Friday, December 13, 2013 Wait a Bit…

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:54 am, sunset 3:49 pm for a total daylight, theoretically, of 5 hours and 55 minutes. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 20 seconds shorter.

Sideways-blowing snow abruptly ended the streak of bright sunshine of the past three days. Visibility plunged to nothing at times making driving very hazardous. Temps rose from the mid teens to low 20s.There's a winter weather advisory for the Anchorage area through Sunday. The Anchorage CBC is scheduled for tomorrow; that will be hard! The Seward CBC is December 22; hopefully this storm will be spent by then.

Fortunately, I was able to go birding on a beautiful blue sky winter day yesterday. Tantalized by the possibility of studying the RED-FACED CORMORANTS again, I headed for Mile 5 Nash Road and the Seward Marine Industrial Center boat basin. My challenge was shooting into the sun; no complaints, just very challenging!

At first, I was a bit disappointed. No cormorants on the pilings, and only a few COMMON MERGANSER hens, and a small group of about 5 BARROW'S GOLDENEYES. Wait a bit… So I pulled up in my car blind, and started experimenting with exposure and metering variations on the cooperative birds, trying to shield my eyes from the blinding sun and its undulating reflection.

Suddenly, a RED-NECKED GREBE popped up out of nowhere, and paddled closer and closer, lured in by the tolerant Goldeneyes, no doubt. I should toss out some decoys! Two pairs of little red-eyed HORNED GREBES steamed in, creating a small wake, then dove in synchrony as they sensed or spotted tiny fish below.

The seabirds paddled close then away, following their prey, and their varying opinions of the human clicking away. It was so interesting to watch their afternoon unfold. I must not have been paying attention to the wider view, as again, seemingly out of nowhere, two very regal PACIFIC LOONS surfaced in the middle of the boat basin. There is something arresting and commanding about a loon; they definitely have a Presence without fanfare.

A very short time later, one loon quietly surfaced very close by, snorkeling along with its head underwater, checking the underwater menu. Raising its head, and without missing a stroke, it observed me for several long seconds, and then calmly disappeared in a swirl. The two reappeared once again in the middle of the basin, joining 4 RED-FACED CORMORANTS, the RED-NECKED GREBE, and 2 HORNED GREBES.

All was quiet once again. Wait a bit…Then up popped a special seabird, the fascinating forest-roosting, MARBLED MURRELET. I am always thrilled to see one of these amazing birds, especially up close. Water droplets beaded up on its black and white waterproof coat. When it dove, its tiny pink webbed feet momentarily flashed in the air before it flew away underwater. I watched this little guy for quite some time, surprised at how long it stayed above water, just floating tranquilly. Usually this bird is identified by "the one that just dove."

I left just after a male COMMON GOLDENEYE pulled his head out from under his wing, nap ended, and time to preen. Their body has so much more white than a Barrow's, but it's nice to see those round "Os" on the face to confirm the ID.

Over at Spring Creek Beach, a first winter GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL cruised over the breaking waves by the beach, surprisingly alone, looking competent for a youngster.

It was past time for the good dogs to get out, so we headed into the teeth of the northwest wind for a walk down the beach. A Steller's Sealion swam with power and purpose, parallel to the shore, breathing rhythmically. Not long afterwards, a curious Harbor Seal poked up its shiny head to watch us, then silently submerged.

On the way back, a flash of white caught my eye. SNOW BUNTINGS! I eased over to watch them ride the beach rye grass stalks down to the ground, then scurry about to gather up the flying seeds. It was like watching a little bird rodeo. The low rays of the sun illuminated their lovely brown and tan coloration. When they all flew up, I estimated about 50 before they settled back down.

Back at the car, it was almost 2 pm and the sun was hurtling towards the western mountains. Just enough time to visit Ava's amazing feeders. I pulled up, and once again, it seemed pretty quiet. Wait a bit… A BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE flew in and landed in a nearby Mayday tree, showing off, before heading to the homemade suet and sunflower seed feeders. Another one followed, then several DARK-EYED JUNCOS. The usual RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES claimed several feeders, as the CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES tried to get in for a single seed at a time.

A small sparrow perched in the Mayday tree: an AMERICAN TREE SPARROW! It soon flew to the ground to rummage through the green grass and scant snow for seeds. Ava reported she has had up to 7 Tree Sparrows recently. A different little sparrow appeared, a LINCOLN'S SPARROW. It seemed to prefer the spilled seeds by the deck, sitting at times, all fluffed up like a feathery ball against the chill. By 2:20 pm, the sun disappeared, and blue shadows crept into the yard. As Ava's birds stocked up for the long night ahead, I headed home.

Aware of the impending snowstorm, I detoured for one last bird check in the alley behind my house. My feeder was hopping with Juncos, Chickadees, and Nuthatches too. At the top of a nearby cottonwood, a BOHEMIAN WAXWING sat like a Christmas tree angel. Several PINE GROSBEAKS decorated the tree below. Across the alley, about 20 ROBINS gobbled down Mt Ash berries, chunky silhouettes against the darkening sky. Whether or not they knew about the approaching storm, it was a good idea to load up.

And now, as the wind whistles and rattles the frozen trees, spinning snow in wild patterns, I enjoy my photos and relive yet another fabulous day birding.

In other news, Robin C refound the BRAMBLING in the storm today with an army of JUNCOS in the 500 block of Second Ave. Also spotted along Lowell Point Road, 6 RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS.

A SHORT-EARED OWL was reported at the airport uplands on Saturday evening, December 7, but not refound (yet.)

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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