Thursday, June 26, 2014 Arctic Tern fracas!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:34 am, sunset 11:26 pm, for a total day length of 18 hours and 25 minutes. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 6 seconds shorter.

Cool cloudy weather continues with occasional sprinkles and sunshine, temps in the mid 50s. The forecast, if it is to be believed, is for 72ยบ on Saturday with more sunshine on Sunday. We shall see!

It was a pleasure, as always, to watch the graceful ARCTIC TERNS today, full of moxie, zipping after BALD EAGLES and RAVENS like fighter jet escorts at the border.  One caught a rather impressive fish and paraded that fish around and around, crying exultantly, openly bragging, long after the poor fish was asphyxiated. I hope that eventually the tern remembered to haul it back to any chicks, waiting hungrily for delivery.

Another tern dove with a big splash and caught a minute fish, smaller than a chick snack. To my astonishment, another tern dove down and ATTACKED the fisher, grabbed one of its outer tail feathers with its strong red bill and pulled hard. The attacked tern struggled to fly away. Weighed down by the intruder, it almost went into the water. You can imagine the racket as both birds screamed, one in surprise and indignation, the other hurling bad, bad tern words. Maybe both were.

It was over in a trice; the attacker released the feathers and the victim flew free, feathers intact, still holding the tiny fish between its clenched bill. I have never witnessed a tern attack another tern. I cannot conceive why. Certainly, it wasn't because of the fish, which was no prize. Very puzzling. But what a drama!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 Seward Hudsonian Godwit

Seward, Alaska

A surprising discovery today was a HUDSONIAN GODWIT feeding at the tide's edge. Its bill was bicolored, with a black tip, and the rest a very dull and vague pink. The sides were barred with black, light rufous, and gray. I think it was a female. When it flew, (sorry!) the black tail, white rump, and narrow white stripes flashed. I did not see the color of the wing linings, which are dark in Hudsonians and dark in Black-tailed Godwits (should I ever be so lucky!)

I understand that recently there were many on the island in Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage. Is it possible that they are already migrating south en route to Amazonian Colombia and thence to Isla Chiloe off the coast of Chile?

Nathan Senner's PhD research links at:

There's always something interesting happening on the Nature Channel!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

June 19, 2014 Bird Tour to the Chiswells

On Thursday, June 19, I joined Captain Eric Clock of Semaka Charters on the Seafarer with six birders, including the leaders Ed Harper and Susan Scott of Sandpiper Journeys Tours.

The 9-hour trip featured the rugged coast of Resurrection Bay, the glaciers and spectacular scenery of Aialik Bay, and the famed Chiswell Islands in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

Some highlights of the trip included watching a tiny PARAKEET AUKLET; a RED-FACED CORMORANT that flew around the boat several times, flashing not only its large white flank patches, but also its very red-orange-blue face; upwards of 40-50 RHINOCEROS AUKLETS feasting on herring detected by the fish finder; a BALD EAGLE striding purposefully up a grassy slope topping a cliff; a GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL we clocked at 26 knots, flying with the boat; a branded Steller sea lion, resting harbor seals, mammoth humpback whales, and a pod of 4 stunning orcas with a precious calf.

I learned from the Alaska Sealife Center that the branded sea lion gave birth on the rookery at Chiswell Island this summer on June 3. The researcher thought she must have been taking a break during a foraging trip as she was observed the next morning by remote cameras at the rookery tending to her pup. The mom was born on Chiswell 7 years ago, and gave birth for her first time in 2012 at the age of 5. This is her second pup. Any reports, especially with photos documenting branded sea lions are greatly appreciated by the researchers at the ASLC.

Another research project, conducted by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, concerns the management of Pacific halibut. The Victoria, British Columbia fishing vessel, Waterfall, flying both the Canada and USA flags, was heading out into the Gulf of Alaska as we turned homeward into Resurrection Bay.

Captain Eric was very flexible in his route, accommodated any reasonable request to check out potential hot spots, lingered there once found, and told great sea stories. It was wonderful to share this wild Kenai Fjords coast with the excited and appreciative birders/photographers. 

Here's my list, there may be a few species missing:


Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, June 22, 2014 Summer Sandpipers and Angry Eagles

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:32 am, sunset 11:27 pm for a total day length of 18 hours and 55 minutes. Tomorrow will be 21 seconds shorter!

Although the forecast has been for rain the past week, after the big rainstorm on Monday, it has only rained overnight or just for parts of the day, leaving much of the day unexpectedly sunny and bright. Everything is green and blooming, including tree-size lilacs and honeysuckle bushes in town. The hummingbirds have many choices with all these flowers plus wildflowers and annuals in hanging baskets. The very pleasant temps linger in the fifties to low sixties.

A walk along the tide flats proved surprisingly productive today. Two GREATER YELLOWLEGS poked and prodded along the tideline. One struck an enviable yoga pose as it preened; a master at ease. A SPOTTED SANDPIPER flew up, calling, then settled down to feed, teetering dramatically like a tightrope walker on the flat, stable mudFLAT.
I wonder why so many shorebirds do that?

Three small bits scampered ahead along a streamlet. I looked closer and discovered about 13 WESTERN SANDPIPERS, 1 LEAST SANDPIPER, and 1 SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, all adults in breeding plumage. These birds could represent failed nests, not sure. I believe it is too early for the juveniles to be present; at least I haven't seen any yet.

While I was engrossed in watching these tiny peeps, I heard a screeching racket and looked up to see a BALD EAGLE flying straight towards me, carrying a fish carcass. I clicked madly, trying to track the fast-flying, angry bird. Suddenly, another pair of talons appeared in my telephoto lens; another Bald Eagle grabbed onto the prize and ripped some of it off. No wonder the eagle was furious!

The fantastic scene was too close to fit in my lens as they flew right overhead. The marauder peeled off with the stolen goods while the first eagle headed for home with the remains of the remains. ARCTIC TERNS and MEW GULLS peppered the eagle with insults and threats all the way through their territory. I can imagine the exasperated eagle complaining to the eaglets and spouse, "What a day!" as it tossed dinner into the nest and collapsed on the couch.

The second summer BONAPARTE'S GULL fished for sticklebacks and other tidbits in a very shallow stream. To date, I've only seen one among all the other gulls.

I heard an ALDER FLYCATCHER calling from, yes, alders, and heard the winnowing of a WILSON'S SNIPE. SAVANNAH, SONG, and LINCOLN SPARROWS' songs rang out.  ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, YELLOW WARBLERS, VARIED THRUSH, HERMIT THRUSH, and ROBINS sang from the willows and cottonwoods. A pretty fine summer afternoon!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, June 20, 2014 No Eurasian Collared Dove

Seward, Alaska

The Seward EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE was last seen on Tuesday evening, June 17 around 6 pm. It has not been seen since, despite intensive efforts by some avid birders. Nor has it been served up under glass, lightly seasoned, contrary to some rumors. I will post if I hear any news.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, June 14, 2014 Common Merganser family

Seward, Alaska

A very watchful COMMON MERGANSER hen cautiously paddled around the north end of the Lagoon, surrounded by eleven tiny, fluffy, adorable red-headed fuzzballs. Demonstrating the epitome of precocial, in which the young are ready to go a millisecond after hatching, they were off, still sporting the egg tooth. Just like mom, they already knew how to swim and look for fish by snorkeling, peering underwater, then diving to grab 3-spine sticklebacks. It took a bit of maneuvering to get the protesting spiny fish to go down headfirst, but that was soon accomplished. I did not see mom feed any babies; they were on their own in that department.

Two immature BALD EAGLES watched with great interest from a nearby spruce and beach. When one dove upon the busy family, they all instantly and simultaneously disappeared. It was an impressive reaction. While one duckling would not even be a snack, it could be a calamity for the family if the eagle snatched up mom.

Another female, however, stood nearby and watched. Mergansers are known to "adopt" another's brood, so maybe this mom was usurped. The mother in charge drove her away, not willing to share her astounding family, adopted or not. If anything happened to the Number One mom, Number Two seemed ready to guide and guard.

The second Bald Eagle also tried to grab a bite, but again the whole brood dove and disappeared as the giant predator sailed away. Then up they popped, downy feathers and all.

I noticed that the Common Merganser mother was quite easily disturbed by people on the boardwalk. Unknowingly, their excitement of seeing all the cute ducklings only made the mom take her family farther away. This caused the fragile family to expend a lot of energy, exposed them to other predators, and took them far from the shallows where it was easy for the babies to catch sticklebacks. 

If you want to watch them, walk up quietly and stay still. It's even better if you crouch down so you are not so big. Then enjoy the show and afterwards, slip away. It's an incredible peek into a wild duck's nursery!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Saturday, June 14, 2014 Golden-crowned and Song Sparrows

Seward, Alaska

I rarely see the female GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW, and many references ignore her completely. So I was pleased to get a few photos of her recently as she quickly gleaned leggy insects from a willow tree for her babies. The dad is quite dashing with his dashing golden crown inset into a black cap, but she also wears a sweet little golden crown. Quite the royal pair.

Another sparrow puzzled me. It looked like a SONG SPARROW, but it was so much brighter than our dark Kenai subspecies with a dapper white bib, buffy eyebrows, and almost no gray on the face. The dark bill looked much longer and more slender than the pictures in the books. Thanks to Joe Staab for verifying the ID as a Song Sparrow. As he described it, it's "milk chocolate" instead of "dark chocolate," more like the Midwestern subspecies. I'll be looking more closely at Song Sparrows now as well!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter