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 79ยบ. 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

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