April 28, 2012 Spring birds trickling in

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 6:01am, sunset 9:50 pm, length of day 15 hours, 49 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 16 seconds longer.

Weather: Breakup continued slowly this past week, freezing at night with sunny but cool days. Temps remained mostly in the high 30s to mid 40s with a peek at low 50s before scurrying back down. Clouds rolled in today bringing sprinkles and big hints at more serious stuff to come. Snow lurks in shady spots; ice looks rotten on First and Second Lake, ready to take the plunge. The Lagoon is mostly open with ice only on the edges. Roundhouse and Airport Pond are about a third open. I think many flocks of swans, geese, and cranes took one look and just kept on flying.

Monday, April 23 Tide flats
An eagle cruising overhead caused seven GREATER SCAUP to explode into flight. This conveniently displayed the characteristic bold white stripe that extends from the secondaries into the primaries. (The very similar Lesser Scaup has a lesser stripe if you're lucky enough to see it.) Other ducks watching nearby included the EURASIAN WIGEON, AMERICAN WIGEON, NORTHERN PINTAILS, MALLARDS, GADWALL, and GREEN-WINGED TEAL.

Six BONAPARTE'S GULLS flew buoyantly and then rested on the tide flats with noisy MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, and a few ARCTIC TERNS. The Bonaparte's have short red legs, a striking black hood, and a loud, raspy, growly voice. They also have an attitude similar to the tern; very confident and assertive, despite their small size. One gull lowered his head and approached another, growling sweetly; courtship? The recipient acknowledged the display, but all six soon sat down to nap and preen in the sun.

The eagle returned to disrupt the gull congregation, this time hunting in earnest. It was amazing to watch it cut one GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL out of the frenzied flock, and then pursue it relentlessly, wheeling and turning as easily as the gull. What a feeling of despair and desperation! Can't dive, can't fly higher, lower, or faster and no place to hide. Another eagle joined in and I thought the gull was a goner for sure. At last the first eagle broke away, finally fatigued after all that flapping, and then miraculously, the second gave up as well. The gull dashed off to disappear into the gull crowd and recover.  

Yesterday (or night) must have been a good time for the GREATER YELLOWLEGS to migrate. At least 28 flew in a large loose flock when startled, then soon landed to feed hungrily.

Tuesday, April 24
I checked out the low tide scene at Spring Creek beach. The big herring egg rush was over, but I did spot 4 GREATER SCAUP, 4 GADWALL, 4 GREEN-WINGED TEAL, AMERICAN WIGEON, SURF SCOTERS, 2 BLACK SCOTER females, BARROW'S GOLDENEYES, many HARLEQUINS, and the usual MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS but fewer in number and lower in volume than before.

A COMMON LOON in breeding plumage dove far offshore.

Back at the beach, seven First of Season (FOS) AMERICAN PIPITS picked through the dead sedges for tidbits. The female NORTHERN HARRIER ghosted above the grasses hunting for voles.

Two FOS Sparrows reported: GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS in town, and a SAVANNAH SPARROW at Lowell Point. Several FOX SPARROWS rummaged through the dead leaves in the yard.

I finally heard the NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL beeping steadily far up Mt Marathon around 11:30 pm. It seems late in the year, but I was very glad to hear it.

Wednesday, April 25
Two FOS SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS returned to the tide flats. How great to see them with about a dozen GREATER YELLOWLEGS. I watched one yellowlegs catch a relatively large fish and carry it off to safety. Two pairs of EURASIAN WIGEONS flew past MALLARDS, PINTAILS, and ARCTIC TERNS.

Thursday, April 26
Ava reported one FOS VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW. LeVans' records show April 21 as the earliest they've ever seen them, and May 10-15 as the latest. I don't know what they're going to eat as there aren't many insects flying yet, it's been so cold.

SAW-WHET OWL heard beeping again at 10:30 pm from the mountainside. Venus shone brightly, high in the darkening sky to the west.

Friday, April 27
I surprised a WILSON'S SNIPE and it startled me as it flashed away from my soggy yard.

Ava reported two VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS perched on her wires today, and checking out the nest boxes.

Lowell Point reported a FOS RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD! The earliest dates were April 18, back in the early '90s, and the latest was last year on May 10th.  Boil 4 cups of water and add 1 cup white granulated sugar. No red food coloring. Get those feeders out!

Two SNOW GEESE, including one immature, and 5 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE finally showed up at the tidelands. BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, ARCTIC TERNS, and a few BONAPARTE'S GULLS patrolled the shallow water for sticklebacks and other small prey.

A BONAPARTE'S stood between two MEW GULLS, all doing fancy footwork, "running in place." Yellow legs and red legs, vibrated the silty mud to stir up the amphipods to eat. It would have been a great video set to music!

ARCTIC TERNS courted their equally beautiful sweeties with tender offerings of sticklebacks and other small fish, often just displaying it, unwilling to actually fork it over yet.

Robins sang late into the peaceful spring night.

Saturday, April 28
A huge flock of about 20 FOX SPARROWS zipped out of the bushes ahead of me and landed in another brushy spot not far away. Must have been another good night to migrate.

Over 75 SANDHILL CRANES bugled joyously in a huge spread-out V right over town on their way north around 5 pm. My first visible flock! Yea!!!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

April 22, 2012 New arrivals daily!

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 6:18 am, sunset 9:35 pm, length of day15 hours, 17 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 23 seconds longer.

Weather: Breakup continues slowly and without flooding; snow piles are visibly lower and more drab grass emerges every day. Thin ice on puddles in the morning is evidence of below freezing temperatures at night. Daytime temps hover in the low 40s, still a bit chilly. Sprinkles and showers alternate with sunshine and blue sky. Folks itchy for spring-cleaning rake and sweep gravel and spruce cones from exposed parts of soggy lawns and driveways and pick up long-hidden trash.

It's time to clean the hummingbird feeders and make that first batch of sugar water by adding 1 cup white granulated sugar to 4 parts boiling water. No red food coloring is necessary, and it may cause tumors. It's also time (if you didn't do it in the fall) to scrape last year's nests out of the swallow boxes. While the box is open, rub bar soap on the ceiling to discourage wasp nests. Remove any decorative perches that only allow magpies, jays, and other predators easy access to the babies. Swallows don't need perches. They love white feathers, if you really want to make them happy.

It's also time to consider removing the suet and bird seed and cleaning up the scraps that might tempt emerging hungry bears. You know your neighborhood best. A fed bear is a dead bear. It's not worth keeping the feeders up much longer. 

Tuesday, April 19
FOS RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, the tiny bird with the powerful voice, belted out his song. More ROBINS popped up around town, singing sweetly. Two SNIPE spotted at salt marsh, one heard winnowing, also a flyby of three LAPLAND LONGSPURS. Milbert's Tortoiseshell butterflies, the first butterflies to emerge as overwintering adults, fluttered about whenever the sun warmed them up.

Six colossal BALD EAGLES, four juveniles of various ages with two adults, leaped and grabbed, tussled and argued over a much desired (but unidentified) meal at Lowell Point beach.

Wednesday, April 20
The yard RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET returned to his traditional spot in my Sitka willow, and sang. I wonder how many years he's been doing this? Too cool! Three STELLER'S JAYS seemed to be checking out the former nest site on my house, but no nest building has begun. One must be the real estate bird for the lucky couple.

At the saltmarsh meadows, a female NORTHERN HARRIER arrived, so brown in contrast to the bright, light male, with a similar conspicuous white rump.

Saturday, April 21
Two FOX SPARROWS appeared in the yard, the darker version that hopefully will nest here. It was amusing to watch them jump-scratch the soil under the spruce trees, a little fancy footwork to reveal insects.

Finally found a DIPPER, snoozing on the ice at the Lagoon. 

A pair of beautiful FOS RING-NECKED DUCKS arrived at the wetland pond by the airport; their usual stop-over spot at Roundhouse Pond is still mostly frozen. Refound the female HARRIER, and a MERLIN.

Two BLACK OSYTERCATCHERS poked through the seaweed-covered rocks at the small intertidal zone at Fourth of July Beach, exposed only at low tide. It's amazing how this rather large black shorebird can be so camouflaged despite its long red bill, pinkish legs, and yellow eyes.

Over at Spring Creek beach between the parking lot and the boat basin was a startling discovery. Low tide exposed sparkling spheres of herring eggs festooned on the rocks and seaweed in this rich little habitat. Hundreds of screaming GLAUCOUS-WINGED and MEW GULLS stood at the shallows like combat fishermen or dove in raucous mobs just off shore. An estimated 80 to 100 HARLEQUINS, at least 200 SURF SCOTERS, and dozens of BARROW'S GOLDENEYES also actively dove and dined. Mingled with the seabirds were a few dabblers: a dozen MALLARDS, 5 GREEN-WINGED TEAL, and 3 NORTHERN PINTAILS, all looking very much out of place, paddling their way through the fray and the much larger gulls.

A very tired-looking first winter THAYER'S GULL rested quietly on the rocks, oblivious to the racket. After a while, it yawned hugely, then turned around as if to watch the spectacle. For a brief interval, it flew and landed on the water, but soon hopped back on the rocks. It was such an unusual color, soft tans and browns with light pinkish legs, dark bill, and dark eyes. It really stood out among the zillions of other birds.

Sunday, April 22 Happy Earth Day!
The sunshine this morning found me once again at Spring Creek Beach at low tide. Same spectacle and cacophony as last night. A FOS DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT joined the crowd, its white crests just starting to grow. What eerily beautiful greenish eyes set off by that golden face!

Around 10:30 am, 42 CANADA GEESE flew over town, heading south along the mountains, then regrouped, reconsidered, and headed north. They were unusually quiet except for just a few birds honking softly, ("I told you so, I told you so!")

Though I only got a quick look, it sure looked like a HARLAN'S HAWK hauling grass for its nest and heading towards the trees along the Resurrection River to build a nest. Pretty exciting!

What does Spring mean to you? For me, Spring is not just one colossal event like hundreds of cranes flying overhead, but a weaving of many wonderful sights, sounds, and events, taking their rightful place in the overall design as their time arrives. May Spring's tapestry remain complete, whole and strong!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 Spring has SPRUNG!

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 6:29 am, sunset 9:25 pm, length of day 14 hours, 56 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 25 seconds longer.

Weather: A beautiful, clear sunny day despite the forecast to the contrary. Temps in the high 30s to mid 40s, with a south breeze still packing a bit of a nip. 

Yesterday's succession of rain showers did bring spring concealed in their gray, ponderous curtains. First thing this morning, I heard a new, sparrow-type birdsong sung by 3 males in the 'hood. Strange but oddly familiar. I tracked one down and sure enough, found a very handsome "red" interior race FOX SPARROW. This is not "our" fox sparrow, whose dialect is quite different. This subspecies will keep moving north to their breeding grounds.

A ROBIN burst forth in full song towards the top of a nearby cottonwood tree, surrounded by a host of swelling buds. Our winter robins disappeared for a couple months; I think this is a new migrant.

Many spring surprises awaited at the beach: the single BONAPARTE'S GULL, many dozens of MALLARDS, GADWALL, NORTHERN PINTAILS, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, several AMERICAN WIGEON pairs and two pairs of EURASIAN WIGEON. New for the year was a pair of handsome NORTHERN SHOVELERS.

Amid the squeaking of the wigeons, metallic "chink" of the teal, complaining "quack" of the mallards, and incessant cries of the gulls, I heard a high, "chip, chip, chip!" followed by a rasping rattling cry. I searched the blue sky and soon found 9 ARCTIC TERNS, the top gun hot shots, cruising gracefully along the beach, acting as if they had never left. Their 11,000 mile journey behind them, they seemed ecstatic to be home. Several terns, I assume males, proudly carried little gifts of sticklebacks to court their sweeties. The tiny fish looked stunned and none too pleased that the terns had returned.

At low tide, I was amazed to see two first of season TRUMPETER SWANS resting in the middle of the tide flats. The pond, where they would probably much rather be, is still frozen with only a small lead of open water. The ducks are jammed up in the bay too, waiting for the pond to open.

As I was leaving and almost back to the car, I heard a soft "honk." I whirled around, looking everywhere for the source. Yikes! The two swans flew right overhead! What an incredible sight! I hope they find a nice, quiet, open pond or maybe the Kenai River at Cooper Landing to spend the night.

I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing Sandhill Cranes though the first flock was reported flying over Bear Lake on April 16th, and a few more flocks yesterday and today. And I am still waiting to see and hear the first geese: Snow, Canada and Greater White-fronted. But I am NOT complaining! This was a fantastic spring day!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter