Thursday, January 31, 2013 Sea birds

January 31, 2013 Sea birds

After yesterday afternoon and evening's miserable rain/sleet/sn'rain, it was a wonder to wake up to mysterious fog with patches of clear sky. The fog burned off by noon, and the raggedy clouds reluctantly permitted the sun to peek through here and there. It remained calm and warm, up to 34º, a welcome reprieve! The sky opened even more by night to let the brilliant stars and Jupiter dazzle like jewels in the inscrutable black universe.

Today, two Anchorage birders drove to Seward. One had flown from vacation in Hawaii just to get the Accentor, and having succeeded, drove back home to fly back to Hawaii! It was easier than going to Gamble!

The SIBERIAN ACCENTOR eluded me once again, but the reliable BRAMBLINGS almost made up for it. I saw one in the Mt Ash trees this morning and two this afternoon. Very nice!

I surprised an adult BALD EAGLE sitting on a stump, hanging out its wet wings to dry. Quite the hair-do on this usually sleek national symbol! It flew off and resumed drying from the safety of a spruce top.

The turnaround at the south end of the Scheffler Creek pedestrian bridge south of the Harbor Uplands proved to be an interesting birding spot. The bay was mirror calm; the tide was high.

I spotted a COMMON LOON preening in the distance. A dozen SURF SCOTERS paddled and dove together. A single male COMMON GOLDENEYE pursued his lunch near the dolphin. Two PELAGIC CORMORANTS roosted on the dophin, sharing it with a GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL. Other gulls, including many MEW GULLS, and PELAGIC CORMORANTS floated in a long line just beyond with a small group of COMMON MERGANSERS. They all seemed to be enjoying the mild afternoon and warm sunshine after such a stressful week of cold and wind.

Three female (or juvenile) BUFFLEHEAD paddled together. After a short time, one swam in quite close to shore, busily diving and snorkeling. I believe it was chasing small fish that it swallowed underwater.

A single female BLACK SCOTER also dove quite close to shore, emerging with a pile of little rocks all stuck together with the byssal threads of blue mussels. She whapped the collection on the water and swished it just below the surface, freeing at least some of the rocks from the entrée. With some effort, she managed to swallow the mussels, shells and all, with a few rocks. Then she sat for a bit, while that load settled before diving for more. It was so nice to watch her close up, a beautiful, delicately marked bird.

As I watched the BLACK SCOTER, another hen swam up. At first I thought it might be a mallard, but as she approached closer, right up to shore, I could see her white speculum, marking her as a GADWALL. The birds regarded each other, one a diver, one a dabbler, and decided all was well.

Over on the pilings a GLAUCOUS-WINGED X HERRING GULL hybrid stood on one piling, and a MEW GULL on another. The size difference was very obvious, as were the pink vs yellow legs.

Accentor or not, it was another great day to bird and marvel at Mother Nature! AND, I didn't have to sit in a jet for 12 hours and drive another 5!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Seward Bird List January 25-28, 2013

Many thanks to the birders including Aaron Bowman and Michelle Michaud who contacted me about their sightings during the busy extended weekend. I especially congratulate keen-eyed and persistent Toby Burke and his family who found the most species and numbers during their Monday bird survey after nailing the Siberian Accentor.

This list is helpful snapshot of Seward species and numbers for late January. Of note, about 30 Rock Sandpipers, 6 DUNLINS, 20+ Snow Buntings, 1 MCKAYS BUNTING, and one Kingfisher were added by January 31st. 

 Gadwall  4
 Mallard  31
 Harlequin Duck 30
 Surf Scoter  250
 White-winged Scoter  5
 Black Scoter  100
 Long-tailed Duck  3
 Bufflehead  1
 Common Goldeneye  25
 Barrow's Goldeneye  100
 Common Merganser  70
 Red-breasted Merganser  5
 Common Loon  1
 Yellow-billed Loon  1
 Horned Grebe  5
 Pelagic Cormorant  20
 Bald Eagle  20
 Sharp-shinned Hawk 1
 Mew Gull  150
 Herring Gull  2 - probably hybrid with Glaucous-winged Gull
 THAYER'S GULL 1 - first year bird, possibly two birds (Burke)
 Glaucous-winged Gull  400
 GLAUCOUS GULL 1 - first year
 Marbled Murrelet  2
 Rock Pigeon  30
 Saw-whet Owl 1
 Downy Woodpecker  4
 Hairy Woodpecker 1
 Steller's Jay  15
 Black-billed Magpie  12
 Northwest Crow  100
 Common Raven  25
 Chestnut-backed Chickadee  15
 Red-breasted Nuthatch  5
 Brown Creeper  1
 American Dipper   1 - at Spring Creek
 Golden-crowned Kinglet  3
 American Robin  8
 Varied Thrush 1
 Fox Sparrow  1
 Song Sparrow  1
 Lincoln's Sparrow  1
 White-crowned Sparrow  6
 Golden-crowned Sparrow  3
 Dark-eyed Junco  5
 RUSTY BLACKBIRD 30 - at horse corral
 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch  6
 Pine Grosbeak  10
 White-winged Crossbill  30
 Common Redpoll  70
 Pine Siskin  100

Now I have to get out there and find all these birds! Thanks for the inspiration!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

January 29, 2013 Dunlins and Snow Buntings

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:18 am, sunset 5:04 pm, length of day 7 hours, 46 minutes; tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 56 seconds longer. The extra minutes make a huge difference as twilight extends the day.

Weather: Ahhh. The wind slept like a baby today. The cloud coverlet ranged in color from dark slate gray to soft blue gray. The thermometer rose from 23º this morning to a high of 30º. What a difference from this weekend! We received about an inch of new snow overnight with more precip on the way, unfortunately in the form of sleet and rain as another storm rolls in from the south.
Peregrine Joe reported finding both a BRAMBLING and the SIBERIAN ACCENTOR at the same site in the mid-block 400 First Avenue around 9:30 am. I refound the Brambling at 11:30 and periodically throughout the day, feeding on the dwindling Mt Ash berries and on the ground under the spruce and hemlock trees. Four GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES, PINE SISKINS, COMMON REDPOLLS, and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS popped in and out.

I took advantage of the calm, benign weather to walk the beach at noon. Six DUNLINS suddenly flew up and away! What a nice surprise! A short time later, a flock of about 30 SNOW BUNTINGS swarmed over the beach rye and Canada blue-joint grasses, sifting the fallen seeds from the new snow. I would expect the Snow Buntings to survive that spell of brutal winter weather, but hooray for the Dunlins!

Joe reported 2 WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS over at the end of Nash Road, but no Long-tail Ducks. We have not yet found this usual winter resident.

At 2:30, I happened to be passing by when a huge flock of NORTHWESTERN CROWS invaded my neighbor's feeder. The deck feeder had been covered with a heavy doormat to discourage the pigeons and crows. The pigeons were thwarted, but not the crows. In a trice, they attacked that doormat and sent it packing overboard! What teamwork and so clever! It takes more than a doormat to shut out hungry crows.

At dusk around 4:45, I again watched the Brambling, back at the same spot. It sure is amazing to see my former nemesis several times a day next door! Peering into the gloom under the two conifers, I found a very active house mouse and a feral rabbit enjoying the birdseed as much as the Brambling, dark-eyed juncos, and other sparrows.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Check out the aerodynamic design!

January 27, 2013 Siberian Accentor and Brambling still here

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:22 am, sunset 4:59 pm, length of day 7 hours, 37 minutes; tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 50 seconds longer. Full moon tonight, actually a 99% full moon, close enough.

Weather: Brrrrrrr! Clear, cold, and windy continued all last night and today. The fierce north wind blew through windproof gear and tugged violently at scarves and hats at a steady 16 mph, gusting from 31 to 44 mph. It was no fun to be in its way. The temp dropped even lower last night to about 7º by 9 am, and kept going down all day. It may reach minus 2 tonight. Snug in our warm homes, I pity the poor birds toughing out yet another bitter and long winter night. Keep those suet and sunseed feeders full!

Visiting birders who stayed overnight were joined by a few more brave souls today from Eagle River and Anchorage. Just after 10 am, the early birders were rewarded first with the bright BRAMBLING feeding in the bare grass at the new "Ground Zero" in the mid 400 block of First Ave. Then the SIBERIAN ACCENTOR materialized on the ground under a nearby clump of spruce and alder trees fronting First Ave.  The lighting was dim in the shadows, but its distinctive facemask was discernible even at 100 feet. After six minutes, it flew off. I didn't refind it and do not know if anyone else had success. 

An increasing number of GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES were spotted flying today, up to about 20, with three on the new "Ground Zero" roof, and the bright BRAMBLING returned around 4 pm to feed where it began its day. The HOODED MERGANSER was spotted on the east side (downstream) of the highway near the Pit Bar as the Lagoon is now frozen.

Cod is being processed over at the Polar Seafoods plant at the end of Nash Road. The ground-up unwanted fish parts attracted a host of MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, and seabirds including the usual SURF SCOTERS, BARROW'S GOLDENEYES, and COMMON MERGANSERS. I'm sure there were others but the roiling waves and spray made it very difficult to see or count. About a dozen HARLEQUIN DUCKS bobbed close to shore by Spring Creek Beach.

Three adult BALD EAGLES perched in a cottonwood, two side by side, one a bit farther away. As I watched them, I found two beautiful but wind-blown first year juveniles. They looked healthy and well fed despite the cold and wind. A bit later, the adults soared over the boat basin, back and forth. I saw one adult plunge at a Steller Sea lion that dove with a great splash at the last second. It must have had something good to eat. There were at least seven sea lions in a tight group, mostly swimming around placidly, but occasionally plunging and spinning wildly as if chasing a fish close to the surface. It was wonderful to see these wild and free sea mammals.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

January 26, 2013 Birders converge on Siberian Accentor and Bramblings

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:24 am, sunset 4:56 pm, length of day 7 hours, 32 minutes; tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 47 seconds longer. Full moon this evening!

Weather: Brutal! Almost. Clear, cold, and windy. The fierce north wind pummeled any exposed skin and whisked away body warmth. It raged from 20 to 29 mph with gusts up to 46, enough to shake you off your feet! The temp steadily dropped over the night to about 12º by 9 am, then rose ever so slightly to about 15º by 3 pm.

The strong wind is forecast to continue through Sunday afternoon with a high of 12º and a windchill as low as minus 18º. Dress WARM and break out the hand warmers and hot drinks!

Birders from Fairbanks, Anchorage, Kodiak, Soldotna, Homer, and Seward (and probably other towns) converged on Seward this morning. The SIBERIAN ACCENTOR was seen by a single early birder (Brad) before dawn in the alley between First and Second in the 400 Block. Despite the dozens of birders, numbering upwards of 40, it proved elusive for hours. Just before noon, Kit  discovered the Accentor feeding in the moss on the steep mountainside north of the hospital with JUNCOS, PINE SISKINS, and of all birds, a bright male BRAMBLING. He phoned Joe who was posted at the bottom of Suicide Hill, and Joe did a sweep of all the birders along the alley. Within 2 minutes the crowd had converged at the mountainside site.

An adult BALD EAGLE perched majestically high in a spruce tree nearby, but today the directions were, "The SIBERIAN ACCENTOR is to the right of the BRAMBLING, now it's above it, moving left behind the double tree…" What a great indicator bird, that bright Brambling! The Accentor was well camouflaged in the shadows of the brush and rocks, and moved stealthily among the fallen branches. Yet many birders scored a new Life Bird, and some tallied two Lifers in the same view. Many thanks to all the birders who patiently and enthusiastically helped others find that bird.

Note: The Lagoon is completely frozen now, but the male HOODED MERGANSER was spotted in Clear Creek, just north of the Exit Glacier Road turnoff. Park in the south side of the Pit Bar away from the building, and check upstream, then walk carefully across the highway and check downstream.

I didn't get any photos of THAT BRRRRD today, but I did enjoy watching three BALD EAGLES down by the Bay just before everything plunged into the shadows at 2:30. The perched Eagle looked as windblown as I felt, but once aloft and hunting in the company of two other eagles, they were magnificent.

I would be interested in compiling a snapshot of the birds seen in the Seward area this weekend. I'm especially interested in trying to determine the number and gender of Bramblings here. There may be five or more! Please email me your bird list at, and note your name, home town, the species, number, location, and time if possible. If you saw a Brambling, please also note if it was bright or pale. Also if you had any interesting adventures on your trip here, that would be fun to hear about.

If you come tomorrow, note that it is forecast to be as windy and even colder. Birding is not for wimps!!

Safe Travels Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

January 25, 2013 Birders, Bramblings, and Siberian Accentor

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:26 am, sunset 4:54 pm, length of day 7 hours, 27 minutes; tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 43 seconds longer.

Weather: The thermometer dropped steadily from 32º this morning to 23º by evening as the north wind picked up speed to howling velocity. Brrrrr! The bright sunshine, however, was wonderful until the sun dropped behind the western mountains. The forecast for the weekend is clear and cold with a high of 10º with winds from the NNW at 15 to 20 mph for a wind chill as low as minus 18º. Brrrrr!

Today, a flock of birders from Juneau, Palmer, Anchorage, Cooper Landing, and Homer (maybe other places) converged on Seward to seek the SIBERIAN ACCENTOR, BRAMBLINGS, HOODED MERGANSER, RUSTY BLACKBIRDS, and other coastal residents. Birders from Fairbanks, Kodiak, and other Anchorage birders are expected tomorrow.

Many birders had excellent success while others missed one or another species. That Accentor is quite crafty, popping up at Ground Zero with the VARIED THRUSH and GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW, then vanishing for a time only to reappear down the alley with FOX, GOLDEN-CROWNED, WHITE-CROWNED, and SONG SPARROWS. One never knew where to be and many wished they could cover both spots simultaneously. With much bare ground under the trees, and lots of brush piles, there is a lot of territory for the sparrows and Accentor to hide.

One big bonus of covering Ground Zero and down the alley was the appearance of two BRAMBLINGS, perching nicely in the same Mt Ash for the paparazzi. One was quite bright, the other much paler. While the two were spotted, another one was seen flying north of the site, make THREE in town. Meanwhile, Ava also had a BRAMBLING at her feeder just off Nash Road. Aaron Bowman suggested back in December that there might be more than two, and he was right. There might even be more than four! Pretty exciting!

Yesterday I documented a very bright BRAMBLING at the Alaska Sealife Center parking lot, feasting on Mt Ash pulp both in the trees and on the ground, surrounded by at least 20-25 AMERICAN ROBINS. It was thrilling to finally get close enough for some really good views. This bird has a lot more going on than just an orangish breast band!

If you come to Seward tomorrow, be sure to dress really, really warm with windproof outerwear and bring the best ice grippers you can find. I understand REI is temporarily out of the Kahtoola Microspikes, which I highly recommend, but anything is better than skating down Suicide Hill on your face. Brown and Hawkins in downtown Seward carries a nice selection of ice grippers and high quality winter gear if you forgot anything. 

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Pale Brambling

Bright Brambling

Bright Brambling

January 23, 2013 Birds but not THE Bird

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:30 am, sunset 4:49 pm, length of day 7 hours, 18 minutes; tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 36 seconds longer.

Weather: Overcast with occasional tiny windows peeking through to blue sky and a glimpse of the growing moon.  The thermometer rose to a pleasant 45º accompanied by just a bit of breeze. All in all, a very nice day to bird.

First light this morning and the chorus of PINE SISKINS almost drowned out the screeching and scraping of the road grader and rumble of the sanding truck. The Siskins seem to be everywhere in large numbers, with a few COMMON REDPOLLS mixed in.

Soon, I staked out Ground Zero to search for the Siberian Accentor. By and by a giant VARIED THRUSH emerged from the dense underbrush and began flipping leaves and poking through the exposed grass. It was interesting to note the similarities of the dramatic black markings and a face mask of the Varied Thrush and Siberian Accentor. 

A GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW materialized and scratched the leaf litter, just a few feet away. Hope ignited that The Bird would be with its buddy, but alas, it was not seen.

Next, I checked the open water at the north end of the Lagoon. The gorgeous HOODED MERGANSER male was there, paddling about, preening, and looking stunning as usual. First of year for me! Unlike previous years, no smitten female Goldeneye followed the Hoody around. He seemed unconcerned and ready for courtship in case SHE finally shows up.

MALLARDS swam past, not impressed at bit. COMMON MERGANSERS splashed down nearby. COMMON GOLDENEYES and a few female BUFFLEHEAD took turns diving and preening.

The flock of about 30 RUSTY BLACKBIRDS landed on the snow at the edge of the water, hopping around from the snow to the low alder branches, creaking conversationally, then took off north over the horse pasture.

Kit and Robin reported 20 SNOW BUNTINGS at the beach, but I didn't find them a short time later. Instead I was amazed to see a veritable cloud of gulls, probably GLAUCOUS-WINGED and MEW GULLS, upwards of 700 or more, flying near the mouth of the Resurrection River. I wonder what they are feeding on now? It's easy to miss them low on the ground or in the water, unless a BALD EAGLE or two stirs them up.

On the way back, I heard the sweet chucklings of an AMERICAN DIPPER and found it walking around on the cold snow near a little salmon stream. It seems perfectly happy, rain or shine, snow or grass, in the icy water or out. What an admirable, tough little bird!

WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS chattered in the tops of the spruce trees. Tim and Michelle, who hiked out to Tonsina Beach today, reported a zillion in the spruce along the trail.

I staked out Ground Zero several more times in the afternoon to no avail though it was fun to talk to the other Seward birders. Home for a late lunch, I found a nice WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW perched quietly in my willow. Acting on a hot tip from Jim, I walked down the alley and found not one but both BRAMBLINGS gleaning some sort of sustenance from the withered bits of Mt Ash berries still clinging to their stems. First of year for me and so convenient!

A half block away, a knot of birders checked out a lone BOHEMIAN WAXWING, hoping it might be a Cedar. It wasn't. Nearby were at least 20 or more ROBINS picking through the exposed grass. A few PINE GROSBEAKS and JUNCOS sat in the Mt Ash branches.

Hope for The Bird sputtered out in the last light around 4:20. Despite many birders checking the site and neighborhood, The Bird was not seen today. We'll be patrolling tomorrow!

The light was gone but the birding was not yet over. In the early evening, I heard the little SAW-WHET OWL, still high up the mountain and far away, steadfastly beeping for his sweetie.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter