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

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