Sunday, October 4, 2015 Swan, Whales, Peregrine

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:10 am, sunset 7:21 pm for a total day length of 11 hours and 10 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 25 seconds shorter.

Calm, sunny, high of 48ยบ, fresh snow on all the surrounding mountains, and exciting wildlife sightings; what a soothing antidote to the swan cygnets tragedy.

The first birds of the day were a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK chasing a squawking MAGPIE. They dashed out of sight, followed at a safe distance by several backup STELLER’S JAYS. Outcome unknown.

The reduced Swan family of 6 was not at the Lagoon today, but was reported in the area. I spotted a single TRUMPETER SWAN flying in to the pond at the head of the bay. I suspect this is one of the two remaining swans from last year’s family, all grown up at 16 months. The golden light on the white swan was stunning.

Coincidentally, a painting by Joseph Hautman featuring an equally stunning pair of flying Trumpeter Swans was selected for the 2016-2017 Federal Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, aka Duck Stamp.

Please consider purchasing the $25 Duck Stamps annually (available in mid-June) at the Post Office. The money raised goes into the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to conserve and protect wetland and grassland habitats in the National Wildlife Refuge System for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of people. It is a very effective program and a good bang for your buck, even if you are not a hunter.

Check out the winning designs (all three by the Hautman brothers this year) at

At least two Humpback Whales plied the bay today, again thrilling all who heard or saw them. A local photographer has identified 5 individual whales by their distinctive markings. It is so unusual and so spectacular, especially when they lunge feed or breach. At times, they were so close, I could hear not only the explosive, whooshing exhale, but the sucking, whistling intake. So impressive!

I also watched a Steller Sea Lion thrash around a large codfish. With great shaking sweeps and splashing, the head and gills finally flew off, and the sea lion snarfed it down. BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES hovered over the scraps, diving cautiously and quickly to retrieve the morsels.

A couple of purposeful Harbor Porpoises rose up and down quickly, barely showing their arched backs and dorsal fins. Sea Otters cruised past, oblivious to the fishy feasts, content to crunch on blue mussels and crabs.

Over in the Small Boat Harbor, more Sea Otters lounged about, feasting on mussels harvested from the sides of the docks, very convenient. Lion’s Mane jellies pulsed in the green water. A local sailboater told us that if you stick your hand in the water about 2 to 3 feet from a jelly, it will move towards you.

So of course, we had to try that. My friend went first, and sure enough, the Lion’s Mane jelly seemed to veer towards his hand and touched it! That was amazing! How do they know? I tried it, and it sure seemed like the jelly pulsed away. This will require further research!

Towards the end of the afternoon, we checked the bay for whales one more time. A flock of Black-legged Kittiwakes and Glaucous-winged Gulls gathered noisily over a herring bait ball. Suddenly, a dark bird ripped through the white gulls, instantly scattering them. A PEREGRINE FALCON! It didn’t hit anything, but didn’t stop either as it rapidly flew out of sight, south along the shoreline. Wow!

All in all, it was a remarkable, spectacular day of marine mammals, jellies, and a swan, bookended by flashy raptors.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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