Wednesday, August 29, 2012 Sharp-shinned Hawk and 2 Merlins!

Seward Sporadic Bird Report

"Let's go find something," I commented to the Good Dog and stepped outside, camera and binos in hand. Immediately, I heard the excited squawking of STELLER'S JAYS and BLACK-BILLED MAGPIES, up to something. I headed across the street to the spruce trees at the edge of the mountainside. Up to something for sure, but what?

Then I spied a small brown raptor flying from one branch to another, through the trees, chased then chasing the Corvids. Finally, it perched in view and I saw it was a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK. The reprieve didn't last long.  The fracas continued for several minutes with silent jays flying away while others flew in. It seemed more like a game for the jays and magpies than a breakfast opportunity for the hawk. The Good Dog lay down, patiently waiting for the real morning walk to begin, so I reluctantly stopped and off we went. A great start to another beautiful day.

Shortly after 5 pm, I heard a sharp, high mewing sound. I looked around for raptors. Amazingly, there were two MERLINS chasing each other around the neighbor's house and mine, alternately resting alertly in the spruce trees, then dashing off again. It was incredible to watch their bursts of speed, banking steeply to vertical then diving down, only a few feet apart and in synchrony. Their unexpected appearances, swift flight, and erratic swerves were also very hard to follow with the camera!

Singly, they dove at jays and pigeons dining at the neighbor's bird feeder, and missed every time. I watched a STELLER'S JAY fly quickly around and around and around a cottonwood trunk like a drunken tether-ball while the MERLIN watched from its perch on a leafy branch several yards above. Maybe they both got dizzy, but at any rate, nothing happened. Other than that, it seemed the magpies and jays generally ignored the Merlins, even casually taking a drink at the birdbath in plain sight, and continuing to grab a bite to eat from the feeder.

I watched one Merlin rest on a spruce branch. It looked all around, up and down, forwards and back, constantly on guard, watching for trouble. This bird was 100% engaged and totally alive, every molecule of its being engaged in the present and focused on survival. It's not easy being a raptor!

Unfortunately, I could not watch as long as I wanted, but I feel really lucky to have gotten a glimpse into their intense lives.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

week of August 21, 2012 Black Turnstones and a Trumpeter Swan

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Spring Creek Beach at Mile 5, Nash Road on the east side of the bay is a wonderful place to catch a little more evening sunshine when Seward is plunged into shadow.  While savoring the sun, I was pleased to find 5 BLACK TURNSTONES also enjoying a little R&R on their migration to rocky intertidal zones along the Pacific coast. Several HARLEQUINS also napped and rested nearby.

Dog (Chum) and Humpy (Pink) salmon are completing their migration, swimming home into the nearby Spring Creek Pond to spawn. Reds (Sockeye) swim up Spring Creek and spawn in the tributaries that finger into the Seward Marine Industrial Center. Silvers (Coho) will follow soon. It's so wonderful to see salmon coming home!

Two recently fledged BALD EAGLES, probably siblings, perched on the beach rocks, trying to figure out what was edible. They will be delighted to learn about beached salmon now that their fast food delivery service is over.

Over at Fourth of July beach, a single SURF SCOTER male paddled just off shore.  A young, frowsy-looking SONG SPARROW popped up to watch; he seemed to be having a "bad feather" day. His baby feathers stuck out in every direction while his adult feathers tried to look dignified. He'll be in good shape soon when this awkward transition is over.

An interesting phenomenon that I have not observed before were thousands of flies, covering the sand. I call them "ground flies" because they seemed to prefer staying low. They did not pester or bite, but covered the sand and adjacent driftwood, until disturbed. Then they flew en masse, up in a swarm, and soon settled back down. The peeps and SAVANNAH SPARROWS seemed to be eating them, or at least trying to catch them.

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS are abundant, singing from just about every spruce tip this summer. A bright male and either a female or juvenile flew out from some alders along the beach, not far from the spruce trees. Across the bay at Tonsina Beach, I also observed two bright red males that shot out of the alder fringe, arguing over something. It's unusual to see them so low. This species will nest year round if the food supply is plentiful, and indeed, there's a great spruce cone crop this year.

A single TRUMPETER SWAN fed peacefully at the Mile 1 Nash Road wetlands pond. It's great to have at least one swan back, though none stayed to nest this summer.

Up in the coastal mountains behind Seward on August 25, I found a single LINCOLN'S SPARROW posing in an elderberry thicket by treeline. Higher up, at around 1800' I saw 6 PIPITS flying off, and a small flock of 4 SAVANNAH SPARROWS. This familiar beach sparrow in an unfamiliar habitat really puzzled me as it had so much yellow on its face and white outer tail feathers. It also seemed bigger than my old friend. How I wish I had lugged my big lens up there! Thanks to Thede, who helped me recognize it as an immature bird.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

week of August 21, 2012 Elderberry Magnets, and Parallel Worlds

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 6:27 am, sunset 9:32 pm, length of day 15 hours, 4 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 20 seconds shorter.

Weather: Gorgeous, blue-sky sunny day! The thermometer surprised itself and rose to a balmy 66ยบ by late afternoon. A delightful breeze from the north rattled tree leaves and tangled the tall beach rye grass.

Red Elderberries are a magnet for birds including VARIED THRUSHES, ROBINS, HERMIT THRUSHES, FOX SPARROWS, and SONG SPARROWS. Willows, cottonwoods, and alders attract CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES, and warblers including YELLOW and ORANGE-CROWNED.

These tiny gleaners are helping to control a pest by eating the leaf-roller caterpillars in early summer and now the adult moths. Stressed alders with dry, brittle, rolled and eaten leaves are sending out brand new leaves to gather the remaining sunshine of summer. Fortunately, the damage seems less this year than last.

I happened upon a feeding frenzy on a recent morning walk. In addition to the above birds, a trio of RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS flitted among the cow parsnips eating spiders.

August is a great time to fish; the Seward Silver Salmon Derby just ended. A lucky local caught the $50,000 tagged fish and another local won the $10,000 heaviest silver. It's also salmon spawning time. Reds, dogs, humpies, silvers, and even a few planted kings have returned home from their years at sea to spawn in area streams. It's exciting to watch the V-shaped wave surge along, and then a splash! as they spin and dash underwater. The new pedestrian bridge over Scheffler Creek just south of the boat harbor offers excellent views of spawning pinks, dogs, and passing reds, silvers and even kings. The bridge over Tonsina Creek, a hike about 2 miles south of Lowell Point, is another excellent place to watch spawning dogs and pinks.

BALD EAGLES, RAVENS, NORTHWESTERN CROWS, MAGPIES,  dabbling ducks like MALLARDS and GREEN-WINGED TEAL, and the little DIPPER feast on the carcasses and eggs.

While at Tonsina beach, far out at low tide, I spotted 8 light gray ducks and one a warm brown, paddling in the near shore, bobbing up and down in the gentle surf as they approached the rocky beach. Eventually, they carefully walked up onto the beach to preen and nap. The more expected species, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, MEW, and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, rested and preened nearby.

I was stumped; so gray and in the bay. Eventually something stirred them up, perhaps a faraway eagle, and I could see their distinctive speculum patterns: NORTHERN PINTAILS and a male NORTHERN SHOVELER in eclipse plumage.

Two dark birds flew up and back down with the ducks and gulls, BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS! So great to see them! At that distance, it seemed like one had a darker bill, so hopefully it was a youngster with the adult.

Beautifully camouflaged, almost invisible SEMI-PALMATED PLOVERS, WESTERN and LEAST SANDPIPERS gleaned tidbits from the beach wrack as they walked past where I sat on the beach. It is easy to miss these beach rovers until they erupt into flight. Thanks to Buzz for the peep ID. They can be very confusing!

On the wooded trail, more almost invisible birds walked and flitted just ahead, feeding in the fallen leaves, then moving quietly off as I approached. Young VARIED THRUSHES, ROBINS, and HERMIT THRUSHES have already learned to melt into their surroundings, part of a parallel world.

I discovered another member of the shadow world while looking for a GREAT HORNED OWL family reported at Forest Acres Campground in town. In the near darkness just before 10 pm, in a wooded area full of happy campers gathered around dancing campfires, something shot across the path, then back. A LITTLE BROWN BAT! I haven't seen one of these protected mammals in years. Several more zipped across, unexpected and astonishing. Like little shooting stars, as my friend Linda noted.

Watch carefully and you may see the nearly invisible neighbors and guests migrating through, living in their parallel universe.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, August 16, 2012 juvenile Baird's Sandpipers

Seward, Alaska VERY Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 6:15 am, sunset 9:46 pm, length of day 15 hours, 30 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 16 seconds shorter.

Weather: A mixed bag of spectacular blue-sky sunny days followed by sulking gray skies and scattered showers, with little wind; temperatures remain mild, hovering in the 50s. Mostly cloudy with chance of rain until the middle of next week is forecast with a 90% chance this will be wrong.

The Seward Silver Salmon Derby is in full swing as boats crammed with fishing gear and coolers buzz all over Resurrection Bay; hopeful fishers cast endlessly from shore. It's a tough time to bird with all the shore action, and an even tougher time for hungry shorebirds and seabirds to feed and rest. Local streams swirl with spawning salmon, a fascinating wonder to behold. Bald eagles, gulls, crows, and ravens enjoy observing and then dining on the bounty of salmon as well.

The Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter has been very, very busy this past month and apologizes for not posting. Peregrine Joe spotted some wonderful sandpipers yesterday at the tidelands which I must share. I photographed and verified them with Buzz (thanks!) as juvenile BAIRD'S SANDPIPERS. These birds are a bit larger (7.5" than the WESTERN (6.5") and LEAST SANDPIPERS (6"), and have remarkably long primary wingtips that extend far past the tail. The juveniles have very well-defined pale fringing on the back, giving them a scaly appearance. They are migrating primarily from the tundra of the north coast of Alaska to South America without assistance from their long-gone parents. 


Baird's Sandpiper with a Least Sandpiper for comparison.

Greater Yellowlegs have been migrating through the past several weeks.

No longer singing, but still curious!

A little parade of shorebirds led by a locally raised
Spotted Sandpiper juvenile (a little frowsy) with a 
Least Sandpiper in the middle, and a Baird's Sandpiper at the tail
cruised along a rivulet, picking up amphipods like candy.

The leader of the parade of sandpiper juveniles, a 
Spotted Sandpiper without any spots.

A Lesser Yellowlegs seems to be eating a
Least Sandpiper (NOT). Check out its tongue!

Nap time for the Lesser Yellowlegs.

A Greater Yellowlegs notes the spawned out
Chum (Dog) salmon and Bald Eagle feather.

Greater Yellowlegs' white rump and long legs.

A little series of Lesser Yellowlegs.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter