Tuesday, January 21, 2014 April in January

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:35 am, sunset 4:43 pm for a total length of day of 7 hours and 8 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 27 seconds longer.

Weather: Today's high was 44ยบ! It seemed more like April than January. A warm south wind barreled in bearing sheets of rain from an ominous gray wall o' water blocking the bay. I found a soggy earthworm on top of a watery sheet of ice this morning. Much of the ground is free of snow, and tree roots may soon be thawing. Bird activity at feeders has dropped considerably as the ever-increasing bare ground offers other options.

Seward experienced a rare turbulent weather event on Friday morning, January 17: brilliant flashes of lightning, the low rumble of thunder, then torrential rain. More warm, rainy, spring-y weather is forecast for at least another week. February flowers?

Today, I added two more species to my 2014 list, bringing the total number to 58. All but the GREAT GRAY OWL, seen flying across the highway north of Summit Lake before dawn on January 12th, are from Seward.

At noon, a small flock of ventriloquistic GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS flitted high in the spruce branch jungle on the north side of First Lake at Two Lakes Park. "Tsee-tsee-tsee!" 57.

After the quiet walk through the dim, mossy green forest, I headed for the gray bay and windy beach. Using my car as a blind and wind/rain shelter, I pulled up to Scheffler Creek just south of the Harbor Uplands. A handful of plucky and hopeful NORTHWESTERN CROWS flew over to see if I might have some tidbits to share. One had an overlong bill, but otherwise looked healthy. I haven't seen crows with deformed bills for several years, so this was unusual.

Just out in front, two Sea Otters cruised around on their backs, munching with gusto, then dove for more. Suddenly, three River Otters tumbled out of the mouth of the creek and rolled around each other in the shallow water like a pile of puppies. They soon headed out to deeper water, facing forwards so they could see where they were going, unlike their carefree cousins.

Two small gulls took flight from the beach. One was a typical winter adult MEW GULL, the other was a mystery bird. It was likely a young MEW changing plumage. The darker brown coloration along the wings extended from the black and white wing tips into the gray mantle; the white tail had a black band edged in white; the grayish bill had a dark tip, and the feet were also grayish. Gulls, with all their plumage variations, are an intriguing and never-ending source of wonder and puzzlement.

Soon, more gulls arrived as if called by synchronous dinner bells: MEW GULLS, several GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS of various ages, and then a small bright gull with jet-black wingtips. A BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE! Then another. 58! These are the first of season for me.

The gulls cried in excitement, hovering over the water, pink, yellow, and black legs dangling, jockeying for position, then bam, bam, bam! In they dove with a great splash, completely submerged, or just showing bits of their wings. After what seemed like a very long pause, they shot straight up into the air, water streaming down. Some emerged with small silvery fish held sideways in their beaks; others either gobbled the fish down directly, or missed. Could these be salmon smolt, already heading to sea from the Scheffler Creek and Lagoon nursery?

An adult BALD EAGLE, attracted by all the crying, splashing, and action, swooped powerfully overhead, wheeled gracefully, and momentarily scattered the noisy crowd. The wary BARROW'S and COMMON GOLDENEYES, RED-BREASTED and COMMON MERGANSERS, SURF SCOTERS, and PELAGIC CORMORANTS magically disappeared.

After the eagle flew off, the show continued as the birds followed the invisible school of fish close to shore. Then abruptly, first the SCOTERS took flight, then the other sea ducks, and finally the gulls, heading towards the next great feast. I had forgotten about the gray sky, gray water, and pelting rain until they left, and then, that was all that was left.

I rolled up the window, mopped up the water on the inside, and headed for home, quite satisfied. Back in the 'hood, I spied 13 soggy ROBINS perched in a Mt Ash tree, eating the old shriveled berries in the rain. There aren't many berries left, but if this warm weather keeps up, they'll be feasting on earthworms instead!

Other bird notes:
Tuesday January 14: a dozen BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS "flycatching" invisible insects; WHITE-WINGED SCOTER by Greenbelt
Saturday, January 18: Immature GOSHAWK in the 'hood
Sunday, January 19: Scott Schuette and Nick Hajdukovich spotted the WHITE-THROATED SPARROW with JUNCOS and a GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW at Lowell Point Beach access.
Monday, January 20: 30 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS chirring in cottonwood
Robin C reported an adult NORTHERN SHRIKE at Lowell Point

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Check out Chris Maynard's Feather Blog, featuring fantastic, creative use of feathers: <http://www.featherfolio.com/blog/>

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