Saturday, September 12, 2015 Sandhill Cranes!

Seward, Alaska

Another squally day with bouts of hard rain and peek-a-boo sky.

In a downpour around 2 pm in town, I heard the stirring cries of SANDHILL CRANES flying overhead in the clouds. I raced to the head of the bay for a possible better view, but was again thwarted by the clouds. From the east side of the bay, through a break, Kerry reported at least 100 cranes flying south in a large V with stragglers tagging along. For the next several hours, more cranes passed overhead in intervals, heard but not seen. Around 7 pm, I received a call from just north of town of a tremendous flock of many hundreds of cranes flying very high, urgently heading south. It was a banner day for cranes in Seward, the first and possibly the last migrants.

It was an exciting day for birding overall. The regal TRUMPETER SWAN family of 6 cygnets had flown from their nest site at Nash Road to the salt marsh pond to feed. Opportunistic PINTAILS, WIGEONS, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, MALLARDS and GADWALL surrounded them, profiting from the swans’ long-necked efforts to dredge up pond plants. Molted swan feathers floated on the calm surface; more wafted out every time a cygnet stretched and beat its massive wings.

A brown juvenile or possibly a female NORTHERN HARRIER steadily looped around the gold and green salt marsh in the light rain, its white rump flashing. Suddenly, an overly ambitious MERLIN gave chase, but soon broke off. At one point, the HARRIER chased a RAVEN, a RAVEN chased another RAVEN, and two BALD EAGLES went after each other. Everyone chasing somebody!

In the distance, a GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL pursued a juvenile BALD EAGLE, flying past several other eagles perched in the trees. I started counting eagles, many with their wings hanging out to dry, for a total of at least 75 adults and juveniles! That’s a lot of eagles for Seward!

Two unidentified peeps flew out of the wetlands. A short time later, two DOWITCHERS circled around. (Any ID on those?) A second HARRIER, also brown, materialized and both hunted low over the marsh. Several SAVANNAH SPARROWS popped in and out of the beach rye, perching momentarily on top of the golden stalks before sinking back down.

Through a break in the clouds I caught a glimpse of termination dust on Mt Alice before the clouds regrouped to conceal Nature's little surprise.

To top it off, as I was leaving, I spotted a splendid cow moose feeding on alders at the edge of the clearing. That a moose can survive and thrive eating faded alder leaves and other plants, including bark in winter, is impressive.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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