Monday, September 24, 2012 Silver Lining and Bugling Cranes

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 7:48 am, sunset pm, 7:49 length of day 12 hours, 0 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 25 seconds shorter. This is more like Equinox, (equal night), a bit out of synch.

Weather: Last night's wind died down leaving ghostly morning fog and mist with temps in the high 40s. After a short rain burst, the hose finally turned off. What a joy to have a break for several hours! I found the silver lining in the clouds when the sun somehow filtered through the squall-laden layers and ignited the ephemeral wreath hugging the mountains. More rain and wind are in the forecast with a surprise sunny day on Sunday, subject to recall.

Taking advantage of the break in the weather, I birded around the head of the bay, joining Robin C. Two GREAT BLUE HERONS fished in the salt marsh pond and two juvenile NORTHERN HARRIERS wafted over the flattened and sodden grasses and sedges while a juvenile BALD EAGLE hung its soggy wings to dry. A tight flock of DOWITCHERS flushed in the distance, too dark to tell which species. (Thanks, Buzz, for the ID!)

Shortly before noon, I heard the excited bugling cry of SANDHILL CRANES! Looking up, I saw over 200 cranes streaming south, funneled along the Kenai Mountain range. About a half hour later, another large flock of about 200 more cranes suddenly appeared out of the clouds, high overhead and aiming south. About a half hour later, around 1 pm, I heard yet another flock, but it was too high and obscured by the clouds. What a wonderful sound and sight!

Along the beach, we refound yesterday's peeps fairly far out at the tide's edge. Buzz again helped with ID: probably WESTERNS and maybe a SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER or two mixed in. He noted Westerns have a hunched back or "bull neck" look, while Semi-palmated sandpipers are slightly sleeker with a slightly shorter and more blunt-tipped bill. Unfortunately, it was too dark and they were too far away to see or photograph these characteristics. I'll keep trying.

An unusual sparrow caught our eyes, hiding in the driftwood and grasses. Finally it stopped and posed: it had a bright white bib and an odd bright white patch on the back of its head. The only bird I can figure out is a GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW with a weird hair-do. Robin C mentioned that he has seen a lot of golden-crowns around town recently. It was accompanied by a SAVANNAH SPARROW, doing its usual popcorn hops along the beach and in the beach rye grass.

A HERMIT THRUSH popped up too, an unusual sight along the beach. Then a small flock of around 7 other birds burst out of the grass and dashed away; perhaps Longspurs or Pipits?

As we neared the end of the debris-laden beach, two MERLINS shot overhead apparently chasing each other at top speed. We left after admiring the juvenile NORTHERN HARRIER perched on a stump. It then leapt aloft to resume hunting voles, around and around his route, enjoying the respite from the rain probably even more than we did.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


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