Sunday, October 16, 2016 from a Hummer, to a Glacier, to Spawning Salmon

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:41 am, sunset 6:43 pm for a total day light of 10 hours and 1 minute. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 24 seconds shorter.

Only the delicate cirrus clouds this morning gave any hint of the major change in weather heading our way. After four days of sunshine, with increasingly harder morning frosts, a system bearing wind and light snow moved in by late afternoon.

Today’s low was 30º and the high reached 41º at 4 pm, but soon plummeted. The forecast is for 1 to 3” of snow on Monday, and snow showers and mixed rain for the rest of the week. Check out the wind current website to view the massive low pressure system moving east in the Gulf of Alaska.

At 12:20 this afternoon, I heard a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (sounding just like that Steller’s Jay mimic), and looked up to see a real one circling the neighbor’s cottonwood tree. Two MAGPIES sat jeering at it. I ran to get my camera, and when I came back, it had perched on a branch near the Magpies. Then it blasted off and an ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD materialized in its wake. I don’t know if the Anna’s was a target or just a coincidence, but it too disappeared.

I hustled inside and whipped up a fresh batch of sugar water and rehung the feeder, just in case. I suspect this is the same hummer from a block away, out cruising. This is the latest I’ve seen a hummer in Seward. She survived several heavy frosts already, but I don’t have much hope with this snow storm.

A short time later, I was hiking out at Exit Glacier. Frost outlined the veins of fallen alder leaves and ice crystals rimmed the little creeks. The formerly golden cottonwoods were bare and brown. Up on the Edge of the Glacier trail, the blue ice loomed ahead.

But once the glacier’s narrow valley and toe came into view, it was clear the glacier is still actively retreating. More seracs have collapsed, spraying large chunks of ice rubble across the nearby braided creeks, gravel, and discarded boulders. Despite its rapid and dramatic changes, it remains a very impressive glacier.

While there, the only birds I heard were a small flock of REDPOLLS, and two RAVENS.

I could see the gray sky and snow squalls down the Resurrection River valley as I left the lovely blue sky and windless, fall afternoon at the glacier. The wind picked up and drove scuds of snow across the road in swirls. Goodbye fall, and hello winter!

As I headed home, I checked out the Lagoon by Benny Benson Memorial Park at Dairy Hill Lane. To my surprise, there were still salmon swimming in the Lagoon and spawning in the creeks by the former horse corral. I saw both Red (Sockeye) and Silver (Coho) salmon. The Red males looked ferocious with sharp teeth protruding from their hooked noses (skypes.) Only they know the dangerous journey that has brought them full circle back to this place where they hatched several years before. They looked heroic and tough, showing their battle scars with dignity.

13 COMMON MERGANSERS snorkeled and dove near the inlet. They all looked like females, though the odds are that some must be young males yet to change plumage. One caught a small flounder, and had quite a time trying to swallow the square, finny fish. I wonder if they are also feeding on salmon eggs like the handsome MALLARDS?

A small raft of six COMMON GOLDENEYES dove farther out, newcomers that were much more wary. A male BELTED KINGFISHER rattled from a shoreside branch. Two MAGPIES harassed a protesting BALD EAGLE perched high in a spruce tree overlooking the fat Mallards. I don’t know why the Eagle didn’t just swoop down and grab one as they preened on shore. Sitting ducks indeed. Maybe it was already full on salmon.

Despite the blowing light snow and diminishing light, it was fun to try to photograph all the activity. From a diminutive Hummer, to a mighty glacier, spawning salmon, sea ducks, dabblers, and an Eagle; from sunshine to snow showers, it was quite an amazing day.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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