Thursday, May 26, 2016 Swan cygnets and baby Dippers

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:54 am, sunset 10:56 pm, for a total day length of 18 hours and 2 minutes. Tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 46 seconds longer.

Warm, sunny weather continues with highs in the upper 60s to lower 70s, and lows in the upper 40s. Without the breeze, it would be hot! The season seems accelerated by about two weeks: wild iris, chocolate lilies, and lupines are already starting to bloom. The first bumper crop of dandelions is almost over as they go to seed. And it’s still May!

Today I was lucky to photograph the resident TRUMPETER SWAN family at Nash Road. Each parent sheltered some 12-day old cygnets under their protective wings while as they napped in the thick water horsetails and sedges near the road. By and by, first one parent then the other decided it was time to eat. As the magnificent giant swans walked slowly to the open water, taking baby cygnet-sized steps, the little white cygnets bounced after them.

The adults modeled grazing on the water horsetails, and the cygnets did their best to copy them. When the adults reached down to scoop up a drink of water, the little ones did the same. Everything was of interest, and many items were sampled in hopes that they might be edible. The tiny swans with their pink bills, short necks, stubby wings, and big eyes were, of course, adorable.

The swans spent quite some time paddling and feeding at the edge of the wetland pond. When it was time to move, one adult would bob its head a few times and instantly, the message was received and obeyed. Off they went at a stately pace, ever watchful of the babies doing their best to keep up. What a pleasure to observe these resident swans in their third consecutive summer raising a family!

I was also lucky to observe a DIPPER family with four hungry babies in the mossy nest. Both parents worked hard to find food in the nearby stream. It was phenomenal how fast they found macroinvertebrates clinging to the submerged rocks, along the stream bank, and hidden in the detritus. Caddisflies were very popular, and apparently abundant. But first the parent shook off the cases before delivering the larvae to the extra-wide open yellow mouths of the babies. I don’t see how the parent knows which baby gets fed, it’s all so quick. Maybe it’s up to the babies to push their way to the front row and be the biggest, loudest, easiest-to-feed target.

It was interesting to see backwards-facing “barbs” on the roof of the babies’ mouths. I suppose these help to keep the squirming insects and invertebrates down the hatch. Also, the well-mannered youngsters did not foul the nest; instead they backed to the edge and fired away.

Two of the four babies actively hunted food around the nest opening while they waited patiently for delivery. One pecked at a fly and actually caught it. Another sampled a bit of moss that was not as successful, but good eye-beak coordination training. Soon they will fledge and peck at a whole lot of inedibles as they discover the difference. It’s a journey of discovery and they are ready to graduate!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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