Sunday, December 6, 2015 Yellow-billed Loon and other delights

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:43 am, sunset 3:53 pm for a total supposed day length of 6 hours and 10 minutes. Tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 33 seconds shorter. The late sunrise and clear skies showcased Venus, Mars, and Jupiter in the southern sky, until 9ish, anchored by the waning crescent moon.

Last week our first real snow tucked the whole area from mountaintops to the high tide line in a lovely, fluffy snow blanket. The surrounding mountain and glacier scenery is spectacular!

The thermometer dropped into the mid 20s, and out of the moderate north wind, the sun beamed a gentle warmth. With most of the ground covered except for sheltered areas under spruce, birds are even more active at feeders.

Forecast is for a few more days of clear weather followed by warming temperatures, and unfortunately, sn’rain showers as an enormous low moves east from the Aleutians across the Gulf of Alaska. (Visit the wind currents map site at

Yesterday, I found the resident TRUMPETER SWAN family at the Lagoon, but did not refind them today. It’s slim pickings for them, but the periodic thaws open up feeding options in the wetland ponds. The Swan Diverter Fund-raiser continues: see previous post, and thanks!

I was excited to find a very wary YELLOW-BILLED LOON cruising the bay by Spring Creek Beach this afternoon. It disappeared for long minutes before surfacing quite a distance away. A HORNED GREBE caught a small, wide fish that put up quite the fight before eventually being swallowed. SURF SCOTERS floated just off shore in a tight raft, diving synchronously. A KINGFISHER rattled off over the water.

A single MARBLED MURRELET bobbed in the boat basin wavelets while two PELAGIC CORMORANTS dove for fish. BARROW’S GOLDENEYES hens paddled together back and forth, as if reluctant to leave the calm of the breakwater. Several COMMON MURRES fished nearby; they seemed alert and healthy. However, reports of dead and wayward Murres continue. At least the snow conceals many of their sad carcasses.

In a handy freshwater pool, a SONG SPARROW enjoyed a vigorous bath, splashing water everywhere. NW CROWS also enjoy bathing here in small groups. They will be sad when the fire hydrant bleeder line is shut off in spring!

A small flock of COMMON REDPOLLS plucked the tiny seeds from alder cones; the males’ raspberry-colored breasts glowed in the low sun. I found an AMERICAN TREE SPARROW scratching through the light snow cover at the base of the alder trees. This sparrow is never common here, and is more likely to be found at a feeder in the winter than in the “wild.”

Sure enough, at Ava’s Place, three or four AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS hopped around on the ground, gleaning fallen sunflower seeds with JUNCOS and PINE SISKINS. About 30 PINE GROSBEAKS watched warily for the SHARP-SHINNED HAWK that frequents this hot spot diner. I saw the Sharpy, a GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW, and the female RED CROSSBILL yesterday, but missed them today.

Of concern is one PINE SISKIN that might be sick; it exhibits typical symptoms, fluffing up to keep warm and sleeping while other birds are actively feeding. Ava is watching it carefully as she does not want it to spread salmonella or other infectious bacteria to her other birds and feeders.
Disinfecting the feeders, long porch, and yard is an enormous job.

Also of note, a female-type PINE GROSBEAK with an irregular patch of rosy coloration on its breast and a bit on its olive-colored head. I have not seen this combination before. Very interesting!

The other usual species flew in and out dining on home-made suet, peanut butter, black oil sunflower seeds, and thistle seeds: DOWNY and HAIRY WOODPECKERS, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, CHESTNUT-BACKED and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES. Ava suggested birding at dawn, around 9 am to see 100s of birds. It’s always a treat for birds and birders at Ava’s!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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