Tuesday, November 3, 2015 Herring, Eagles, Whale, DC Cormorant, Starling!

Seward, Alaska

After leaving Lowell Point, I drove back along the beach into the teeth of the fierce north wind. A frenzied flurry of gulls, like a concentrated snow swirl, attracted my attention, so I pulled over along the Greenbelt to watch the show.

Mixed among the white gulls feeding on a bait ball were five BALD EAGLES. They hovered effortlessly, supported on their broad wings by the strong wind. Then down they plunged, talons outstretched, scooping up fistfuls of herring. Up they rose above the screaming melee, ate the herring mid-air, and dove back down for more. It was easy pickings! After a long time, first one, then another eagle flew low over the spitting waves to shore to rest and eat. The NORTHWESTERN CROWS crowded around as close as they dared, eager for scraps.

A pod of at least five Steller Sea Lions worked along the shore, exhaling loudly. Two Harbor Seals cautiously poked their shiny heads up to look around, then slipped back under. A nonchalant Sea Otter paddled backwards into the crashing waves, bobbing like a cork.

A huge spray erupted behind two eagles on the beach rocks. What! A Humpback Whale surged past, also attracted by the herring. Soon, that little party was crashed as the hungry whale made short work of the bait ball with a giant splash and spin. The gulls moved farther north and were soon exclaiming over another bait ball.

Just as I was about to go check that one out, an immature BALD EAGLE flew heavily towards shore, carrying a large white object. As he landed, I could see it was a COMMON MURRE, a favorite lunch pack of the eagles. The brave Murre struggled mightily, jabbing the eagle in the tender underparts wherever it could reach. The eagle did not appreciate the audience of Crows, and soon took off, the Murre still struggling in flight. “Nature, red in tooth and claw!” (Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam.”) Fortunately, I did not witness the inevitable end.

While watching the second bait ball spectacle, a DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT popped up close to shore. Most of these large birds have long since migrated, so it was a special treat to watch it dive, emerge half-submerged, and dive again.

A PACIFIC LOON sporting a black chin strap across its white throat dove among the COMMON MURRES, PELAGIC CORMORANTS, and RED-NECKED GREBES (I saw 9 yesterday).

The light was already fading behind Mt Marathon at 2:45 pm, so I left the beach and started for home. Wait! I caught a glimpse of a bird flying low across Ballaine Blvd, and impulsively turned around and parked alongside the road to check it out.

What a gaudy, polka-dotted bird! The STARLING braved the wind in his sea of green grass, strutting along, poking industriously into the unfrozen turf under a small spruce tree. If this bird were not such a successful nuisance, it probably would be considered an exotic wonder. But where’s Nature, red in tooth and claw when you need her?

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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