Saturday, February 25, 2012 Loon nabs crab

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 8:08 am, sunset 6:14 pm, length of day 10 hours, 5 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 27 seconds longer.

Weather: Today must be the veritable calm before the storm. The bay was so flat this afternoon, "Vs" from seabirds paddling in the middle of the bay could be seen from shore. The temp slowly climbed from 15º this morning to 27º by day's end. Somber snow-bearing clouds gathered in the Gulf of Alaska, then inched to town, scattering a few snowflakes shortly before dusk. The weather was mild mannered and slow as a sloth. Yet, an urgent winter blizzard warning is forecast in large alarming red letters, from 3 am to 5 pm tomorrow with high winds and snow. We shall see. Maybe it will stay up in Portage Valley and Turnagain Arm.

The seabird feeding frenzy continued just south of the boat harbor at the seafood processing outfall pipe: tidy lines of SURF SCOTERS, a few BLACK SCOTERS, many GOLDENEYES, COMMON and RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, a scattering of HORNED and RED-NECKED GREBES and PELAGIC CORMORANTS, lots of crying MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, COMMON MURRES paddling about, a few MALLARDS, and a couple sea otters. If I had my scope, I might have seen a few more species.

Of even greater interest, I watched an adult COMMON LOON pop up with a crab in its beak at the harbor mouth. I saw this phenomenon for the first time yesterday in the boat harbor. I did not know loons would eat Dungeness crabs. I wonder if their fish supply is dwindling? Or is this the same loon and it just likes a little variety and challenge?

Yesterday's common loon did not let me watch it eat the crab, but today's loon was far enough away for me to see it reposition the angular lunch several times and finally work it down. Amazing! All those legs and tough shell!

In the boat harbor, another COMMON LOON and a PACIFIC LOON preened and dove. A quiet "blip" announced that a HORNED GREBE had popped up nearby, surprised to find me there. A GREAT BLUE HERON stroked ponderously across the sky like a great ship headed for port. A skirmish erupted as a RAVEN gave chase to a NORTHWESTERN CROW. The crow managed to outfly its larger cousin and keep the coveted prize. Near the victor, a busy SONG SPARROW hopped along the breakwater rocks, investigating the crannies.

The usual flock of Barrow's Goldeneyes was absent, probably due in large part to the adult BALD EAGLE perched precariously on top of a sailboat mast. It suddenly threw back its head and let out a series of strident, fierce cries. I looked for another eagle; sure enough, a bald eagle over two blocks away was flying towards it. Apparently the message was not an invitation, and the other bird veered away.

Back at the car, more NW CROWS sat quietly on the snow bank. I noticed one with a slightly deformed upper bill, and another with a band on each leg, evidence of scientists trying to understand their world. 

Another interesting day, watching and wondering about birds.

A flock of 6 WILLOW PTARMIGN was reported yesterday morning along Nash Road just past the RR tracks.

Photos include two from sunny yesterday: the common loon holding a Dungeness crab, and a raft of beautiful Barrow's Goldeneyes as seen from Lowell Point Road.

For more information on deformed bills in Alaska go to:

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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