Tuesday, July 29, 2014 Primrose Trail Shorebird Surprises

Seward, Alaska

It rained hard Monday night with temperatures in the low 50s. Typically this weather pattern subsides to cool overcast weather with occasional showers that persists for the week. To everyone's amazement, the weather forecast for sun and temps in the mid 70s was correct!

Tuesday dawned clear and freshly washed. It was a lovely day for a hike so we headed to the Primrose Trailhead at Mile 18 Seward Highway. The first 5 miles or so climbs through a Mt Hemlock forest with scattered spruce. The cones are abundant this year, attracting hoards of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, a species that was entirely absent last winter. Their long, complex trills filled the tops of the trees.

I followed a soft tapping to find a male AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER methodically working his way around a dead spruce tree. This is my first sighting for the year, and quite a treat!

A PINE GROSBEAK stopped to sing from a dead snag. Numerous overflights of REDPOLLS called back and forth. HERMIT THRUSHES cautioned with their soft "chway." I finally saw one watching me before it quietly flew off. The VARIED THRUSHES were silent, but I did spot one, almost perfectly camouflaged in the hemlock forest on a branch.

The blueberries along the trail were bountiful and delicious. After the disastrous 3-year attack by the geometrid moth larvae, the sweet berries are back and so appreciated by more than just snacking hikers.

We took a short spur trail at mile 2 to view thundering Porcupine Falls across the canyon. Such a huge volume of water!

Once out of the forest, spectacular views of snowy mountains cradling cirque and valley glaciers opened up to the east with Mt Ascension at 5710' dominating the west side. Small subalpine ponds dotted the rolling emerald green landscape. Fluffy white cloud reflections sailed across the calm shallow waters.

I did not expect to see a shorebird up here, but there, walking along the edge of one pond, was a SOLITARY SANDPIPER! I watched it poke and prod the muddy bank, obviously finding something to eat. I wonder if it nested close by, or if it was migrating through.

A short time later, around mile 7, a WILSON'S SNIPE flushed out of a shallow wetlands, another big surprise. It was too sudden to photograph, but the photo shows the habitat.

Glimpses of Lost Lake began to appear, then the beautiful turquoise-blue waters were below us. A wake of an unseen swimmer, a rainbow? v-ed across a little bay embellished with cloud reflections. Fat marmots whistled sharply from their rocky outposts. A daring vole dashed across the path in just front of me, diving back into the safety of the beautiful wildflowers and grasses.

At the half-way point, mile 7.5, and end of the Primrose Trail, we crossed the bridge over Lost Creek as it began its journey from Lost Lake to the sea. Stone steps led up the other side to the north end of the Lost Lake Trail. Shortly afterwards, I admired a frost-heaved rock pocket, filled with water. Looking more closely, I discovered a LEAST SANDPIPER busily hunting for insects. Another shorebird surprise!

We still had about 8 miles to hike, so regretfully we turned around to head back down the Primrose Trail. The white-winged crossbills were still singing in the hemlock forest as we plucked just a few more blueberries on the long descent. The final bird was a Chickadee, either a Boreal or Chestnut-backed, hidden in the hemlock branches, as we trundled through the Primrose campground back to the parking lot.

What a gorgeous and surprising place, the high country of Lost Lake!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

































Sunday, July 27, 2014 Hummingbird Report

Seward, Alaska

After about a week of steady feeding and frequent sightings, my RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD has not been seen since July 23. Another feeder in town reported her hummingbirds seemed to have departed by July 19.

Today, however, about 7 miles south of Seward alongside a creek feeding into Resurrection Bay, I spotted a hummingbird feeding on one of the last blooming red columbines. It seemed larger than a Rufous Hummingbird, though small is small. A possible candidate is an Anna's Hummingbird, a quarter inch larger at 4". Regardless of what species, it was a big surprise and thrill to see a hummer in the wild at this late date. A CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE cheerfully inspected a spruce branch for insects.

Also spotted along the kayak trip, several adult and juvenile PIGEON GUILLEMOTS, MARBLED MURRELETS, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, 7 HARLEQUIN DUCKS in eclipse plumage, and BALD EAGLES.

MEW GULLS plundered the freshly laid eggs of the returning Dog/Chum Salmon spawning in Tonsina Creek. Two SPOTTED SANDPIPERS, sans spots, flew along creek, then landed and emphatically jerked their heads up and down in their weird but characteristic manner while bobbing their tails. It's a wonder the spots don't fall off sooner!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter




Saturday, July 26, 2014 Warblers in Willow

Seward, Alaska

Just when it seemed like all the songbirds had abandoned Seward, I found a Sitka Willow bustling with a family of TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, a BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE, and PINE SISKINS. The female tree was loaded with tiny insects and the birds were only too happy to perform extermination services.

I watched a Pine Siskin glean a black insect from the underside of a willow leaf. The Chickadee pounded a small dead branch with its tiny bill, then extracted an insect larva for lunch. The Townsend's Warblers chipped constantly, as they flitted from one branch to another, snacking and remarking on the bounteous feast.

An Orange-crowned Warbler perched precariously on a nearby cow parsnip, upside down, sideways, and on top, gleaning insects from among the developing seeds.

Two speckle-breasted young ROBINS hopped about in the grass, looking for invertebrates, happy to find a worm.

It was quite an unexpected treat to both hear and see these busy songbirds. I hope the willow feast will fuel them for many miles on their journey south.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter









Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Raven Kiss

Seward, Alaska

It's usually quite difficult to spy on COMMON RAVENS, much less get photos. They are wary and private, and do not tolerate paparazzi spying on their personal lives. By happy circumstance, while studying the raucous gulls at the NE Beach fish cleaning station, I found a family of oblivious RAVENS parading along the beach. The three youngsters looked disheveled, their feathers stained with fish oil from the delectable feast thrown into the fish bin by the fishermen. But raven teenagers always look unkempt, losing and gaining feathers like a human teenager outgrows baggy jeans and shoes, so this was normal.

The mom was also a mess, her feathers in disarray and likewise streaked with fish oil. I could almost see her pink foam hair curlers sliding off, her wrinkled and worn house dress, and her shabby slippers, exhausted from a busy day minding the kids and rustling up dinner. The dad, in contrast, was magnificent, glossy and iridescent, impeccably attired with impressive shaggy throat feathers. He looked like a VIP, possibly the CEO of the boat harbor.

The pair ignored their children while they shared a few tender moments together. The dad, a perfect, gallant gentleman, saw only the beautiful bride and mother of his handsome family. After a little bowing and horn display (the female's are smaller and shorter), they tenderly exchanged a raven kiss where the female gently grasped the male's beak in hers. These are powerful tools that can rip branches off a tree, so it was quite an act of trust. Their sky blue nictitating membranes flashed across their black eyes from back to front. Afterwards, they both burst into a cascade of croaking and celebration followed by more respectful bowing to each other.

Unfortunately, my DSLR camera makes quite a racket as the mirror slaps up and down. The amorous pair paused and glanced in my direction several times. Finally, with great dignity, the stars walked off stage, side by side, little hearts zipping between them.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter








Friday, July 18, 2014 One thing after another!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:06 am, sunset 10:59 pm, for a total length of day of 17 hours and 53 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 4 seconds shorter.

After several overcast days that promised rain without delivering and temps in the mid 50s, the clouds took a break and let that blue sky and sunshine reign instead. A soft south breeze with a high of 64ยบ was a lovely and welcome combination. Late in the afternoon, I sallied forth to see what I could see.

It turned out to be a Larid afternoon, short for gulls and terns. A dainty little gull with a black bill and matching black earrings flew overhead and landed just offshore in the brown, silty waves (lots of glacier melt going on.) A BONAPARTE'S GULL, perhaps the same one I spotted last month. I've only seen one at a time this summer; they are not common here like they are in Anchorage. When the little gull flew off, the black band on the tail and distinctive black markings on the wings flashed.

As I followed the gull's flight, I caught sight of a life and death drama being played out high over the bay. An adult BALD EAGLE and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL rapidly exchanged positions of pursuit. The eagle gained the upper hand and the gull gave flight as they raced across the sky, ever lower. At times, they were in perfect synchrony, as if choreographed. Finally, with both birds' beaks open and panting, the gull pulled away. The eagle broke off and flew to the beach where it landed in the water to cool off. ARCTIC TERNS immediately bombarded it, trying to drive it off, to no avail. Too tired.

A random glance at other Arctic Terns in the distance made me jump! The ratcheting Arctic Terns were escorting a jumbo tern with a huge red bill and black-tipped wings. I've been looking for a CASPIAN TERN all summer, and here it was!  It didn't linger over the feisty smaller terns' territory, but took leisurely loops and soon disappeared. No one messes with Arctic Terns!

As I headed back, small groups of invisible LEAST SANDPIPERS flushed out of the seaweed wrack. They blend in so well, it's hard to spot them until they move. Migration is well underway as the season races along.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter