Thursday, March 24, 2016 Bald Eagle in the water

Seward, Alaska

Yesterday, I happened to be approaching the Mile 1 Nash Road wetlands when an adult BALD EAGLE flew down to the shallow water next to the road and landed with a big splash. I immediately pulled over and started taking photos.

At first, I thought the Eagle had pounced on one of the Mallards or Common Mergansers that frequent the wetlands. It was hard to tell exactly what was happening. Was it trying to drown the duck by holding it underwater? Was the duck fighting back mightily, throwing the Eagle off balance?

I just kept shooting and wondering. It was bizarre hunting behavior for an Eagle. Usually, they just grab and go. But no, the Eagle kept splashing around, submerging one side and then the other up to the wing pits, then on its back with a little back stroke, forward on its belly, a few short strokes, tail up and down; everything but the fierce head got a thorough drenching.

Finally, it dawned on me that this was a regal Eagle bath! How amazing!

In the middle of the wetlands, the resident TRUMPETER SWAN parents have been working like living excavators, piling up a huge mound of vegetation for their third year nest. MALLARDS hovered around the work scene, plucking tidbits as they floated past. A few took a nap on the nest mound while the Swans were busy on the far end. This easy camaraderie will not be tolerated for much longer.

In fact, the Swans took a break and started paddling over side by side with purpose to investigate the Eagle, ready to evict this invader that dared to bathe in their territory.

The Eagle apparently got the hint and decided it was clean enough. Soggy though it was, it flew off to a nearby snag to shake off. I carefully checked its talons to make sure there was no prey. Nope! 

After the Swans cruised triumphantly and majestically back to the nest area, and the clean Eagle flew away, I slowly approached the bath site in case there was an abandoned carcass. Nope. It was just a bath after all.

I was surprised to note that the whole show only lasted two minutes; timing is everything. I am so glad that I just happened to be there.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, March 20, 2016 Northern Pintails, Herring Gulls

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:57 am, sunset 8:14 pm for a total daylight of 12 hours and 17 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 29 seconds longer.
Spring got carried away with her celebratory confetti on Saturday and ended up dumping about 8 inches of Spring Surprise Snow. It was a winter wonderland, and after not actually having winter, it made one wonder.
Birding was pretty skinny, but I enjoyed watching a Sea Otter taking a vigorous and thorough bath in the snowstorm. Every square inch was scrubbed and groomed, a long, but necessary process. NORTHWESTERN CROWS sat on shore, wearing snow capes and sporting white bills. Not much action from these normally busy birds.
By evening, the snow turned to rain, which continued all night and into Sunday as the temp rose to 43º.

I headed out this afternoon in the rain to see if the spring storm delivered any other presents. A pair of GREAT BLUE HERONS once again stood on the B Street pilings, preening in the rain, their fancy head plumes awry. It was interesting to watch that long bill reach the neck feathers; quite a feat!

Nothing else new until the head of the bay where at least a dozen NORTHERN PINTAILS, including hens, had arrived overnight. So great to see them, some likely fresh from California. They flew round and round, looking for open water since much of the fresh water was refrozen or still slushy. The overwintering MALLARDS showed how tough they were by resting comfortably on the snow.

Around 3 pm, I heard one avalanche after another, booming down the surrounding mountains like muffled thunder, shrouded in clouds.

The weather began to clear with patches of blue sky peeking around the masses of dark clouds. I heard the excited cries of gulls high overhead. I looked up so high that my hat fell off! But there, flying through the thinning clouds, I saw HERRING GULLS in small groups and singles, heading north. I expect Kenai will have more soon.

The clouds completely cleared by 6 pm, lifting spirits with a brilliant blue sky, snowy mountains, and warm sunshine. Spring smiled benignly at her little winter joke. There are more tricks in store, if the forecast is correct, but that is fickle Spring. Keep an eye and ear to the sky as more migrants ride the spring storms north to Alaska!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, March 17, 2016 Sandpipers, Goshawks, Swans

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:06 am, sunset 8:06 pm for a total day light of 12 hours and zero minutes. That’s good enough for me to count as SPRING EQUINOX, despite the calendar, and St Patrick’s Day too! Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 31 seconds longer as the sun races to Summer Solstice on June 20th.

To celebrate, the quirky clouds threw down a mixture of confetti including snowflakes and light rain. Whoopee! Yea, Spring! The thermometer clung to 35 to 37º, but tomorrow is forecast to be “MUCH WARMER” with a high of 42º, with a good chance of rain for the next week.

On Monday, I found a small, mixed flock of 5 DUNLINS and 12 ROCK SANDPIPERS feeding at the very edge of the incoming tide. While this is not unusual for Seward in the winter, these are the first I have found this year. I suspect they have been here undetected, but it’s still fun to find them. As the tide steadily rose, they reluctantly moved, some walking quickly to the next available spot to feed, while the ones that lingered floated and paddled in on the tide.

Yesterday, I received a report of two NORTHERN GOSHAWKS at Lost Lake Trail about 3:30 pm near the Winter and Summer Trail junction. It is possible that these are spring migrants as none have been reported yet this year.

The four resident TRUMPETER SWAN cygnets popped up at the south end of the Lagoon in town, delighting observant passersby. They should be more wary, often feeding with all four heads deep underwater, and seemingly unafraid of humans. They have definitely been abandoned by their once-doting parents who are now staked out at the mile 1 Nash Road nesting grounds. No further sign of the two new swans. I hope they will find a fine place to nest too.

This afternoon, a single, adult GREAT BLUE HERON perched glumly in the light rain on the Fucus-festooned rocks at low tide, just south of the Harbor Uplands near the historic pilings. He reminded me of Eeyore, the gloomy, gray donkey. All around it, NORTHWESTERN CROWS gathered blue mussels from the intertidal pools and rocks. Occasionally, a crow got too close and the Heron drove it away with its long neck and sharp beak extended.

The Crows put on quite a show, flying up high to drop a tightly closed mussel, then quickly chased it all the way down to grab the now opened clam before some other Crow gobbled it up. It was a wonderful rhythmic ballet, and mostly performed silently. Too bad the clam couldn’t enjoy this ride of a lifetime, very short!

In the background, the pod of Steller Sea Lions lazed just under the surface, noses popping up now and then to breathe. One extended his long flipper in the air and just left it hanging there like a flag.

BARROW’S GOLDENEYES rummaged around the edge of the tideline with a long row of SURF SCOTERS. A single BLACK SCOTER joined their company as they dove in synchrony. A few pairs of HARLEQUIN DUCKS also fed along the shoreline.

These beautiful sea ducks will soon be migrating north to their nesting grounds, but meanwhile, it’s a joy to watch them.

The little SAW-WHET OWL beeps steadily at night, more consistently and insistently as Spring approaches. Love is in the air and it’s sweet to hear.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, March 12, 2016 Shrike, Swans, Glaucous Gull

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:21 am, sunset 6:54 pm for a total daylight of 11 hours and 33 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 30 seconds longer.

The 28º low this morning turned yesterday’s rain/slush to slick ice, but it melted under the gentle warmth of the smiling sun by mid morning. It was winter in the brisk northerly wind’s company, and spring without it as the thermometer rose to a high of 48º.

The shift of seasons was also evident in human activities: an open convertible passed a car topped by skis; bundled up bicyclists pedaled past red-faced joggers. Hikers hauled snowshoes up the surrounding mountains, buried in snow, while crocuses bloomed at sea level. Spring is in the air!

The juvenile NORTHERN SHRIKE left its comfortable perch on the power line to hunt, flying quickly from one spy perch to the next. I received a report of a recently fledged BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE family; talk about early!

The four stately, almost 10-month old, almost white, TRUMPETER SWAN cygnets (hatched around May 25, 2015) spent the afternoon fending for themselves while the parents took a break at the Nash Road wetlands. This is the first time I have seen them without the parents nearby. It may indicate permanent eviction, as nesting started in April last year. I did not see the “intruder” pair.

The second winter GLAUCOUS GULL, resembling a large, white snowball with pink legs, seems to like the historic pilings in front of B Street. It was there yesterday in the sleet. Today in the sunshine, it was even more brilliantly white. I enjoyed watching it stretch one wing, like a yoga pose shortly before flying off to join the screaming BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES and other gulls at the fish processing bird feeder. A large line of SURF SCOTERS, and several PELAGIC CORMORANTS patrolled the edges of the melee.

Nearby, two NORTHWESTERN CROWS, (a pair?) poked industriously in the brown and greening grass. I did not see if they found anything of interest, but maybe they were just testing the suitability of the nesting material.

While watching a swirling mob of at least ten sleek STELLER SEA LIONS, (hard to count noses!) four BARROW’S GOLDENEYES flew in front of me, extended their bright orange webbed feet, and coasted in with a splash. Several more flew in to join the small flock. Their golden eyes glowed in the sunlight; such beautiful ducks!

A Sea Otter bobbed in the wavelets on its back, munching away without a care in the world. A curious Harbor Seal repeatedly poked its shiny head up like a periscope, looked around and slid stealthily back underwater. I wonder if it too, saw Spring?

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016 Golden Eagle? speck bird

Wednesday, March 9, 2016
Seward, Alaska

The clouds cleared by early afternoon and the warm sun reigned in a pure blue sky. I headed to Fourth of July Beach and while scanning the spectacular snowy slopes of Mt Alice with my binoculars, I spotted an Eagle, gliding low over one of the steep valleys. I quickly took some photos before it disappeared. I watched and waited and was lucky to see it reappear one more time.

Gliding and hunting low over the mountain seems more like a GOLDEN EAGLE than a Bald Eagle. When I zoomed in on my photos, it seemed that the tail was longer than the head, and the secondaries definitely had a bulge.
An odd white patch, I think in the armpit (or the possibly on the back, hard to tell which side was up), does not show up in any of my bird books.

If anyone can decipher and identify this speck bird, I’m all ears!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Paul Fritz, who can see infinitely better than I, identified my speck bird as a BALD EAGLE. He noted that the whitish belly and axillaries are indicative of a young Bald Eagle. If a Bald Eagle has a white belly, it will also have a white triangle on its upper back, typically on 2 or 3 year old birds. The first photo shows a large head in comparison to the tail, which is also a good field mark for a Bald Eagle. Thanks, Paul!

Thanks to Martin who sagely advised me to enjoy the gorgeous scenery and let the ID slide, and to Beth who recommended consulting with the Peter Pyle guide re: the molting sequence that might explain the illusion of "bulging secondaries."

So interesting!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 Pintails, Gadwall, and juvenile Shrike
Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:33 am, sunset 6:44 pm for a total day length of 11 hours and 11 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 31 seconds longer. Thin ice that formed in puddles overnight melted by midmorning as temps rose from 32 to 44º, no wind. Peeks of the sun in the forecast for the next two days.

The rain paused today and even let a few shafts of sunlight touch the ground. Blooming crocuses, budding blueberry flowers, and pussy willows vote for spring! As for the happy little DIPPER, it sings all winter, so that vote counts for joy.

The first of season NORTHERN PINTAILS arrived recently, represented by two very handsome drakes. GADWALL numbers rose to 3 pairs, and the pair of GREEN-WINGED TEAL are still here, all mingling with the overwintering MALLARDS. The GLAUCOUS GULL is still here as well.

While driving along the highway, I spied a bird perched on a power line in an odd place for a Kingfisher. I did an errand, and on impulse, decided to go back to check it out. Fortunately, the little guy was still there, preening, and looking around.

The light and angle were tricky, but it sure looked like a juvenile NORTHERN SHRIKE with a soft brown head, faint eye mask, and fine barring on his fluffed out belly. Its hooked bill looks too long to be a Brown Shrike, the other possibility.

I wonder if shrikes nest in the winter, where the nest is, how old this juvenile might be, and how far from the nest did it fly?

With spring in the air, anything is possible! (See rare white Flamingo below.)

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter