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

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