Wednesday, May 2, 2012: Least Sandpiper, Wandering Tattler, and Yellow-billed Loon

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

A strong north wind sucked the heat right out of this sunny spring day. It froze again last night, and the high of 46ยบ just felt like winter in the wind. Spring is like that!

Nevertheless, it was a great day to bird. The cannery on Lowell Point Road was screaming with gulls: GLAUCOUS-WINGED, MEW, and KITTIWAKES. It looked like a giant down pillow had exploded over the water. Two fancy-eyebrowed DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS paddled cautiously on the perimeter.

On the east side of the bay, I photographed one lonely LEAST SANDPIPER as it waded and picked through some floating vegetation next to Spring Creek. MEW GULLS commandeered the earthquake trees by the recently opened wetland pond, making their presence known. Pairs of COMMON MERGANSERS and BARROW'S GOLDENEYES dove in the pond.

I was surprised to see SWALLOWS soaring and dipping overhead. I finally managed to follow them with the binocs and discovered they were FOS CLIFF SWALLOWS. The creek provided flying insects; I hope they found plenty. A dozen HARLEQUIN DUCKS eased off the rocky outcrop, reluctantly abandoning their sunbath, to join about 40 more bobbing just offshore.

Low tide at Fourth of July Beach enticed two BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS to feed on the rocky intertidal zone where more HARLEQUINS sunbathed. I stayed high on the footpath behind the beach rye to leave them undisturbed. The pond is still frozen, but probably not for long.

Back in town by Scheffler Creek, I spotted a single WANDERING TATTLER striding along the tideline, poking and prodding the intertidal rocks. This is FOS for me, but one was reported a bit earlier.

A male RED-BREASTED MERGANSER preened and bathed while his bride busily dove and snorkled right by the shore. Waves from a tugboat surprised her and she emerged rather miffed, upset enough to paddle right towards an unsuspecting pair of BARROW'S GOLDENEYES and aggressively chase them off.

While enjoying that show, I noticed a very large white bird closer to the Uplands. I checked closely and realized it was a juvenile YELLOW-BILLED LOON preening its very white belly. A COMMON LOON napped nearby. I drove over to the Uplands and crept closer. The young yellow-billed loon preened continuously. It was comical to see him on his back with his foot sticking straight out, going in circles, then up and flapping his wings. The newly emerging feathers must feel weird, maybe they tickle? as the bird removes the sheaths to let them out. Flying practice is coming soon!

The adult Common Loon just napped in the sun, out of the wind. I could see one leg way in the back paddling lazily, no place to go and all day to get there. Only once did it raise its head, eye half open, to peer around and then tucked its head back in the warm feathers. Such peace in sharp contrast to the vigorous preening and flapping next door!

Later, on the evening walk around 10 pm, I heard two adult BALD EAGLES crying nearby and watched them flap laboriously in a circle, gradually rising higher and higher. The swelling moon gleamed in the lavender sky, Venus shone bravely behind Mt Marathon, her light almost overwhelmed by brightness of the recently set sun. The eagles continued to circle above the moon, becoming tiny specks, around and around, soaring without effort. Instead of warbler neck, I had eagle neck, looking straight up! I kept them in sight all around the block and left them drifting and circling peacefully back towards the mountain. What a lovely evening for a little spin, eagle-style. They could see the whole world from up there.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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