Friday, November 23, 2012 Snow Buntings and wind circles

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:17 am, sunset 4:10 pm, length of day 6 hours, 52 minutes; tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 1second shorter. Note the mountains reduce actual day length by at least an hour on each end.

Unleaded gas is down to $4.32/gallon.

Weather: Temps in the mid 20s, north wind 14-25 mph gusting to 38 where exposed, remarkably calm away from the beach.

Today's mid-morning walk featured a blast at the beach for a change of venue from Lowell Point. Dense clouds darkened the southern sky and reduced light levels for photography. The only bird observed was a solo GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL sailing over the whitecaps, buffeted by the gusts.

The lack of birds refocused my attention to the beach itself. It seemed that every scraggly exposed dead stalk or rootlet along the sandy stretches was busy inscribing perfect circles, as directed by the wind. The length of said plant part determined the radius of the circle as accurately as a compass. Some less flexible, but knobby rootlets made partial but multiple concentric circles, resembling ripples radiating away from the center. The circle motif repeated itself in the frozen jellies lined up along the high tide line. It was quite amazing.

The sun, so low in the southern sky, glowed below the cloudbank, trying to break through. The dark silhouettes of the mountains, Fox Island, and Caines Head against that golden light reminded me of a Rockwell Kent painting.

I turned back into the wind and on my way out, checked the frozen pond. Hmmm. Birds! I eased close enough to count and try to photograph 16 SNOW BUNTINGS, including a bright black and white male. Hopping along a ragged line of vegetation frozen into the ice, they faced into the wind and picked up edibles only they could see. I expect to find buntings in the beach ryegrass or along the beach, not on ice, so this was new. Very interesting!

A few NORTHWESTERN CROWS flew over the beach berm, but that was about it.

Back in town, miraculously calm and now sunny, it seemed like a different day altogether. I spotted 12 ROBINS feasting in a neighbor's Mt Ash and heard PINE GROSBEAKS call overhead. CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES pulled tiny seeds from spruce cones, while a STELLER'S JAY sat on a branch and rhythmically whacked open yet another peanut shell. I filled my suet feeders for the town birds and thought of the tough, wild buntings, dancing with the wind.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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