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

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