Saturday, July 20, 2013 Red Crossbill juveniles

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 5:11 am, sunset 10:55 pm, length of day 17 hours, 44 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 15 seconds shorter.

Incredible sunny weather continued with highs today in the mid-70s and a welcome north wind to help deflect the hungry, biting flies.

Ava called to report a family of RED CROSSBILLS at her porch feeders. She hadn't seen them previously, so we wonder where they were nesting. When I visited later in the afternoon, two streaky juveniles were busy cracking open sunflower seeds that had fallen from the railing feeders to the porch deck.

At first glance, they looked like the many PINE SISKINS that were also hopping around, cracking open sunflower seeds. The have about the same coloration, streaky, with yellow tinges. But the crossbills have such a large head in proportion to their bodies, and they are taller and bulkier. Then there's that amazing bill that looks like the poor bird must have hit a window hard to knock the two halves asunder. But what a tremendous seed-cracker! The juveniles knew just how to maneuver the seed in place with their tongue, then apply the right amount of pressure to open it up. A few dexterous flips and the oily contents were down the hatch. This can be better appreciated by trying it yourself. Those seeds are very, very hard!

A gorgeous, apricot-colored male perched in the leafy coolness of a young Mayday tree nearby, quite content to just relax and watch his youngsters feed themselves. Meanwhile, the harried VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW parents flew frantically about gathering insects (hopefully a lot of those darn flies!) to stuff into their babies' gaping beaks. This batch was still in the nest, tucked into the porch roof soffit. Other area swallow families have fledged and are feeding themselves; the late spring really spread out the nesting cycle.

The flurry of activity of the cheeping swallow babies, the HAIRY and DOWNY WOODPECKERS, CHESTNUT-BACKED and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, PINE SISKINS, and RED CROSSBILLS suddenly ceased. All the birds on the porch froze in place. I heard the alarm cries of swallows and quickly left the porch to look up. Sure enough, a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK cruised high overhead, harassed by the brave swallow parents. It soon moved on, and slowly the birds resumed feeding, always watching and listening for danger.

Back home, I enjoyed watching the activity at my birdbath. The birds really enjoy the cool running water during these hot days, stopping to get a drink, and then a dunk. The nearby spruce trees twittered with invisible TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS, then first a beautiful male, then a juvenile cautiously came down to take a bath. A young CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE waited its turn, always deferential. An ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER dashed in and out. ROBINS and STELLER'S JAYS barged in and took a turn. The birds looked so disheveled afterwards, but pleased. I am glad to provide this little oasis for them.

Ava welcomes birders, no need to call or knock. Take the first left off Nash Road onto Salmon Creek Road, go over Salmon Creek bridge and take an immediate right. Drive to the end of the long driveway to the cedar-sided house with the blue roof and all the birds.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter 

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