Sunday, March 31, 2013 Lapland Longspurs!

Seward Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 7:24 am, sunset 8:40 pm, for 13 hours and 16 minutes of daylight. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 30 seconds longer.

Weather: cloudy skies split asunder to shower warm sunshine for a change! Temperatures in the high 30s and calm. It was a beautiful spring day.

Easter brought more than chocolate bunnies and colored eggs! This morning, I heard the distinctive sharp whistles and creaks of RUSTY BLACKBIRDS next door. It was difficult to find more than a few hidden high in the spruce boughs, but recently 30 were counted in a yard in Forest Acres.  Over at the hotspot feeder, one AMERICAN TREE SPARROW joined the COMMON REDPOLLS, PINE SISKINS, and VARIED THRUSHES gleaning spilled Nyjer and other birdseed from the snow. Still no sign of the ACCENTOR, and the BRAMBLINGS are hiding as well.

Out at the tidelands, several 100 gulls including GLAUCOUS-WINGED, HERRING, (probably some hybrids), MEW, and BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES raised a ruckus for no apparent reason, except perhaps they were excited about Spring!

The graceful SHORT-EARED OWL cruised over the salt marsh meadow, scanning for voles, its broad wings in contrast to the narrow gull wings. Suddenly I heard a different bird sound and tracked it to some driftwood and dried beach rye grass. Two LAPLAND LONGSPURS walked along the log, half-hidden by the grasses. One popped into the open, posed, then both flew past to land in another grass clump. I hope they found some seeds or marine invertebrates to eat after their long journey.

March 22: A PIGEON GUILLEMOT in breeding plumage reported by Lowell Point Road. Ravens are starting to nest.
March 28: I found a male BELTED KINGFISHER at Stash and Store Pond. This is another sign of spring as they have been very scarce all winter. The GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH population doubled to two, an unusually low number.
March 29: A few more PIGEON GUILLEMOTS reported from Fox Island and BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES feeding on bait balls.
March 30: Three GREAT-BLUE HERONS on rocks by harbor, year-round residents, but great to see anytime.

Soon the trickle of spring will increase to a flood, just like the melting ice and snow. Welcome, Spring!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, March 30, 2013 Hand-feeding Pine Siskins and Redpolls

Seward Sporadic Bird Report

"When you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with!"
Stephen Stills

Since I haven't been able to find Zorro, the SIBERIAN ACCENTOR, I've been enjoying the mobs of COMMON REDPOLLS and PINE SISKINS draining my feeders, chattering in the trees, and hopping on the snow.

It's a pleasure to share them with family and friends. I drape an old towel across laps to both protect clothing and provide another place to sprinkle birdseed. Then I place a small handful of mixed wild birdseed in each outstretched palm, and step back to enjoy and photograph the show.

At first, one wonders if any birds will come to the patient but unusual bird feeders. The birds sit quietly in a bare Mt Ash nearby, watching. Then first one, then another brave bird, usually a Pine Siskin, drops down and lands on a finger, and begins choosing and devouring the most desirable seeds. Then another flies in, and another and another, the din of bird calls increasing by the second. Soon they are landing on hats, sleeves, knees, boots, and scrounging between the boots. Several landed on me, my camera, and strap before dashing off to feed.

Smiles erupt as the tiny beaks tickle fingers and palms; they are amazed at how light and tame the birds are. Usually the Pine Siskins dominate the hands, chasing off all others, but occasionally one will share with up to 3 others. The Common Redpolls try to get on, but more often have to content themselves with the lap or deck offerings.

After a few minutes of intense activity, the birds lose interest, leaving nothing but the undesirable red millet. After a quick refill, the whole show repeats. It is a thrill to interact with these busy, beautiful birds!

Afterwards, just be sure to wash your hands.

Check out this recent video by Kris Peck of Common Redpolls, a few Pine Siskins, and a flash of Varied Thrushes mobbing a popular bird feeder in Seward:

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, March 28, 2013 Lightbox FIXED!

The LightBox image display option is now working! This means you can once again just click on a photo and easily click through them all.

The fix is reported at <> in case you need to know.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic HTML novice

Technical Difficulties with photo lightbox display

Dear Readers,

There is a glitch with the photo viewing for all blog sites that I sure hope gets fixed soon. It's a nuisance to only view them singly.

So sorry for the inconvenience!

Sunday, March 24, 2013 THREE Bramblings and a zillion Redpolls

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 7:45 am, sunset 8:23 pm, length of day 12 hours, 37 minutes. It's light until almost 9 pm! Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 30 seconds longer.

Weather: Yin and Yang. After a week of almost brutally intense sunlight magnified by a surprise dump of 13" of snow, temps in the teens, and a howling wind creating ground blizzards, it's now calm, 30º, overcast and snowing gently. Ahhh… for now. More snow, snow showers, and rain in the forecast with increasing winds. Spring wears Winter's face. Solstice blew right by me on March 20, it was so wintery!

The thick snow blanket keeps the birds focused on the feeders. Many, many hundreds of COMMON REDPOLLS, and PINE SISKINS fill the air, darken the snow, decorate the trees, and cover the feeders. A single Siskin actually has a delightful little conversational song, but all together it's a cacophony of trills and zzzzips.

Add the loud VARIED THRUSHES, rapid-fire announcements of the STELLER JAYS, talkative MAGPIES, the zippy WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, happy SONG SPARROW, trilling JUNCOS, a pair of BALD EAGLES crying overhead, the croaking of RAVENS, cawing of the occasional invading NW CROWS from the beach, and cooing of unwelcome PIGEONS. Quite a symphony! It's a wonder to watch and listen.

A NORTHERN GOSHAWK heard the racket. On Friday, it darted in and hauled off a small bird. It is one of the few raptors here, and is probably eating rather well. It's not the only predator, however. A feeder watcher in Forest Acres reported that a Pine Siskin bumped softly into a window and landed on the deck. Instantly a Steller's Jay swooped down, grabbed it, and hauled it off into a tree where it presumably ate it. No wonder the little birds flee in panic when they hear a Steller's Jay approaching!

Those vibrant VARIED THRUSHES serve as my morning alarm clock, even over the recent whistling wind. Eight hopped around the feeder with more clucking and singing in the tree branches, and more at other yards and feeders. It's an unusual number so early. A lovely female Varied Thrush cautiously entered the feeding frenzy; her right eye was injured and closed. I hope she can make it with such limited vision, poor bird.

Other feeder birds this week included a LINCOLN'S SPARROW, WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (also singing), GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW, FOX SPARROW (with a droopy left wing, but it can fly), SONG SPARROW, AMERICAN TREE SPARROW, DARK-EYED JUNCO, OREGON JUNCO, a single GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH, two male DOWNY WOODPECKERS, and one female.

Just before dark, all the music suddenly ceases and the Redpolls vanish to their secret roosts. Then the CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES dart in to grab a few seeds. The mobs of finches are too intimidating for these shy residents. It's a wonder they can survive on so little.

Again I enjoyed sitting for a bit near one of my feeders with seed in my outstretched hand. Within a second, a PINE SISKIN hopped on and began feeding and vigorously defended its new-found stash against all intruders. The bright yellow feathers flashed when he opened his wings wide and lowered his head, chattering. Often the defender tangled with another siskin and fell off, letting a bystander feed for a millisecond. It was quite entertaining. The less aggressive Redpolls fed on my knee or on the ground by my feet.

Driving nowhere and walking just a few steps today, I glassed the surrounding Mt Ash trees and found a bright BRAMBLING. Nearby sat another! And then a third one blasted by and chased both away. THREE BRAMBLINGS in my yard! I was happy to get photos of them, and believe one much more pale bird might be a female. Maybe they will stay and nest!

Zorro, the SIBERIAN ACCENTOR, has not been seen since Wednesday. I've been looking as time permits without any luck since my last sighting on Monday. The Bird also eluded two dedicated birders from Fairbanks and Delta Jct who drove through a blizzard on Turnagin Arm on Friday and diligently watched the hotspots in a snowstorm the rest of that day and on Saturday, aided on the second day by a Homer birder. Steve and John deserve the Zorro award for their hard work!

Of note:
Kenna Sue and Susan reported a first-of-season HERMIT THRUSH and two Tree Sparrows on Monday, March 18th.

The Burke family birded on a lovely day on Thursday, March 21, just as the wind died down and before the clouds rolled in. The highlights of their amazing list included 2 ANCIENT MURRELETS in front of town by the Community Playground, a GOLDEN EAGLE in the mountains on the east side of the bay, a single GREEN-WINGED TEAL female in Spring Creek, two FOS AMERICAN WIGEON, 35 ROCK SANDPIPERS, and two SHORT-EARED OWLS at the tidelands, 2 BRAMBLINGS, and 20 RUSTY BLACKBIRDS at the horse corral.

Many fine birders have visited Seward this winter. If you are willing to share your Seward sightings with me, please drop me an E at c_griz at I really appreciate your reports.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

This Brambling looks like a female to me:

And this bright Brambling is a male.

Thanks to Martin Renner for this information: 
"Bramblings are best sexed by the color of the crown (according to Svensson). So yes, you got a male and a female there. The male on your blog is already molting into alternate plumage. To get a fully black head it mainly needs to wear off some of the white fringes on the black facial feathers. Great shots!"

And thanks to Aaron Bowman for this further information:
"It does look like the male Bramblings are starting to molt into their spring plumage, with maybe some more dark on their face, around the eye and bill and perhaps brighter wing markings. Eventually the male's bill will also turn black and the whole head and back will be black. If I remember right from Japan it will be around late April before they are in full breading plumage.

A good way to be pretty sure of the female in all plumages is their gray nape between their back and their head, framed by the two dark lines falling down their crest. The shots you took look correctly labeled to me."

Saturday, March 16, 2013 A Bird or Two in the Hand…

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 8:09 am, sunset 8:03 pm, length of day 11 hours, 53 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 31 seconds longer. We're leaping up to Spring Equinox!

Weather: Another beautiful, sparkling day! Still cool enough at 15º this morning to need winter gear, especially with a little north wind nip, but warming to 36º by mid- afternoon.

If you have an invasion of COMMON REDPOLLS and PINE SISKINS, get a chair and sit near your feeder. Grab a handful of birdseed and just hold out your hand, nice and still. In no time, you will be thrilled and amazed to feel how light these beautiful little finches are, standing on your palm. It tickles when they gently poke through the seeds!

It may be hard to host more than 2 or 3 at a time, as the Pine Siskins are particularly possessive and will chase each other and the Redpolls away. The Redpolls are no slouches at hogging the hand either. While waiting impatiently for a turn, they may sit on your head, shoulders, and legs.

I wonder what they think of this temporary warm-blooded feeder?

It is a lot of fun and a great way to observe them up close. Despite the high seed bill, I am going to miss them when they leave.

In other news, the SIBERIAN ACCENTOR is still here, at the hotspot feeder at the bottom of Suicide Hill. Thank you to everyone who has contributed Niger seed, suet blocks, hulled sunflower seeds, and mixed bird seed. It goes fast! Even if the Accentor doesn't eat all of it, the variety attracts all the other birds to keep it coming.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter