Saturday, November 19, 2016 Anna’s Hummer, no Cassin’s Auklet

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:08 am, sunset 4:17 pm for a total day light of 7 hours, 9 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes, 19 seconds shorter.

SNOW! It snowed! Overnight, Seward became a winter wonderland with at least 7” of fluffy, white snow hiding the green grass and red Mt Ash berries piled at the base of every tree. More snow or snow showers are in the forecast with nighttime temps in the mid 20s, rising to a high of mid 30s.

I received a report of the ‘hood ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD at my neighbor’s house just after dawn at 9:20 am. Yea! He survived the long, snowy night and a low of 24º! I changed out my feeder with warm solution, but alas, did not see him. 

On Thursday afternoon, the hummer on the Cliff zipped out from a nearby spruce and fed from the feeder as the surprised homeowner was about to rehang it. Close encounter of the most amazing kind!

This noon, I tried to refind the CASSIN’S AUKLET first reported by Sadie yesterday, 50m offshore of Spring Creek Beach. The road to the beach at mile 5 Nash Road was not plowed, but it was easy to drive through the powdery snow. I parked before the sunken parking lot just in case it proved too slippery to get out.

The bay was as gray as wet concrete, with a brisk NNW wind. First bird was an adult BALD EAGLE standing on the rocky jetty attended by NORTH-WESTERN CROWS exploring the tideline wrack. A few GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS poked at dead jellies.

A COMMON LOON stretched and dove not far offshore near a small raft of SURF SCOTERS and HARLEQUIN DUCKS. The first alcid was a single PIGEON GUILLEMOT paddling along by itself.  A pair of HORNED GREBES dove together. Two COMMON MERGANSERS flew downwind.

A small stream gushes out of the nearby wetland pond; knee high boots are necessary to cross, preferably at a low tide. A KINGFISHER rattled from a favorite perch overlooking the partly frozen pond.

As I rounded the point past the old chip mill dock, I saw my second alcid species, two MARBLED MURRELETS bobbing and diving in the waves. I was hopeful that the Cassin’s Auklet might be nearby. Though I glassed the bay for a long time, the tiny gray alcid eluded me.

A single RED-BREASTED MERGANSER popped up then disappeared. More HARLEQUINS and a nice flock of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES busily fed right offshore by the rising tideline. That, and the brrrrisssskkk north wind finally convinced me to turn around. Instead of the needle in a haystack, the Cassin’s is an alcid in the ocean, and as challenging to find.

I stopped at Ava’s Place on the way back. It wasn’t windy, but still cold. Here, the world turned from black and white to color. Red, russet, and olive PINE GROSBEAKS squabbled over the several sunflower seed trays on her deck railing. BLACK-CAPPED and CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES dashed in to grab a single seed, take-out. Both DOWNY and HAIRY WOODPECKERS gobbled down homemade suet. RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES took a turn too.

“Click, click, click!” A tiny, long-billed bump perched on a snowy twig and announced his presence. Ava’s male ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD was as perky as ever, watching over the throng of birds as if snow was completely normal. His green body echoed the green lichens on the tree trunk, but when he turned his head just right, the blaze of fiery, rosy magenta made my heart leap. What a spark of life, this exotic bird, unfazed by winter. Best of luck to all 3 amazing Anna’s in Seward!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, November 16, 2016 Slaty-backed Gull!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:00 am, sunset 4:23 pm, for a total day light of 7 hours and 23 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 32 seconds shorter.
Welcome clear skies corresponded with cooler temperatures down to 20º last night, rising to 39º this afternoon. A brisk NNE wind blasted the feeble heat from an apologetic sun as it dashed across the sky in a low arc. The highest tides of the year followed the super moon, the bay whipped to a surging, white-capped froth, redistributing huge driftwood logs from one inundated beach to another. The stage was set for an exciting day!
Shortly after dawn at 9:30 am, the ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD flashed between the spruce tree and lighted feeder, having survived another cold and windy night. Yea!
At 12:30, I spotted a SLATY-BACKED GULL along the waterfront in front of town, standing quietly, facing into the north wind. Its slate gray back and black tail stood out from the light gray cloak of the default, slightly larger Glaucous-winged Gulls. The only winter record I have for Seward is from December 23, 2010 to January 3, 2011; others may have better data.
This gull is native to northeast Asia, breeding in the Russian Far East. According to the USFWS Alaska Seabird Information Series, it is a rare spring migrant and summer and fall visitor along the Bering and Chukchi seas.
Seward is fortunate to once again host this unusual visitor, though the local gulls did not especially seem to welcome it. One GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL landed nearby, close enough to be threatening, but the Slaty-backed held its ground, and the bully soon flew off. Where other Glaucous-winged Gulls sat together in loose groups, hunched against the north wind, this gull toughed it out alone.
The gull’s dramatic black and white patterning when flying was thrilling, though I failed to get any photos. I’ll try again tomorrow, if I can refind it.
Later in the afternoon, I found a young bull moose grazing hungrily on dead grasses. This is the bull that experienced a severe trauma last month that broke off his left antler and blinded his left eye. He seems to be healing, and has lost his right antler naturally. Though his life is far from easy, he perseveres.
Up on the mountain, a band of sure-footed mountain goats grazed on steep, rocky, wind-swept cliffs. From a feisty hummer to a rare gull, huge moose, and white tenacious dots on the mountain; what a great day!
Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, November 11, 2016 Sea Ducks, and the Swan Family

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:48 am, sunset 4:34 pm, for a total day length of 7 hours and 46 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 49 seconds shorter.

After almost an inch of rain on both Wednesday and Thursday with lashing winds, the weather tantrum subsided to a meek, calm, overcast day. The local temperature sign said 50º this afternoon!

I bucket-washed the road grime off the car then washed the house windows, not my usual November chores. A PINE GROSBEAK repurposed an upturned compartmented hatch cover as a birdbath, so I cleaned that too and refilled it. Then I cleaned both hummingbird feeders and refilled them. A pipe cleaner worked pretty well to scrub the tiny openings of the yellow plastic flowers. For variety, I turned the 40w light back on.

The homeowner on the Cliff reported seeing her male ANNA’S today; Ava’s Place has her little guy, and I believe the ’hood male is still hanging out at my neighbor’s. They all survived a miserably wet and windy several days. I don’t know how they do it!

First bird this morning was a busy BROWN CREEPER spiraling up my spruce tree. Perky CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES conversed cheerfully in the spruce branches. A PACIFIC WREN piped up from the raspberry canes; a PINE GROSBEAK sang from the top of my neighbor’s cottonwood tree. About 25 ROBINS flew from treetop to treetop, clucking. Everyone seemed relieved that the rain stopped and rejoiced in the brand new day.

Though the bay was deceptively calm, the storm still spoke through the rhythmic surf rolling in at Fourth of July Beach. Just outside the curling waves, a small mixed raft of sea ducks bobbed along: SURF SCOTERS, BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, and HARLEQUINS.

The Barrow’s stretched, chased, and a few males threw their heads back with gusto, courtship behavior that looks like it could break their lovely necks. Three HORNED GREBES dove just beyond, and a single RED-BREASTED MERGANSER preened, exposing its white belly. 

At the mile 1 Nash Road wetlands, the water was really high, like high tide, but hopefully this floodwater will soon subside. Four resident TRUMPETER SWANS stood on the old nest site, squeezed together on the almost submerged islet. I panicked at first, but found the third cygnet feeding a short distance away, partially obscured by the dead vegetation. Whew!

How fun to watch these giant birds peacefully preening, long necks looping and arcing to reach and rearrange all the feathers. Knowing that preening often leads directly to that magnificent angel-wing stretching, I eagerly waited with anticipation.

Yes! First one cygnet, then its sibling, then one parent, and finally the other stood tall and unfurled their enormous white wings. It’s a wonder they didn’t lift off to the moon with such vigorous flapping. It was also amazing that they managed to execute this maneuver so gracefully, without knocking anyone into the water.

I wished I could stay forever to watch them, but instead wished them well on this remarkable November afternoon as I drove away.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 Rock Sandpipers and Dunlins

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:43 am, sunset 4:39 pm Alaska Standard Time, for a total day light of 7 hours and 56 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 55 seconds shorter.

On this mild, calm day, light rain morphed into heavy rain by evening. Continuing heavy rain is forecast with lows in the high 30s and highs in the mid 40s for the next week. Bah!

After the terrible election results last night, birding was a perfect antidote. I celebrated refinding all five resident Trumpeter Swans, including Daddy’s Girl feeding close to her daddy. They had successfully flown from the Lagoon, where they have been delighting passersby for the past several days, to the pond at the head of the bay. The three remaining cygnets look healthy and strong. Such excellent genetics and parents!

At the tidelands, I noticed two juvenile MEW GULLS feeding at the edge of the tide. Nearby was a busy flock of 25 sandpipers! I was able to edge close enough to get photos and a better look without making them fly. At least 4 DUNLINS fed alongside the two subspecies of ROCK SANDPIPERS, all in winter plumage.

It was fun to hear them chattering as they rapidly probed the silty mud for lunch. Brief squabbles broke out over favored dining spots or personal space, hard to tell. It was such a pleasure to welcome them back to Seward, and I hope they stay for the winter, or at least until the Christmas Bird Count on December 17.

I labeled my photos to identify the Pribilof and the Aleutian subspecies; if anyone has corrections, please let me know.

The juvenile male ANNA’S HUMMER seems to be spending most of his time at my neighbor’s down the block. When I have seen him briefly, he zooms off in a diagonal beeline for her unheated feeders. With the warmer temperatures, and his apparent distain for creature comforts, I turned off the light. I keep the 4 watt nightlight feeder warmer on in case he changes his mind. What a tough puff!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter