Wednesday, January 7, 2015 Excitement at the Lagoon

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:56 am, sunset 4:11 pm for a total day length of 6 hours and 15 minutes. Tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 58 seconds longer.
Today was a beautiful winter day, 24ยบ, light north wind, and a clear blue sky. Business-like clouds in dark suits moved in by early evening bearing bulging suitcases full of the forecasted rain or snow, enough for the next week or so.

My day started at midnight when a friend called to alert me to the Northern Lights. I dashed outside in time to see two green ribbons shooting from the moon-lit snow-capped Mt Marathon Race Point. More green lights shot vertically across the northern night sky, another arced directly overhead in a narrow band. The sky was dancing!

As I looked up in awe, a persistent beeping began, alerting me to an inspired NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL calling from nearby Bear Mt. I could not help but smile, thinking of the little owl courting his sweetie with this spectacular backdrop of full moon and northern lights. How could she resist?

An especially bright star far to the north caught my eye, brilliant through the green glow, setting behind Resurrection Peaks. I grabbed my very smart phone and fired up the Sky Guide app. Pointing it at the star, I saw that it was Deneb, part of the dazzling Northern Cross constellation, also called Cygnus. I thought of the Trumpeter Swan family, their two cygnets forever flying free across the universe.

Much later, when our star the sun finally arrived, I checked out the Lagoon. No swans today, and only a few Bald Eagles loitered in the spruce trees. But wait a bit, and soon the birds started to arrive. First a large flock of tropical-hued WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS flew in to snack on spruce seeds and then drink from the creek near the road. I so enjoyed listening to their ceaseless conversations while I admired their unique bills and antics. They do not sit long, nor do they hop; they flit, making photos a bit challenging.

Suddenly, a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK flashed through the alders, weaving expertly around the dense branches low over the creek. A MALLARD cried out and several burst up and away. The hawk sped off, empty-clawed. A few minutes later, pandemonium erupted as 7 BLACK-BILLED MAGPIES gave noisy chase to the hawk, chasing it far up into the mountainside trees.

The disruption stirred up a large flock of RUSTY BLACKBIRDS; I counted 56, more than we have seen yet this winter. They flew against the blue sky and then landed noisily in a dead tree, decorating it like live Christmas ornaments.

After all that excitement settled down, I turned my attention to a lone gull that has staked out the salmon carcasses at the north end of the Lagoon since at least November. It appears to be a very light phase THAYER’S GULL, and I have asked for expert help in identifying it. I will update this when I know more.

UPDATE: Many thanks to Steve Heinl, Luke DeCicco, and Dave Sonneborn who took the time to identify this bird as a very common GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL. Even though it is much lighter than many other gulls, perhaps to worn feathers, they noted it is very heavy, chunky, and bulky with relatively short wings. Also the bill is large and thick and its eye is small, giving it a beady-eyed look. It's not the first time a Glaucous-winged Gull has fooled me!

So now I'm looking for a slimmer gull, slightly larger than a Mew gull, with much lighter plumage, longer wings, thinner bill, and a rounded head that was here in November. That would be the also confusing Thayer's/Kumliens Gull. 

If you want a challenge, study gulls and you won't be disappointed!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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