Wednesday, August 28, 2013 Merlin

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Happy Birthday, Seward! 110 years old today!

Sunrise 6:43 am, sunset 9:12 pm for a total of 14 hours and 28 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 23 seconds shorter.

Well, the other shoe dropped* this evening with hard rain. After an extraordinarily warm and sunny July, the back to normal cool and cloudy with the occasional cloudburst and sunburst of August is quite a contrast! Mushrooms are loving the rain, leaves are green heading to yellowish green, and many fruits, such as Mt ash, devil's club, red elderberry, bunchberry, trailing raspberry, and raspberries are ripening to red.

The temps are in the mid 50s to low 60s with more overcast and sprinkly days in the forecast. Summer is fading to fall quickly.

The birds know it too. But unlike their spring migration, when the birds flock en masse in a short time, fall migration is a generally a stealth operation over a much longer period. 

Yesterday, I watched a single SPOTTED SANDPIPER, sans spots, walk nervously along the shoreline. Bam! Out of nowhere, a MERLIN struck and flew off. I didn't see any feathers, but didn't know the outcome until the lucky sandpiper poked its head out of the sedges and then quickly flew away, counting its lucky stars. I found the Merlin not far away, perched on an observation stump, watching, watching for its next opportunity.

Last Saturday, there were a few more peeps around, feeding quietly in a small flock of about 20, mostly WESTERN and LEAST SANDPIPERS with a few SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS on the side. In a flash, a Merlin shot through the flock, grabbed one and flew off to dine. The surviving peeps exploded in a frenzy, crying loudly in alarm and grief over the loss of one of their relatives as they erratically spiraled up and away. It was a spectacular and touching sight. I appreciate not being on the menu or radar of the small but fierce Merlin.

On a rare sunny day in mid-August, I was fortunate to spy on a Merlin, maybe the same one, resting on a stump. She (or a juvenile) stretched and preened, aware of me, but not too concerned. The bright yellow legs, spots and dots under the wings, banding on the tail, creamy white chin, and blending of patterns on the breast were stunning. Nature is a Master Artist! After a thorough pre-flight check of her tail and wings, the expert pilot blasted off on her next mission. Bon appetite!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Uber-Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

* Origin and Meaning of "Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop"

Monday, August 5, 2013 Mile 15 Trumpeter Swan family

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

I stopped by the Mile 15 pullout on Alaska Highway 9 on my way to and from Anchorage to check on the TRUMPETER SWAN family. In the morning, the six swans were barely visible back in the tall horsetails, but it was great to know they were still there and doing well.

On the way home at 9:30 pm, under heavy cloud cover, it was already dusky, but the swans were out in the open water at the edge of the horsetails. The four cygnets, still gray but with increasingly longer necks, fed busily on insects clinging to the aquatic plants. When not feeding, they preened those itchy emerging feathers.

Occasionally one would stretch its tiny wings; hardly more substantial than a skinny chicken's. An adult showed how it should look: magnificent, powerful, and glorious. Baby tried, mom (or dad) showed how. I sure hope they have enough time before migration to grow those little stubs into functional wings!

As I watched, a tiny duckling, all alone, paddled purposefully across the pond, dodging around and through the obstacle course of giant pond lily leaves. I did not see any adults or other ducklings. Brave little one!

In other swan news, I did spot one pair of adult swans at the Turnagain Arm pond. And as of Sunday, the Trumpeter Swan pair was still feeding at Mile 1 Nash Road. No cygnets.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, August 4, 2013 juvenile Bonaparte's Gull discovered

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Robin C dropped off a dead bird this afternoon that he found on the beach. Neither of us recognized the small, tern-sized bird with a black band on its straight tail. The small, straight bill was not that of a tubenose either. Must be a small gull. I ran it through the dead bird flow chart in my "Beached Birds, A COASST Field Guide to Alaska" by Dr. Julia Parrish.

Unlike a traditional field guide, this book starts out with questions about the feet. Webbed, free, or lobed? Webbed. Webbing complete? Yes, How many toes? Four. Fourth toe thin? Yes. Heel swollen? Yes. That took me to the Gulls, the Larids, and on to wing coloration, which was black-tipped primaries and gray secondaries. That led to the Bonaparte's and the metric measurements for bill, wing chord, and tarsus were right in the ballpark.

I also Googled for more information and found the USGS website to be very helpful. <> Another good site, especially about molts, with photos, is  "Anything Larus" by Amar Ayyash at <>

The specs all came out to a BONAPARTE'S GULL, juvenile. This is very interesting as we usually don't see them in the Seward area. I have records of a few adults in December 2007, July 2010, July 2011, and June 2012, though this may not be complete.

Perhaps the recent big storm caught this juvenile during its migration and the surf deposited it up on the beach. All along the Pacific coast, volunteer seabird survey teams participate in the COASST program, documenting dead birds like this young Bonaparte's, and the health of their beach on a regular schedule. This valuable citizen science database helps establish a baseline useful in assessing any impacts, and thus help to manage and protect the nearshore ecosystem.

There's a lot more information on the COASST website. <>
Maybe you would like to join and help monitor a beach near you!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter