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

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