Sunday, July 31, 2016 Elderberry magnet

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:36 am, sunset 10:29 pm for a total day length of 18 hours and 54 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 54 seconds shorter.

Misty, cloudy weather continues with temperatures in the mid 50s to low 60s and light wind. Raspberries are booming with this infusion of moisture.

Today I watched a series of birds feast on Red Elderberries. Both the shriveled fruit and ripe berries proved to be a magnet for YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, TOWNSEND’S WARBLERS, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, and a ROBIN family. I didn’t realize until now that these tiny birds enjoyed elderberries as much as the guzzling thrushes.

Later this afternoon, I spotted two HERMIT THRUSHES in the spruce understory, still here, but very quiet. And not seen, but heard, PINE GROSBEAKS in a nearby spruce top.

A special treat was watching a momma moose strip alder leaves with her mobile lips as her single darling calf did the same. The calf looked like a pony, complete with a mane and big, inquiring ears. What a lot of alder leaves it must take to feed these two! Fortunately, Seward has plenty to spare.

I received a report from the Bear Lake area that a migrating RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD showed up and flitted around this evening, but did not feed and seemed nervous like the previous cameos on July 14 and July 24 at 7 or 8 pm. Seems like the tail end of their migration through here.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, July 28, 2016 Birding Nash Road

Seward, Alaska

The nine TRUMPETER SWANS at Mile 1 Nash Road were visible today, feeding near the nest site with a batch of MALLARDS and possible AMERICAN WIGEONS. When the cygnets stretched, their large wings were white against their gray bodies. It won’t be long before they are practicing short flights!

It was lucky to spot them as often the whole family gathers for a nap at the ’ol nest site, and only one adult might be visible through the tall grass.

A HARLAN’S HAWK “kee-yuured” several times near the wetlands. I wonder if they nested in Seward as this has occurred throughout the summer.

Next stop, Fourth of July Beach at the end of Nash Road, left on Jellison and right on Delphin, another right to the parking lot on the west end. Eighteen HARLEQUIN DUCKS in eclipse plumage bobbed up and down in the waves, diving in synchrony. It’s always a good idea to check all of them carefully in case one is not a Harlequin. Could be a young male Steller’s Eider is masquerading as a Harlie, as happened in 2014.

For the past 10 days or so, Fourth of July Creek has been a hotspot for MARBLED MURRELETS feasting on small fish. While it was hard to count the tiny divers bouncing up and down in the waves, I estimated at least 50, maybe more. Their high-pitched whistles rang out as the families kept in contact. The juveniles looked like a smudgy version of an adult in winter plumage with lots of white, while the adults were still in their very dark breeding plumage.

Three DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS swam and dove among the Murrelets. I haven’t seen this species for a while, and here they were again.

BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS mobbed bait balls among the Murrelets. Others sat at the shoreline, napping. Several took thorough baths in the cold, silty, glacial water of the river. One would think that living in water would be enough, but that fresh water must feel really good.

An adult BALD EAGLE hunted low over the gray waves, wings beating laboriously, taking tight turns, and then plucked a fish from the water for dinner. Another Eagle watched from a spruce tree near the shore, a white snowball among the dark branches. Two curious RAVENS circled overhead.

I did not find the two juvenile SPOTTED SANDPIPERS today, but have seen them bobbing and feeding along the river and nearby shallow streams.

The last stop was Ava’s Place, east on Salmon Creek Road, and first right past the Salmon Creek Bridge to her blue-roofed cedar sided home and bird feeder bonanza. Three HAIRY WOODPECKERS snarfed down on homemade suet, including a young male. These woodpeckers nest nearby.

Several RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES zipped in and out. A crowd of PINE SISKINS feasted at the thistle seed feeder, barely able to share the bounty. Young Siskins still begged for food in the trees. An ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER flitted through the branches, not needing the feeders, but perhaps glad for the company.

Ava noted that early morning is the best time to view the most birds. She also reported seeing WHITE-WINGED and RED CROSSBILLS recently.

All in all, a pretty interesting afternoon birding on Nash Road!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, July 24, 2016 Warbler Waves

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:20 am, sunset 10:46 pm for a total day length of 17 hours and 40 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 32 seconds shorter.

Summer is whizzing past! Whether due to the hot weather the past week (up to 80ยบ!) and lack of rain, or the passing season, the formerly green-green-green vegetation now has a yellow/gold component. Fireweed flowers have bloomed up to the last inches of its flower fuse, while the lower end is ready to ignite the next round with silky seeds. Most other native plants are busily producing fruit and seeds as well.

Bird song is virtually absent, reduced to twitters and calls. Most of the RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDS, and VIOLET GREEN and TREE SWALLOWS have migrated, though individual birds are still spotted.

However, today was a banner day for mixed flocks as wave after wave suddenly flitted through neighborhoods in Seward and at Ava’s Place. A well-timed sprinkler and blooming garden flowers proved to be irresistible at some hot spots.


Many of the mixed flock included families with fledglings still begging. This flocking behavior seems to indicate that migration for many is not far away.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, July 20, 2016 Tern Lake surprises

Seward, Alaska

Curious about the ARCTIC TERNS, I drove up to Tern Lake on this beautiful, sunny, warm, summer day. After searching all over the lake, I finally found one far-away Tern flying high, then one more.  I heard one fledgling begging, and spotted it sitting on a piece of driftwood in the middle of the lake, hoping for fast food delivery. Eventually, I counted only four Terns left, likely two adults and two fledglings. The rest of the group apparently departed since I last checked on July 12.

Close to shore and the parking lot, an amazing MALLARD family put on quite a show. Obviously, these Mallards had not read the bird book describing them as “dabblers.” The whole family of ¾ size duckling and the hen were actively and repeatedly diving, remaining underwater for many long seconds. It was hard to count them as they kept diving and popping up. Maybe 5 ducklings?

The hen Mallard fiercely defended her family and territory from an AMERICAN WIGEON family of 8 trying to swim past, chasing them off with her dabbling beak open. The much smaller Wigeon, no slouch herself, returned the threat with her outstretched dabbling beak, and eventually both families got where they were going without bloodshed.

On the east side of the lake, LESSER SCAUP hens shared parenting with their combined families. The ducklings were noticeably larger since last week, but still had fuzzy baby feathers. That didn’t seem to stop them from diving, as per the bird book.

The COMMON LOON adult was still sitting on the nest while the other parent guarded, dove, and fed. This is very late indeed for incubation, if that was still happening. On such a warm day, I can’t imagine a baby loon needing to be warmed in the nest by a parent. Should be swimming and learning how to catch a fish, one would think.

In the distance, two TRUMPETER SWANS suddenly paddled into sight, bright white, elegant birds, one slightly larger than the other. They continued to paddle closer and closer, and then paddled in front of the parking lot, full of RVs, trucks, cars, people, and dogs. It was incredible! The paparazzi took lots of photos of this unusual interaction.

I sat down on the bank to watch and take photos too. The larger swan eventually swam away, but the smaller swan stuck around. She gave me quite a long look, and suddenly I thought I knew this bird. It was really eerie and simultaneously very, very cool.

I think they are the Seward cygnets from two years ago. I’ve known her since the nest! That would explain their apparent lack of fear of people. Mom and dad will not let them hang around the ol’ homestead, so they are drifting about. Perhaps their first attempt to breed failed or they are waiting until next year to start their own families. Maybe...

My friend paddled slowly away, and then abruptly put on a magnificent show as she chased off a young MEW GULL that apparently was over the line. Giant angel wings beat the air, huge webbed feet ran across the calm water creating mini-explosions, her neck outstretched, the beak full of fury. The gull, young but not dumb, quickly got the idea and took flight. The swan glided to a stop, and settled down. Then she gracefully paddled after the other swan as if nothing had happened.

The Mallards returned to dive. A muskrat swam past underwater, heading for the protection of the pond plants. The loon paddled serenely near the nest and its mate. Vehicles zoomed past, while others paused to let the weary travelers stretch their legs and take a few photos of the surrounding scenery. And some were lucky to catch a slice of the rhythm of life here, and be surprised, like me.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter