Wednesday, June 24, 2013 Lost Lake Trail birdsong

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 4:34 am, sunset 11:26 pm for a total of 18 hours and 52 minutes. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 8 seconds shorter.

The thermometer climbed steadily from 60º overnight to a high of 79º at 11 am, then settled down to the low 60s as the clouds rolled in. Feigning exhaustion, they could only squeeze out a few inconsequential sprinkles when we really need a downpour (after midnight, please.) It's been dry for our coastal rainforest.

I took a break from painting, painting, painting, and deck demolition to enjoy a wonderful hike on the Lost Lake Trail just north of Seward. The trail starts in a stately mountain hemlock-Sitka spruce forest carpeted with greens of every shade and hue. Birdsong filled the air and enticed me up the trail.

A PACIFIC WREN sat on a snag near a huge upturned tree base, a favorite place to nest, singing his long and complex song. I heard at least three more singing in the distance. VARIED THRUSHES trilled; a female chupped quietly and eyed me nervously; perhaps I was near her nest. I found a pile of SPRUCE GROUSE feathers, all that remained of someone's lunch. Goshawk? RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, FOX SPARROWS, YELLOW-RUMPED and TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS, and HERMIT THRUSHES could all be seen and/or heard within 15 minutes from the parking lot.

As the trail gradually climbed out of the coastal rainforest, more FOX SPARROWS sang from both sides in the alders and willows. This species seems to be abundant and vocal this year. I also heard several SAVANNAH SPARROWS and watched one perched in a willow. ORANGE-CROWNED, WILSON'S, and YELLOW WARBLERS sang from invisible perches, hidden by the leaves. I heard a few GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS' plaintive "O, dear me!"

It was sad to see such large swaths of leafless, dead salmonberry, blueberry, and alders along the trail and up along the hillside, mostly killed by the geometrid moth caterpillars, but also leaf rollers, alder sawflies, and Bruce spanworm caterpillars that attacked in such huge numbers the past several years.

Feel free to squish any little "inchworm" caterpillars that you might find dangling from a silky thread, or rolled like a taco in an alder leaf. It helps a little bit and provides enormous satisfaction to destroy a few invasive pests. At least they provide protein to enterprising birds. The infestation seems smaller this year, but chewed up and rolled up leaves are starting to appear. Check out this link for more info: <>

I was surprised to see and hear so many ROBINS, up in the mountain hemlock forest and recently emerged, soggy meadows. The cheerful, sweet song floated over the wind-flagged Mt hemlocks with the HERMIT THRUSH'S flutes.

Even this late in June, there were many remnant patches of snow all along the way. The music and thunder of waterfalls cascading down the mountains spoke of the melting in progress, and explained the powerful rivers surging to the sea far below.

SNIPE winnowed in the distance. COMMON REDPOLLS chattered as they flew overhead with some CROSSBILLS. Towards the highest point on the trail, a Hepburn's GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH hunted insects (plenty of mosquitoes and flies) in the heather and on a snow patch. Oddly, the piercing whistle of the hoary marmot was missing and I didn't find any.

I was eager to see Lost Lake, and finally reached the viewpoint. It was still frozen despite our unusually hot weather and it's almost July! The south edge looked very saturated, and ready to melt, but the rest was still white. Another hiker reported an EAGLE (species undetermined) tearing into something at the edge of the ice a bit earlier. Up here, in "early spring" it is more likely to be a GOLDEN EAGLE.

I heard an insistent call and found an AMERICAN PIPIT sitting on a rock in the alpine tundra. Suddenly it took flight, calling all the while, flying up and up and up like a snipe. Then, still calling, it abruptly descended, tail cocked at a 45º angle, wings held out rigidly in a controlled curving freefall back to stand quietly on the heather and alpine azalea. I have never before been lucky enough to witness the aerial courtship display of an American Pipit. I didn't spot the female, but the male continued his amazing display until I had to force myself to leave. It's getting late to start a family; I hope it's not too late for this valiant Pipit and his sweetheart.

As the sky cleared, I descended from early spring to summer. All the way back down the trail, beautiful spring wildflowers bloomed and birds sang and called. I spotted a black bear in the distance on the opposite bare mountainside, a tiny bear, just the right size, eating newly emerged False Hellebore. Another hiker reported seeing a momma moose and her calf, but I was relieved not to tangle with her.

This is a trail worth hiking repeatedly to enjoy the progression of the season(s) from the coastal rainforest to alpine.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, June 21, 2013 Happy Solstice! Happy Summer!

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 4:32 am, sunset 11:27 pm for a total of 18 hours, 55 minutes. Tomorrow will be 14 seconds SHORTER. 

After setting that high temperature record of 88º on June 17 and another day record of 75º on June 18, temps have dropped back down to normal, hovering in the high 40s to low 60s. A decent rainfall Tuesday night helped revive the spectrum of greens, refreshed by daily sprinkles. The clouds subdued and shortened the daylight on this special first day of summer.

It's a quiet time of year, a time for nesting and nurturing newly hatched babies. Except for RAVENS, whose babies squawk lustily for service, heedless of any predatory attention that might attract. Robin eggshells were found on the ground last week. On Wednesday, I spied a HERMIT THRUSH carrying food, another sure sign of a hatchling.


Rich MacIntosh from Kodiak reported WESTERN SANDPIPERS already heading south from a failed nesting season on the western Alaska breeding grounds. Keep an eye out for sandpipers and perhaps other birds that also experienced failure due to the late spring and other weather difficulties.

Folks have asked me for birding tips for their summer trips. Here's a short list:

On your way south from Anchorage to Seward, check out Potter's Marsh and walk the boardwalk. The turn is right at the bottom of the hill as you leave Anchorage.

Check out Tern Lake at Mile 38 for nesting terns, mew gulls, common loon,  greater yellowlegs, and others. Look for golden eagles hunting the mountainsides.

Check out the nesting Trumpeter Swans and Red-necked Grebes at Mile 15 pullout. Listen and watch for the Rusty Blackbirds that are probably nesting. There's also a Cackling or Canada Goose just out of reach of the swans, and ducks including American Wigeon.

Exit Glacier is always an interesting place for birds; spend as much time as you can birding the trails. Consider hiking up the strenuous Harding Icefield Trail for alpine species.

The Kenai Fjords boat tour is a must, as is the Alaska Sealife Center.

Hard to say what's in town as there are so many people crowding them out, and many nesting birds are quiet at this time. That said, walk the Greenbelt trail in front of town; check the Boat Harbor, the Lagoon and horse corral; drive out to Lowell Point, and down Nash Road to Spring Creek Beach and Fourth of July Beach at the end on the east side. A pair of Trumpeter Swans is often seen at the Mile 1 Nash Road wetlands, thought it does not appear that they are nesting.

Ava has a great bird feeder including Rufous Hummingbirds and Chestnut-backed Chickadees. She welcomes birders. Turn left on Nash Road, turn left on Salmon Creek Road, go over the bridge and take an immediate right. Drive to the end of the driveway past a couple houses and park. Her house is cedar with a blue roof at the end. There is no need to knock.

Check out these links:

download the Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail Guide

Also check the AK Birding website for more recent updates on birds in SouthCentral Alaska.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, June 17, 2013 Trumpeter Swans and Rusty Blackbirds

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 4:31 am, sunset 11:26 pm for a total of 18 hours and 54 minutes. Tomorrow will be only 31 seconds longer as we roll towards the Summer Solstice.

HOT! A new all-time high temperature record was set today in Seward, 88º! The previous record of 87º was set on July 4, 1999, when Mt Marathon racers passed out from heat exhaustion and some had to be hospitalized. But hey, Talkeetna set a new record of 94º! Go jump in the Susitna!

The sky is hazy; the remaining snow on the mountains looks beaten, resigned to join the swollen rivers rushing to the sea. Despite the heat and dryness, almost everything but lawns is green and blooming. Coolling sprinklers provide welcome relief to humans while enticing robins, sparrows, Steller's jays, and warblers.

This afternoon, a friend and I drove north to the Seward Highway Mile 15 pullout. Immediately upon exiting the car, I heard the unmistakable piercing whistle of a RUSTY BLACKBIRD. The glossy black fellow with a white eye was perched on the top of a spruce tree quite near the parking area. He posed for a minute or more, then flew down and out of sight on the other side. Throughout our visit, he whistled from that grove of spruce several times. I saw two birds flying at one point, but not well enough to see if it was a female. It would be wonderful, and is likely, that they would be nesting near this wetlands.

The nesting TRUMPETER SWANS attracted a lot of visitors armed with optics from spotting scopes and professional cameras with telephoto lens, down to point and shoots and camera phones. When the rush cleared, we walked slowly onto the boardwalk. One swan incubated the eggs or kept them cool in the sweltering sun, but the other one started swimming towards us. We froze every time the swan's head was above water, then moved quickly when it fed, its head deeply submerged. In this stop-and-go fashion, we easily moved into position without scaring it.

Soon, it was just yards away, tipping it pure white body tail-up to the blue sky among the blooming yellow pond lilies. At times, its powerful black webbed feet flailed the air, the bird perfectly balanced and probing the depths. I should have timed these dives; it sure seemed to hold its breath a long time! When it emerged, the pure-white head was streaked with brown as if combed by a beautician. Lovely even when dirty!

After a while, the swan paddled even closer, nipping the emergent water horsetails and eating the long, coarse stems. The ancient horsetail is loaded with silica, good for scrubbing pots at camp; I didn't realize they had any nutritional value. The swan knew otherwise and ate voraciously. The long reddish stripe along its glistening black beak showed serrations on the edge, helpful for cutting the horsetails off at the joints.

As we were leaving, several cars pulled in and many people piled onto the boardwalk. Too bad they didn't know the "stop and go" method; the swan studied them and then majestically paddled far away.

Of note, the RED-NECKED GREBES' nest is now well concealed by tall green horsetails. One parent incubated (or shaded) the nest while the other popped up briefly in the pond. A single CANADA or CACKLING GOOSE sat, perhaps on a nest, to the right of the swan and grebe nests. I heard a SWAINSON'S THRUSH in the distance. This is a really worthwhile place to stop and spend some quality time birding.

On the way home, we stopped at the Bear Lake weir. The red salmon were jockeying for position in Bear Creek below the culverts. On the other side of the road, salmon erupted out of the foaming white water and flew through the air, flinging themselves against the metal bars of the weir. Such tremendous strength and power! Others, that found the opening in the weir, were lifted up in a "fish elevator" and sorted by sex for further processing by hatchery workers. 6000 of each sex will be released into Bear Lake to spawn, and others will be egg and milt donors for the next generation of hatchery raised salmon.

Tourists probably did not see the little gray bird, standing quietly on the iron grate above the cascading waterfall. The DIPPER family is out and about with at least two babies fledged. Watch for them along the creek as you enjoy the spectacular red salmon.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Very Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, June 6, 2013 Swallows and Thrushes

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

VIOLET-GREEN and TREE SWALLOWS are busy gathering nesting materials. I watched two swallows rummage through the biodegradable selection of supplies on a patch of grass and gravel. Bits of dried grass leaves were very popular, including some very long stalks that probably would not fit through the 1 ½" opening of the nest box. A shriveled brown alder leaf held firmly by its stem made it 3' up and was then discarded midair. Too bad there weren't any white feathers around; they go ballistic for them!

The sun glinted off the brilliant metallic blue plumage of the male Tree Swallow. He was gorgeous! The Violet-green female lived up to her name with her vibrant violet and lovely green back. The males are stunning in the right light. Without the proper lighting, swallows just look black and white. It was a treat to see them professionally illuminated!

I could not resist another fine evening at Exit Glacier. Tonight, I lucked out and found a SWAINSON'S THRUSH taking a bath in a small creek near the Glacier View trail. It flew to a nearby tree to dry off, and then really obliged me by hopping out onto the trail and posed, showing its rather uniformly grayish-brown back and tail, and buffy eye-ring. The Swainson's has much more color on its face than the Hermit Thrush, but the Hermit makes up for its plain face with a flashy reddish-brown tail.

There were many HERMIT THRUSHES hopping along the trail or scratching loudly in the dry underbrush, making almost as much noise as a moose. One performed a yoga bend, trying to remove an annoying sticky cottonwood bud from a tricky spot.

Others sang melodiously in the tree branches, the "forest flutes." Like the Varied Thrush, the Hermit starts its song on a different pitch each time.  But instead of a "telephone ring", the Hermit sends a shower of sparkling notes after that first clear note, more than the human ear can discern.

Listening to the recorded melody played back at slow speed is simply astonishing. Google "hermit thrush slowed down" to find sources. One I found is Check out all four thrush songs. I could listen to a loop of that for a long time. It truly is "Wild Music" by expert flutists.

The SWAINSON'S THRUSHES sang again this evening, but were farther back from the main trail near the bench at marker 1926, and harder to differentiate among all the other singers.

So far, no Gray-cheeked Thrushes heard or seen.

Back in the parking lot, I watched two STELLER'S JAYS. One hopped along the remnant snow berm looking for tidbits. The other, obviously mechanically inclined, inspected the undercarriage of an RV from Florida. It found a few snacks on the pavement under the RV, and then hopped up onto the axle or some other perch where somehow, something edible was hiding. Such a curious bird! It was rewarded with some small edible, and then flew over to the adjacent stall where someone had discarded apple peelings. People are reliably messy, and these smart birds know it.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, June 5, 2013 Swainson's Thrushes are here!

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

I enjoyed a lovely concert this evening at Kenai Fjords National Park, Exit Glacier. 

The choir included WILSON'S, ORANGE-CROWNED, and YELLOW WARBLERS, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, COMMON REDPOLLS, HERMIT THRUSHES, VARIED THRUSHES, ROBINS, and a winnowing SNIPE, accented by an unseen woodpecker drummer.  VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS twittered overhead.

The highlight featured at least three hidden SWAINSON'S THRUSHES soloing in turn, their ethereal voices spiraling upwards from the blooming cottonwood trees.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, June 4, 2013 Late Spring Sightings

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 4:40 am, sunset 11:12 pm for a total of 18 hours and 31 minutes. Tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 43 seconds longer.

After our "summer" heat wave last week, the weather settled back to normal with temperatures in the 40s to low 50s, partly cloudy skies, with occasional showers. A fleece once again feels good.

With over 18 ½ hours of daylight, it's a palette of greens of every hue and plants are growing like mad. It's still possible to find warblers flitting and tumbling in the willow trees, chasing tiny insects attracted to the flowers, but not for much longer.

Willow, alder, and cottonwood are not the only flowers in bloom now. Nagoonberry and salmonberry flowers add a splash of magenta; a single lupine offered its spire of blue and white blooms; and dandelions have competition with the yellow flowers of the skunk cabbage and marsh marigold.

The rapidly growing leaves also hide the new nests under construction. The male birds loudly and beautifully proclaim their territories now but soon the boundary disputes will be settled and the nesting birds will be very quiet, incubating, then feeding their families.

This is a great time to hop on a boat and tour the seabird colonies on the cliffs and islands at the mouth of Resurrection Bay and beyond to the Chiswell Islands. It's the only time these seabirds come to shore because they haven't figured out a way to lay an egg in the ocean. They are devoted to their rocky nesting sites, and easy to find.

I was surprised to find BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES still gathering mud and vegetation for their nests, one beakful at a time, at the mudflats at the head of the bay. What a long way to carry this precious material back to the seabird colony! It seems a bit late, just like everything else this spring.

Also a bit late, were two GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, lagging far behind the rest of the flocks, and two WANDERING TATTLERS.

The euchalon (hooligan) continue to run in Resurrection River, attracting hoards of gulls: MEW, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, GLAUCOUS-WINGED, HERRING hybrids, and I think, a GLAUCOUS GULL. A local fisherman thought the fish were late this year as he only caught males in his dipnet when the females should also be here by now.

The RAVENS fish, steal, and scavenge, eating the tasty, oily fish on the spot or haul them back to their young in the nest. They run the gauntlet past the Mew gulls and ARCTIC TERNS that fiercely attack from above. The Ravens quickly flip to present their beak and claws, then either flip back or complete their 360 roll, acrobats that they are. I suspect they enjoy the challenge! Eagles too, are attacked and harassed by the bold birds, sometimes seeming to fly through just to stir things up into a boiling flurry of feathers.

I happened to catch a photo of an immature ARCTIC TERN with a white forehead. It takes 3 springs to reach adult plumage, so this bird migrated all the way from the southern hemisphere without any hopes of breeding. One source called this stage a "loafer", though it might be very helpful in guarding others' nests and territories. I have never noticed this before and wonder how common it is. There is always something interesting to see and wonder about in the bird world!

Other notes:
May 24: a juvenile SNOWY OWL missing its head was found at the Exit Glacier outwash plain. How strange and interesting! No further details.
May 27: 8 WANDERING TATTLERS counted along Greenbelt at low tide, a surprising find on a busy Memorial Day.
May 30: single BRANT spotted in the wetlands with the two TRUMPETER SWANS at Mile 1 Nash Road.
May 31: COMMON LOON in breeding plumage diving near Lowell Point Road
June 1: FOS BANK SWALLOW; either there aren't many around, or the swallows just move too fast and erratically to properly identify.
June 3: GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH reported from coniferous yard in town. None  at Exit Glacier yet.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Sporadic Bird Report Reporter