Sunday, July 8, 2012 baby birds everywhere!

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 4:48 am, sunset 11:15 pm, length of day 18 hours, 26 minutes; tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 2 seconds shorter.

Weather: Today, like the past several days, has been a potpourri of scattered light showers, patches of sunshine, and quiet overcast. Temps remain in the high 40s to low 50s; a fleece feels good. New snow spattered the high mountain peaks the past few nights but it CAN'T be termination dust yet!

Sweet-scented blooming lilacs contrast with the blizzards of tiny white willow seeds hurrying the season along. The off-white lilac-like elderberry flowers and white "cauliflower" clusters on the Mt Ashes have faded as the young fruits start to mature into important fall and winter bird food. Wherever they grow, the lupines, iris and red columbines are putting on an outstanding show.

The recent Fourth of July celebration and the Mt Marathon Race attracted thousands of people to Seward making July birding a bit challenging. I am amazed, however, that the birds seem to thread their way around all the commotion, including fireworks during the critical pre-fledgling period. In moments of quiet, especially in the evening and very early morning, the peaceful and soothing melodies of the HERMIT THRUSH and ROBIN floated through the air like balm. VARIED THRUSH songs rang from spruce.

A few TOWNSEND'S, YELLOW-RUMPED, WILSON'S and ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS continue to sing. FOX, SONG, and LINCOLN SPARROWS manage to find time to belt out a few songs in between gathering mouthfuls of insects and caterpillars for their youngsters. I heard several WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS from the mountainside spruce forest, but I could not see any. We did not have any this past winter, but hopefully they are nesting nearby and will hang around this winter.

Stacy Peterson visited Ava's hummingbird feeders this weekend and banded 14 individual RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS including one male and one female juvenile. Ava felt the hummers were just starting to fledge as the season got such a late start, so she'll be hoping for more soon. Stacy and his expert family team painted a water-soluable white "liquid paper" dot on each bird's head to avoid stressing any repeats. Watch for these temporarily marked birds within a 6 mile radius of the Seward Highway and Nash Road and let me know if you see one. This is a very interesting project. Keep changing your hummer feeder 4:1 sugar water solution so it's nice and clean for the newly fledged hummers and their hungry moms.

Ava also reported CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES, PINE GROSBEAKS (fledged and squawking like a rusty wheel), PINE SISKINS, DOWNY and HAIRY WOODPECKERS (fledged and already learning about her feeders), RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, TREE and VIOLET GREEN SWALLOWS (almost ready to fledge) and "lots of baby everything!"

I was very excited this afternoon to discover two blackbird-type birds that I did not recognize at Fourth of July Beach (at the end of Nash Road on the east side of Resurrection Bay). I shared the photos with Peregrine Joe and we mulled over the dazzling possibilities. Regrettably, it wasn't anything good. But how fortunate we are in Seward to NOT recognize juvenile EUROPEAN STARLINGS. We just haven't had that problem yet. We occasionally get one or two in the winter, but never in the summer and never juveniles. Ironically these invasive birds were gleaning invasive and nasty caterpillars from rolled-up alder leaves.

For what it's worth, a collection of starlings is called a murmuration. There is an incredible video of a massive murmuration at, fortunately filmed in Europe, not here.

Better news is that the ARCTIC TERN babies are starting to fledge and are learning to fly, land, and perhaps wonder where food comes from. Parents are still feeding and protecting them. Woe to the eagle who dares to fly over their territory! MEW and sometimes GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS are willing helpers, bravely dive bombing from above. It's like running the gauntlet! I will miss the terns' lively racket and top gun flying when they head offshore on their way south to Antarctica.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS cry "riddley, riddley, riddley!" and flash their white rumps as they fly. 

Resident SAVANNAH SPARROWS pop up and perch lightly on beach ryegrass stalks, then dash away to find food for their young ones. 

A proud COMMON MERGANSER mom and her darling 4 ducklings paddle past, down from the 7 she had on June 25th

Adult and juvenile BALD EAGLES gather along the tideline and streams in huge numbers. I counted at least 80 birds today packed in like combat fishermen. Red salmon are reported to be running; maybe they will get lucky.

I was surprised to find a few of our "winter birds" already back at Fourth of July Beach: 2 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS, uncommon for us, and the more common SURF SCOTERS, feeding quite close to shore with a few HARLEQUINS. 

A beautiful breeding plumage COMMON LOON preened and stretched, waggling its huge webbed foot, unconcerned about paparazzi. I understand the pair of common loons at Bear Lake were unsuccessful this year at raising a family. The intrusion of jet skis and other water sports is thought to be a large part of the problem. So perhaps this loon has nothing to do but wait to try again next year.

A RED-FACED CORMORANT, non-breeding, likes the old pilings close by the public boat ramp at the SMIC boat basin. The bird has a thicker and lighter bill than a pelagic cormorant, and its neck looks thicker too.

Finally, I saw a TRUMPETER SWAN at the Mile 1 Nash Road yesterday. Two swans have been spotted intermittently this summer, so hope springs eternal that there might possibly be cygnets soon.

Summer is speeding by; save a little time to savor it!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter