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

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