Wednesday, November 12, 2014 Mystery Bird and Rock Sandpiper

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:49 am, sunset 4:33 pm for a total day length of 7 hours and 43 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 49 minutes shorter.

The relentless rain finally let up today, though the clouds only grudgingly allowed the sun to peek through momentarily. It felt like spring with a high of 51ยบ and mostly calm. The forecast for tomorrow is partly sunny with clear skies for Friday and Saturday, followed by 100% chance of variations of precip on Sunday continuing through next week. As always, we shall see.

The most exciting sightings today were a mystery sandpiper and ROCK SANDPIPER feeding at the tide’s edge with MEW GULLS at the head of the bay. They were an odd pair, one so white  bill, the other dark like salt and pepper. They looked so small compared to the gulls. A single PIPIT called and flew high overhead. 

Update: Rich Macintosh noted that the light bird was NOT a dunlin as I originally posted. Scott Schuette identified the small dark one as a "mainland" ROCK SANDPIPER, and the larger pale one as the standard "Pribilof" ROCK SANDPIPER. See above post.

The RUSTY BLACKBIRDS, at least 20, creaked and squeaked in the alders and willows along the salmon stream at the Lagoon on Dairy Hill Lane. A flock of about 12 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS landed in a spruce nearby, their bright white wingbars flashing, and peculiar bills silhouetted against a dark sky.

It’s just amazing to see and hear the silver salmon still fighting to get upstream to spawn. Colorful yellow and maroon carcasses litter the banks, their mission over, and bodies donated to the ecosystem. Some resemble deflated balloons flattened against a branch in the current. Squalling gulls and ravens sparred over each fish as if it were the best and last one ever.

The THAYER’S GULL really loves those salmon eggs by the culvert, his favorite dip-in diner. I’m bugging my eyes out trying to see the possible Kumlien’s Gull, but just can’t detect it yet among all the larger HERRING, GLAUCOUS-WINGED, hybrids, and smaller MEW GULLS.

Yesterday at Lowell Point beach, I found dozens and dozens of sunflower sea stars washed up with rows and rows of seaweed deposited by recent storms. I began tossing them back in the ocean, one, two, five, ten, a dozen. It reminded me of a good story, “The Seastar Thrower” by Loren Eiseley. It may seem hopeless to try to throw them back; it may seem like it won’t make much of a difference. But, as the story goes, it sure makes a difference to that one seastar!

A few leather stars and sea nettles were mixed in, such beautiful shapes and colors! The leather star did indeed smell faintly of garlic.

Just offshore, I counted over 15 PELAGIC CORMORANTS, rafting together. A small tight flock of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES dove nearby, and a couple MARBLED MURRELETS called loudly back and forth.

On shore, Robin C reported an influx of songbirds including a ROBIN, 3 VARIED THRUSHES, GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEED, PINE GROSBEAKS, an AMERICAN TREE SPARROW, SONG SPARROWS, and probably a few more.

It was still raining, so I spent an enjoyable few hours at the Alaska Sealife Center photographing sea birds. A new SMEW was introduced in August to pair with the female. It will be interesting to watch him molt as he matures into the stunning portrait of the bird books.

Of note, on November 10, I saw a single SNOW BUNTING fly overhead; no seen since.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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