Wednesday, June 20 Happy Summer Solstice!

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 4:31 am, sunset 11:27 pm, length of day 18 hours, 55 minutes; tomorrow will be 0 minutes and 5 seconds SHORTER. Aieeee!

Weather: After a week or so of summery, sunny weather with highs in the low 60s and a pleasant south breeze, the first day of summer turned cloudy and cool. Rain showers in the forecast (of late, notably wrong), with temps in the mid to high 50s.

The theme is green accented with white Red-berried Elder, Mayday Tree, Crabapple, and Mt Ash flowers, pink-tinged apple blossoms, and startlingly magenta new spruce cones. Lupines, Jacob's Ladder, Iceland Poppies, Red Columbine and other wildflowers compete with the brilliantly yellow and plentiful dandelions. It's hard to keep up with all this daylight as plant and animal life cycles race along.

People are racing along too. More and more Mt Marathon runners dash up the mountain and pelt down the street, getting ready for the great race on July 4th. Growing numbers of sports fishers cast out from the beaches, hopeful for a salmon or two. Tour boats pour out of the harbor, bound for the bay and fjords beyond. Humpback whales were recently reported bubble-net feeding off Bear Glacier. Birders return with big smiles and lifers from all the pelagic species nesting at Cape Rez and the Chiswells. It's a crazy, busy time!

Well, maybe not so crazy, busy for SOME!

I enjoyed a pleasant bike ride along Exit Glacier Road (Herman Leirer Road) last Sunday with my daughter. VARIED THRUSHES and HERMIT THRUSHES sang from the spruce forest and SWAINSON'S THRUSH melodies spiraled upwards from cottonwoods at several spots along the road. WILSON'S, YELLOW, YELLOW-RUMPED, and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS trilled from their secret perches. All were impossible to find now that the leaves are so big. About a dozen Mt Goats speckled the alpine near the peaks of the mountains. It's so easy to bird by bicycle rather than be containerized in a car!

We were greeted by a friend at Exit Glacier who works there. Some bicyclists had found a baby bird alongside the road and gave it to her. It was hardly bigger than a ping-pong ball, and very hungry. We fed it a few tiny dead flies from a truck grill, and a squashed mosquito. I found an earthworm and broke it into smaller pieces. The little bird opened its ruby-red bill wide, but did not seem to know there was food hanging off the roof of its mouth. Without proper tools, it was very tricky to get anything down. I can see why the parent bird rams it down the throat with vigor.

I do not know what species this little gray bird is with buffy wing tips emerging from feather sheaths and pink legs. Chris Maack of the Bird Treatment Center advised that a yellow mouth lining indicates an insectivore and a red mouth lining is a seed eater, though all baby birds are fed insects. She also noted that pink legs stay pink, and a lot of sparrows have pink legs. The tiny bill seemed to broad for a warbler.

As for baby bird care:
"For emergencies, soaked, mashed kitten chow with chicken as its main ingredient is good. Blend in some calcium carbonate, which could be derived from a ground up Tums if need be. I'm guesstimating half a Tums tablet would be plenty for a whole cup of softened kitten chow. Supplement with mealworms, bloodworms and even caterpillars unrolled from rolled up leaves in your shrubbery. Even seedeaters get a lot of insects as nestlings. But they can also digest ground up seed such as millet.

Sometimes you have to pry a little beak open to get the bird eating, but after a while it will catch on (unless it's too far gone). Feed enough to see its crop bulge every half hour, with 6-7 hours off at night to sleep. Use a cheap artist's brush to deliver the food and also sips of water. In fact, sometimes water is the way to start because it can wick in to a closed beak and the bird will then go for more and then for food.

That's the crash course. It's not an easy undertaking."
Chris also noted that legally, one needs to have state and federal permits to care for sick, injured birds, or orphaned birds. It's best to get the bird in the hands of qualified  and permitted folks like the Bird Treatment and Learning Center in Anchorage:, 1-907-5636 Pet Emergency. 

Thank you, Chris, for the information.
Sadly, the little sprite died overnight. 

A SPOTTED SANDPIPER flies along the shore; perhaps it has a nest nearby.

A spectacle of frenzied gulls picks off fishy tidbits discarded by the fish processor at Lowell Point: BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, and MEW GULLS.

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS play musical chairs on the old dock pilings off B Street along the Seward waterfront. It was quite amusing to watch the hopeful birds flap towards an occupied piling and either be repelled and splash into the water nearby, or successfully displace the original squatter who then splashed into the water nearby. The show was a continuous matinee. The adult's fancy plumes are long gone now that their large children are out and about, learning fun games like this and other life skills.

I was again surprised to find 3 COMMON LOONS in the SMIC Boat Basin at the end of Nash Road on the east side of the bay. One was in breeding plumage, one looked like a slightly smaller juvenile, and the other seemed to be in the process of molting to adult plumage. Very odd. 

The Esperanza, the flagship of Greenpeace, arrived on Monday for repairs and more crew on their way to the Arctic Ocean for scientific exploration and to protest drilling by Shell Oil.

Another surprise was a very large, light-colored brown bear found feeding on tender fireweed and grass, also at SMIC. It looks just like a Teddy bear, and ran when discovered, a good bear. I hope people will respect this amazing brownie and let it live in peace. 

An incredible amount of spruce pollen released over the past week piles up at Lowell Point Beach, turning the waves a milky yellow. Many folks are sneezing and sniffling with a new-found allergic reaction.

Lowell Point Road and beach are great places to find MARBLED MURRELETS. I watched this one surface with a long silvery fish, thrash it about, re-orient it head first, and then down the hatch. Quite a lunch!

Two harbor porpoises dove quickly and quietly along Lowell Point Road.

And that's a snapshot of Seward on Summer Solstice!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Raising Kid Colt, an excellent 35 minute video about a Sandhill family in Homer by Nina Faust

Yakutat Aleutian Tern Festival posts

I rearranged the 5 posts on the June 1-3rd Yakutat Aleutian Tern Festival into chronological order.

Please scroll down past the brown bear track entry to start. Click at the bottom of the page to "older posts" to continue.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, June 8, 2012 From mountain to sea: brown bear tracks and surf

I have seen black bear, moose, and mountain goats on Mt Marathon, but never brown bear. Today while snowshoeing along the Bench Trail to the Bowl, I thought I was following someone else's snowshoe tracks. I happened to stop and look more closely. Yikes! A perfect, huge brown bear track with all five claws poking holes in the snow. More behind, more ahead. Another set of tracks roughly paralleled these, perhaps a cub. I couldn't tell how fresh they were, but the tracks headed straight for an alder thicket and snow-free area where we would have to pass to get to the Bowl.

Ignorance is certainly bliss, sometimes. If I hadn't seen the tracks, there was a good chance that we would have never seen a bear, and we would have enjoyed our lunch in the snowy Bowl. But knowing that a brown bear had been here, and could still be around, made the decision to turn around easy.

We enjoyed lunch in a different spot today, and will have many opportunities to return this summer to dine in the Bowl. It was a thrill and an honor to see those giant tracks in the snow, evidence of a mighty and mysterious wild spirit, going about its business on a beautiful day.

After descending the mountain, we headed to Fourth of July Beach on the east side of the bay. The south wind blew 18-20 mph with gusts to 25, accompanied by roiling green surf. The waves slammed into the battered boat basin breakwater, sending spumes of saltwater high into the air. Then the waves ricocheted off the breakwater into the oncoming waves, creating turmoil of intersecting white-capped waves that subsequently crashed onto the beach. What an impressive sight! 

Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Events Reporter

PS A brown bear was observed from town with binoculars about noon, racing from near the Race Trail all the way across the mountain where it disappeared into the alders right where we were headed. Hikers about halfway up the Race Trail may have scared it off. I found the tracks not more than 30 minutes later. Fresh! And no cub.

June 1, 2012 Yakutat, Alaska Aleutian Tern Festival Report part 1

Friday morning: the flight from Anchorage to Yakutat via Juneau

The Yakutat Aleutian Tern Festival was such a multi-layered, wonderful experience, I'm still processing photos and thoughts. So much happened, I will try to present it in several parts as I have time.

I pored over the Alaska Atlas and Gazetteer after I got home to learn the names of some of the incredible geography we cruised past so easily. If anyone has corrections, please let me know.

The morning flight from Anchorage to Juneau then back to Yakutat turned into a bonus flight-see on a beautiful day. As the jet banked over Cook Inlet, I glimpsed neat green rows of crops growing in the square fields of farms at Point McKenzie, reminiscent of the heartland but in muskeg punctuated with glacial kettle ponds.

Very quickly, we left green spring, civilization, and the busy city of Anchorage and flew southeast over the Chugach Mountains. As we approached Prince William Sound, spectacular, snow-covered coastal mountains dominated the landscape. Cirque glaciers nestled high in craggy mountain cradles. Valley glaciers carved long troughs. Some merged into larger tidewater glaciers striped with dark debris from many lateral moraines. Icebergs sailed in the ever-longer blue-green fjords of the Sound.

I recognized the broad valley of the Copper River just east of Cordova. What a tremendous migration corridor through the Chugach Mountains for birds and mammals! The Copper River "highway" looked like a taut white thread following the flood plain up to the miniscule Million Dollar Bridge sandwiched between giant Miles and Childs Glaciers. Human evidence is dwarfed by nature here.

Martin River Glacier gave way to Steller Glacier and soon we were over Bering Glacier, the largest and longest glacier in North America. To the north was its source, the Bagley Icefield, the largest nonpolar icefield in North America. Steller, Grindle, Dahlgren, Duktoth, Kulthieth, Yakataga,
Eberly, Munday, McPherson. The fascinating names on the topo maps mutely beg for further research into their exciting stories.

On the jet droned, the wild and rugged scenery majestically scrolled along in my tiny window, only occasionally veiled by clouds. Icy Bay rolled into view, fed by several tidewater glaciers: Guyot, Yahtse, and Tyndall creating Tsaa and Taan Fjords.  The largest piedmont glacier in the world, the Malaspina, appeared. It is 40 miles wide, formed by several valley glaciers including the Agassiz, Seward, and Marvine Glaciers. Minutes later, Malaspina Lake appeared, still mostly frozen, separated from Yakutat Bay by Schooner Beach.

At the head of Yakutat Bay, Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in Alaska, calved into Disenchantment Bay. The Hubbard's calving face is over 6.2 miles wide. I could see Canada to the left and right in the distance though the steep mountains did not declare allegiance to any country or show human-made boundaries.

It was fascinating to visualize how an advancing Hubbard Glacier could close off the seaward entrance of Russell Fjord and trap seals and other marine life in the suddenly created lake. The tiny community of Yakutat, seemingly far away, has been threatened with flooding by this phenomenon recently in 1986 and also in 2002.

The field trip to Russell Fjord was cancelled this year due to a record 400 inches of snow that kept the road closed. However, several lucky people enjoyed the optional field trip by charter boat to Hubbard Glacier.

The jet passed too far north of Yakutat for me to see the town, but Yakutat Glacier pouring into Harlequin Lake soon appeared in my magic window. Many ice bergs filled the south half of the lake and piled up at the outlet. Here, Dangerous River starts its meandering path through the Yakutat Forelands to the Gulf of Alaska. Again, a white ribbon of unplowed road cancelled this field trip.

The mighty Alsek River came into view, its braided streams carving channels in the icy floodplain. This wilderness river starts in Canada's Kluane National Park and Reserve in the Yukon, flows through BC to Alaska and ends in Dry Bay. Along with the Tatshenshini River, it is the only completely protected large river drainage system in North America. It is also a United Nations World Heritage Site.

Next came Glacier Bay National Park. I could see a cruise ship steaming up Glacier Bay towards Composite Island at the entrance to Rendu and Queen Inlets. It looked so insignificant. A smattering of low clouds hid the rest of Glacier Bay and Gustavus.

When the show continued minutes later, the snow line was remarkably higher. More rocks protruded from the peaks and many ridges were bare. Sawmill Bay was surrounded by green. The first sign of civilization (cruise ship doesn’t count) was a small town of Excursion Inlet, population 12 in 2010. This was originally an Alaska Native village. During WW II it was used as a prisoner-of-war camp. The cannery was built in 1918 and is still in use.

The Chilkat Mountain range between Excursion Inlet and Lynn Canal looked a lot like a delicious sundae with vanilla ice cream peaks and brown chocolate syrup running down the sides. Yummm! As we approached Lynn Canal, the snow melted more and more until only on the peaks and ridge tops wore white.

We descended over Lynn Canal to Juneau, where once again the grass was green and summer returned. Mendenhall Glacier seemed an anomaly, tucked away in the back of the scene, retreating away from this warm, green land.
At the airport, I hopped on another jet and in about 35 minutes arrived in Yakutat. My time as an eagle was over; time to go birding! Stay tuned for Part 2.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

June 1, 2012 Yakutat Aleutian Tern Festival Part 2

Friday: Birding and Tlingit culture in Yakutat

After checking in at the festival headquarters at the high school, I checked into my room at Leonard's Landing. The lodge, along with one other, offered a discount to festival participants, which I appreciated. I also appreciated the lodge location at the end of the road, right on Monti Bay.

I took a leisurely walk back along the road, enjoying the beautiful day just birding and taking photos. I watched a male ROBIN hop along the edge of road next to the melting snowberm, his beak full of earthworms, yet able to nab one more. Because he was saving them, I knew he was taking them back to his hungry babies. Quick start, those robins!

Two female RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS buzzed in a clearing, then sought out the lovely pink salmonberry flowers and searched for insects in the willow flowers. I sat down to watch two napping female GOLDENEYES floating in a quiet pond that still had ice covering the back third. A loud "seeppp" right behind me alerted me to a BROWN CREEPER, too close to photograph. It busily worked its way up the lichen-dotted spruce and spiraled around the back.

Bits of the tropics, bright WILSON'S, YELLOW, YELLOW-RUMPED, and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS flitted in the willows and sang their lovely territorial songs. FOX SPARROWS scratched noisily in the wet leaves then paused to sing their version of their home song. The melodies of ROBINS, VARIED and HERMIT THRUSHES floated through the dense hemlock and spruce woods. I heard a woodpecker drumming briefly, but could not locate it.

A COMMON RAVEN croaked from the top of a spruce, hunching a bit when BALD EAGLES soared overhead. MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS cried and laughed overhead, a striking white mobile against the pure blue sky.

A small dark bird flew out from the willows, snatched an insect and looped back to the tree. Hmmm. Just like a flycatcher. I watched and tried to get photos. After a while, it flew across the road to a dead snag and posed. Click, click, click! It was mostly a soft gray with a light grayish-white throat and belly, and a thin bill. I found out later that it was a WESTERN WOOD-PEEWEE. Apparently there was a mini-invasion of this migrant and many were seen during the festival.

At 3 pm it was time for the afternoon field trip. I caught a ride to the high school and loaded into the van for the Monti Bay/town tour. The first stop was Sandy Beach where we found about 20 SANDERLINGS busily working the shoreline, several BONAPARTE'S GULLS both juvenile and black hooded adults, MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, NORTHWESTERN CROWS, a single PELAGIC CORMORANT just offshore, BALD EAGLES and RAVENS soaring overhead, and WARBLERS singing from the adjacent willows and alders. Kids ran barefoot on the beach and splashed in the cold water, celebrating the rare sunshine.

I decided to stay at this interesting spot, catching the tail-end of a photography workshop with Bob Johnson. After he left, I practiced taking photos of all the birds, especially the sanderings and eagles, experimenting with manual exposure and different settings. The bald eagles were very cooperative and repeatedly flew right overhead. Click, click, click! Another flew over and as I clicked away, I suddenly realized it was an OSPREY! I have been looking for the osprey in Alaska for a long time, but never got a satisfactory look that counted. This very cooperative bird looped over the beach once then sailed off down the bay, quickly becoming a speck bird. Wow! I only hoped I had decent camera settings! What a thrill!

That evening, festival participants and locals enjoyed a delicious fund-raiser dinner of tender king salmon. Afterwards, Yakutat's Mt. St. Elias Dancers performed. Both the junior and senior groups delivered riveting, outstanding performances. The regalia they wore were stunning; I understand many of the beaded designs were family heirlooms. This cultural experience is first class and a special bonus of the festival.

The evening was so lovely, it was hard to go to bed. But the next day started with a songbird field trip leaving at 7 am, so I forced myself to go to sleep, smiling about the osprey and the vibrant dancers.