Saturday, February 27, 2016 Killdeer still here!

Seward, Alaska

The tide was just about perfect this afternoon when I checked for the KILLDEER. After searching the rocky intertidal area for a short time, it flew a short distance and vocalized. If not for that, I might have easily missed it. Despite the bright white body and distinctive black necklaces, it blends in perfectly.

I also looked for the TRUMPETER SWANS, wondering how the territorial dispute was working out, but they were not to be found. I hope everything is OK and they will be back!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, February 24, 2016 Two Swans Too Many

Seward, Alaska

When I arrived on the scene, the four resident TRUMPETER SWAN cygnets were clustered quietly together in the middle of the open pond. Oddly, the adults were nowhere in sight. Was it already time to be evicted?

Then I saw two pairs of white swans flying in the distance. Were they compatibly sharing the airspace, or was something “fowl” afoot? As they approached, the cygnets also turned to watch them. Two adults, with a significant lead on the following pair, flew low over the water. They extended their large black webbed feet and waterskied alongside the waiting cygnets and stopped just beyond them. Were these the parents?

No! Almost immediately, a parent Swan hurtled in and started chasing one of the first Swans, now identified as the intruder. It was hard to keep track of the four adults in all the splashing and excitement. Which were the loving parents, and which were the brazen intruders? Why were they targeting the cygnets instead of the parents?

As the parents chased one intruder, the other turned back and held out its massive wings in a menacing arch as it paddled towards the nervous cygnets, head tucked back to strike. The cygnets huddled, confused, some with wings outstretched, ready to flee. I’m sure nothing this scary has ever happened to the youngsters. To have a Swan that looks just like your parents attack is even more scary than eagles, or coyotes at night.

The glowering swan continued to paddle closer, wings arched. Then it seemed to settle down as the cygnets watched, still confused. Peace returned momentarily. I was pretty confused too. Was this dear old dad (or mom), amped up on adrenalin after the flight chase? Or one of the intruders?

Without warning, the Swan turned and attacked the cygnets with its fierce beak and strong wings. In the flurry of wings and water it was hard to see what was happening. The cygnets got smart fast and beat it out of there. As that Swan settled down, a second adult appeared, running on the water, flapping its wings, gaining speed on one of the running cygnets, its white neck extended and black beak open. 

The frightened cygnet finally got lift-off and flew out of reach and the agitated Swan stopped, its wings still held out in that menacing arch near the other two nearby cygnets.

Then more pattering as big, black, webbed feet smacked the water and here comes another adult Swan, long neck outstretched and aiming for business. Was it dad (or mom)? No! The first? intruder had circled around and rushed past to attack yet another fleeing cygnet. So confusing! Wish these guys were tagged!

More rapid pattering, wings beating, and honking! It was the Calvary in the form of a very upset parent! The intruder Swan leaped into flight mode, racing across the water, past the farthest cygnet without pause. Such pandemonium! Everyone was upset!

After finally being chased across an invisible line, the two intruders took a break, resting quietly. Fierce, but nonetheless, such beautiful swans!

The triumphant parents swam over to their scattered youngsters, past a BALD EAGLE that had watched it all from a driftwood perch. The happy family reunited, a picture of peace and tranquility, as if nothing had happened. The show over, the Eagle flew off.

As the parents exchanged a tender moment together, I too turned to go. A flock of about 30 SNOW BUNTINGS whirled overhead like tumbling brown alder leaves and disappeared. How wonderful to see them too! What a day!

Then I heard honking, and turned around. The female intruder was flying around the pond, too near the family. Again, one of the parents shot off after her, honking and running like mad, wings stroking powerfully. The female took the hint and cleared out of there fast.

Once again, the two parents got together and debriefed and peace returned. It was another touching moment between two excellent, powerful, protective parents. For the second year in a row, they have raised their cygnets here through the long winters and whatever the weather. In 2014 they raised four cygnets, and in 2015, a remarkable six.

As these new swans seem very familiar with the area, I just wonder if the dominant male, or both, are from the 2014 family. Are they hoping to nest here? THAT will be a battle as the only suitable spot is the Nash Road wetlands and there is NO sharing. Will they disperse farther up the road to the Mile 15 wetlands or beyond? Where will the 2015 cygnets go if, as we hope, the parents nest again starting in April?

The Seward Trumpeter Swans live a fascinating, exciting, dangerous, and ever- evolving drama. I am so lucky to get a peek into their live theater now and then.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, February 23, 2016 8 Trumpeter Swans and brown bear tracks!

Seward, Alaska

What an amazing afternoon!

I ventured out to look for the NORTHERN SHOVELER pair that Tasha found on Monday. Instead, I found the six resident TRUMPETER SWANS plus two! I could not get close for decent photos, but they sure were interesting to watch.

When I arrived at the half-frozen pond, the two resident parents were floating side by side, gawking like teenagers at a movie star. The large, magnificent newcomer stood on a small island stage, ignoring them, while he nonchalantly preened his radiant perfection. The four cygnets clustered together, as if instructed to stay a respectful distance away.

Finally, the parents began dipping their long necks up and down, a signal to move, and paddled back to join their youngsters. That’s when I noticed yet another Trumpeter Swan on the other side of the family, quietly resting. She seemed smaller, and much more demure in contrast to the rock star male. Eight beautiful swans! Not wishing to disturb them any further, I backed away. It they stay, it will be fascinating to watch the interactions of this group as the winter progresses to spring.

An entertaining RAVEN put on quite a show for me near my car, posturing and displaying, pulling up tufts of dead grass, vocalizing, and generally having a fine time. It was such a treat to watch and listen to this unconcerned Corvid. Usually Ravens are so wary, I only think about reaching for my camera and they zip out of sight.

I managed to get a photo when the Raven’s nictitating membrane was closed, giving him a weird-looking, blank, blue eye. A short time later, a NORTHWESTERN CROW also flashed its blue third eyelid. There’s an excellent website on the nictitating membrane at “The Ark in Space” It makes me want to get more photos of this phenomenon.

Later, on a walk at Fourth of July Beach, I suddenly encountered a long line of brown bear tracks in the crusty snow. Wow! Did I ever feel small! The tracks were not fresh, maybe yesterday, but just to know a large, hungry bear was awake and wandering around was thrilling. I will have to start carrying bear spray now, just in case.

Just as I was about to leave, I spotted two juvenile BALD EAGLES hunting over the rolling waves. One eagle nailed a COMMON MURRE and flew back to shore. Just as it was about to rise up to land in the spruce trees to enjoy lunch, the other one made a grab for the murre. I watched the murre's white body plunge to dramatically to the ground. As the thief circled back, the other eagle flew away, fiercely clutching the head and bloody upperparts. Hungry eagles! 

What a wild and exciting afternoon in an otherwise rather dark and gloomy day!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, February 21, 2016 Crested Auklet still here!

Seward, Alaska

This afternoon, at the edge of yet another squall, I spotted a little dark diver offshore from the Greenbelt in front of town. His perky little crest was a bit disheveled in the storm, but I could tell it was a CRESTED AUKLET.

It’s so exciting that this auklet is still here!

I’ll be looking for his buddies; maybe some Storm Petrels will grace the whitecaps tomorrow.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, February 21, 2016 Anchorage Audubon Seward Field Trip

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:20 am, sunset 6:03 pm for a total daylight of 9 hours and 43 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 27 minutes longer.

A huge storm moved in from the Pacific Ocean yesterday afternoon. Overnight snow showers deposited a few inches of heavy slush by morning. As the temperature warmed from 34º to 39º, continuous squalls from the boiling Gulf of Alaska delivered hard rain all day, punctuated by a south wind.

Avalanches of heavy, wet, snow cascaded down the surrounding mountains. The supersaturated soil along the steep mountainside of Lowell Point Road gave way at a new location around 2 pm, blocking the road with debris.

The forecast shows rain, and lots of it, until March and beyond as two powerful lows sweep across the north Pacific.

On Saturday, between 25-35 people participated in the annual Anchorage Audubon Seward field trip, squeezing into the best possible weather window. Resurrection Bay was flat calm and the light rain and wind held off until midafternoon. We met at 10 am at the parking lot by friendly Kenai Fjords Tours gift shop (free coffee and rest rooms!) and carpooled to various birding hot spots, including Ava’s Place until 1 pm.

Although the tide was too high to find the Killdeer, there were many highlights. A customarily elusive GREAT BLUE HERON sat still as a statue on the new breakwater foundation at Spring Creek Beach on the east side of the bay at Mile 5 Nash Road. An active tug nearby, the excavator dredging the new harbor channel, and all us birders did not faze this bird. Everyone got great looks. It was still sitting there when we left.

Trip Leader Aaron Bowman pulled out a small flock of active GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLETS, gleaning invertebrates from the lower branches of a spruce near the road at Benny Benson Park. Usually, these tiny ventriloquists are invisible somewhere high in the upper branches and very difficult to spot.

Aaron also found a YELLOW-BILLED LOON in his scope, about halfway to Caines Head. Even if it was a speck bird, it’s always great to know at least one is around.

At 1 pm, we enjoyed an extremely interesting presentation on a long-term project to reintroduce Steller’s Eiders to the Yukon Flats by Tasha DiMarzio at the Alaska Sealife Center. It was fun to see the many seabirds up close in the avian habitat afterwards. No speck birds there! Many thanks to Tasha!

Afterwards, the dwindling group birded around town. Thanks to Frank who waited patiently to identify a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW hopping furtively through a brush pile on Second near Jefferson.

By 3 pm, it was apparent the big storm was approaching, and it was time to dash back to Anchorage before it hit.  Thank you, Aaron, for organizing and leading this trip once again, thanks to everyone who took the time and effort to bird Seward, and to the businesses who made us feel welcome!

Group List, not everybody saw everything. Please email me if you saw anything not on this list:
43 species

Safe Travels and Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter