Tuesday, September 20, 2016 Owls and Swans

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:39 am, sunset 8:01 am for a total day light of 12 hours and 22 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 24 seconds shorter as we approach the Autumn Equinox on September 22.

A huge storm arrived in Seward this evening bearing heavy rain and strong winds. There is a high wind warning and a flood advisory until Thursday with locally heavy rain totals expected between 3 and 6” by 10 am Wednesday. O boy!

I wonder if the owls knew about this storm. Yesterday at about 6 pm, I heard a GREAT HORNED OWL hooting softly from the mountainside. That is unusually early! He continued all evening, but when I checked around 11 pm, a NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL was tooting instead! First time this fall, and unusual that he would let the Great Horned Owl, a known predator, know his location. Very strange.

Five “new” adult TRUMPETER SWANS arrived yesterday at Preacher Pond, just north of Seward. Such beautiful birds! They spent much of their time feeding on the pond vegetation. Then one or two sat on a sunken log and preened, dipping their black bill into their reflection like an ink pen. Lovely white feathers drifted away like little boats.

Two of the swans shared head-bobbing to communicate a change in routine to move to a different spot to feed. These may be a pair. Another swan reached out to poke another swan who was apparently too close, otherwise they all seemed very compatible.

Two juvenile BALD EAGLES circled hopefully above then perched in a nearby spruce, peering down and fantasizing the feast feeding peacefully beneath. No chance!

I checked the Nash Road wetlands and found a single adult swan sitting on the nest site. Maybe this is the “sweet swan” that wanted so much to come home.

Today, in a lull between scattered squalls, I refound the five swans at Preacher Pond. Two more Trumpeter Swans graced the pond at the head of the bay, and the resident swan family with its five cygnets reclaimed the Nash Road wetlands. A fine total of 14 swans in all: nine adults and five cygnets. I truly think that these swans, or most of them, may all be related, but we will never know.

Listen to Richard Nelson's Encounter episode about Trumpeter Swans and apt description about "double beauty" at 

Meanwhile, Tasha reported a juvenile SABINE’S GULL between the seafood processing plant on Lowell Point Road and Lowell Creek. I checked, but only found BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, MEW GULLS, and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, with maybe a few HERRING GULLS or hybrids here and there, bobbing on the surf.

This storm, funneling such strong wind from the south, may indeed sweep more great birds to Seward and beyond.

Hold on to your hat!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, September 13, 2016 Great Horned Owls Adventure

Seward, Alaska

I’ve enjoyed hearing two GREAT HORNED OWLS calling from the forested sloped of the mountains every evening for the past several weeks. It’s usually when I walk the good dogs around the block about 11 pm, unless it’s really windy or raining.

Last night was no exception. Except, they weren’t on the mountainside.
I followed the marvelous hooting from Monroe St east to Fourth Avenue’s 600 block. I stood on the sidewalk near a large spruce tree and enjoyed the duet, just smiling, first low then answered by high with some warbling variations on the basic hoots. I wanted to share this good news, but no one was about and the houses were dark.

After a few minutes, the hooting resumed a block south, and we followed. This time, I think they were in a cottonwood at Fourth and Madison. I stared hard into the leaves but unfortunately, I could not see them despite the nearby streetlights.

Then I heard them another block south and followed the music to Third and Jefferson St. There! One owl flew to the top of a spruce tree. By standing in the middle of the road, I was able to see the silhouette of the large owl against the lop-sided moon. What a photo that would have been!

Suddenly, the second owl flew up; the first raised its wings in protest, and then sailed off, relinquishing its perch. The second owl balanced precariously a few moments and then it too swooped away.

Very soon, they began hooting again and led us down Second Avenue. We followed. As I stood and listened at the intersection of Adams and Second, an owl flew low right over us and landed with a scraping sound on the peaked metal roof of the Episcopal Church.

The dogs, who were quite surprised at actually seeing a large bird so close AT NIGHT, did not care for this and barked in alarm. The owl just looked at us, a dim, dark mysterious being. As I throttled the young dog, the other owl flew higher overhead and the church owl silently joined it, wafting over the nearby apartment building and back to the mountainside.

We too, turned back to home. It was a magical walk off our usual route. I wonder if the owls too, enjoyed their sortie into the center of sleepy Seward, trailed by a happy birder and two mystified dogs.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, September 12, 2016 Trumpeter Swan tragedy AGAIN

Seward, Alaska

On September 5, I observed the fabulous resident TRUMPETER SWAN family flying in formation between their Nash Road nesting site and the head of the bay. The 3 ½ month-old cygnets have progressed splendidly, now the same size as their parents.

On September 8, I refound them napping in the sun on the east side of the Nash Road wetlands. It was hard to count them, partially hidden in the vegetation, but I believe I saw all seven cygnets with their watchful parents.

On September 10, another beautiful sunny day, there they were, feeding peacefully at the pond at the head of the bay. I automatically counted, and then recounted. Only five cygnets? Only five.

Four fed near what I am calling mom, and “daddy’s girl” fed near the other. Whichever the gender, one cygnet has always been very close to one parent and can always be found nearby. It’s very sweet.

I immediately flashed on their recent foray to the east side of the Nash Road wetlands, on the other side of the main transmission lines. I drove over to the wetlands and within minutes, found a limp, dead cygnet in the shallow water under the wires. I did not find the other, but assume it too, hit the unseen wires, lost its balance, and fell to its death. Perhaps a predator hauled it off, or a human. There is no way that an uninjured cygnet would not be with the rest of the family.

As I was out of town on September 9, I do not know exactly when this tragedy occurred, but it was between September 8 and 10.

Trumpeter Swans are protected by federal law under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Utilities, including cable companies, can be prosecuted and fined for causing deaths. To date, two of the four cygnets from the first family of 2014 died on January 4 and 6, and two of the six cygnets from the 2015 family died on October 2, all at the Lagoon. Six cygnets have now died from collisions with the wires.

The Lagoon distribution lines and cable lines are slated to be buried underground in 2017 which is very good news for the swans, eagles, herons, and other birds that just can’t see the wires, especially in low-light situations.

The Alaska Sealife Center responded to my call and picked up the dead cygnet. The required report was filed with the US Fish and Wildlife Service in collaboration with the Seward Electric Department.

These power lines are high voltage transmission lines and thus cannot be buried. They need specially designed diverters to protect the resident swan family.

P&R Tech makes a glow-in-the-dark SpanGuard Bird Diverter for high voltage lines. < https://pr-tech.com/product/spanguard-bird-diverter>

As with the four swan cygnet deaths in 2015, it would really help to contact the City Manager and Seward Electric Department and ask them to install markers on these power lines ASAP before any more swans die. It is way past time!

City Manager Jim Hunt, 907 224-4047, jhunt@cityofseward.net
Electric Department Utility Manager, John Foutz  907 224-0471  jfoutz@cityofseward.net 
Carol Griswold, Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, September 9, 2016 mystery hummer identified

Seward, Alaska

Thanks to Aaron Bowman and Keys (host for Xena the Warrior Costa's) for identifying the mystery hummer as a young ANNA’S. The overall hunched shape resembled a cold Costa's, as does the slightly curved bill. Thanks to Ava who got tail-shot photos showing the long tail extending past the wingtips; that definitively separates the Anna's from the Costa's. 

Now the mystery is where did this bird hatch, how far did it fly to get to Ava's and where is it going? We will probably never know, but it's fun to speculate about it. Reports of local Anna's nesting needs to be documented.

The young hummer has not been seen since September 4th, though the male Anna’s continues to dominate Ava’s Place. 

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, September 5, 2016 mystery hummer not found today

Seward, Alaska

Ava, the Burke family, and I did not find the mystery hummer today, although the male ANNA'S was present, and a surprise TOWNSEND'S WARBLER.

Aaron Bowman looked very closely at my photos and those shared by Ava and suggested that it looks more like a female young of the year Anna's. Its tail seems long or the wings too short for a Costa's, and the front is flecked with green like an Anna's. (Good eye, Aaron!) 

Anna's are thought to nest here, but this is undocumented. That, however, could explain how such a youngster is here in Seward.

He also thought that the very active male looks like a subadult from last year, and those emerging feathers are new adult feathers. That makes sense to me.

I appreciate any other ideas, and will keep trying to refind it to get photos showing the tail and wing projection.

Thank you, Aaron B!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter