Saturday, November 7, 2015 A Starling Visits Exit Glacier

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:36 am, sunset 4:45 pm, for a total day length of 8 hours and 9 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 1 second shorter.

Sunny, but the brisk, NNW wind today gusting to 33 mph, whisked away the 41ยบ warmth. Out of the wind, it was very pleasant. A big storm with high winds and snow is forecast for tomorrow.

The winter gates on Exit Glacier Road (Herman Leirer Road) are due to close soon, so we seized the opportunity to cruise out to Kenai Fjords National Park in the comfort of my car on this beautiful day.

Within a minute’s walk from the parking lot, the friendly park ranger pointed out two mountain goats grazing in the alder zone on the nearby mountainside. Without any snow (yet), and no leaves, they really stood out against the brown and tan vegetation.

An odd bird flew between the closed Nature Center and restrooms. Good grief! Another EUROPEAN STARLING! I suspect this might be the first record for Exit Glacier. The adult, in fresh fall plumage, checked out the walkway in front of the building, then flew off.

We walked around one of the loops admiring spectacular Exit Glacier in the distance and at our feet, tiny islands of green, mossy rocks festooned with lichens surrounded by frosty alder and cottonwood leaves. We heard a BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE and watched a PINE GROSBEAK fly overhead, calling. Otherwise, it was pretty quiet.

Returning to the Nature Center, we refound the silent Starling striding with big steps, thoroughly inspecting the entrance grate by the front door. That job completed, it flew up to the ventilation grill above the door, then back down to patrol the area between the benches, and up again in the porch beam. I wonder if it found anything edible such as dead insects or food crumbs?

If I didn’t know this was a Starling, I would have been enchanted. Not only was it industrious and apparently fearless, it was gaudy but beautiful. Petite white hearts cascaded down its iridescent green-blue-purple front and spangled its back. Tight rows of white-tipped purple and blue feathers crowned its head and fanned out around the face, framing the bright, black eyes. The dark wing and tail feathers were neatly outlined in a pleasing mocha brown. To complete the attire, the legs and toes were deep red, like fancy leggings and matching shoes.

According to the Cornell “All About Birds” website, these are the fresh feathers. By spring, the white tips are worn away leaving the glossy dark, iridescent, brown feathers. This is an unusual plumage change called “wear molt.”

I admired its plucky perseverance, lost in the wilderness of the national park with winter knocking at the Nature Center door. I can almost sympathize with the Shakespeare enthusiasts including Eugene Schieffelin who released 100 of these non-native, intelligent, beautiful birds in New York’s Central Park back in 1890-91.

Who could have guessed that they would now number over 200 million birds all across the continent to far away Alaska? Or that they would aggressively compete with native birds for nesting holes in trees, and negatively impact the US economy and ecosystems?

Stifle any feelings of revulsion and watch the YouTube video
“Amazing Starlings Mumuration” filmed in UK. It’s astounding!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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