Friday, April 12, 2013 Sea Ducks

Seward Sporadic Bird Report

The north wind kicked spring-cleaning into high gear today, whisking everything loose down the street, hurling streamers of snow off the mountaintops, and whipping up whitecaps on the bay. The birds fed furiously at the feeder, draining the sunseeds by the beakful. The bright sun smiled as if to reassure us that this was all part of the plan, just be patient.

For a change of venue, I checked out the rolling bay this afternoon. It was hard to identify the birds as they quickly disappeared down into the troughs.  Several PELAGIC CORMORANTS huddled together on one of the navigational buoys, most with heads tucked under wings. I believe I saw a MARBLED MURRLELET bouncing along, and a small raft of SURF SCOTERS.

I noticed two large rafts of sea ducks enjoying a respite from the wind in the shelter of the Harbor Uplands. COMMON MERGANSERS and BARROW'S GOLDENEYES lounged in the sun, paddling lazily to stay in the lee. Is it possible to take too many photos of the beautiful Barrow's Goldeneyes? No. I took a few more as a pair paddled in front of the creek. I startled a female GADWALL that was feeding in Scheffler Creek; she flew off, revealing her white speculum, and circled back to the creek farther upstream.

Not wishing to disturb any others, I went back to the car and used it as both a blind and a windbreak. In the distance, I saw a male SURF SCOTER, a female BLACK SCOTER, and an unidentified brownish duck with its head tucked under its wing, all paddling along. I don't know how the napping bird knew where it was going or where its companions were, but it must have peeked now and then to make sure. Gradually the trio veered towards shore. The Surf Scoter dropped back, but the other two kept coming towards me. 

Finally, the female Black Scoter dove down and reappeared a short time later with a beakful of blue mussels, all tied together with their strong byssal threads. She whapped the bunch on the water to break them up, and after a time, swallowed them whole.

Meanwhile, the other duck woke up, showing me his large bill with some yellow at the base. Ah! A first winter Black Scoter male! I don't recall seeing one in this phase before. He stretched and then joined the female, diving for mussels.

A BALD EAGLE beat its way into the wind, careening wildly. A few NORTHWESTERN CROWS blew downwind. Just another day at the bay for the birds. I don't mind the extended season, as I will sure miss those sea ducks when they migrate north.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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