Wednesday, June 22, 2016 SEVEN Caspian Terns

Seward, Alaska

Hearing and seeing two CASPIAN on June 18th was special. They are not common or usual for Seward, and one never knows when, where, or how long they might stay. So when I heard a harsh, high-low, “eeee-yaaaah” today, I knew at least one was still around. 

Then I heard an answering pterodactyl cry and knew there were still two.  I looked for the pair, and instead found three, then five, and finally seven! Their arrival set a new record for Seward.

All seven eventually settled down in rows at the edge of the incoming tide.

Their arrangement reminded me of real life arithmetic: 1+2+4=7. The tide tickled their toes rearranging the pattern to 3+2+2=7. Another lapping wave and a few flew to join the drier site: 4+3=7. More wavelets and two gave up and flew off: 7-2=5. Finally all lifted up complaining, and scattered: 5-5=0.

It’s fun to have that many Caspian Terns to play number games, however simple.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, June 18, 2016 Caspian Terns, peeps, and swallows

Seward, Alaska

The clouds rolled in on a south wind Friday night, ending the hot sunny stretch. In the afternoon before the big storm arrived late Saturday, I checked the tidelands. It was very quiet without the Arctic Terns after the devastating egging incident of May 13.

About a dozen GADWALL and a pair of PINTAILS quietly dabbled in the pond. A flock of 20 MEW GULLS flew past, no youngsters with them. It seemed unusual to see so many not tending nests or fledglings.

Six SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS, a species that struggles to nest on Seward’s increasingly popular beaches, stop-started along the tide line. One LEAST SANDPIPER, one SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, and one WESTERN SANDPIPER (in order of minutely increasing size) poked and prodded through the beach wrack. I haven’t seen many shorebirds since spring migration, though it is possible that these are local breeders.

Just before I headed back, I heard the exciting, harsh cry of a CASPIAN TERN. I spun around to find two terns circling around, very likely the same terns I spotted from Tonsina Point on Tuesday. What an impressive bird, larger than many gulls, with such a huge red bill and black cap.

I wonder if they were surprised at the absence of the much smaller, buoyant, graceful, and territorial Arctic Terns? Hmmm, nobody home! They enjoyed plunging with a terrific splash into the pond after small fish, unfettered.

Watch and listen for this pair at the boat harbor and along the Greenbelt. Not all gull-sized birds are gulls!

A bit later, I headed to First Lake in town. At least a dozen VIOLET GREEN and TREE SWALLOWS swooped and looped around the small lake, snatching up mosquitoes midair and other insects from the water’s surface. It was dizzying to try to track them in their erratic flights by eye, binocs, and camera, but so rewarding and fun to watch.

Once in a while, I managed to get an image in focus so I could really appreciate their colorful plumage as more than just flashes of color amidst the twisting and turning white bellies and brown wings. The birds, with the Tree Swallow’s metallic blue black, and the Violet-green Swallow’s green head and violet rump, resembled exotic tropical butterflies fluttering over the green water. Such unexpected beauty in this serendipitous moment!

Ringing the lake, I heard TOWNSENDS, YELLOW, ORANGE-CROWNED, and WILSON’S WARBLERS, VARIED and HERMIT THRUSHES, a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, and a PACIFIC WREN singing. A DIPPER landed on a rock near my feet then, both of us greatly surprised, flew across the lake. Raucous fledgling RAVENS demanded food from deep in the forest. BALD EAGLES cried out as they rose above the lake higher into the sky framed by Mt Marathon.

Quite a treat, in this lovely little city park jewel.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 Caspian Terns!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:32 am, sunset 11:24 pm for a total day length of 18 hours and 51 minutes. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 1 second longer.

Phenomenal summer weather today! Pure blue sky, dazzling sunshine, temperatures reached a high of 72º with a much-appreciated strong breeze of up to 20 mph from the NNW. Tomorrow is forecast to reach 75º, Thursday up to 78º, and Friday down to 69º. Then some merciful rain and back down to 60º for a few days. Whew! And technically it’s not even summer yet.

I hiked out to Tonsina Point, the northern part of the Alaska State Park Caines Head State Recreation Area. While walking along the tideline, I saw two giant birds with blackish undersides on the wings flying then crash-diving into the water.

A prehistoric harsh and guttural cry cinched the ID for me as CASPIAN TERNS. I only had my point-and-shoot but managed to get a far away photo showing the large red bill and forked tail. It’s exciting to add this rare species to the CHSRA bird checklist.

Other birds of note: baby CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES fledglings begging along the trail, a VARIED THRUSH parent seeking food for its nestlings/fledglings, PACIFIC WRENS singing and scolding (as usual), TOWNSEND’S, WILSON’S, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, HERMIT THRUSH, VARIED THRUSH, and GOLDEN-CROWNED and RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS singing. The Fox Sparrow is silent and missed.

Yesterday I visited Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. It was mid-morning and at first the birding was very slow. I thought I was too late when I suddenly heard at least two male SWAINSON’S THRUSHES singing back and forth. One sang from the top of a cottonwood, just past the shelter at the junction of the Glacier View Trail and the Outwash Plain Trail.

I heard at least two GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSHES hidden in the dense foliage a short ways farther down.

At least two NORTHERN WATERTHRUSHES sang loudly from the shrubs near a small creek at the start of the Harding Icefield Trail. I finally found the ventriloquist sitting on a bare branch, but most of the time it was buried in the jungle of green leaves. Another GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH sang from this area as well. Very exciting to hear them!

I listened hard for a Robin, but failed to add it to the thrush list of HERMIT, VARIED, SWAINSON’S, and GRAY-CHEEKED.

If you go, be aware the road construction has begun at the beginning of the park and you should expect delays. Early morning and evening might be better times to bird, but anytime is better than not going.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, June 12, 2016 Bumblebees on Lupine

Seward, Alaska

Large-leafed lupines (Lupinus polyphyllus) are in full bloom, ranging from white-striped lavender to pink-tipped blue, to deep purple. Hidden in their specialized keel, a fusion of the two lower petals, is a pointed sheath containing the pollen-tipped stamens and style. Today, when the sun peeked through the rain clouds, the furry bumblebees made a dash for the flowers.

Frantic, they literally bounced from one flower to another, buzzing around the dense spikes, sipping nectar with their long tongues and collecting pollen. As the hefty worker momentarily landed on the keel to reach the nectar, its weight pushed the keel down, allowing the sheath to poke it in the belly, simultaneously receiving and transferring precious, orange pollen for cross-pollination. Very clever system!

Many of the bumblebees had large orange pollen baskets on their hind legs, bulging with pollen. I did not witness any transfer of pollen; either they were too busy at the time to stop to comb it off their collecting hairs or they were much too quick. It's a wonder they can fly at all, especially with all that additional weight!

Most of the bumblebees wore sleek black sunglasses, black hats, yellow shirts, orange skirts, and six black socks, a striking combination. A few wore all yellow with a black cummerbund and black bikini top with the standard accessories. The orange purses complemented each combination and the lupine backdrop perfectly.

It was fascinating to watch them, these beautiful and phenomenal, industrious insects, at work in such spectacular flowers. Photographing them in action was challenging, but a lot of fun.

Happy Bombus-ing!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird and other things Reporter