Saturday, February 18, 2012 Anchorage Audubon Seward Field Trip

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

About 25 birders braved the winter roads to converge on Seward for the annual Anchorage Audubon Seward Field Trip. Both the weather and birds cooperated to provide a wonderful day of birding for all. Most folks more than tripled their annual bird list, several nabbed Life Birds. The list below totaled 44 species.

First stop: A YELLOW-BILLED LOON cruised in the boat harbor between the boardwalk and the ice, the first of several we would see during the day. A dying COMMON MURRE flopped and struggled on the ice, a sad sight.

We walked over to the Uplands to scan the numerous seabirds in the bay. I was amazed to see the male HOODED MERGANSER, looking handsome and relatively small, hanging out with the SURF SCOTERS, GOLDENEYES, MERGANSERS, and other seabirds. This is the first time I have seen him in salt water. We are assuming it’s the same one as he was not found in Clear Creek a short time earlier, but we'll have to keep cross-checking.  Other highlights: another YELLOW-BILLED LOON and a female GREATER SCAUP. Aaron B spotted a THAYER'S GULL and HERRING GULLS with his keen, trained eyes.

Next was a productive feeder for PINE GROSBEAKS, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, COMMON REDPOLLS, PINE SISKIN, and DARK-EYED JUNCOS. A talkative RAVEN attracted 6 MAGPIES, a sure sign of something interesting. Sure enough, they had staked out a loose black cat that was also birding.

On our way to Ava's along the highway, we passed a momma moose and her gangly yearling punching through deep snow to reach willows. The highlights at Ava's were two raptors; a MERLIN perched in its preferred location at the top of a spruce, and a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK sitting in another spruce and farther down.

I have never seen such immobile HAIRY and DOWNY WOODPECKERS. They were one with the tree trunks. The GROSBEAKS and REDPOLLS gathered silently in the cottonwoods, watching, watching. Suddenly the MERLIN, that had disappeared, sliced low overhead from behind, making an unsuccessful pass at lunch. Soon after the frozen birds became animated and relaxed a bit though they remained on alert.

Another momma and yearling rested in the snow next to Salmon Creek; if they saw a dipper, they didn't say.

At Mile 5 Nash Road we parked by the boat basin. It was amazing to have so many birders searching diligently, finding so many wonderful birds, and yet have more pop up. Highlights included 5 LONG-TAILED DUCKS, WHITE-WINGED SCOTER, a pair of BLACK SCOTERS, rafts of SURF SCOTERS, 3 PACIFIC LOONS, YELLOW-BILLED LOONS, COMMON LOON, 2 MARBLED MURRELETS, and many healthy-looking COMMON MURRES.

Directly under us next to the sheetrock piling, we enjoyed fabulous views of a COMMON MURRE snorkeling then diving. The water was so clear, we could see it "fly" underwater. A young sea otter floated calmly close by, looking at us with mild interest and total lack of concern, then turned and drifted slowly back for the paparazzi madly clicking away.

The last official stop was a downtown feeder. The nearby dense spruce and hemlock tree boughs concealed a very quiet STELLER'S JAY. We searched for raptors without success to explain this odd behavior. Soon, a tiny CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE flitted from the trees to the feeder, ringing up another Life Bird for several. As we watched and waited, a flock of about 18 GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES circled overhead. They eventually settled in the top of the nearby cottonwood and ever so gradually worked their way lower and lower. Finally, they descended on the flowerpot feeders, giving everyone a great look at this beautiful finch.

Of note, was a brown-cheeked individual whose gray hood did not extend to the neck like the others. Thanks to Aaron Lang who confirmed that this is the "INTERIOR" GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH, subspecies "tephrocotis". It should be wintering in southern BC and farther east and south, but has regularly been found in Homer. He also pointed out that it has a more reddish-brown breast, belly and mantle, stout bill, and is slightly smaller.

For a nice tutorial with photos on the Gray-crowned Rosy-finch subspecies in Alaska, please visit his website at <>

As with most birding, there's a dose of serendipity and the more you look, the more you see. It was a pleasure to have the trained eyes of more experienced birders help others "see" the birds. Thanks to everyone for a very special day exploring Seward's birds!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

2012 Audubon-Seward Field Trip February 18, 2012
Greater Scaup, female                                                     
Black Scoter                                                     
White-winged Scoter                                            
Surf Scoter                                                     
Harlequin Duck                                            
Long-tailed Duck                                            
Common Goldeneye                                            
Barrow’s Goldeneye                                            
Common Merganser                                            
Red-breasted Merganser                                   
Hooded Merganser                                            
Pacific Loon                                                     
Common Loon                  
Yellow-billed Loon                                            
Horned Grebe                                                     
Red-necked Grebe                 
Pelagic Cormorant                                            
Bald Eagle adult                                                     
Sharp-shinned Hawk                                            
Mew Gull
*Herring Gull                                                     
*Thayer’s Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull                                   
Black-legged Kittiwake                                   
Common Murre                                                              
Marbled Murrelet
Rock Pigeon                                                     
Downy Woodpecker                                                     
Hairy Woodpecker
Steller’s Jay                                                              
Black-billed Magpie
Northwestern Crow                                                     
Common Raven                                            
Black-capped Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch                                            
Song Sparrow                  
Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco                           
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch                  
Pine Grosbeak                                                     
Common Redpoll                  
Pine Siskin                 
* only a few birders saw the scope birds (spotted by Aaron Bowman)

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