Tuesday, August 30, 2016 Owling in style

Seward, Alaska

Louann drove down from Anchorage this evening to try for the WESTERN SCREECH OWL. We met just after sunset at about 9:45 pm at the 40 mph sign, 1.4 miles from the first bridge on Exit Glacier Road aka Herman Leirer Road.

After standing around and listening for a bit, I mentioned we should have brought lawn chairs a la Hawk Watch. As luck would have it, she procured two lawn chairs from her camper van and we sat comfortably and listened. As the sky darkened, the temperature dropped, so she provided a repurposed Vanagon curtain to supplement my blanket and snuggled into a sleeping bag. Owling in style!

As the first stars emerged (Big Dipper’s handle), first one, then another BAT fluttered along the road. Suddenly, a larger bat cut across the road right beside us. No! Not a bat, but a small OWL! It happened so fast, but luckily we both saw it. It was totally silent, intent on its mission, probably hunting.

It could have been the WESTERN SCREECH OWL, or possibly a Northern Saw-whet Owl, impossible to know. But since we were in the Screech Owl’s known territory, it was very enticing to think we actually saw our target species. Regardless, it was very cool to see an owl!

More and more stars peppered the black sky, connecting the dots to form familiar constellations and the Milky Way. Points of light moved steadily across the sky marking satellites circling the globe and jets bound for Anchorage or more exotic destinations.

We sat and listened and marveled at the evolving nightscape until about 11 pm, without hearing any owls. Nonetheless, two bats and an owl fly-through with good company and front row seats were a few hours well spent.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, August 25, 2016 Western Screech Owl!

Seward, Alaska
This evening I visited Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, a short drive from home (lucky me!) With all the rain for the past week, it has really been changing with its under-glacier river swollen and moving from one side to the other.

Giant chunks of blue ice calved off the toe just prior to my arrival; witnesses said it was very loud and reminded them of a tidewater glacier calving. From the size of the cracks, it looks like more calving is imminent.  The outwash plain was littered with chunks of ice. Very dynamic!

On the drive home at about 9:45 pm, I stopped at the usual spot at the 40 mile per hour sign on Exit Glacier Road to listen for the WESTERN SCREECH OWL. After a few minutes, I thought I heard something above the roar of the numerous waterfalls cascading down the surrounding mountainsides, and the rustling of the cottonwood leaves.

I kept listening and waiting. Sure enough, the distinctive bouncing ball call came again. And again. Then I heard the double trill call, and a few other vocalizations. It was hard to tell if there was more than one, but I think it’s possible.

A great website for owl information and to hear the calls is <http://www.owlpages.com/owls/species.php?s=840>  I learned that the species name, kennicottii, honors Robert Kennicott.

His scientific work is commemorated by the Alaska Marine Highway ferry M/V Kennicott, Kennicott Glacier, and the copper mining town of Kennecott, though misspelled, in Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve. Alaska Dispatch News had an interesting article about him on August 8, 2016 < http://www.adn.com/alaska-news/science/2016/08/07/this-scientists-death-in-the-alaska-wilderness-was-a-mystery-150-years-later-his-skeleton-helped-solve-it/>.

But I digress. If you want to try to hear "Kennicot's Owl", drive down Herman Leirer Road, aka Exit Glacier Road just after sunset or around 9:45 to 10 pm. After you go over the first bridge at the intersection of this road and Old Exit Glacier Road, look for the first 40 MPH speed limit sign. Pull over as far as possible and turn on your parking lights for visibility. Just stand and listen nearby. I hope he will continue to call.

At 11 pm, the first stars I have seen this summer peeked through the scattered clouds: the constellation Cygnus. How very wonderful! It’s so nice to see the sky and stars again. The Aurora is rumored to be visible tonight as well if one can stay up. If you step out to see the Northern Lights, listen for owls!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, August 23, 2016 Anna's and Rufous Hummingbirds

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:32 am, sunset 9:26 pm, for a total daylight of 14 hours and 53 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 21 seconds shorter. Today's high was 57º with a mild south wind.

August may go down as the wettest ever with torrential rains, flood advisories, and only 2 sunny days so far. The forecast, however, calls for sun for the last 5 days of this month, with highs reaching 68º, (can that be?) so we shall see!

Today was cloudy and windy but fortunately the rain mostly held off. It was a pleasure to watch two very active HUMMINGBIRDS at Ava’s Place. A RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD sipped on the nectar of the bright nasturtiums sheltered under the porch, and fed at the nearby feeders.

Or tried to feed. The male ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD has adopted Ava’s Place over this past week, and now feels very territorial about it. Only slightly larger than the Rufous, he dominated the yard, driving away the Rufous Hummer, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, and PINE SISKINS. I even saw the tiny but fearless hummer chase after a giant HAIRY WOODPECKER, but I suspect it was leaving anyway.

Afterwards, he sat on a branch, and preened, while still alertly watching for invaders, obviously quite satisfied with himself and his world. It was so interesting to see that looonnnng bill try to reach higher and higher up, his neck stretching up as well. When it just proved too long, he used his minute foot to reach around his head. It was fun to actually see his four toes, three in front, one behind. Hummingbird feet are so hard to see, some people believed they didn't have any!

At times, the Anna’s appeared drab and dark, until he shifted and the sun burst forth in spectacular day-glow colors from his head and throat. The blazing feathers looked like polished metallic scales. On, off, on, off. It was mesmerizing to watch.

Quite content, he then sat and sang in a thin, slightly buzzy voice. I felt so honored to be in the audience. It will be interesting to see how long he stays, and if he becomes another Anna’s to try to overwinter. Meanwhile, what a treat to watch this fearless wonder!

Other birds of note today:
A GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW and a very young SONG SPARROW popped up on Ava’s porch to pick through the sunflower seeds dropped by other birds.

Resident TRUMPETER SWAN family of 9 feeding at Nash Rd wetland
2-3 VARIED THRUSHES singing like a teakettle this morning
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK along Lowell Point Road
RED-NECKED PHALAROPES, a few, still along the shore between the Founders’ Monument and Lowell Point

And this past week:
August 18: One each SNIPE, SPOTTED SANDPIPER, MERLIN, and a HORNED GREBE changing to winter plumage, and several SAVANNAH SPARROWS at the tidelands. Three reports in town of hummingbirds, possibly Anna’s. One reporter noted that her Rufous Hummingbirds are always gone by July 9th.

August 20: LINCOLN’S SPARROW at tidelands. 11:30 pm on a clear night (one of two so far in August) a GREAT HORNED OWL softly hooted from Mt Marathon mountainside, likely tricked by the fall photoperiod.

August 21: six DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS roosted on the pilings across from B Street, the most I’ve seen this fall. Three GREATER YELLOWLEGS, and two GREAT BLUE HERONS at the tidelands.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, August 16, 2016 Swan Commotion

Seward, Alaska

I had just checked the Nash Road resident TRUMPETER SWAN family yesterday and found the seven cygnets and both parents packed into a small area near the road, feeding. So today, when I saw both parents side by side in the pond, I decided to drive past.

Then I saw a THIRD white swan! I immediately pulled over to investigate this startling new situation.

All was not well at home base.

The sleek, beautiful third swan seemed peaceful but alert, resting and paddling quietly among the sedges. The parents, however were having a conniption, bobbing their long, graceful necks up and down, very upset. As they became more and more agitated, they swam side by side out into the open, heads still bobbing, as if to confirm the intruder was indeed still there, and then swam back behind the vegetation to further discuss the situation. They nervously lifted and lowered their folded wings, as if undecided.

The intruder continued to placidly feed, feigning nonchalance, and slowly paddled along in a very non-threatening manner. The parents, still side by side, heads bobbing faster and faster, trumpeting softly, swam back out and closer. Suddenly, the mom (ever so slightly smaller and without white feathers on her bill from preening) erupted into action, bounding along the water with giant steps, white wings beating furiously, neck outstretched, open beak foremost, and the intent quite plain.

The intruder watched in disbelief and then wisely took off. They both lifted off and flew across the pond gaining altitude. The mom closing in, stretched her neck to grab the intruder’s tail, but couldn’t quite reach. Nonetheless, she tailgated the intruder and chased it away. Then she broke off and circled back to the pond. Trumpeting triumphantly, she skidded to a stop with a big splash in front of her waiting mate. If swans could hug and kiss, that’s just what they did, with several high fives thrown in for good measure.

I glanced over at the pond, and to my amazement, there was the intruder who had also circled back and quietly landed. This was one persistent swan!

The parents finally noticed this impudent swan’s return and the high fives faded. More tête-à-tête discussion ensued with head bobbing and soft trumpeting. After a long interlude, the mom again took off, flying low, heading directly for the intruder.  At the last moment, it raced along the water and took off. Again, the parents gathered to celebrate with wings held half open, heads nodding, their trumpeting echoing off the surrounding mountainside.

But guess what? That intruder again circled back and landed.

The mom again chased it off, and another celebration ensued.

Unbelievably, the intruder circled back and was now preening on the ol’ nest site. This confirmed my suspicion that this was no ordinary swan. The familiarity with the pond and nest site, lack of fear of the adjacent road and paparazzi… this was an older cygnet come home at a rather awkward time.

Hi mom, hi dad! I’m home and ready to move back in!

Mom didn’t much care for that, and took off without any discussion. Heading straight for her former darling, she narrowly avoided hitting it on the head when it did not move from the nest site. That was lucky for the cygnet! She careened to a stop in the water, and regrouped, wings held out in a very menacing arch.

By now, the cygnet had wised up a bit, but not too much, and landed on the water. Mom took off once again and gave chase, trumpeting loudly. She chased it to the far end of the pond where, guess what? All seven young cygnets were waiting and watching. I imagine they had been told to hide there until the danger passed.

The older cygnet, the big threat, landed behind them in the tall grasses and disappeared.

It must have been an “out of sight, out of mind” situation as the mom stopped the chase. She sat on the pond, wings arched, as dad came racing across the pond to congratulate her. With more loud trumpeting, they once again high-fived in a joyous celebration. What a beautiful sight, these two tremendous parents, all amped up in righteous fury, bonding in defense of their family.

When I returned an hour later, the older cygnet was once again peacefully feeding in the pond near the road as if nothing had happened. The parents were preening on the nest site, and the seven cygnets were still at the back of the pond, revealed only when one or another stretched its white wings above the greenery.

This peaceful interlude did not last, however. Once again, the mom took off, and temporarily routed the enemy.  Lather, rinse, repeat. I don’t know how long this exhausting and dramatic routine continued, as I finally had to leave.

What was especially poignant was the plaintive trumpeting of the older cygnet. Whenever it spoke, the parents got all riled up, and answered in an angry barrage. It’s tough to come home after a year (or two or three) out in the wild world, and be attacked by your once doting parents. But all that mattered was the perceived threat, and given the tremendous success of these excellent parents over the past three years and 17 cygnets, that’s what counted.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter