Wednesday, March 19, 2014 Raven Entertainment

Seward, Alaska

For the past week, I have watched RAVENS flying overhead, carrying small sticks quite a distance to a hidden nest site. I wondered where they got all those sticks, and why, with dead sticks available on every tree, they had to fly at all.

This afternoon at the beach, I received one answer as I watched a pair of glossy Ravens actually shopping for their building supplies. Together, they slowly sauntered down the stick aisle, surveying an assortment of bleached, smooth sticks. The female fiddled with a single thin, fancy, curved stick while the male industriously gathered several stout timbers.  With a beak crammed full, he took off to the construction site.

The female continued shopping, evidently very particular. She carefully added several sticks as she walked, all much thinner than the male's selections. Suddenly, she found a real treasure, a string! It was hard to pick up, but she managed to delicately pinch it with the very tip of her bill. I don't know how she could even see it, the other sticks protruded so much. Maybe she felt it with her tongue.

She stood for a few moments, considering the value of this unexpected prize and its precarious location. Then she dropped the whole load on the ground. The first thing she picked up was the string; mmm, it even had a knot on one end! Next, she regathered her load of sticks, thoughtfully reconsidered the placement and dropped it all. Once again, she picked up the string, and restacked the sticks. Now satisfied with the configuration, she flew off to join her mate at the nest site. I wish I could have been there to hear her tell the story of her incredible find. It would rival Antique Roadshow!

Meanwhile, some slackards at the Seward dump lounged about, pilfering trash and exclaimed over marginally edible items from the transfer facility floor.  Others hung out on the nearby trees cracking jokes, watching for opportunity to knock. Then here it came.

Two majestic adult BALD EAGLES soared along the nearby mountain, then veered over towards the building. One wisely kept flying while the other unfortunately chose to land on the roof. The delighted Ravens immediately leapt into action and hovered just above the Eagle, riding the wind expertly. At first, Eagle tried to ignore them, but it was hard with the taunting jeers and those outstretched claws dangling so close. Eye to eye, beak to beak, separated by just enough air to avoid contact, the Ravens played a dangerous game of bravado. Whenever the Eagle glanced away, the Ravens dropped down. When the Eagle stretched up, the Ravens lifted higher. All in all, a very entertaining time for the Ravens.

I had to leave before the game was over, but guessed that it might continue for quite some time… or at least until the next load of garbage arrived and untold wonders disgorged from the truck.

Watching Ravens is never boring!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

 Check out this interesting website about ravens:

Friday, March 14, 2014 EAgulls in the storm

Seward, Alaska

A terrific storm moved in this morning, bearing hard rain on a strong southeasterly wind. Resurrection Bay seethed with white caps and breakers, pounding in from the Gulf of Alaska. The serious sky melded with the sea, reducing visibility to a gray wall. By mid-day, the temperature dropped; sleet alternated with some version of white precipitation. The rain froze to an extremely slippery ice sheet. Soggy birds must have suffered greatly in this extreme weather.

In between the squalls, however, was a slim chance for the birds to shake off, preen, and blow dry. I lucked out on a beach venture, comfortably cocooned in my car-blind. Two BALD EAGLES flew directly down the beach and over my parked car. One settled on the beach just ahead, the other landed precariously in the tiny upper branches of a small cottonwood nearby.

I enjoyed watching the younger, grounded bird preen and dry out while white-capped waves crashed against a Samson barge that was holed up just offshore. It didn't seem to mind this paparazzi clicking away, documenting its various wild hair-dos. Meanwhile, the treed adult eagle swayed in the wind, trying to hold on and simultaneously deflect mobbing NORTHWESTERN CROWS that didn't care for its company. Eventually, both eagles took off into the wind to pursue other needs.

I too left and passed a very brown, first year BALD EAGLE perched in yet another cottonwood. This bird soon flew out over the bay over a small flock of gulls and Goldeneyes. After they dispersed or dove, it flew down to join the relocated adult Eagle on a lookout perch on the historic pilings.

A white gull in a flock of gulls in the parking lot just ahead caught my eye. Ah ha! A first year GLAUCOUS GULL with dark eyes mingled with GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, mostly adult, but with a few youngsters. It was fun to watch this beautiful gull. It preened, walked around, daintily took a drink, plucked some tidbit out of the puddle and contemplated its edibility, then finally dropped it. (Is anything inedible to a gull?) 

A small HERRING GULL stood off on the side. For some gull reason, a few Glaucous-winged Gulls took offense to its presence and ran it off. Then an eagle overflight stirred them all into the air. Fortunately, they soon circled back and landed for more observations. Yet another eagle flyby sent them on their way.

Late in the afternoon, the precip suddenly stopped, the angry sea subsided, but the cold south wind felt like someone had left the freezer door open. I headed out to Lowell Point to look (unsuccessfully) for that Black Oystercatcher. The seafood processing plant was deserted, the opposite of yesterday's excitement.

Halfway to the Point, an adult Bald Eagle sat on the ground next to the road, looking perfectly groomed and dry. A line of SURF SCOTERS paddled about with one female WHITE-WINGED SCOTER. The usual BARROW'S GOLDENEYES, PELAGIC CORMORANTS, COMMON MERGANSERS, HARLEQUIN DUCKS, and a few MALLARDS patrolled along the shore.

A pod of 7 or so Steller Sea Lions rolled past. Three Sea Otters bobbed in the waves, eating, eating, eating. A curious Harbor Seal popped up.

I didn't see anything new at the beach, but on my way back, that Bald Eagle was actively hunting. From high in a snag above the road, it plummeted to the water and flew low and fast, circling around the sea ducks, farther and farther out from shore. Finally, it gave up and cruised back to the perch to rest and reconnoiter. Remarkably, at 7 pm, there was still time for a life-sustaining exchange of energy for both predator and prey.

I rolled on home, impressed by the fury of the storm, and very pleased with the EAgull show and study on this tumultuous late winter day.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

March 13, 2014 Gulls, Oystercatcher, and Saw-whets

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:19 am, sunset 7:55 pm for a total day length of 11 hours, 35 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 31 seconds longer. The Spring Equinox on March 20th is rapidly approaching.

Temperatures have mostly hovered in the 30s with a mixture of rain, graupel, and snow, delivered in squall after squall, sometimes vertical, sometimes horizontal. The hard-won white blanket of snow once again is receding at the edges and from under spruce trees, revealing bare ground and olive-brown grass. Pussy willows have resumed emergence after their February head start. More snow and rain predicted for the next week. It's been another strange winter!

NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWLS, at least two, continue to call from both Bear Mountain and Mt Marathon when it is not too windy. Several evenings, one was so loud, I could hear him from inside my house. Yard bird! perched in a nearby spruce tree. I never could see him, but that spruce sure was beeping!

A long period of sparse bird activity was shattered on Tuesday, March 11 when fishing boats began delivering halibut and black sable after enduring the Gulf of Alaska's dramatic storms, strong winds, and high seas. Suddenly, clouds of frenzied gulls materialized at the local fish processors, scrabbling madly after fish scraps.

Kit and Robin alerted me to the gull show and I joined them in the pouring rain at Lowell Point Road to document a few of the screaming diners. We puzzled over the assortment, identifying a large, very white GLAUCOUS GULL by its pinkish bill and distinctive black tip, like a black cap on a pink magic marker. Another, smaller white mystery gull with a similar but smaller bill showed some pale gray coloration on its back. Adult and immature HERRING GULLS mixed it up with similar-sized GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS of various ages and plumages. Natty BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES darted and dove between the larger gulls, snatching minute fish bits as best they could. It was quite  melee!

Many thanks to Dave Sonneborn and Steve Heinl for reviewing my photos and identifying both white gulls as GLAUCOUS GULLS. Steve noted how variable the plumage can look in adults that are older than one year. The one with pale gray feathers on the back is more typical but the primaries and secondaries are always very white. Furthermore, Glaucous gulls that are second-cycle birds like these two are often almost entirely white. As for the smaller size, there is considerable size variation depending on the gender and subspecies, with the females generally being smaller. Gulls never fail to be a challenge!

Another exciting sighting was the first-of-season BLACK OYSTERCATCHER spotted by Kit, flying over the gulls, heading to Lowell Point. I started to head to the Point, but turned around just before the "Danger: Falling Rocks" sign. Impressive boulders and smaller rocks littered the road ahead; not worth the risk for me! Robin also reported two COMMON MURRES in the bay and a PIGEON GUILLEMOT by the boat harbor.

In other news, the female BRAMBLING is still here, most recently spotted on Sunday, March 9 at Madison and Second. Yesterday morning, I watched a RAVEN carrying large twigs from town towards Lowell Canyon. Either it was the same raven twice, or two separate ravens, impossible to tell, but nest building time is here, regardless of the stormy weather.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter