Sunday October 12, 2014 Seward swan family visits the Seward Boat Harbor

Seward, Alaska

A chilly, dark, fall afternoon; sn’rain spit intermittently at sea level while snow accumulated on the mountainsides. A good day to bird from the car. I parked by the Mariners’ Memorial on the harbor uplands to look for seabirds. Immediately, my attention switched from dot birds to a majestic flotilla of six TRUMPETER SWANS, two adults and four cygnets, paddling directly below me along the rocky breakwater, honking softly. They looked apprehensive and uncomfortable in this unusual habitat, as well they should.

I snapped a few photos from my car blind. The leader lowered his/her head to take a sip of saltwater, and unsurprised, raised its long neck to swallow it down. No one followed suit or stopped paddling. I watched them slowly disappear around the corner into the entrance of the Seward Boat Harbor. Hmmm, sez I, I wonder if I could sneak over to the fish cleaning station on the nearby float and catch them steaming into the boat harbor? So I did! We had about the same distance to cover, but I walked faster than they paddled.

Shortly after hiding myself behind the cover of the fish cleaning station, sure enough, here comes the leader with all four cygnets paddling in a line behind him/her with the other adult guarding the rear. The lead adult nervously stretched its magnificent, powerful wings, then resumed the impromptu tour.

Despite the lousy weather, of all things, a boat decided to head out. The swans moved to the other side as the delighted skipper took a few photos on his way out. One does not often have to navigate around swans here! Another boat snorted to life and the swans milled about, not very happy about this alien scene. A few BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, MEW GULLS, and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS circled hopefully over the fish cleaning station, a harbor seal popped its shiny head up to look at the new visitors; a sea otter nonchalantly cruised backwards, oblivious, crunching noisily on a mussel.

Hey kids! What doesn’t belong in this habitat? The swans took the hint and were soon beating their giant wings and running along the water next to the US Coast Guard Cutter Mustang, gaining momentum and lift-off. They soared over the tall harbor lights, over the coal loading conveyor, and aimed for the familiar wetlands at the head of the bay. THIS Sunday afternoon expedition was over, and the lesson learned.

I stayed a bit longer to enjoy the sight and sounds of the sea otter, enthusiastically smacking on yet another mussel as a SONG SPARROW sang from the breakwater, and NORTHWESTERN CROWS cawed nearby. I wonder what they thought of those big, white, long-necked visitors from another world in their boat harbor?

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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