Friday, May 3, 2013 Common Loon, Whimbrels, Scaup

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 5:48 am, sunset 10:02 pm. Length of day 16 hours, 14 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 9 seconds longer.

May delivered our first spring rains, to gently wear down the remaining snow and ice, and awaken dormant vegetation. More willows are in bloom; other tree and shrub buds are swelling. On sheltered south exposures, dandelions are already blooming. I saw my first bumblebee on May 1st and my first mosquito today.

Daytime temps edged up to the mid 40s, dropping to low to mid 30s at night, mostly above freezing. Spring got off to a very slow start, and doesn't seem to want to change pace anytime soon.

Birding in the rain takes some adjustment as optics just don't like to get wet. I birded from the car at Scheffler Creek, almost always a productive place for birds when the beach is deserted. To my delight, a stunning COMMON LOON in full breeding plumage surfaced not 10 feet from shore. Wow! What a gorgeous checkered pattern! And those deep red eyes! It was so wonderful to see as both Commons and Yellow-billed Loons have been unusually scarce this winter.

The loon dove and paddled serenely along the beach with characteristic calm and quiet dignity. I saw a silvery flash of fish, perhaps a salmon smolt, in its bill once, and suspect it ate other fish underwater. In contrast, ARCTIC TERNS that also found this location productive, and hovered above, rasping loudly, before diving dramatically with a crash and a splash into the water.

I spotted 3 pairs of MARBLED MURRELETS in my binocs at once, and more pairs scattered up and down. They seemed to be everywhere and were easy to find and hear. A mob of gulls fed at the seafood processor bird feeder, a fat frenzied white line.

Five GREATER SCAUP hens paddled in towards shore; I thought they might keep on coming they were so close. They chose to dabble the goodies stirred up by the incoming surf and occasionally dove in the shallow water.

Over at the B Street pilings, the DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS preened and hung out their large wings to dry. MEW GULLS stood on the temporarily unoccupied posts. When not fishing, every post may be commandeered by a cormorant with others paddling beneath, waiting for their opportunity to nab a dry spot. This is a great place to observe the DC Cormorants.

An immature MEW GULL decided to swap perches and flew from a post to an intertidal rock, occupied by a hen MALLARD. She protested but only moved over enough to make room for the youngster. Perhaps staying out of the water while it was raining was worth the trouble of sharing the rock. HARLEQUINS napped on nearby rocks.

Next, I checked the upper meadow by the airport. I almost drove past the perfectly camouflaged, sleeping WHIMBRELS. They weren't there yesterday! I slowly backed up and parked. There were at least 18 weary Whimbrels resting in the brown grass, most on one leg with that long beak tucked under a wing. One or two preened, getting those flying feathers back in shape for the remainder of the migration. Several started watching me watching them. Not wishing to disturb them any more, I soon moved away.

Out in the wetlands, GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE pulled at the sedges, feeding hungrily. Their common name "speckle-belly" is much easier to see than that tiny bit of white over their pink bills. Two GREATER YELLOWLEGS rested, conserving their energy in the rain. Several BALD EAGLES perched on the driftwood, looking soggy and decidedly not regal in the rain. I did not linger here and so do not have a count or summary of all the ducks.

Though I did not find the Savannah Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, American and Pacific Golden Plovers, or Dunlin reported yesterday by Tasha and Chuck, OR the 18 Marbled Godwit (!!!!) she and Sadie found today (darn!), it was a satisfying peek at some splendid birds on a rainy spring day. It's great that there's always more to look for!!

Yesterday Robin C reported a PEREGRINE! eating a NORTHERN PINTAIL!! here, and a COMMON LOON at Fourth of July Beach.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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