Saturday, August 6, 2016 Alaska Sealife Center Seabirds

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:51 am, sunset 10:13 pm for a total day length of 16 hours and 22 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 5 seconds shorter. Rain, or a good chance of rain, is in the forecast for the next week, with temps in the mid 50s to low 60s.

Sandwiched between long stretches of rain, the sun and blue sky on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday now seem like a dim memory. At the tidelands on August 2, I spied a dark projectile stirring up a cloud of assorted gulls in the far distance at the mouth of Resurrection River. A PEREGRINE FALCON! It rocketed through without a strike, whirled around, then flew high over the unsettled gulls, heading east and disappeared. Wow! Just a glimpse and then gone.  

I found one SEMIPALMATED PLOVER fledgling, now handsome and sleek and able to fly. I expect it to migrate soon, as apparently most of the other Plovers have already departed.

No sign of the resident TRUMPETER SWANS for the past week; I hope they are feeding in the far back of the Nash Road Mile 1 wetlands, just out of sight. If the seven cygnets are already flying, then the family could be anywhere.

I headed to the Alaska Sealife Center today to get my bird fix. It’s always a treat to watch the seabirds up close. The bird habitat is almost at capacity with 81 birds, so most of the birds are not allowed to raise chicks and incubated fake eggs this summer instead. An exception is the rare and endangered RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKES. Two proud parents have a very cute and well-cared for 3-week old chick.

Two juvenile PIGEON GUILLEMOTS, in their salt and pepper plumage, are a year old and will retain this plumage until next summer.

The male KING EIDER was no longer the main attraction having molted from his stunning breeding finery to a rather plain brown plumage, retaining the sporty back fins for dignity. The female Eider remains understated and elegant.

Another subtle beauty napped on the railing, a LONG-TAILED DUCK hen with soft brown eyes. As long as the birds do not feel crowded, some will let the paparazzi get quite close. The ASLC staff person warned that the rear of the birds was the most dangerous part as they can projectile poop up to three feet. That worked for crowd control!

The three puffin species, TUFTED PUFFIN, HORNED PUFFIN, and RHINOCEROUS AUKLET, are well represented and full of personality and mischief. I watched one Tufted Puffin mercilessly chase a Pollock underwater, nipping at a ragged and bleeding dorsal fin. It was surprising how long the alcid could remain underwater on this focused pursuit. I’m sure the fish was grateful every time the bird spiraled back to the surface for air.

Another Tufted Puffin decided to scale one of the backdrop rocks instead of flying.  It flapped its wings furiously as the orange webbed feet tried to find purchase on the steep sides. As it emerged victoriously in a flurry of wings, a surprised Horned Puffin shot off a nearby perch to make room and plunged directly into the water without a pause.

The show continued, probably until dark, but I will have to return on another rainy day soon to enjoy the next episodes.

Here’s an interesting update on the deformed beak mystery:

And a study on how Frigatebirds can sleep with half a brain alert:

And documentation of another incredible migration, that of the Grey Plover:

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


  1. Such a wonderful place to visit and "get your bird fix!"

  2. I went to the Sea Life Center a week and a half ago. It is amazing how much the male King Eider changed in its moult and how much the Red-legged Kittiwake has changed in such a short time.