Saturday, May 19, 2012 Black Turnstone, Red-faced Cormorant and a Great Horned Owl

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 5:08 am, sunset 10:41pm, length of day 17 hours, 33 minutes; tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 22 seconds longer.

Weather: Cool and overcast continues after several sunshiny cool and windy days. Temps in the high 30s in the morning rose to high 40s. Lawns are greening up and tiny spring green leaves brighten the landscape. The rain held off for the most part, as did the wind, making for a very pleasant day to bird with the Trail Lake Lodge Elderhostel group.

With all the weekend activities and increased action along the beach, it was amazing to find a WANDERING TATTLER feeding at the low intertidal zone just south of Scheffler Creek's outlet.  One led to two, then suddenly there were four WANDERING TATTLERS and a BLACK TURNSTONE (FOS) standing on the same rock! Bright HARLEQUIN DUCKS swam warily along the shore, watching out for dogs and beach walkers. A BARROW'S GOLDENEYE flew past. NORTHWESTERN CROWS ferried morsels from the intertidal zone to the leafing cottonwood trees for lunch.

Just offshore, we spotted a PIGEON GUILLEMOT in full breeding plumage, a dashing black body accented with a bold white wing patch. Two pairs of MARBLED MURRELETS posed then dove. An ARCTIC TERN landed on a protruding piece of driftwood; a very white-breasted ~2 year old BALD EAGLE surveyed the scene from the old pilings nearby.

Farther out, the gulls feasted at the seafood processor's outlet pipe: GLAUCOUS-WINGED, MEW, and BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES in abundance. A harbor seal poked its head up to look around. Much farther out, only seen in the scope, an adult YELLOW-BILLED LOON in breeding plumage and a juvenile swam together.

The meadow by the airport concealed 4 WHIMBRELS, busily probing for worms and other invertebrates with their long curved bills. They were almost the same color as the dead grasses. A MERLIN flashed overhead, heading for the cottonwoods on the side. Unseen, a FOX SPARROW sang its cheerful song.

Out on the completely thawed pond (about time!) many ducks dove, paddled, preened, and napped: GADWALL, AMERICAN WIGEON, MALLARD, NORTHERN SHOVELER, NORTHERN PINTAIL, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, CANVASBACK (2), GREATER SCAUP, and COMMON MERGANSER.

Several small flocks of shorebirds flew overhead including LEAST SANDPIPERS. Two PECTORAL SANDPIPERS, larger versions of the LEAST, fed busily in the sedges near the ducks. The haunting winnowing of the WILSON'S SNIPE drifted down from the speck bird plummeting from the sky. ARCTIC TERNS flew buoyantly over the pond, diving for tiny fish; a pair rested on the small islet where they may nest again this year. Two VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS flew erratically overhead, snatching invisible insects midair. This cold weather has been hard on them; I hope they find plenty to eat from now on!

Exit Glacier/Herman Leirer Road just opened to the Resurrection River Bridge. Another surprise awaited where we parked near the bridge. A GREAT HORNED OWL hooted softly from the dense spruce forest! I have hardly heard one all winter and now, in mid-May in broad daylight, it's hooting!

A pair of SOLITARY SANDPIPERS frolicked on the bank across the river near a large patch of snow. A GREATER YELLOWLEGS called from its spot nearby. Two COMMON MERGANSERS dove in the river at the bend. Moose tracks decorated the silt beneath the bridge. ROBINS and VARIED THRUSHES sang from the treetops. A bright male YELLOW-RUMPED "MYRTLE" WARBLER warbled and gave us very good looks, including a brief landing on top of the "Welcome to Kenai Fjords National Park" sign. I learned that this species eats myrtle berries on at least part of its wintering ground, hence the name. Overhead, a COMMON REDPOLL blew raspberries as it flew, but regretfully, did not land. Tiny RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS belted out their impossibly loud song. How do they do that?

An inky black bear was spotted on the recently thawed mountainside; 4 mountain goats adorned the opposite heights. Scopes sure are handy for not only bringing in the details, but for showing others the hard to describe wildlife locations. The trails at Exit Glacier remain under 3-4 feet of snow so we didn't go there.

Back on Nash Road at the mile 1 wetlands, two adult TRUMPETER SWANS stretched down deep, accompanied by a pair of AMERICAN WIGEONS grabbing scraps.

Out at mile 5 Nash Road, a cormorant rested on the pilings near the public boat launch. Closer inspection revealed a light-colored bill, slightly thicker than a Pelagic's. Sure enough, it was a RED-FACED CORMORANT nervously watching us, but not willing to fly. Very cool to find this juvenile without having to travel to the Chiswells! The bird book says it takes 2 years to maturity so next year it should be an adult. A single WANDERING TATTLER rested quietly on the rocks near the cannery, almost invisible. Also spotted offshore, a nice PELAGIC CORMORANT with its thin dark bill and "pencil neck" for comparison, an adult COMMON LOON in breeding plumage, and more HARLEQUINS.

What a great day to bird with a wonderful group of folks!

After dinner, I drove out to Lowell Point in hopes of seeing the Humpback whale that was reported earlier. No luck, but I did find about 10 surging Steller's sea lions, and a sea otter eating dinner. A pair of BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS worked along the low tide zone accompanied by many GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS. Dozens of HARLEQUINS swam close to shore.  A pair of MARBLED MURRELETS and a PIGEON GUILLEMOT paddled farther out. I heard the euchalon (hooligan) are in, so it will be interesting to see if the whale hangs around and if more sea lions and seals come to the moveable feast.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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