just a foot or two away from the menacing predator who completely and graciously ignored them.

I suspect the little owl is very hungry, perhaps hoping for a juicy vole attracted to the birdseed scattered on the ground. Saw-whets have been known to stake out bird feeders and even grab a songbird in desperate times.
It's been a very cold, snowy winter. I hope he feasts tonight!

The good dog still needed her walk, so I checked the salt marsh. Two adult BALD EAGLES perched in their usual spots on the lee side of protective spruce trees. Suddenly, I saw another raptor flying in the distance. The long tail  and distinctive eyebrow stripe spelled out an adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK! Well worth the cold, windy walk!

The bright sunshine and forbidding forecast lured me to the east side of the bay. I checked out the boat basin, nothing; the shoreline, nothing; the wetlands, nothing. Pretty quiet. Suddenly, in the ryegrass past the wetland pond, I saw the flash of about 100 SNOW BUNTINGS! I bailed out and headed down the beach into the wind. Another adult bald eagle graced the lee side of a spruce; a popular idea it seems. A curious harbor seal poked its nose above the gray water and as quickly submerged. Still no sign of the buntings. I was almost ready to give up when they flew up and landed at the far end of a grassy area.

Working their way among the beach rye stalks, they gleaned fallen seeds and quickly peeled away the chaff. Like rodeo riders, one bird after another leaped up on a loaded seedhead and rode the flexible stalk to the ground, grabbing seeds for itself while scattering more seeds for the flock. Without apparent provocation, the flock burst into the air, then just as suddenly wheeled and landed, instantly going back to work, eating, eating, eating.

It was hard to tell in the field if any McKay's were with them, but when I got home and checked my photos, I'm pretty sure there was at least one McKAY'S BUNTING.

What an amazing day for birds!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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