Monday, August 17, 2015 Two Harlan’s Hawks, Spotted Sandpiper Antics

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:16 am, sunset 9:45 pm for a total day length of 15 hours, 29 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 18 seconds shorter.

The clouds rolled in on Saturday, delivering much needed water for this coastal rainforest. Temperatures fell to the mid-50s, which feels normal. However, the forecast calls for partly cloudy this week with temps in the high 60s to low 70s.

Yellow leaves contrast with the otherwise green landscape; can it be fall already?

Today at the head of the bay, I heard a raspy, descending “KEEERRRRR!” and looked up in time to see a HARLAN’S HAWK launch from a spruce treetop and execute a wide circle. The vocal hawk did not sound quite like the robust Red-tailed Hawk used to speak for the Bald Eagle in the movies. The sound reminded me more of that made by blowing across a blade of grass stretched between one’s thumbs.

Another hawk cried from another treetop. This one was mottled with white and looked like a juvenile. It flew to closer to the adult and another perch, out of sight. Six or more FOX SPARROWS flew between willows. A dozen ROBINS clucked as they crossed from spruce trees to elderberry bushes.

This spring, I watched a Harlan’s gather fistfuls of grasses, ostensibly for a nest, but after that burst of activity, no one reported seeing any hawks the rest of the summer. The first Harlan’s Hawk I spotted since then was on August 4, vocalizing loudly as it flew just above treeline on Mt Marathon. It is possible the hawks nested here, undetected, but maybe they are just migrating through.

Yesterday, I checked out the Lagoon by Dairy Hill Lane across from the boat harbor. It’s always interesting there, and especially in late summer, when King, Chum, Reds, and Pink salmon are returning to spawn. Silvers will be coming soon. Carcasses litter the shallow areas, their primary mission completed.

Now their mission is to feed the birds, then fertilize the Lagoon, streams, and nearby forest. I did not see any Eagles, Ravens, Crows, or Gulls feasting on the carcasses. Instead, I watched a motionless SPOTTED SANDPIPER standing intently on a large, smelly specimen. I wondered, do Spotted Sandpipers eat rotting fish? In an instant, I got an answer. At least for now, this bird was nabbing and feasting on blow flies.

Another li’l bobber came walking along the shore, trying to catch random flies on the sand. The obvious success of the other lured him over, but the first sandpiper would have none of it, and gave chase. That one salmon was not the only carcass and surely there was no shortage of flies, but sharing was not on the agenda.

The second sandpiper continued to follow the first from one carcass to the next, but was always chased away. Maybe it just didn’t quite understand how to catch a fly. There is an art to fish flying.

Of interest as well, is whether birds eat the blow fly larvae/maggots. It seems the maggots flee the light and are well hidden, unlike the adults. Perhaps a more aggressive bird like a gull, crow, or raven would be able to find this rich food source inside the carcasses. When it looks like they are eating salmon, look closer.

Incidentally, blow flies may infest certain bird nests. Check out this website for more information

A splash! drew my attention to a BELTED KINGFISHER, that successfully caught a small fish and flew up into a nearby willow to eat. Nearby, in the shallows, a GREATER YELLOWLEGS and a GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL tried their luck at fishing too.

It was great to see the Kingfisher. A resident at Bear Lake recently reported four Kingfishers chasing off a MERLIN. Might have been the whole family.
Lots happening on the Nature Channel!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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