Saturday, December 19, 2015 Murres Are Flying and Dying

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:59 pm, sunset 3:49 pm for a total day length of 5 hours and 50 minutes. Tomorrow will be 20 seconds shorter.

Lovely winter met a big storm recently, with strong winds and rain as the temperature warmed up into the low 40s. Squalls cycled through delivering more hard rain and bouts of wind. Soft snow still covers the ground, but the streets are alternately icy or wet or both.

Temperatures are forecast to drop below freezing starting on Sunday, and continue to slide into the single digits by Thursday, with snow for Christmas Day. Due to the snow cover, long nights, and cold temperatures, feeders remain important and popular. Keep them filled!

I visited the boat harbor on Thursday in between squalls. Several COMMON MURRES paddled methodically like wind-up toy boats, sometimes diving for fish. Sadly, many more were strewn along the breakwater rocks or floating at the edge of the pancake ice. I counted 33 carcasses just on the south side alone, including a few that were intact.

In past winters, seeing a Common Murre was unusual, and often they did not appear on our Christmas Bird Count. This winter, they are flying and dying. Groups of 10 or more Murres wheel over land, their wings pumping furiously, desperately. As noted previously, a dozen were found at Mile 12, and one in the middle of Skilak Lake. Why are they here? Why are they starving?

The BALD EAGLES continue to feast on this easy prey, and drop the carcasses below their dining perches all over town. It is difficult to watch the uncensored, direct process of catch and eat, sometimes skipping the “kill” step.

The other sea ducks, which show no signs of starvation or other distress, reap the benefit of all these easy Murre targets. And so it goes, Murres die and Eagles feast, followed by Ravens, NW Crows, Magpies, and other scavengers until nothing is left but a few bones and feathers. I hope scientists can discover the cause of the Murres’ distress so that we can do something to help instead of just witnessing this catastrophe.

In other news, Ava’s YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER has not been seen again, nor has the BLACK GUILLEMOT after Tasha refound it 2 hours after its release.

On December 17 I found a GREATER SCAUP hen preening and paddling with a small raft of COMMON GOLDENEYES south of the harbor Uplands. More RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, about 20, have arrived along the Greenbelt Beach, and I did see a COMMON LOON and a RED-NECKED GREBE fishing off Lowell Point Road with BARROW’S GOLDENEYES yesterday.

If you haven’t already, check out the remarkable videos by Bob Armstrong at They will cheer you up!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Bird Report Reporter,

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