May 4, 2012 Bar-tailed Godwit, banded and flagged!

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 5:44 am, sunset 10:05 pm, length of day 16 hours, 20 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 8 seconds longer.

Weather: Muted sun with high overcast and calm in the morning, with an 8 am temp of 34ยบ.  The clouds rolled in with a cold south wind by noon, and the temps only reached the low 40s. I hope the gloomy forecast of rain and even snow tomorrow and for next week is wrong. We are so done with snow after our 169" in town this winter!

Another fantastic day of birding!
Was it the mallard-sized CACKLING GOOSE with an unusual abundance of white feathers up and down its neck, hanging out with the GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE and MALLARDS?

Was it the juvenile BALD EAGLE sitting on a driftwood log, willing to let me walk around it in a wide arc so it didn't have to fly?

How about the graceful pair of TUNDRA SWANS, surrounded by their minions of ducks and geese? So wary, I only dared to peek above the beach rye screen and silently back away.

Was it hearing the "whoomph" of  feathers and turning in time to see another, younger BALD EAGLE land rather awkwardly on a driftwood sculpture near where I sat on the beach?

It was all of this and so much more.

The loud "riddley, riddley, riddley!" announced the arrival of a GREATER YELLOWLEGS right in front of me at the edge of the water. A LESSER YELLOWLEGS, a bit smaller, soon joined it.

A large brown shorebird with a long curved black bill, the WHIMBREL, one of 3, flew overhead, tootling loudly. 

And there! Looking like a mother hen with her chicks, was another large shorebird with a long straight bill, a GODWIT, surrounded by 8 SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS. I was amazed to see that the godwit had an orange flag on its right leg. The mixed flock fed a bit, napped a bit, and preened. After a while, they flew off down the beach.

The ARCTIC TERNS flew so close as I sat immobile, I felt I could reach out and touch one. Sitting is really a great way to bird! Two AMERICAN PIPITS pipped (of course!) overhead and landed in the sedges, almost completely camouflaged. Eagles screeched and terrorized the many100s of gulls far down the beach, stirring up all the ducks on their route. A BONAPARTE'S GULL growled overhead. So many wonderful bird sounds!

On my way back, I crawled slowly through the dry, bleached white beach rye stalks and eased my way to sit beside a fine beach log and scan the wetlands. There was the GODWIT, with its orange leg flag. I enjoyed watching it feed here and there, and then it walked over to a somewhat drier spot and settled down for a nap, all tucked in, and almost invisible. Exhausted traveler!

Three WHIMBRELS poked through the grassy areas, almost the same drab brown color. A beautiful male AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER with two females preferred the mud. Suddenly, the GODWIT was up and circling the wetlands. It flew right past me, giving me an excellent view of the orange flag AND a silver band. Click! Click! Click! said the camera.

I was very pleased that those photos turned out. I composed a collage to show the wings up and the wings down and puzzled over what kind of godwit it was. Buzz very kindly verified that it was a BAR-TAILED GODWIT. Wow! This bird may have been banded in Australia! What a phenomenal long-distance traveler! It's the first I've seen in Seward, and I feel so very lucky to have spent a bit of time watching it.

Buzz notes: Marbled would show a more uniform cinnamon tone to the entire upperparts and underparts; would not have any white in the rump (cinnamon tone); would have a more extensive pale base to the bill (almost half the length); and I believe would have a less distinct supercillium behind the eye. I am sure it is one that Bob Gill and his colleges tagged in western Alaska.

What a thrilling morning!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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