Monday May 28, 2012 Barn Swallows and Brown Bears

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 4:50 am, sunset 11:00 pm, length of day 18 hours, 9 minutes; tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 34 seconds longer.

Weather: The past week was a mix of sun, clouds, and scattered light rain with temperatures in the high 40s to low 50s. More of the same is in the forecast for the next week. Greens of every shade and hue decorate the landscape. Willow flowers beckon insect-eaters like warblers, kinglets, and hummingbirds. Birdsong fills the air early in the morning to very late at night. With over 18 hours of daylight, it seems they never sleep!

This morning I sat transfixed at the tideland pond, trying to focus on the 50 or more swallows darting and swooping low over the water. It was even more challenging to get photos of the erratic aerialists gobbling recently hatched insects. With patience and luck, I was able to identify all four of our usual species: TREE SWALLOWS with steely blue backs and white below the eye, VIOLET-GREENS with prominent white sides on the rump and white above the eye, the small and slender BANK SWALLOW with a dark breast band, and CLIFF SWALLOWS with a buffy rump and bright white forehead.

Suddenly, I saw a larger swallow with a long, deeply forked tail, pointed wings and orangish underside. A BARN SWALLOW! maybe two or more; hard to keep track of them. This is the first Barn Swallow I have seen in Seward, or the Kenai Peninsula. It will be interesting to see if they stay and nest here. So exciting!

Over at the tidelands, 8 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE watched me warily, with the exception of one who nonchalantly preened. I was able to continue walking without making them fly.

SAVANNAH SPARROWS ran and pounced on small flies at the wrack line, then sang from driftwood nearby. TREE and VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS flew down to the sandy beach to eat gravel, their bellies almost touching the ground on their short little legs. SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS plucked amphipods from the muddy areas. A few LEAST SANDPIPERS zipped overhead. ARCTIC TERNS in small groups sailed overhead, able to vocalize even while carrying small fish in their red bills for their mates.

NORTHERN SHOVELER numbers seem to be peaking with dozens in the pond and at the tideline. Other ducks include GADWALL, MALLARDS, AMERICAN WIGEON, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, and NORTHERN PINTAIL.

A pair of LINCOLN'S SPARROW exchanged their lovely territorial songs. Two SONG SPARROWS enjoyed the view from adjacent pilings. A BALD EAGLE passing overhead stirred up angry MEW GULLS who bravely dove at the raptor from above, driving it off. 

An OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER was reported, heard but not seen.

Back in town, a WANDERING TATTLER was reported south of the harbor uplands by Scheffler Creek.

This afternoon, I visited Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park. The road was recently opened all the way to the parking lot. Once again, I heard the GREAT HORNED OWL hooting at the parking lot before the last bridge. Broad daylight, mid-afternoon. How odd!

About two feet of snow remain on the main trail, with a narrow track beaten down the middle by eager visitors. Warblers, including YELLOW-RUMPED, YELLOW, and ORANGE-CROWNED sang from the trees, just starting to leaf out. DARK-EYED JUNCOS rang their tiny bell; COMMON REDPOLLS blew raspberries overhead. VARIED THRUSHES, HERMIT THRUSHES, and ROBINS added to the chorus.

At the very toe of Exit Glacier, a dozen or more twittering VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS swooped overhead, eating invisible insects. Such a contrast of spring colliding with winter! I wonder where these insects hatched and what they might be. I turned over several rocks in the icy cold creek and searched the shallow water to no avail.

Two GOLDEN EAGLES soared high above the glacial valley near the cradling mountains, the long tail and short head the best ID clue from such a distance. A fluttering smaller hawk, another speck bird, may have been a SHARP-SHINNED.

Lower down the mountainside, I spotted a momma BROWN BEAR with her two large cubs foraging for greens. The cubs may have been 2 year olds. They seemed so big, but they definitely kept close tabs on momma who seemed to ignore them as she busily fed and ambled across the steep mountainside.

A single BLACK BEAR, visible from the parking lot, also foraged in the fresh greens between snow patches. Binoculars sure make a huge difference; it is easy to miss these exciting birds and bears without them.

This morning at the salt marsh and beach:

And at Exit Glacier this afternoon:

May 23, 2012  
The north-western evening sun backlit hundreds of tiny insects dancing in tight swarms at the beach between the sand and the beach rye grass out of the north wind. Lacking a collecting net, I used my ball cap to scoop some up for a closer look. Bob Armstrong, photographer and co-author of a recently published book, "Aquatic Insects in Alaska" kindly identified them as Non-biting Midges, family Chironomidae. They are about 1/8th to ½" long and resemble mosquitoes but do not seek us or our blood. The males have large feathery antennae. This family is a very important food source for other insects, fish, and birds both in their aquatic larval stage and short-lived adult stage. I was impressed with the variety of websites dedicated to the tiny insects from scientific studies to fly fishers.

Saturday May 25, 2012
A pregnant moose wandered into a yard by the high school and began to munch on the greenery. Her yearling calf stood forlornly in the middle of the next street, wondering where momma went. I was surprised to see little antlers already budding out from such a youngster.  He walked across the street, making little grunting sounds as he circled around the car and then headed back across the street behind me, straight to her. When she gives birth to her next set of twins in the very near future, this little guy is going to be very confused as the light of his life ejects him into the wide world.

Friday, May 25, 2012
Bay tour to Fox Island 6 to 9:30 pm, overcast with light rain
Highlights included a RED-NECKED PHALAROPE, HORNED PUFFINS, DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, BALD EAGLES perched in spruce tops, Humpback Whale, Dall's Porpoises, and a Mountain Goat with a kid very low on steep cliff near Caine's Head.

Saturday, May 26, 2012
PACIFIC WREN sang from base of Mt Marathon.
Eight WHIMBRELS at tidelands, small flock of about 10 GREATER SCAUP near shore.100 swallows including VIOLET-GREEN, TREE, and CLIFF swooped over the salt marsh pond. A secretive WILSON'S SNIPE creaked from the grasses.

GREAT HORNED OWL reported hooting by Exit Glacier Nature Center in the morning.

Sunday, May 27, 2012
TOWNSEND'S WARBLER, bright male, spotted in yard. BANK SWALLOW added to swallow list at salt marsh pond.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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