Monday, April 28, 2014 Hummer Alert and Migration Report

Seward, Alaska
Sunrise 6:02 am, sunset 9:49 pm for a total day length of 15 hours and 47 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 18 seconds longer. Low 37º, high 50º with a south wind. Warmer temps in the forecast up to 65º by Saturday. Wow! That's like summer!

Sprinkly squalls on and off all day today from a blue sky ringed with innocent-looking clouds. Though it "rained" it wasn't very serious and nothing really got wet. Luckily, it was just enough to light up a beautiful morning rainbow in Lowell Canyon to the west, and a full evening 'bow  over Mt Alice to the east. What a stunning pair of bookends for the day!

RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD ALERT! Sightings from just out of town were reported yesterday from Camelot, Afognak Beach, and Ava's. I thought I heard a "zip-zip-zinnnnggggg!" from Two Lakes Park in town today. I cleaned my 3 feeders with hot water and soap while 4 cups of water boiled. Though I understand boiling the water is not necessary, there is no harm and it makes the 1 cup of white granulated sugar dissolve quickly and thoroughly.  It also helps remove the chemicals from city water. Note: there is no need to add red food coloring. This could harm them, and is totally unnecessary. Be sure to keep the sugar solution fresh and the feeders clean, especially that nasty black fungus.

VARIED THRUSHES sing loud and clear from predawn to dusk throughout the area. ROBINS hop across faded lawns and sing, though not as lustily or often as their orange-breasted cousins. Last night, a sweet Robin song overlapped the steadfast beeping of the Bear Mt SAW-WHET OWL. I sure hope he finds a mate soon!

BALD EAGLES have been busy collecting monster talon-grabs of grass and even seaweed from the beach to line their massive nests. They are very enthusiastic about this task, crying loudly to one another as they score on yet another fine load.

"My" RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET returned to tumble through the budding willow in my yard this afternoon. He's so light, it doesn't seem to matter that he doesn't grip the branches. In contrast, a sturdy RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH stuck like a magnet to its branch, working methodically up to the end. A bright CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE seemed content to just sit and watch the show.

Saturday, April 26th was a phenomenal day for migration. Wave after wave of SANDHILL CRANES, CACKLING GEESE, CANADA GEESE, and GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE flew against a strong and chilly north wind up Resurrection Bay and over Seward. What a thrill to hear their faint, excited cries then to search the gray clouds and spot the tiny specks moving steadily closer! Then the air was filled with the din of their mingled music as they passed overhead or across the snowy face of the mountains, on around through Resurrection River valley and northwards, ever north!

In between the crane waves, I heard a low, growly voice, vaguely familiar. I searched for the makers with my binocs and confirmed a flock of about 15 BONAPARTE'S GULLS, nattily attired in white with a black head and a touch of black on the wings. Such a pretty gull!

GREATER YELLOWLEGS flew overhead; their numbers continue to increase daily along with a smaller number of LESSER YELLOWLEGS. The completely thawed pond hosted NORTHERN PINTAILS, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, GADWALL, MALLARDS, AMERICAN WIGEON, one pair of EURASIAN WIGEON, 2 pairs of NORTHERN SHOVELERS, and a few GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE.

Sunday, April 27
FOX SPARROWS suddenly appeared in my yard, hop-scratching in the underbrush like they had never left. A resident SONG SPARROW lit up the morning with his cheerful song.

More flocks of SANDHILL CRANES flew over town. I spotted first-of-season SEMI-PALMATED PLOVERS (2) foraging at the beach, FOS LEAST SANDPIPERS (5) in the wetlands, a mixed flock of about 20 AMERICAN PIPITS and LAPLAND LONGSPURS in the beach ryegrass. They disappeared instantly, perfectly camouflaged in the bleached dead vegetation. FOS (for me) SAVANNAH SPARROW at Fourth of July Beach, posed calmly on a driftwood log.

Three-spine sticklebacks are a perfect size for so many birds, including the ARCTIC TERNS and YELLOWLEGS. The plucky little fish look so defeated as the triumphant birds haul them off or gobble them down, spines not-withstanding.

The two SWANS are still at the Mile 1 wetlands on Nash Road. I am currently undecided as to which species and hope to get more photos.

Spring has certainly sprung!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, April 24, 2014 Late Red-breasted Sapsucker Report

Seward, Alaska

I received an email today about a male RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER discovered on April 3 at Bear Lake near the Iditarod Trail. It stayed at least a few days, but has not been seen since. Keep an eye out for this showy woodpecker; hopefully it's still around. The last time I documented one in Seward was on May 1, 2005.

ARCTIC TERN numbers have greatly increased to at least 50, probably many more, parading around with hapless herring and other small fish. What a joy to watch their exuberant energy! Their wings seem to operate their riotous voices; they just can't seem to keep quiet while airborne.

The pilings off B Street by the Greenbelt are popular perches for DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS to preen and snooze. There aren't enough pilings for all the new arrivals, so many swim around nearby, fishing while they await their chance. The fancy plumes of the adults are mostly white, but close observation reveals some black plumes as well. I read that the white plumes are more common in birds of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. This is truly an impressive and beautiful bird, especially up close.

A big storm is approaching this evening with dark clouds. Often, these fronts bring birds so we shall see!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 Arctic Terns!

Seward, Alaska
Happy Earth Day!

Ching! Another gold coin! Five actually! Joyous, buoyant, rocketing ARCTIC TERNS repossessed the beach airspace, out-classing the Mew Gulls, Ravens, and even the mighty Bald Eagles. Welcome home, incredible travelers!

I watched one Arctic Tern swoop overhead, proudly carrying a small herring for his intended beloved. Suddenly the fish slipped and began a short free fall. The tern expertly snatched it up and sailed off to continue the show and tell, feeling mighty fine.

John M reported finding 3 yesterday, FOS, looking very tired. A good night's rest, and they're good as new.

Also reported today by Robin C, FOS SAVANNAH SPARROW.

Thanks to Richard Hocking of the ASLC for the fish identification.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, April 21, 2014 Black-bellied Plovers and DC Cormorants

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:22 am, sunset 9:32 pm for a total day length of 15 hours and 9 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 23 seconds longer.
First day of summer! Or at least it was a remarkable imitation. It seemed much warmer than the official 55º.  The unblemished blue dome graciously allowed complimentary puffy white clouds to adorn its perfection. The snowy mountains, gleaming in the sun, kissed the sky. Buds swelled, vigorous green leaves shot through the brown turf, anxious to get going. Milbert Tortoiseshell butterflies emerged in numbers, so bright and beautiful.
Mostly sunny is forecast for the next few days, then rain and a chance of snow by the weekend. Go figure. It can't last.
Recently arrived and First of Season, a pair of elegant, breeding-plumage BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS dared to land in Mew Gull territory, i.e. the whole beach. The mew gulls lurked nearby, more like bouncers than bodyguards. Occasionally, a gull nonchalantly eased closer and closer, then suddenly struck out with its bill, making the alert plover move off. The tired migrants really had to watch out for these tin-horn tooting bullies.
Two ravens raced overhead, performing a high-speed chase mixed with acrobatics that included flips, flying upside down, and 360 synchronized spins. Raven sure know how to celebrate!
Four BALD EAGLES, perhaps inspired by these commandos, chased each other across the sky, throwing in a few spins and talon-to-talon flips.
Cruising past the old pilings south of the Uplands, I spotted two large black cormorants, yellow-faced with sea-green eyes and poufy eyebrows. FOS DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS! What a nice surprise! The nearby MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS did not disturb their preening, nor did the newcomers relinquish their chosen roost. It must help to be bigger.
While scanning the mountains for mountain goats and bears, I noticed black specks like fruit flies swarming above the rugged peaks. I counted over 30 RAVENS soaring and sailing on the afternoon breeze. My theory is these are female ravens on a freedom flight, all taking a break from incubating those darn eggs while the sun kept them warm. Who knows? Why not!
Like Mario collecting gold coins, I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!
Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter 

Saturday, April 19, 2014 Western Screech Owls!

Seward, Alaska

A pair of vocalizing WESTERN SCREECH OWLS was reported on Wednesday, April 16, and verified on Thursday evening by sight and sound in the Lost Lake Subdivision north of Seward. I drove around the subdivision on Friday night from about 9 to 10:15 pm, parking, listening and walking. I thought I heard GREAT HORNED OWLS at various locations, hooting from a distance above the noise of traffic and rushing streams, but no Western Screech Owls. Many VARIED THRUSHES rang out, no doubts there!

On the way home, I decided to check out the location on Exit Glacier Road where the screech owl was found in March of 2005. (Thanks, Todd E., for the records). I parked by the 40 mph sign, 1.5 miles past the first bridge, and got out. In this peaceful and wild location, I heard the distinctive "bouncing ball" call of the owl not far away! Another owl answered in the distance across the road. It was so exciting to hear these birds again. I hope they stay and nest!

Today, I asked the Lost Lake Subdivision birder if the owls had been heard on Friday night; no, they had not. It is possible there are more than two, but reports will have to be correlated to date and time to try to figure it out. If you hear them, please let me know.

As for etiquette, PLEASE do not use electronic devices or voice imitations to call them in. If they are there, you will hear them. Please do not disturb their critical territory establishment, courtship, and feeding routines by causing them react to a perceived intruder for your convenience. If we are careful to observe without disturbance, we may be lucky to not only have them establish residency here, but also to raise a family.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, April 12, 2014 Spring is Trickling In

Saturday, April 12, 2014 Spring is trickling in
Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:48 am, sunset 9:09 pm for a total day length of 14 hours and 20 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 28 seconds longer.

Spring and Winter are fiddling with the thermostat. Spring inches it up to the mid 40s; suddenly ice is melting in rivulets down the street and mud makes its first appearance. Milbert Tortoiseshell butterflies emerge from their hiding places and flit about looking for a mate. Crocuses fling open their lovely petals, enticing a bumbling over-wintered bumblebee to dine. Then, bang! Winter dials it down to the mid-20s and throws in 3" of snow for good measure. Back and forth, they tussle. Yet the birds are on their way, slipping in, arriving in little spurts, assuring us that Spring will indeed, win the thermostat war. Eventually.

Shortly after the first day of Spring, on March 21, I watched a pair of RAVENS carry a load of moss and grass as a lining for their hidden nest. Eggs are next! A single GRAY-CROWNED ROSY FINCH shared the fallen seeds and suet under a feeder on Second Ave with a beautiful red male PINE GROSBEAK.

March 22: FOS GREATER SCAUP dove by the boat harbor entrance. The usual winter BARROW'S GOLDENEYES, COMMON MERGANERS, HARLEQUIN DUCKS, and a barrage of noisy gulls hung out nearby.

A lot of Euphasids, a type of krill, washed up in lines at the high tide on area beaches recently. They resemble little shrimp and when fresh, are very tasty. Bring crackers! The gulls and crows feasted on them at the Greenbelt beach. I wonder why this rich resource is not instantly gobbled up at the other beaches?

March 25: PIGEON GUILLEMOT in breeding plumage, just one.

March 28: HERRING GULL migration continues with loud, joyous gull cries.

March 29: A pair of wary TRUMPETER SWANS stopped over briefly.

April 1: GREATER SCAUP still by boat harbor entrance. A few FOS NORTHERN PINTAILS, AMERICAN WIGEON, and GADWALL joined a large flock of over-wintering MALLARDS at the tidelands. Also refound 6 DUNLINS that have been here all winter.

April 2: Several Longnose Skate egg cases, called "mermaid's purses" washed up on the beaches. I opened up one purse and found an exquisite sea-green lining, but the treasure, the single baby skate, had hatched and flown off to seek adventures in the mysterious sea.

April 6: Robin C reported FOS 2 LAPLAND LONGSPURS. Otherwise, except for the  boisterous gulls, it's been very quiet.

April 7: A cheerful AMERICAN ROBIN sang sweetly in the morning. FOS bumblebee. FOS 3 BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS fed in the intertidal zone at mid tide at Lowell Point.

April 8: 3" new snow! No more cheerio Robin!

April 9: Report of a 1000 white birds flying high past the moon around 6:30 pm; maybe gulls?

April 10: SAW-WHET OWL calling from Little Bear Mountain around 10:30 pm. I haven't heard him in such a long time. While it made me very happy, I hope he will soon have a mate and a family. Saturn now sails across the sky following Jupiter. Orion is fading until next November. I will miss the stars!

April 11: Salmon fry swimming in Tonsina Creek.  7 TRUMPETER SWANS reported at the head of the bay.  A single female LAPLAND LONGSPUR scurried around the bedraggled beach ryegrass by the Greenbelt bike path, looking for fallen seeds. Robin C reported a single SNOW BUNTING in the same area.

April 12: FOS GREEN-WINGED TEAL pair joined dozens of NORTHERN PINTAILS, and 100 MALLARDS. HERRING GULLS, GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, MEW GULLS, KITTIWAKES created a gull snow squall when an eagle flew through. Another eagle snatched a fish and hauled it back to the trees, accompanied by another screeching eagle. Feast time!

Winter birds still dominate, but Spring is on her way!

Interesting websites:
Longnose Skate (they do have wings)

True Facts about the Owl (with some odd asides)

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter