Happy Thought

"The world is so full of a number of things,
  I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings."

  Robert Louis Stevenson
  A Child's Garden of Verses


Wednesday, February 19, 2014 An Unexpected Magical Day

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:24 am, sunset 5:59 pm for a total day length of 9 hours and 35 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 25 seconds longer.

Seward received about 4 more inches of snow overnight. This continued into mid-morning with a parade of black squalls careening in slow motion from one side of the bay to the other, somehow heading north against the wind. Temps remained in the low 20s. The sun broke through by afternoon and in a 180º switcheroo, turned the sky blue while the snow dazzled the eye.

Around noon, I headed out to the tidelands into the north wind, watching the smoldering squalls dance. As I rounded a point, a SHORT-EARED OWL shot out and blew towards the east side of the bay. Wow! The third owl species this week! I wonder if the crazy weather brought it here.

Shortly afterwards, about 50 SNOW BUNTINGS buzzed around me and landed nearby on the tideflats, pecking industriously at the water's edge. After several minutes, they undulated away in big swooping loops. I watched them land on the beach rye grass, hoping to shake a few more seeds off the almost depleted stalks. The pantry is getting bare.

I had almost finished my walk when I glanced up to see a dark eagle circling fairly low, almost overhead. Small head, long tail, white wing patches, white tail with a black band...Egad! a juvenile GOLDEN EAGLE!! Another total surprise! Those squalls certainly carried fantastic secrets!

Later in the afternoon around 4:45 pm, I picked up my mail. As I pulled out of the Post Office, a dark eagle circling high over town caught my eye. Sure enough, the GOLDEN EAGLE! I watched as it soared to the south, then imperceptibly worked its way back towards Bear Mountain. Snow streamers swirled from the glistening white mountains as the eagle disappeared over ridge to the Harding Icefield. What an incredible sight!

But the magic show continued! Around 9:30 pm, the aurora borealis flickered and glowed, waving its green curtain across the northern sky, now a bowl of sparkling stars.

It is hard to go to bed but I can hardly wait to find out what tomorrow will bring!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, February 16, 2014 Owls in Action

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:32 am, sunset 5:51 pm, for a total length of day of 9 hours 24 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 24 seconds longer. What a treat to still be light out after 6 pm!

A big storm dumped over a foot of snow on Friday, transforming the sorry-looking bare ground into picture postcard winter scenes. Massive dark clouds from the Gulf of Alaska delivered load after load of addition snow over the weekend. At times, the wind whipped the light fluffy stuff into ground blizzards, making visibility very difficult. When those little tantrums subsided, it was calm and beautiful. Temperatures are back in the winter normal range in the 20s.

Tonight, as a light snow diminished, Jupiter, Orion, and his glittering dog Sirius shone through the light cloud cover. The eastern sky brightened as the rising waning moon glowed through the veil of clouds.

On Saturday, I enjoyed a walk through the serene black and white world of snow and forest at Two Lakes Park. An odd irregularity to the peaceful white blanket up ahead caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, I found little tufts of brown and white fur scattered all over the bank. Higher up, footprints and wing prints in the snow told how a GREAT HORNED OWL plunged after a rabbit and grabbed it.

The owl enjoyed dinner high up in a nearby spruce tree, inadvertently decorating the tree branches and bark with little bits of fur as the rest showered to the ground. The good dogs were fascinated by this discovery, and their Lab report soon made a mess of the drama. One found the rabbit's foot, apparently only lucky because the owl found it inedible. The dog thought it might be, but I took it away before she could prove it.

What a thrill to discover the owl's story! And incidentally, Bird #63, confirming the snatch of GH OWL hooting I heard on February 7th.

Other notes:
February 11: RED-FACED CORMORANTS at the SMIC boat basin, Mile 5 Nash Road. A brownish juvenile stood on a piling with two glossy green-sheened adults, preening in the sunshine.

NORTHERN SHRIKE at Fourth of July Beach. It vocalized many times, a harsh, gutteral sound, perched at the top of an alder.

February 12: about a dozen MARBLED MURRELETS bobbed in the choppy white-capped waves as nearby GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS dove headfirst into the froth for dinner, possibly herring, just offshore by the Greenbelt.

February 13: calm and cold, ghostly fog sprites danced down the bay. A pod of at least 7 Steller Sea Lions patrolled the bay along Lowell Point Road, popping up to watch me with curiosity. I finally found the lone male BLACK SCOTER, and a RED-NECKED GREBE, #61 and 62.

February 14: GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET busily at work, quite close in a spruce branch, talking to itself in a tiny high voice, "tsee, tsee, tsee."

February 15: A drake MALLARD flew furiously high across the sky; I didn't wonder why for long. A BALD EAGLE soon appeared, stroking powerfully after it, cutting underneath. I did not see the conclusion, but felt there was duck on the menu today.

February 16: I followed a flock of 12 birds to a neighbor's Mt Ash tree where I identified them as GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES. They looked forlornly at the feeder, swarming with NW CROWS, and departed.
About 20 ROBINS sat quietly in a May Day tree.   

At 7:30 pm, I was lucky to be outside to hear an extremely close NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL calling loudly from the lower slopes of Mt Marathon. At 10 pm, all was quiet. One never knows with owls!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 Saw-whet Owl and Brambling

Seward, Alaska

Last night about 10:30 pm I tracked down the welcome sound of a NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL calling from the south side of Mt Marathon up from Lowell Canyon. It's the first I've heard this year. Bird #60! First new 2014 species since January 23. 

This morning around 9 am, I spotted the BRAMBLING feeding with DARK-EYED JUNCOS at the corner of Second and Madison. Though there is still no snow on the ground, the colder temperature, 14º, seems to have brought the birds back to the feeders.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, February 8, 2014 Mobile Human Birdfeeder

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:54 am, sunset 5:30 pm for a total length of day of 8 hours and 36 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 16 seconds longer. The temperature rose from 25º to a very comfortable 35º, with a steady but moderate north wind.

Friday's blizzard warning was cancelled and Seward was spared the destructive high winds that hit Homer, Anchorage, and Mat-Su. Instead, the area received a dusting of snow, mostly less than an inch, with a strong north wind to repel the sky-to-sea invasion of storm clouds trying to advance from the Gulf of Alaska. Jupiter and a sprinkling of stars peeked through the thinning clouds by evening.

Bright Venus again proclaimed the imminent arrival of the Sun this morning. In the predawn twilight on the morning walk, a flock of about 12 ROBINS mobbed a small Mt Ash, suddenly popular due to the presence of its once-rejected berries. Apparently there are a few different varieties of Mt Ash; some are preferred over others when there is a choice. GROSBEAKS warbled from the treetops; vocal RAVENS flew from their hidden roosts to investigate the town hotspots.

Halfway 'round the block, I heard the cheerful call of a CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE. I spied the little sprite quite close in the bare branchlets of an alder. Luckily, I still had some sunflower seeds in my pocket. I grabbed a handful and held them out. The chickadee wasted no time in flying to my hand where it flung a few rejects to the ground and selected one to go. After a minute, back it flew to choose another seed. What a great way to start the day!

It was too beautiful to stay inside so I soon headed to Ava's. Yesterday's storm brought 7 or 8 AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS and several OREGON JUNCOS back to her feeders. I hoped to see the Swamp Sparrow but it was quiet except for the usual DOWNY and HAIRY WOODPECKERS. I'll keep checking. One bonus was the male BELTED KINGFISHER perched on the powerline on Nash Road and Salmon Creek Road.

Over at Spring Creek Beach two paddleboarders stroked out into beautiful Resurrection Bay. Farther out was a mixed raft of SURF SCOTERS, COMMON MERGANSERS, LONG-TAILED DUCKS (just a few), PELAGIC CORMORANTS, HORNED GREBES, COMMON and BARROW'S GOLDENEYES, MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, and a few BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES. A sea lion leisurely cruised along the shore, its breath leaving a vapor cloud.

I glanced over at the eastern mountains at just exactly the right time to catch the growing moon peeking over the shoulder of a snowy mountain peak. It quickly rose over the snowy peaks like a helium balloon to adorn the blue dome into the starry night.

One last stop was to walk Chamberlain Road on the west side of the Lagoon to look for the reported GOLDEN-CROWNED and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS. The trimmed alder hedge suddenly came alive with little peeps, and once again, a bright-eyed CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE looked at me inquiringly. Do I look like a human bird feeder? I scooped up some sunflower seeds from my pocket and held out my hand. This time, two cute chickadees took turns selecting seeds. Such a light step!

A RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, caught up in the excitement, bravely landed on my hand, reconsidered, and flew back to the safety of the hedge. It must have been a male, he was so bright! After a bit, I kept walking and the chickadees kept following, accepting/demanding seeds at intervals. When I turned around to walk on the other side, there they were again! What a pleasure to walk along, with such fine company! I didn't find the sparrows, but did not mind a bit.

Other notes:
Two TRUMPETER SWANS were reported at the mouth of Salmon Creek; their freshwater options are very limited now that most ponds and wetlands are refrozen.

A VARIED THRUSH was spotted in the alley between First and Second, 400 block. Feeder activity is up with the lower temperatures and snow cover.

The WHITE-THROATED SPARROW was reported last Saturday at Lowell Point, and a second one has been seen at Raven Lane behind Spenard's Building Supply on Exit Glacier Road.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, February 3, 2014 Herons, Rock Sandpipers, fallen eagle nest

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:06 am, sunset 5:17 pm, for a total length of day of 8 hours and 44 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 7 seconds longer.

After a brief dip this weekend into the mid 20s with clear skies and a visit by a cheery sun, the misty clouds returned today. The temps hovered around freezing, toying with the option for slickery ice. The forecast calls for peeks of the sun tomorrow; we shall see. If the skies are clear just before dawn, look for bright Venus preceding the sun.

The ground remains bare of snow; most of the feeder birds are dispersed. No reports of the SWAMP SPARROW, the KILLDEER, or the BRAMBLING. One feels lucky to even spot a NUTHATCH, though the CHESTNUT-BACKED and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES are abundant and reliable visitors.

The small flocks of ROBINS and GROSBEAKS are still here, picking through the remnants of Mt Ash berries on the ground. I spotted a Kenai SONG SPARROW among them, with a few DARK-EYED JUNCOS.

Highlights today were seven GREAT BLUE HERONS spotted by the harbor jetty, sitting in the light sn'rain, looking as despondent as Eyore. 26 ROCK SANDPIPERS fed along the tideline, usual winter visitors, but often as hard to find as the secretive herons.

GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS perched on the pilings south of the harbor uplands. The soft gray sky behind merged seamlessly with the calm gray ocean. BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES are also on the rise as seafood processors gear up for cod.

MEW GULL numbers are astronomically high this winter. Whereas some years it's hard to find a handful, this winter there are upwards of 800-1000 gulls lining the head of the bay, concentrating on the mouth of the Resurrection River. When stirred up by an eager eagle, it looks like a snow globe blizzard.

An adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK was reported near Phoenix and Dora Way over the weekend, perched in a spruce tree. I have not yet seen it, but will keep looking.

Around January 22nd, the overburdened cottonwood branches bearing the famous, enormous BALD EAGLE nest near the intersection of Exit Glacier Road and the highway, snapped off. The nest crashed to the ground in smithereens. The eagles still frequent the area. We all hope they will rebuild nearby this spring.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter