Sunday, December 29, 2013 Seward meanderings

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 10:02 am, sunset 3:58 pm for a total of 5 hours and 55 minutes. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 35 seconds longer.

Without the wind rattling around, it seemed quite mild and very pleasant today with temps from 32 to a high of 37ยบ.  The sun shone wanly behind pewter-colored clouds as it rolled across the southern sky. More impressive were the brilliant white, snowy peaks to the north etched into a backdrop of blue-gray clouds. Winter light, a symphony of blues, is so subtle and special.

Around noon, I checked the spruce-willow-alder hedge at Madison Street and Second Avenue. A glimpse of DARK-EYED JUNCOS on the ground and in the branches gave me hope. Soon, a droopy-winged VARIED THRUSH popped out, as bright as a pumpkin. I wondered if it was injured. As soon as it disappeared into the undergrowth, the female BRAMBLING flew out and briefly sat on a branch as if to say, "hello," then "later!" as it flew off across Second Ave.

I checked the feeders in the alley between Second and Third Ave, just a few houses north.  An OREGON JUNCO flew back and forth from a branch to the suet feeder, feasting as it twirled around. Juncos are usually content to scavenge on the ground, but at least some know how to feed at the source.

Dairy Hill featured a ruckus of RAVENS, parading around, horns up, their magnificent, iridescent shaggy throat and pantaloon feathers ruffled out. They didn't care for company and most leapt into the air and away, jousting and cracking jokes. The one that lingered paused to look at me; his eye seemed to hold the wisdom of many years. Awesome ravens!

Ava's was quiet except for a few BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, and a HAIRY WOODPECKER. No sign of the Swamp Sparrow. I headed for Mile 3, Nash Road to look for the Killdeer. The tide was fairly high, but receding. Hmmm. I could rush around and look for other birds at the end of Nash Road, or just stay and enjoy this place at this time. What a delight to relax, to stop wishing I were some place else, and to savor the moment and place at hand.

I wandered down the beach, following the retreating tideline, and found myself at the head of the bay on the east side of the Resurrection River. I spotted the large flock of about 70 SNOW BUNTINGS in the distance, feeding in the gravelly tide flats. Perhaps they were getting grit, or marine invertebrates out there. I took several distant images, content to watch them without disturbance. After a while, they took flight to the beach ryegrass amidst the snow along shore, busily feeding on seeds.

I turned my attention to the astonishing number of MEW GULLS at the tide's edge and along Salmon Creek and Resurrection River. Where were they during Count Week and Count Day? There may have been upwards of 200 packed along the tide line. NORTHWESTERN CROWS worked the beach alongside them, pulling out marine invertebrates and mussels.

Suddenly, I heard a whirring of wings and high cries; the SNOW BUNTINGS flew all around me then settled to feed nearby. How amazing to have them come to me! After enjoying the show, I meandered along the ocean floor, now far from shore as the tide continued its retreat.

The Mew Gulls and Crows leap-frogged along, foraging the recently revealed banquet that only they could find. As I watched, a small flock of tiny shorebirds joined the gulls. I slowly approached, counting 9 ROCK SANDPIPERS feeding furiously, their bills busily probing in the shallow water.

As I reached the rocky intertidal area in front of Afognak Beach around 2:30 pm, I listened and looked for the KILLDEER without success. Visiting birders from Soldotna and Kodiak (!) had not seen it either. I hope it's still around, but one never knows with birds.

As the sun slipped behind the western mountains, it was time to head home.
What a treat to be content to travel widely in such a small space!

Of note: the visiting birders finally did find the SWAMP SPARROW. Yea! 

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward, Alaska

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