Wednesday, September 11, 2013 Western Tanager, Cedar Waxwing, et al

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:17 am, sunset 8:29 pm for a total of 13 hours and 12 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 26 seconds shorter.

It stopped raining! After two days of torrential downpours triggering flood advisories for area streams, the clouds parted, the sun smiled, and a benign peace "reigned" instead. The forecast is for clouds and showers, with temps continuing in the mid 50s.

One never knows what the storms and whims of Nature will deliver. On Sunday, September 8th, bird watchers near the high school saw a yellowish bird with wing bars in their backyard. At first, they thought it was a white-winged crossbill, but the bill wasn't crossed. It was a mystery bird.

On Monday, a mile away, another birder, Jen Linkhart, happened to look out her window at the pouring rain while eating lunch. A pretty yellow bird with wing bars flew into the nearby willows and sat there. Jen did not recognize it, but had the presence of mind to run for her camera and snapped a few shots before it flew. She sent the photos to me, I sent them to Peregrine Joe, and her guess of WESTERN TANAGER was verified, the first known record for Seward, perhaps even for the Kenai Peninsula.

The bird was refound Tuesday in the same area, but eluded me and several others. The fledgling Moose Pass Bird Club pulled up to some Mt Ash trees by Fourth and B in the evening and spotted it. A homeowner on Fifth stepped outside at 8:15 this morning and saw it. What luck!

Others, including me, spent hours on Tuesday and Wednesday, patrolling the alleys and streets, probing the practically impenetrable Mt Ash trees, and scanning cottonwoods and birches bearing suspicious yellowing leaves.

Looking for "The Bird" was enormously rewarding. The Mt Ash berries are a magnet for scores of migrating ROBINS, VARIED THRUSHES, and HERMIT THRUSHES. ORANGE-CROWNED, YELLOW, TOWNSENDS, and WILSON'S WARBLERS, and RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS flitted through the alders and willows gleaning insects and spiders. I even heard one RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET sing a sweet phrase! FOX, GOLDEN-CROWNED, SAVANNAH and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS poked through the underbrush.

A MERLIN perched conspicuously at the top of a spruce tree this morning, freezing the action for quite a while. The Mt Ash trees seemed lifeless until scanned with binoculars. The Robins and Varied Thrushes sat absolutely still, willing themselves to be invisible, and succeeding. When the Merlin flew off, the thrushes looked like bees swarming into the trees to grab a berry, then away to a nearby spruce to eat it. Some just stayed to gobble them down in place, which seems like a much safer option.

I finally saw The Bird this afternoon at Bill Shuster's former house, sitting alone in a Mt Ash tree, after Robin C spotted it and called me. It did not linger, and flew off to the south, where it was again briefly refound by Robin. Good job, Robin!

This evening, Tasha and Sadie spotted a juvenile CEDAR WAXWING sitting in a Mt Ash with the thrushes. This is likely the earliest record for this species in Seward.

The WESTERN TANAGER seems to be hanging out near "ground zero" on Sixth Avenue between A and Monroe, extending a block west on Fifth, and a block north to B Street. There is a lot of quality habitat including willows, alders, highbush cranberry, elderberries, Mt Ash, cottonwoods, and spruce. The wooded Pat Ray Williams Park and campground is also nearby. 

This is a productive, overlooked area that could provide even more surprises under the continued scrutiny of many binoculars. Hopefully, the pretty yellow bird with wing bars will stay for a few more days.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

PS Report of 100 SANDHILL CRANES over Bear Lake, north of Seward at 3:30 this afternoon, and two more larger flocks later!

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