Wednesday, May 29, 2013 Warblers and a Moose

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 4:49 am, sunset 11:02 pm for a total of 18 hours, 12 minutes. We are almost at the maximum amount of daylight as we approach the June 20th Summer Solstice.

The last section of Herman Leirer Road (aka Exit Glacier Road) to Kenai Fjords National Park opened on Saturday, May 25 just in time for Memorial Day weekend. Visitors from around the world were amazed at the snow still piled along the roadside and on the trails. Spring was even later here than in town.

On Monday, temperatures in the low 60s kick-started the cold ground. On Tuesday the thermometer soared to a remarkable 79º. Sap raced to activate every dormant bud. Without benefit of time-lapse photography, one could see them swell and burst; tiny exquisite origami leaves unfolded and miniature flower clusters unfurled. Fancy green tassles, the male flowers, sprang forth from alders; willow flowers (male and female on separate trees) popped open; fragrant cottonwood buds dropped their sticky covers. Bright grass spears poked though last years' lifeless tatters. Remnant snow patches fled town and more vanished from mountainsides. In just a few days, the brown and white landscape transformed into a tapestry of vibrant spring greens.

Just in time, a touch of the tropics arrived to feast on tiny insects attracted to the willow, cottonwood, and alder buds and flowers. Brightly colored Warblers are easiest to see now, when the leaves are small and the males pause momentarily to sing.

I visited Exit Glacier on Wednesday morning, parking by the Kenai Fjords National Park welcome sign. A wonderful wetlands complex stretches on both sides of the road to the bridge over Resurrection River. Traffic was sparse, allowing long stretches of solitude.

A very active YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER rummaged among last year's River Beauty plants, gathering fibrous, fluffy seeds for its nest. I watched him make numerous trips from the creek bank to the mixed deciduous forest on the other side of the road. What a lot of work, building a nest! How fortuitous that the River Beauty made extra seeds with generous silky parachutes for its biodegradable home.  Perhaps the warbler will drop a few seeds, and the nest will eventually disintegrate, helping to spread the plant in exchange for their use.

As I was watching a FOX SPARROW sing lustily from a spruce treetop, I heard a branch snap. Turning around, I saw a giant cow moose crossing the road a couple hundred yards away between me and the car. Moose always look huge when there is nothing between you but air! She paused, scrutinized my motionless figure for many long seconds, and then moved on across the road. In a moment, she was completely invisible in the brown and tan alder and willow thicket. Thankfully, she did not have any calves with her, or I might have been in really big trouble. There is no reasoning with a momma moose!

Walking slowly back to the car, I heard a WILSON'S SNIPE winnowing, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS belting out their songs at top volume, VARIED THRUSHES and ROBINS singing, and watched more YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS singing and chasing each other through the thickets. The liquid song of a LINCOLNS' SPARROW drifted across the wetlands. PINE SISKINS and COMMON REDPOLLS flew overhead in small flocks, still nice to see after this winter's invasion.

The parking lot is a good place to scan the mountainside for black bears, darker than a shadow; brown bears just the same color as the ground; and mountain goats, yellower than the surrounding snow patches. Also look for Ptarmigan, Gray-crowned Rosy-finches, and Golden Eagles.

I walked along the trail, still covered with 2 to 12" of snow, trampled down by many human feet and dotted with numerous moose pellets. All along the trail were ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, HERMIT THRUSHES, and FOX SPARROWS. VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS twittered and swooped over the silt-laden Exit Creek, the outwash plain, and clearings.

Exit Glacier, retreating ever upwards to the Harding Icefield, was nevertheless beautiful and imposing, blue crevasses peeking through its white mantle.

I finally found a YELLOW WARBLER announcing its territory as I completed my loop and approached the Nature Center.

Soon, I would expect to hear Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrushes, and if the leaves are still tiny, maybe I would be lucky to see them as well.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Check out this link. Gyrfalcon for Alaska State Bird, anyone besides me?
What the State Birds Should Be by Nicholas Lund

May 28, 2013 Birdering

The 2013 Kachemak Shorebird Festival keynote speaker, ABA president Jeff Gordon, commented on the need for more photos of birders. His research project, Googling "paintings, birders" pulled up images of cats birding. Try Googling "fly fishing fine art" and you will find many classic images. I could find no fine art entries of birders. He is right.

So I took several photos of birders at the Homer, Alaska festival and at the Anchor River doing what they enjoy best: looking for birds, listening to birds, watching birds, sharing birds, photographing birds, learning about birds, talking shop, and hanging out with other birders.

As you can see, birding is more than just peering through fine optics and looking serious. Maybe someday birders will be as inspiring to artists as a fly-fisher in a pristine stream. Until then, Bird On!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

May 9, 2013 Sandhill Crane visits Seward

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report
On May 8th, I received a call about a strange big bird in the street by the Seward High School. The next evening, I found a beautiful SANDHILL CRANE napping peacefully on the grass between an apartment building and the street in a busy neighborhood on Phoenix Road. It looked like a fabulous lawn ornament.
The long-necked, long-legged gray bird with the red forehead and golden eyes did not seem the least concerned about the surrounding asphalt, cars, or buildings. Over the next few days, many people reported it to the Alaska Sealife Center. No worries, they were told, as long as it looks healthy, it's OK; just leave it alone, control the dogs, and enjoy watching it.
Eventually the majestic and mysterious crane disappeared. I hope it rejoined the other cranes on their migration north from central California along the Pacific flyway to the Cook Inlet area to nest.
Enjoy the photos even though I am quite a bit late posting.
Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, May 23, 2013 Falcon Mystery from 2011 Resolved by Genetic Analysis

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

The sight of broken glass shards strewn across my "office" inspired the start of this blog back on November 14, 2011. A large brownish raptor had flown into my double-paned window with such force that the inner pane shattered, but the membrane between the two panes bounced it back on my roof. There is sat, dazed and injured but alive. The Alaska Sealife Center rescued it and kept it for surveillance. Unfortunately, due to damage to its lungs and other complications from the tremendous impact, it died during the night.

A controversy then erupted as to the identity of this mystery juvenile falcon. A PEREGRINE? A GYRFALCON? A hybrid? DNA samples were taken, and the results are in. (Drum roll, please.)

Genetic analysis shows it is a GYRFALCON. The scientist said it is possible that in the distant past, there may have been some hybridization between a gyr and a peregrine; it is not possible to rule that out based on the analysis. But it is definitely not a first generation hybrid. So GRYFALCON it is, or was. No matter what its identity, I remain very sorry that it chose to hit my window while pursuing a PINE GROSBEAK. Who knew Gyrs were even around here? But, two days later…


And the blog was off to an exciting start!

Photos below so you don't have to go all the way back to the beginning.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 Wandering Tattler Fishing

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

This afternoon, I enjoyed watching a WANDERING TATTLER fishing off the rocks in popular Scheffler Creek just south of the Harbor Uplands. The human fishers usually show up later, so now was a good time for this small gray fisher with yellow hip waders to try its luck. 

Almost invisible, the Tattler stood motionless, not even bobbing its tail, watching the current carefully. Suddenly, it plunged into the water, went under, and came up triumphantly with a small surprised fish. After a bit of repositioning, lunch slid down the hatch. Then back to the special rock and fishing. 

Just like human fishers, this activity is not called "catching". The next plunge, the Tattler came up with a beakful of water, water rolling off its back like a Dipper. I left it intently watching for tiny secrets swimming in the burbling clear water, swirling its way to the bay.

Other notes:
Nash Road mile 1 wetlands: two TRUMPETER SWANS
Fourth of July Beach: one BLACK OYSTERCATCHER, two WHIMBRELS, and a pair of COMMON LOONS in breeding plumage

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, May 19, 2013 Storm-bound Birds

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 5:08 am, sunset 10:42 pm for a total of 17 hours, 32 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 26 seconds longer.

Weather: Sunshine and clear blue skies again today! The crazy winter storm that hit Southcentral Alaska spared Seward the drama of snow, but pummeled the area with strong north winds gusting to 39 mph yesterday and chilly temperatures all weekend.  Today the wind lessened to 22 mph gusts, and finally all but gave up by late this afternoon as the thermometer rose steadily to the high 40sº, possibly hitting 50º.  The storm pinned a lot of birds in Seward, as it did in other areas, resulting in very exciting birding.

By far, the most exciting bird was a NORTHERN WHEATEAR, discovered Sunday evening at 9:30 pm by Tasha and Sadie. This species flies 9,000 miles across eastern Africa, across Arabia, across Siberia, and then across the Bering Strait to breed in Alaska. This may be a record for songbird migration. And this one managed to find Seward. Amazing! Check out

<> or Google it for other links.

I rushed out to the sedge meadow at the head of the bay and refound the 6" songbird sitting on an ancient piece of driftwood. At that dusky hour, I did not see any color; it blended in well with the bleached wood except for its thin black eyeline, and striking black pattern on its back. The drabness probably indicates a female. Just like the Mt Bluebird, she perched quietly for a time, then dove down into the grasses for a minute to forage for insects, then back up to the same lookout perch or one nearby. I watched until it was too dim to really appreciate. I was bummed to find later that I accidentally deleted my photos, poor as they were.

AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVERS and PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVERS by the dozens roamed the grassy meadows and sedge wetlands with numerous PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. I have never seen so many of these species here before. The 40-50 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, 25 SNOW GEESE, a dozen or more CACKLING GEESE, one lone BRANT, 4 HUDSONIAN GODWITS, many DOWITCHERS, and 5 SANDHILL CRANES delayed their departure due to the storm.

Other species that the storm backed up included a large number of GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS heard singing all over town, and seen in flocks of a dozen or more. SAVANNAH SPARROWS, FOX SPARROWS, and LINCOLN SPARROWS suddenly appeared and filled the air with their melodious songs.

Large numbers of HERMIT THRUSHES in groups popped up too, but I only heard one singing its haunting wood flute song. Most were too busy feeding along the ground and scratching in the dead leaves and duff.

Warblers blew in, with reports of ORANGE-CROWNED, YELLOW, YELLOW-RUMPED, TOWNSEND'S and WILSON'S from town to Exit Glacier. TREE and VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS also reappeared, swooping over open areas for insects.

I heard WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS singing and saw two; also enjoyed watching a female PINE GROSBEAK feeding on fallen sunflower seeds on my deck. She then flew to a nearby tree and began singing; not all singers are male!

The RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS continued to feed on the icy sugar water with more reports from around the area.

As the front eases, many may continue their migration north, but it was a delight to host them all even for a short time.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter