Sunday, January 15, 2012 Snow Buntings

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:46 am, sunset 4:28 pm, length of day 6 hours, 41 minutes; tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 52 seconds longer.

Weather: Sunny with patchy overcast, temps in the single digits above zero, and north-northeast winds barreling down the smoking bay around 20 mph with gusts to 43 mph. More clear, cold, and windy in the forecast.

Once again the STELLER'S JAYS and MAGPIES gathered around a cluster of spruce this morning, very upset. Even a brave little flock of BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES chimed in. It was scarcely light around 9 am, so I was unable to find the suspected raptor.  Lovely sunrise an hour later with ribbons of colors behind a Mt Ash stacked with jays.

I headed to Lowell Point beach to escape most of the wind and exercise the good dog. On the way out, an adult BALD EAGLE tore into a fresh red carcass by the beach, feathers strewn downwind, the surf booming behind it. SURF SCOTERS surfed with several pairs of HARLEQUINS riding along behind. They were so comfortable; several dozed with their head tucked under a wing, still able to blindly maneuver into the waves.

At the beach, a COMMON LOON, RED-NECKED GREBE, COMMON MERGANSER, and a tight platoon of BARROW'S GOLDENEYES patrolled close to shore. I watched a PELAGIC CORMORANT emerge with a wriggling fish; after carefully working the fish head first, down the hatch it went. A huge bulge in the long neck showed the progress of the live fish. After it was successfully swallowed, the cormorant wriggled quite a bit itself, splashing and stretching. It must feel pretty weird to have a live fish in one's belly!

A noisy flock of COMMON REDPOLLS flew across the blue sky heading for some alders. Suddenly, a whirlwind of large snowflakes burst upwards from the nearly buried beach ryegrass. SNOW BUNTINGS! What a treat to find them here! About 20 birds walked along the crusty snow, picking up fallen seeds, and jumped up on upright stalks to ride them down and knock down more. I watched for a long time as they fed and whirled up and down.

The good dog chewed contentedly on her stick while I enjoyed the show. Just when I thought they were flying off for good, they veered and landed quite close, chittering and chattering. Closer and closer, feeding as they walked, long black toes contrasting with the white snow. Finally, they were too close for my lens! I just enjoyed being another piece of driftwood while they disputed particular seeds and knocked down more. Then off to the sandy beach for grit, leaving tiny tracks in the softer snow along the edge. Finally, the flock had enough and whirled away. I hope they didn't go far!

Unwilling to leave the sun, I then checked out the calm water south of the Uplands by the boat harbor. At the mouth of Scheffler Creek, I found 16 GADWALL feeding only a foot away from the shore. One drake was particularly handsome and quite a bit lighter than the others. GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS sat in the cold riffles while NORTHWESTERN CROWS flocked overhead looking for food.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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