Sunday, May 5, 2013 Long-billed Dowitchers, Semipalmated Plovers

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 5:42 am, sunset 10:07 pm, length of day 16 hours, 24 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 6 seconds longer.

More migratory birds arrived this weekend despite yesterday's chilly north wind and hard, cold rain. Today remained mostly cloudy but the mid-40 temps and the calm made birding at the head of the bay very enjoyable.

The large flock of about 40 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE was still here. I noticed a few GWF geese with a plain gray belly. The National Geographic Field Guide notes that immature birds acquire the white band above the orangish bill during their first winter, and get their black belly speckling by the second fall. These birds are on their first migration back north. If they are not yet adults, I wonder why they undertake such a long journey? Maybe they are imprinting the route and the mission with their families and will help defend the nesting grounds. Geese make excellent watch guards!

The number of CACKLING GEESE, identified by their small bills and short necks increased to about a dozen, intermixed amicably with the other geese.

A carefree, loose dog made them all stop momentarily and some flew, but most stayed put, watching. The oblivious owners managed to get the dog back, and ravenous and wary, the geese resumed eating sedges and other submergent vegetation.

"Tew, tew, tew! Riddley-riddley-riddley!" Two GREATER YELLOWLEGS flew across the wetlands to land, then jerked their long necks backwards in a move that would make a chiropractor wince. The still water made a mirror reflection as one bird strode across the shallow water on its long yellow legs. The black spots and bars on the white body are impressive, but when the bird stretched its wings wide, I saw a masterpiece! Perfectly placed large white brush strokes decorated the edges of the darker feathers, and smaller white triangles edged the brown primaries and secondaries. The show was over in a second, but I was pleased to capture the art with my camera.

A dark shorebird with a long bill disappeared around a sedge tussock. I waited and two reappeared. First-of-Season DOWITCHERS! The warm reddish brown belly had no white, and the shoulder feathers were boldly outlined in white, identifying them as LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS. They walked around on their dark legs, poking, probing, and gobbling edibles with their long tweezer bills. Something spooked them and four flew across the water, a long white patch on their back flashing open and shut like a ripped suit.

Several male PACIFIC GOLDEN PLOVERS poked around the slightly drier areas, occasionally chasing one another away. Like all plovers, they exhibited their characteristic stop-start behavior, moving rapidly, then pausing to listen and look (and pose.)  The gold, black, and white flecking on the back is another stunning abstract pattern made by Nature's finest brush. A white border from the forehead to the tail separates it from the anchoring black belly. What a showy bird! 

In the distance, too far to get a decent image, I found a male BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER. This large plover is a study in black and white, with a handsome white crown fit for a king balanced by a jet black face down to its belly, then white again. The back is sprinkled in black and white patterns.

I wish these beautiful plovers would stay, but they are headed to the high arctic and western Alaska to breed with many miles to go.

Suddenly, I heard high peep and stopped like a plover to search. There, not far ahead of me on the tideflats were the First-of-Season SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS.  How nice to see them back! This pair might be residents as some do stay to nest.

I happened to look up and saw five BALD EAGLES circling in a late afternoon thermal. Then I saw a few more higher up, and then a few more specks even higher. The more I looked, the more materialized like magic! There were FOURTEEN eagles spiraling upwards with a few MEW GULLS and RAVENS mixed in to harass them. I imagine as they looked down, they saw a smorgasbord of gulls, ducks, geese, and even the TRUMPETER SWAN, fattening up. But maybe they weren't hungry and were just enjoying the incredible view and the freedom of soaring on those giant broad wings.

Happy birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

1 comment:

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