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

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