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

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