Monday October 28, 2013 Rare Bird Update

Seward, Alaska

Yes, I did see the juvenile YELLOW-BREASTED SAPSUCKER yesterday, and no, there won't be any further updates for a while. The hard, heavy rain that pummeled the area all night and most of today washed out the Lowell Point Road bridge. Other area roads are flooded as well, though most are still passable.

Robin C refound the elusive WARBLING VIREO near flooding Clear Creek by the Pit Bar this morning in the pouring rain. It's good to know it's still here even if it's almost impossible to find.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, October 25, 2013 Happy Bird-day!

Seward, Alaska

Miraculously, yesterday's downpour ceased during the night and the spent clouds surreptitiously slunk away. By noon, Seward had a twin to Tuesday with a smiling sun, mild temps in the high 40s, and a mirror calm Resurrection Bay. Hard to believe that in between, Wednesday featured a hard frost and biting cold northerly wind, followed by the flood. What a week for weather!

This was a day to put in a treasure box to save for a rainy, cold, dark day in December! Shortly before 1:30 pm, the waning moon seemingly perched on the rim of sparkling snow-capped mountains as it said good-bye. The brilliant blue sky seemed to penetrate right through that celestial body, infusing it with a blue translucence. Quite a treat!

I headed once again over to SMIC at Mile 5, Nash Road to search for the Long-billed Murrelet. While there were never lots of birds altogether in the boat basin, as time passed, many birds flew or paddled in to feed on small schools of fish: 8 BARROW'S GOLDENEYES, about 12 PELAGIC CORMORANTS, 10 HORNED GREBES, 6 MARBLED MURRELETS, a COMMON MERGANSER hen, a single PIGEON GUILLEMOT hatch year, and several noisy hatch year and adult BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES. A sea otter also swam in facing forward like a river otter, and then flipped over to continue as usual, swimming backwards. It's a wonder they don't hit anything.

Using the scope, I scanned far out into the bay. Even tiny MARBLED MURRELETS with their white collars, were easy to identify thanks to the calm water. Small groups of seabirds dotted the water, moving quickly when others began diving and feeding, additional species included: 3 SURF SCOTER females, 1 BLACK SCOTER female, 1 COMMON LOON, and 2 PACIFIC LOONS.

While scanning, I suddenly picked up the rapid wingbeat of a BELTED KINGFISHER flying 20-30 feet above the water, making great circles over the other seabirds. As I followed it, another KINGFISHER appeared, flying a parallel course. It was amazing how long and how far they flew over the water without feeding or taking a break. At times, they cruised just a foot or two above the water, apparently seeking but not finding.

Over the horned grebes, past the surf scoters, around the pelagic cormorants, zipping by the diving marbled murrelets, over the yellow-billed loon.

What! A YELLOW-BILLED LOON indeed, a young brownish bird with a pale face and upturned bill gleaming in the sun. What a pleasure! Back to the frenetic Kingfishers, who eventually rattled their way to the Spring Creek wetlands and rested on a snag. I can't begin to count the calories they must have expended on that long sortie. Maybe it was a contest?

I spent several hours here, enjoying the warm sun, the peaceful lapping of wavelets against the breakwater, and the spectacular scenery all around.

On the way home, I stopped to enjoy a single TRUMPETER SWAN feeding on the aquatic vegetation of the Mile 1 Nash Road wetlands. It won't be long before this shallow pond ices up and nudges the swan on its way south.

Though the Long-billed Murrelet escaped me, I felt rich in the bounty of the other birds and beauty of the late October afternoon.

Other news:
I was not able to check on the Yellow-breasted Sapsuckers today, but hope others will post if they saw any.

A LONG-TAILED DUCK, male was reported in the bay right in front of town along the Greenbelt. Coincidentally, I also found a dead long-tailed duck today, tangled in the wrack line, a victim of the recent storm. This species is not common here.

PINE GROSBEAK numbers are increasing in town, feeding on Mt Ash berries with VARIED THRUSHES and ROBINS. DARK-EYED JUNCO numbers are also on the upswing.

Tuesday, Oct 22:
Jim H reported 10 WHITE-WINGED and 10 SURF SCOTERS, 2 DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS, 4 PACIFIC LOONS, 2 adult and 1 juvenile COMMON LOONS, and at least 10 pairs of MARBLED MURRELETS on a boat trip to Fox Island. He noted that the shore was busier than in the middle of the Bay. On the island was 1 RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (!), several BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, and 1 PACIFIC WREN.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, October 24, 2013 Great Horned Owl kills Pelagic Cormorant!

Seward, Alaska

Pouring, gushing, pounding, torrential rain! How could it rain so much so long? A friend's rain gauge measured 1.87 inches in 10 hours and it was still raining!

I received an amazing report today about two GREAT HORNED OWLS sitting on Lowell Point Road in the predawn darkness around 6:30 am. One owl seemed to be sitting on a dead bird. They both flushed as she drove up. When the caller returned to Lowell Point in the early afternoon she saw the still fresh carcass of a black bird with webbed feet lying in the middle of the road.

Mystified, she called me. Equally mystified, I dashed out in the torrential rain and found a headless PELAGIC CORMORANT with most of its innards spilling out. I moved it off the road to prevent scavengers from being hit. 

How very odd! Would an owl attack a pelagic cormorant as it floated peacefully on the dark water near shore? Would the owl be able to haul an adult pelagic cormorant as it struggled and flailed, out of the water, kill it, and proceed to tear off its head and eat it?

This strikes me as very unusual behavior for a Great Horned Owl, or even two, to be hunting seabirds at night.

If anyone has any experience with this, I'd be very curious to know.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 Not ONE but TWO Yellow-bellies!

Seward, Alaska

I was busy looking for that Long-billed Murrelet on the east side of the bay when Jim Herbert spotted TWO YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKERS on the west side of the bay in full sunshine at noon. When I got the message at 3 pm, I raced over to Lowell Point.

As the shadows deepened, I found a juvenile male bird busily chiseling new holes in a large willow trunk, and racheting up nearby alders to sip sap from older holes. When the adult male arrived, he immediately chased away the youngster, possibly the only member of his species within a thousand miles or more. Go team!

The two did not waste much time on the territorial dispute as temperatures dipped with the sun. The adult male flew to a small grove of alders across the road, on State Park property, leaving the juvenile to sip sap from new and older holes.

A bright BROWN CREEPER flew in, its belly as white as a pingpong ball and about the same size. BLACK-BILLED MAGPIES periodically stirred things up, and a red squirrel looped around the trunks and branches, a potential predator and sap thief.

The clear sky last night brought our first hard frost, and the return of a chilly NNE wind. The sky is clear again tonight. With frost on the pumpkins, not much sap is likely to flow for these two wanderers. But instead of wondering when they will leave, now I'm wondering when mom is going to show up!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, October 21, 2013 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and locals

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:53 am, sunset 6:29 pm for a total daylight of 9 hours and 36 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 21 seconds shorter.

Resurrection Bay was calm once again; the beaches loaded with bull kelp and quantities of other seaweed from the recent storms. Mild temps continue in the mid 40s, but snow is creeping down the surrounding mountains.

Ahhh, the rain. It hammers on the roofs, dimples the puddles and sea, and raises every rivulet to river status. We are so paying for our sunny July! Yet even in this seemingly endless rain, there were short, much-appreciated breaks.

At noon today, the pewter gray clouds split open, and the sun miraculously broke free, blindingly bright. What a treat to feel its warmth on my back as I faced expectantly north, waiting for the rays to race ahead to touch the retreating rain clouds. Would the rain wait for the sun? Where would the rainbow start and end? 

I waited patiently and then suddenly a spruce grove turned red, orange, yellow, green, and blue as the perfect arch rose upwards, faintly connecting across the top, and back down to another lovely rainbow base on the other side. Such are the joys of rain and sunbeams; ephemeral, shimmering, and stunning.

Robin C relocated the YELLOW-BREASTED SAPSUCKER at the crack of dawn this morning. (Note, that was about 9 am.) I also found it at 2 pm at the same site, now well labeled "Private Property, No Trespassing." As long as the sap continues to ooze out of his sap holes, he might stay. But for a bird so far off course so late in the year, who knows! He probably doesn't have any idea either.

After ensuring that the rare bird was still here, I walked down Pinnacle View Road to see if I could find any other sap projects or other birds. As the sun continued to beam warmly, the local birds really perked up, as pleased as I.

But what did they do? Why, take a bath in the nearest cold rain puddle! Four VARIED THRUSHES, as bright as pumpkins, 2 DARK-EYED JUNCOS, and a KENAI SONG SPARROW waded into the large puddle in the road. Some just seemed to like to sit and soak, others dipped their bills underwater and then threw water all over and shook and splashed. It seemed that a few even enjoyed looking at their reflections. After the bath, the thrushes flew off to dine on Mt Ash berries, and the other birds dispersed to preen.

I headed to the beach, now at high tide. A small group of 5 COMMON MERGANSERS paddled close to shore with 4 HORNED GREBES. A tight raft of about 40-50 BARROW'S GOLDENEYES dove around Pinnacle Rock. From far out in the bay, a long line of about 40 COMMON MERGANSERS swam steadily closer, the most I have seen this fall.

BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES squabbled over some treat, and several PELAGIC CORMORANTS watched calmly then dove. A single female HARLEQUIN DUCK paddled past; more Harleys gathered near Lowell Point Road farther to the north. A sea otter lazed along on its back; a harbor seal poked its head up to look around. It was a very peaceful and lovely scene.

The rain continues and more rain is in the forecast, but it is bearable when the sun smiles just for a short while, bringing magical rainbows and bathing beauties.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday October 19, 2013 RARE BIRD ALERT! Yellow-bellied Sapsucker!!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:48 am, sunset 6:35 pm for a total length of day of 9 hours and 46 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 22 seconds shorter.

Weather: The unseasonably warm weather continues with temperatures in the high 40s. A strong south-southeast wind today whipped Resurrection Bay into whitecaps laden with driftwood and other debris stolen from the beaches by the high tides. A seemingly endless of serious squalls blasted the area with heavy rain and at one point, hail. Just when one wondered if it could rain any harder, it did!

On a day when most people are content to stay indoors planning a trip to Hawaii, intrepid Anchorage birders Scott Schuette and Doug Gochfeld decided to drive down to Seward, into the teeth of the storm, to go birding. In between and in the squalls, they walked around Lowell Point, not finding much besides rain and wind.

I had just left Lowell Point beach, but whizzed right back after hearing the phone message. Scott was gracious to wait for me on Pinnacle View Road right across from the driveway to the Caines Head State Recreation Area upper trailhead parking lot. I hopped out, waited less than a minute, and there it was! A male YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER busily attended to his collection of holes drilled in alders and willows.

This is a rare bird for Alaska, and possibly the first report for the Kenai Peninsula. As a Life Bird for me, I had to look it up. He looked small to me, but he's right between the tiny 6 ¾" Downy woodpecker and large 9 ½" Hairy woodpecker. His red crown and red throat really stood out, as did the long, white wing patch, and mostly black back with patches of buffy and white feathers. Of note, both the male and female have a red crown, but the male sapsucker has a red throat and the female's is white. The belly, despite the name, was not yellow, but more of a faded yellowish-buffy wash. He was a handsome bird, even when somewhat bedraggled in the rain. 

During the heaviest rain, he disappeared, probably taking refuge in the nearby spruce boughs. When the rain let up, he flew towards the bottom of an alder and hopped upwards to a row of round holes drilled in the tree. He drank the sap, drilled a few more holes, preened briefly, then flew to another small alder then a willow to sip the sap there. I would think this late in the year, the sap would hardly be flowing, but apparently he found something.

Occasionally, he called. The high, short, descending call reminded me of air being let out of a balloon. Stokes describes it as a downslurred "jeeer".

A small flock of BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES flew in and showed great interest in his sap project. He didn't care for the competition and chased them around the small grove.

Scott didn't think this bird would hang around long, but if you have the chance, it sure seemed to like this particular grove of small trees.

Many thanks to Scott and Doug for this fantastic find!

Good luck and
Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, October 11, 2013 Fork-tailed Storm-petrel Rescue and Release

Seward, Alaska

I received an email this morning from Chris at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center asking about a possible ride to Seward for a rescued FORK-TAILED STORM-PETREL. After several emails and calls back and forth, a ride was found and the bird hitched a ride with my wonderful friends Sharyl and Cathy.

They arrived with the Fork-tailed Storm-petrel at Lowell Point just past high tide and just before sunset. Perfect timing! The eagles and peregrine falcon were done hunting for the day, so this disoriented little flutterbird had a chance.

I gently took the tiny, light gray bird out of the little crate and held him (or her) in one hand. He was very calm, and seemed to be slowly adjusting to the new sounds of the lapping waves, the saltwater smells, and the pouring rain.

I walked a short ways down the rocks to the water and opened my hand. I could feel him getting more and more alert sitting there, thinking about freedom. After several minutes, he finally fluttered to the water a short ways in front of me, and then started paddling away with his petite, black, webbed feet.

After several more long minutes he started to flutter a short distance, paddled some more, fluttered a longer distance, paddled some more, and then fluttered out of sight heading south towards the Gulf of Alaska into the gray water, gray twilight, and gray clouds, perfectly camouflaged. Bon voyage, little tubenose! May you find your kin not far away.

Thanks to the kind fisherman who brought the bird to the caring folks at the Bird Treatment and Learning Center, and to Sharyl and Cathy who whisked him to Seward and freedom.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday October 4, 2013 juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher study

Seward, Alaska

I found a single juvenile LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER today that graciously posed for my camera before resuming feeding. It may be one of the four that were seen on September 24, (see blog photos for that date.)

Thanks to Sadie Ulman for describing the distinguishing characteristics of a Long-billed Dowitcher. The lack of any barring on the tertials is a great ID mark. 

Here are Sadie's pointers:

Time of year:
Typical migration chronology is failed breeders, followed by adults, followed by juveniles.  LBDO typically migrate later than SBDO.

Juvenile vs adult:
The overall coloration and fresh (non-worn) condition points to Juvenile over Adult.

LBDO have dark gray tertials, with a buffy fringe and no internal markings on the feathers. SBDO will have dark gray with an orange/buff fringe and strong internal markings of buff/orange. The presence/absence of internal tertial markings is one of the best indicators between the species.

Greater coverts:
LBDO usually uniformly gray vs a strong pattern in SBDO

LBDO gray
SBDO dark brown
This is sometimes hard to decipher.

LBDO typically vocalizes while feeding
SBDO is typically silent

Fall shorebird ID is tricky, but once some key identification marks are known, it becomes a little easier. I hope this helps!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 Peregrine Falcon and Storm-petrels

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:06 am, sunset 7:25 pm for a total day length of 11 hours and 18 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 24 seconds shorter.

After a hard rain last night, the crack of dawn brought exhausted clouds and freshly washed, vibrant fall colors to the neighborhood trees. By midday, the sun prevailed and shone a spotlight on the action along Lowell Point Road. The temp hovered in the mid to upper 40s, but that spotlight felt remarkably warm when it hit 50ยบ without any wind interfering!

Good news! The beautiful BARROW'S GOLDENEYES are back! About 15 gathered in a cautious raft by the Lowell Creek outfall near the dozens of GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, HERRING hybrids, MEW GULLS, and BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES.

Dozens of silent FORK-TAILED STORM-PETRELS flitted up and down the calm bay, pattered along the water, and briefly landed to get a drink of saltwater or a snack. A PELAGIC CORMORANT and a MARBLED MURRELET in winter plumage surfaced quietly and dove.

The gulls paddled about in front of the seafood processing plant, diving now and then, and complained as gulls do best. A BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE sounded off with an uncharacteristic harsh cry as it circled the other gulls. Suddenly, they all forgot their petty woes and took flight as an almost mature BALD EAGLE dashed into their midst. I'm sure it would have been pleased to catch any one of them, but it focused on a plump dock pigeon and unfortunately missed.

Seconds after the eagle had returned to a shoreside perch to muse about the lack of lunch, a PEREGRINE FALCON shot out over the water. The rattled gulls dispersed farther out, and the disappointed falcon stroked back to shore and landed in a spruce tree behind me. Wow! What an impressive bird! Truly a bird far too fine for kings! As it sat preening in the glare of the sun, I resumed watching the storm-petrels.

A tiny one landed nearby and began beating the water with its teeny feet, churning up plankton and other bits to eat. It took a little drink, lifting its head up high to let the cool seawater slide down. No problem with that ingenious salt-extracting tubenose. It was oblivious to me, and to the Peregrine that was also watching with great interest from high above in the spruce.

The next second, the Peregrine shot out of the tree towards the Storm-petrel. All the gulls that had returned flew away again, and the Storm-petrel wasted no time following them. The Peregrine quickly spun around and stroked low over the water after the little sprite.

A strike! The Peregrine's right talons grabbed the Storm-petrel by the right wing and the bird twisted midair. I thought it was all over, but the little mite broke free. Apparently there was no serious damage to its wings; it flew hard. After a brief chase, the Peregrine broke off and stroked back to shore to another spruce perch. Raptors 0, prey 2.

The Storm-petrels quickly resumed flitting and feeding. The gulls flew back to tussle over tidbits and voice their complaints. It was as if nothing dramatic had happened at all; just another sweet moment on a rare, calm, sunny afternoon in October.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter