Sunday, January 20, 2013 Rock Sandpipers and Snow Buntings

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:36 am, sunset 4:41 pm, length of day 7 hours, 4 minutes; tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 24 seconds longer.

Weather: The snow showers held off until the Polar Bear Jump in the Seward Boat Harbor was over. As the temperature climbed steadily to 35ยบ, the mix was more rain than snow over an already icy layer. But this morning, despite a wet forecast, only the pearly blue-gray skies remained. The wind snoozed and it turned out to be a very fine day for both optics and birding. I again shot at ISO 3200 as it was so dark. The waxing half moon peeked over Mt Alice late this afternoon and brought along Orion and Jupiter to ride with her across the night sky.

The exciting news that the BRAMBLING was spotted in town yesterday lured me over to check out the lucky yard. I did not find the elusive finch, but was pleased to find a GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH, feeding on the ground under the spruce trees and Niger seed feeders. Chattering PINE SISKINS steadily lowered the seed supply, spilling enough to entice the DARK-EYED JUNCOS and COMMON REDPOLLS. It was quite amusing to watch the Pine Siskins take a birdy bath in a handy puddle under the gutter, splashing and twittering as if it hadn't been raining for the past several days. Then the disheveled puffs all took to the treetop to preen and regain their identity.

Many feeders around town have reported a recent invasion of Pine Siskins, feeding up to 100-200 at a time. The Common Redpolls are definitely in the minority now.

Next I checked the Benny Benson Lagoon, ice-locked except for the culvert outlet on the south and the stream inlets on the north. Two female BUFFLEHEAD dove in the icy water. The 4 COMMON GOLDENEYES nearby seemed huge by comparison. When the tiny DIPPER popped up, diving and paddling around like a sea duck, even the Buffleheads seemed big.

Across Dairy Hill Lane in the horse corral, a dozen ravens decorated the ghost trees. Some birds looked like they too had just taken a bath and needed some serious preening to get everything back in order. Yesterday, I heard the RUSTY BLACKBIRDS creaking in the trees. Peregrine Joe saw about 30, the whole flock, drinking at the edge of the Lagoon.

Around 4 pm, an hour past low tide, I ventured out on the tide flats. Though the light was dimming, it was just too nice to be inside. About a mile out, I spotted a small flock of suspicious-looking little birds working the incoming tide line. As I drew closer, I counted about 30 ROCK SANDPIPERS probing and picking in the sand and popweed. I did not see the Dunlins. 13 MEW GULLS stood quietly as the tide gently lapped over their yellow feet. One yawned, showing his surprisingly red mouth lining.

The sandpipers flew off to another patch of promising seaweed and I turned back to shore. In the distance, 21 SNOW BUNTINGS flashed up and down, then disappeared from sight. It's great to know both the rock sans and the snow buntings are still here. 

Yesterday, I finally saw the TOWNSEND'S SOLITAIRE, sitting quietly in a young Mayday tree. Periodically, it lurched forward and grabbed some black fruit, then gobbled it down. Five WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS shared the nearby bushes with a GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW and many PINE SISKINS. (Do Pine Siskins even come in singles?)  A dapper male DOWNY WOODPECKER enjoyed a suet snack. A ROBIN flew over head, leading one's eye up to a neighboring spruce tree. There, perched near the top roosted two adult GREAT BLUE HERONS. What a surprise! It's such a huge bird, a wading bird, and so secretive no one sees them for weeks at a time. And then there they were, taking it easy until the excitement at the boat harbor calmed down.

On the way home, I spied a lone River Otter preening at the edge of the ice at the Lagoon. It's just amazing what one can see if you keep your eyes open and your mind receptive. Plus, it sure helps to have a few tips on where to look!

Other notes:
January 16: HERRING GULL at Fourth of July Beach with one GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL. We don't usually have Herring Gulls here in the winter.

January 17: FOX SPARROW at a feeder in town.

Ava reported several fluffed up and lethargic Pine Grosbeaks at her feeders recently. It could be from salmonella. This bacteria is easily spread from one sick bird to others on platform and ground feeders through the droppings. Outbreaks are best prevented by keeping all the feeding areas and water containers clean with a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.

Be sure to wear gloves and clean all contaminated feeders outside. To be sure the salmonella is gone, remove the feeders for two weeks. Sick or birds should not be handled with bare hands as salmonella can spread to humans and pets. Double bag any dead birds and dispose in the trash. There is more information on the 'net.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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