Sunday, January 17, 2016 Glaucous Gull!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:43 am, sunset 4:32 pm, for a total daylight of 6 hours and 49 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 4 seconds longer.

Yesterday's forecast was mostly wrong; last night’s light rain froze into a slick, icy coating, but otherwise, today was a beautiful, peaceful day. No wind, no precipitation. Puddles captured wonderful reflections and the blue-gray clouds of winter provided a striking background for the scenic snowy mountains. The high of 43ยบ at 3 pm was again very unseasonable for January.

The TRUMPETER SWAN family was still at the north end of the Lagoon at noon today; maybe they spent the night there. Unfortunately, too many people noticed them. I saw one person walk right up to them to get a photo with his phone. They were wary, but did not leave.  A short time later, I suspect some more people spooked them as I saw them flying over the bay, heading east. Too bad; every time they fly, they risk hitting the power line wires that are still not adequately marked. I’m still pursuing that issue.

I enjoyed a long walk at low tide on the tide flats at the head of the bay. SNOW BUNTINGS, about 40, swirled like snowflakes from one brown beach rye grass patch to tide-flattened sedges and back. Turn-of-the-century bird references refer to the Snow Buntings as Snowflakes, a very appropriate name.

At the edge of the tide about a mile out, I spotted a very white gull in the distance with GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS. A bit closer look verified that it was a first-of-year GLAUCOUS GULL!

Another large gull with a much darker gray back and pinkish legs was a mystery, possibly a HERRING GULL. The mantle was not black enough to be a Slaty-backed. Any thoughts, gull experts?

By and by, I spotted 16 ROCK SANDPIPERS busily probing the shallow water at the rising tide’s edge. It looked like some were extracting tiny clams. The short-legged shorebirds reluctantly moved in with the tide, floating along, still trying to grab a bite to eat. It was fun to hear their noisy, chittering conversation.

I too, moved towards the beach with the rising tide behind me. The Snow Buntings were still swirling along the sedges and beach rye, at one point approaching quite close. On the way out, Kerry pointed out a NORTHERN SHRIKE perched at the top of an alder, hunting.

From Swans stretching their long necks underwater for vegetation, Snow Buntings gleaning seeds, Gulls fishing and scavenging anything, Rock Sandpipers probing for clams, and the Shrike hunting voles, all the birds were busy in their unique ways, finding calories to fuel them through another long, winter night. I felt so lucky to get a glimpse into their lives!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Update: Steve Heinl suggested that the dark gull seems too dark to be a Vega Herring Gull, but it might be a hybrid Slaty-backed x Herring, or x Glaucous-winged. I have not yet refound it or the Glaucous Gull.

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