Saturday, August 16, 2014 Bank Swallows and Raptors in the Rain

Seward, Alaska

The rain continued, and the answer to the rhetorical, "Can it rain any harder?" was a hammering YES! But the incredible resultant downpour seemed to drain the clouds' reservoir, and the rest of the day's delivery was lighter with welcome pauses.

I checked out Fourth of July Beach in the afternoon, looking for the STELLER'S EIDER. I found the usual dark male HARLEQUIN DUCKS in their eclipse plumage, growing their tails from odd, long pins. A much lighter female Harlequin paddled and dove with them, only one. The females have been scarce. She could be mistaken for the Eider as they are both a light brown, and stand out among the male Harleys. But note her rounded head, face pattern, small bill, and she is the same size as the males.

Next, I checked out nearby Spring Creek beach. The STELLER'S EIDER was indeed there, just offshore, hanging out with a long line of male Harlequins. Slightly larger, lighter brown, flat head, longer bill, with different but subtle patterning.

Suddenly, a powerful, large brown raptor zoomed past my car. A PEREGRINE FALCON!! I haven't seen one all year! That was exciting! It disappeared as quickly as it came.

Another surprise awaited: swooping over the wetland pond were a dozen SWALLOWS! I thought the swallows were long gone. It took a lot of effort to try to track them in the rain and dim light and getting a photo was even more challenging. They are more erratic than bats! Finally, I caught sight of a dark breast band and identified at least a few as BANK SWALLOWS. I think some others may have been TREE SWALLOWS but it sure was hard to tell.

A flash of brown in the wetlands beyond caught my eye next: a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK in pursuit of a rattling, protesting BELTED KINGFISHER! After a short dash, the hawk veered off to settle on one of the dead trees nearby. NORTHWESTERN CROWS perched on top of various other dead trees watching the show. But there was more!

A MERLIN shot into the scene, chasing the Sharpie. Round and round they went, until the Merlin gave up and the Sharpie landed to catch its breath. The Merlin perched upright on top of a dead tree snag, and the Sharpie sat not 10' below it, in a slightly less upright posture. Waiting, watching, resting. While they sat, I checked around the clearing and found the PEREGRINE FALCON sitting on another dead tree, waiting and watching. What a lot of raptors!

After a time-out, ANOTHER Sharp-shinned Hawk materialized and took off after the first. They both chased around the clearing, dodging the dead branches and then through the nearby live spruce tree branches. They seemed pretty serious about the chase, flaring their wings and extending their yellow legs and sharp talons.

By the time they dashed off through the trees one final time, I lost track of the Merlin and Peregrine. The Crows and Kingfisher had disappeared too, smart birds!

Even though the rain made it tough to get decent photos, and the action was far away, it sure was an exciting afternoon and well worth the effort.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

1 comment:

  1. What great captures of the Sharp-shinned hawks flights, and in rain and dull light, too. And I enjoy your writing, as always.