Wednesday, October 5, 2016 Spruce Grouse at Tonsina

Seward, Alaska

Another sunny, fall day, temps ranged from 36º to a high of 55º, which felt unseasonably warm. (No complaints!) It was a perfect day for a hike to Tonsina Point, in one of the Seward area State Parks.

The late September storm wreaked havoc on the recently renovated uphill section of the Tonsina Trail, washing over half of it away, leaving big rocks and a ribbon of gravel. It was still passable, but not nearly as nice.

Along the trail I heard and saw a few VARIED THRUSHES. Maybe some of these late birds plan to spend the winter. PACIFIC WRENS scolded from the fallen trees near the trail. Late fall mushrooms erupted from the base of a dead alder, their caps like tiny umbrellas crowded together for a rainy day.

This summer’s switchback trail improvements, including several netted boardwalks and drainage ditches, held firm against the flood waters, protecting the trail from further erosion. Yea!

The sparkling, pure water of the North Fork Tonsina Creek gave no sign of any flood mud. Also, no sign of all the pink and chum salmon that spawned here and died this summer and fall. That is such an amazing sight!

The beach along the creek, however was severely eroded. New trails through the beach rye grass have been created since the old trail fell into the creek. A giant spruce tree lay on the beach where the high water deposited it. Such is the power of floodwater!

Also new and of note, a very wide and thick layer of what appeared to be aged sawdust along the beach. There is a sawdust source across the bay, but I have no idea now any of it might have floated away to end up here. It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this has on the beach ecosystem.

BALD EAGLES perched on cliffside spruce lookouts, hopeful for other fish. GLAUCOUS-WINGED and MEW GULLS scavenged through the tide-line.

The tide was way out, so it was fun to walk on the ocean bottom. Northern Sea Nettles, a jelly species, decorated the rippled sandy beach with their radially symmetrical patterns.  A flock of 11 BARROW’S GOLDENEYES took flight just past the tideline, wary of any intrusion, their wings whistling in unison.

Across the bay, new snow dusted the mountain peaks, termination dust. Godwin Glacier peeked from its valley south of Mt Alice. Other mountains lining the bay held empty bowls where cirque glaciers once lived.

Towards the south end of Tonsina Beach, the ghost forest left from the Great Quake of 1964 showed flood damage. Several of the once-upright trees had fallen over. Others were pushed close together in a jumble. There must have been a terrific surf here to move these around like toys.

Just north of the South Fork Tonsina Creek bridge, a SPRUCE GROUSE exploded off the path in a whirring of wings and landed in a spruce tree nearby. She peered down at us for a long time and then decided to flee. We flushed her again not far down the trail and this time she wisely flew away from the trail. Usually it’s really hard to find a Spruce Grouse, but other times, they just show up, always a great treat.

On the way back, I heard what I thought was a Sharp-shinned Hawk crying. I turned around and traced it to a mischievous STELLER’S JAY. They are such good mimics!

All in all, a fabulous afternoon at our Seward State Park.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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