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

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