Friday January 1, 2016 Crested Auklets and Killdeer!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 10:01 am, sunset 4:01 pm for a total daylight of 6 hours flat. Tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 1 second longer.

No sun showed today; the rain varied from sprinkles to heavy like a kid playing with the cold water hose. Temps ranged from 37 to 41ยบ, and the wind vacillated from the south to NNW and back at 10-20 mph. Tomorrow, Seward Christmas Bird Count Day, will be about the same if not wetter and windier. O boy!

Despite the dim light and cold rain, it was a banner First Day of the Year.

CRESTED AUKLETS, the first seven reported by Tasha on December 29, were spotted all along the bay from Lowell Point to Fourth of July Beach today. Dozens of the small, dark alcids flew, paddled and dove along Waterfront Beach as COMMON MURRES paddled past. 

A female WHITE-WINGED SCOTER swam by herself; HARLEQUINS inspected near the shore rocks, and NORTHWESTERN CROWS dropped mussels on the beach to open them. RED-BREASTED and COMMON MERGANSERS and BARROW’S GOLDENEYES swam past. None of the local birds cared in the least about the rare visitors blown in by the recent storm.

I headed to the east side of the Bay and checked the boat basin at SMIC. A miniature murre popped up, actually a beautiful MARBLED MURRELET. Another auklet paddled quite close to the dock. As I followed it and took photos, I assumed it was a Crested Auklet. When I got home, I looked closer and discovered white whiskers poking from its face in an unusual pattern; a WHISKERED AUKLET? I know we’ve had Crested Auklets here before, but I don’t remember records of any Whiskered Auklets. Later review by experts resolved this mystery to be a CRESTED AUKLET.

Over at Fourth of July Beach, more Crested Auklets paddled offshore, not sure now which species and no camera due to the rain. One Auklet struggled against the rocks, pinned by the waves, but finally got loose and back into the water.

As I watched it paddle out, an odd movement by a nearby sea otter caught my eye. The otter had a COMMON MURRE pinned to its chest! The bird flailed mightily, but after quite a struggle, the otter started eating it. I silently urged the Auklet to stop paddling towards the bird-eating otter. The last time we had Crested Auklets, an otter ate one of the few, much to the horror of the onlookers. I couldn’t bear to watch and turned away. Move along, nothing to see here.

On the way home, I spotted two birder vehicles parked at Afognak Beach. Tasha had found the KILLDEER, right back where it was the past two years. I carefully walked down through the slush and ice to the beach and easily found it standing at the edge of the incoming tide. Another great bird for Count Week, and I hope it and the Alcids stick around tomorrow for Count Day.

Also notable and shocking at Afognak Beach were the pink-sprayed bodies of Common Murres lining the high tideline of the beach. Tasha counted 839 dead birds here yesterday for COASST, including 2 Marbled Murrelets, 1 Thick-billed Murre, 1 Red-necked Grebe, and 2 Crested Auklets. It was a stunning and tragic sight. At this time, we do not know if the other species are dying of starvation like the Murres, or if they were stressed by the storm. Time, and scientific examination may give us more information.

Meanwhile, Count Week has been a blast so far. Here’s to a successful Count Day tomorrow!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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