December 9, 2012 Yellow-billed Loon and Harlequins

Seward Sporadic Bird Report

Cold no more! A massive front moved in late Friday evening, bringing clouds and about 4" of snow over the weekend. Then the thermometer rose to 35ยบ, changing the snow to light rain. Seward was spared the drama of the high wind and blizzard warning for Turnagain Arm and Portage to the north on Saturday. Though it has been calm in Seward, the rhythmic surf breaking at Lowell Point Beach spoke of a rough sea out in the Gulf of Alaska.

On Saturday, a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK materialized in the neighborhood after many weeks of no sightings. According to the startled viewer, it attacked and pinned a young STELLER'S JAY. The jay screeched, attracting mom and dad, siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles, and MAGPIES. The hawk dropped lunch, ruffled but OK, and disappeared, discouraged and hungry. All that training this fall by the jays and magpies playing chase with the hawk almost worked. Needless to say, it was very quiet in the 'hood the rest of the afternoon.

I took the good dog to Lowell Point Beach around 12:30 today. As it was raining lightly and dark, I left the big lens in the car. As soon as I got to the beach, I regretted it. A YELLOW-BILLED LOON floated regally just off shore. A RED-NECKED GREBE dove nearby. I hustled back to the car, but by the time I returned with the camera, the loon had paddled farther out, too far to photograph. Nevertheless, it was thrilling to see a yellow-billed again. The loons have been very scarce so far this winter.

Two PELAGIC CORMORANTS swam together; the younger had a much smaller head and thinner bill. A few BARROW'S GOLDENEYES and one BUFFLEHEAD dove near Pinnacle Rock. Some other Barrow's Goldeneyes flew from farther south around the beach, perhaps to join the large flock of about 200 on the north side of the Point. A single MARBLED MURRELET paddled and dove. It is easily identified as the little black and white bird that dives as soon as it's seen.

Two HARLEQUIN DUCKS, an adult drake and a juvenile male, snorkeled as they paddled steadily along, close to the beach and the breaking waves. My guess is the ducks were peering underwater and snapping up amphipods (beach fleas) stirred up by the surf and near the surface. Every so often, they plunged and lunged to grab the tidbit. They could certainly dive if they wanted, but chose to stay at the surface where the food was. Whatever it was, it was small as I never saw them wrestle it around or slurp it down headfirst.

The young male ended up by itself, really, really close to shore. He didn't seem to be bothered much by the dog or me. Fortunately, the BALD EAGLE quietly perched high in a nearby spruce, faced the other direction. That duck would have nowhere to dive should the eagle swoop down and pin it to the sand. 

It was neat to watch the water roll off the duck's back. Just like the saying, it really does. The adult white patterns on his head are gradually becoming more distinct. Compare the two photos to see. I hope he lives through this first tough year. It would be interesting to watch the complete make-over to a handsome Harlequin drake.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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