Friday, March 8, 2013 Siberian Accentor and Steller's Jays

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 7:34 am, sunset 6:43 pm, length of day 11 hours, 9 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 30 seconds longer.

Weather: The forecast was right for a change. Wavering around 35ยบ with light winds, it sprinkled, rained, snowed, and threw down a bit of graupel for good measure then a dash of sunshine if you were quick. The most serious precip held off until this evening so in between squalls, it was pretty nice.

I checked for the SIBERIAN ACCENTOR at the usual hotspot feeder. While waiting, I observed the small flock of PINE SISKINS and COMMON REDPOLLS. I noticed one Redpoll had a completely bald patch on the back of its head. It seemed to feed and interact normally with the other redpolls, but something terrible must have happened to it. Mites? Predator attack? The heat loss is tremendous and there is no protection from the rain. I doubt this bird will survive long with this damage.

It seemed oddly quiet. A WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW hidden in a spruce experimented with its song but did not dine. A DARK-EYED JUNCO and a VARIED THRUSH poked around in the undergrowth but neither came to the feeder. A female DOWNY WOODPECKER flew quietly from one branch to another one farther back.

Then like magic, the SIBERIAN ACCENTOR appeared from the woods and sat on a wet rock, warily checking out the scene. After a few seconds, it quickly hopped over to the feeder, grabbed a few seeds from the ground and dashed away for a total cameo of about 40 seconds.

I soon discovered why the little birds were so few and cautious. A loud staccato warning rang out as every bird frantically flew up into the trees with a whoosh and a whirr. Then a stunning electric blue and black STELLER'S JAY swooped in and began guzzling cracked corn. Its amazing throat expanded until the skin was stretched and could hold no more. Stuffing just a few more chunks into its bill to top off the load, it finally flew off. I wish I could have seen where it went with this hoard; probably cached it under leaves and dirt like it does peanuts.

Soon it came back and repeated the feat. Three more jays sounded their arrival and descended. After a short skirmish, they briefly shared the bounty, not eating, just packing in as much as physically possible. It was a pretty astounding performance. I could not believe how much they stashed. Their presence signaled a perfect time for me to leave and let the little birds ease back in when they could.

Back at my feeders, I watched the madness of COMMON REDPOLLS and PINE SISKINS melded to my stout hardware cloth feeder, pull out whole black oil sunflowerseeds, work the hard shell around in their little bills (even the siskins), deftly chuck the hulls, and down the prize. They ate ravenously until the whole thing was empty. Again. Ten pounds a day, easy.

I heard WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, and the VARIED THRUSH singing again on an early evening walk around Two Lakes Park. It was nice to hear CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES. They have disappeared from my yard with the invasion of finches. The trails are icy, but the lakes are looking soggy. Despite the intermittent snow, winter is definitely losing its grasp.

Of note: more BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES every day at the harbor uplands. A GREEN-WINGED TEAL male was spotted on March 7 with a few MALLARDS and GADWALL. BRAMBLING last reported on Tuesday, March 5 by visiting birder Bill L. and his wife.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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