Monday, December 26, 2016 Sanderling!

Seward, Alaska

This afternoon I spied a very light-colored, small sandpiper feeding with a flock of about 40 chattering ROCK SANDPIPERS and three droopy-billed, gray-brown (dun-colored) DUNLINS.

A SANDERLING! This is an uncommon shorebird for Seward any time of year. Homer reported one for their CBC on December 17 that was also with Rock Sandpipers.

A small population of Sanderlings nests in the high arctic tundra on the North Slope near Barrow. During migration, some stage in the Copper River Delta and some migrate through the Aleutian Islands, with sporadic winter sightings such as this. According to the Alaska Species Ranking System Summary Report, this species is in decline and of concern.

The Rock Sandpipers nest in remote islands and along the coast of western Alaska. It sure is convenient for them to come here instead of me flying to the Pribilofs or Aleutian Islands!

Most Alaskan shorebirds migrate south as early as July to escape winter, yet these hardy Rock Sandpipers with their Dunlin and Sanderling pals seemed quite at home despite our variable and often severe winter weather. The Rock Sandpipers winters farther north than any other North American shorebird.

The Rock Sandpiper flock consisted of the very light gray Pribilof Rock Sandpiper (Calidris ptilocnemis ssp ptilocnemis) and two darker subspecies that may be the Aleutian Rock Sandpiper (ssp couesi), and/or the intermediate, tschukschorum. These subspecies are quite complicated, variable, and are still under review. Thanks to Luke DeCicco for his help!

The busy sandpipers worked along the high tide line, pulling out tiny tidbits to eat. I watched one Rock Sandpiper pluck a fingernail-sized, pink Macoma clam out of the cobble beach. Even though the clam was sideways, somehow the bird managed to open wide and gobble it down, shell and all, and without pause or apparent discomfort, continue to search for more.

An Alaska Department of Fish and Game publication noted that the Baltic Macoma (Macoma balthica) is an important food source for coastal birds, especially during winter and migration stopovers. It also states that the tiny clam comprises the entire diet of the Pribilof Rock Sandpiper while wintering in Cook Inlet.

Seward regularly hosts small flocks of over-wintering Rock Sandpipers, occasionally Dunlins, and rarely Sanderlings. But it’s always a thrill to watch these incredible tough guys leap-frogging along the beach and especially to hear them gaily chattering on a short winter day like today.

Happy Birding!                                                                     
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, December 23, 2016 Daytime Great Horned Owl!

Seward, Alaska

A friend called me shortly after dawn, which though it sounds early, was officially 10:02 am. A GREAT HORNED OWL was sitting on top of a dead animal, either a feral rabbit or a cat in a neighbor’s yard in Forest Acres. Ravens were swooping down and pecking at it, Magpies were going nuts, and a Bald Eagle cried out from its perch in a nearby spruce.

I got there as fast as I could. The Eagle still sat in the spruce tree, but the Ravens and Magpies had found something better to do. I figured I missed the show. Luckily, my friend arrived to point it out.

The Owl resembled a short stump with its dark coloration and mottled feather pattern. Its “ears”, two long feather tufts, stood erect, ruffled by the breeze. The Owl sat quietly on top of its prize, all fluffed up, looking up and side to side. When its head swiveled at least 180 to look directly behind, it was easy to see why people think an owl can turn its head all the way around.

Eventually, a Raven returned and circled above the Owl who followed its flight carefully, beak open in a threatening gesture, white chin flashing. This fierce predator was not about to abandon its prey. A dense pattern of tracks from the bounding prey and owl wing tip and footprints covered the snow around the triumphant Owl. What a treat to see an Owl in the daytime, astride its recent kill!

Just as we were wondering if a 3# owl could even fly with this breakfast, the Owl had enough of the paparazzi and abruptly flew off to the north without it. No other birds dove in to claim the prize, so we checked it out. It was a full-grown, feral rabbit after all, tan and white. The Owl had only just begun to enjoy breakfast when dawn and discovery interrupted.

We checked back later and there was no sign of the rabbit. Perhaps the watchful Eagle hauled it off, a hefty load even for him but easy pickings!

I hope the Owl will feast tonight in private. The long nights are to his advantage now and the days, however short, are not his friend.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, December 20, 2016 Seward CBC wrap up

Add a FOX SPARROW to Count Week for a total of 68 species overall.


A NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL squeaked into Count Day (night) making the Count Day total 56. Count Week species is 11 for a total of 67 species, one less than last year.

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 10:00 am, sunset 3:50 pm, for a total daylight of 5 hours and 50 minutes. Tomorrow will be exactly the same, 0 minutes and 0 seconds shorter as the Earth shifts gears. The Winter Solstice begins at 1:44 am Wednesday, as does the official first day of winter.

Yesterday, the weather played the drama queen card, waltzing from one dark snow squall to the next, pelting the town with graupel. That entertaining little tantrum played out by evening.

Later, skate skiers left their rhythmic tracks all around town in the fresh snow on unplowed streets. Orion spanned the southern sky, as his faithful, sparkling, dog Sirius rose over the eastern mountains. I listened hard but unsuccessfully for owls while soaking up the peace and beauty of the night. It was hard to go inside even as midnight approached.

Today, the last day of the CBC Count Week, remained benign, mostly sunny, and calm with temps ranging from 19 to 28º. I headed out to the tidelands, searching for one last species. There at tide’s edge, past about 100 NORTHWESTERN CROWS busily feeding in the mudflats, were three small shorebirds. DUNLINS! I eased forward. The Crows did not mind at all. I got as close as needed for documentary photos of the long drooping bill and drab brownish plumage, then turned back, past the cordial Crows. Yay!

The next bird of interest was an AMERICAN PIPIT, round as a ball, picking through the beach rocks. This species is uncommon in the winter in Seward. Though it was counted on Saturday, it was still nice to document.

Back at the parking lot, a VARIED THRUSH perched at the tip of a spruce tree. It trilled briefly, then jetted off, bright orange and black against the pale blue sky.

I headed to Ava’s Place to see the celebrity mite. After watching the PINE GROSBEAKS flow back and forth, rattled by an unseen predator, I heard the ticking. There he was, the ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD, at ease as usual. He sat on a Mayday twig for a while, checked out the feeders for a snack, then disappeared over the roof in a blur to monitor the back yard.

With the addition of the DUNLIN, and a report of a GREAT HORNED OWL heard on Friday night, the Seward CBC Count Week total is 11. The Count Day total is 56, for a total species count of 67. The 2015 Count had 66 species plus two for Count Week for a total of 68, though the species varied a bit. It’s always interesting to see who is here!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

2                Auklet, Crested                                                           ­­­        
7                Blackbird, Rusty                      ­­­                 
116             Bufflehead                                               
30               Chickadee, Black-capped          ­­­                  ­­­
         CW Chickadee, Boreal                                       
51               Chickadee, Chestnut-backed                               
65               Cormorant, Pelagic                                            
4                Creeper, Brown                       ­­­                 
         CW Crossbill, White-winged              ­­­                 
129             Crow, Northwestern                                          
5                Dipper, American                    ­­­                 
65               Duck, Harlequin                                       
2                Duck, Long-tailed 
         CW Dunlin                            
50               Eagle, Bald                                      
1                Falcon, unknown species                                            
         CW  Gadwall                                  
336             Goldeneye, Barrow’s                                         
98               Goldeneye, Common                                         
75               Grebe, Horned                                                  
6                Grebe, Red-necked                           ­­­                 
249             Grosbeak, Pine                                         
1                Guillemot, Pigeon 
         1  Gull, Glaucous-winged X Herring hybrid  (not a species)     
176             Gull, Glaucous-winged                              
9                Gull, Herring                                                     
55               Gull, Mew                                                         ­­­
4                Heron, Great Blue                                     
2                Hummingbird, Anna’s                                                 
38               Jay, Steller’s                                                              
81               Junco, Dark-eyed (Slate-colored)
                           including 1 Junco, Dark-eyed (Oregon)                         ­­­
12               Kingfisher, Belted                                                       
23               Kinglet, Golden-crowned          ­­­                 
15               Loon, Common                       ­­­                 
6                Loon, Pacific                                                    
36               Magpie, Black-billed                                            ­­­
117             Mallard                                                    
48               Merganser, Common                                         
         CW Merganser, Hooded                   
48               Merganser, Red-breasted                           
99               Murrelet, Marbled                                     
25               Nuthatch, Red-breasted
         CW Owl, Great-Horned
1                Owl, Northern Saw-whet                                   
98               Pigeon, Rock                                                    
1                Pipit, American                                        
15               Ptarmigan, Rock                                      
57               Raven, Common                                      
48               Robin, American                     ­­­                 
         CW  Sandpiper, Rock
         CW Sapsucker, Red-breasted  
2                Scaup, Greater                                                  
65               Scoter, Surf                                             
1                Scoter, White-winged
1                Shrike, Northern                             
1                Siskin, Pine                             ­­­                 
2                Sparrow, American Tree                           
2                Sparrow, Golden-crowned                                 
6                Sparrow, Song                                 ­­­                 
8                Sparrow, White-crowned                                   
2                Sparrow, White-throated                           
         CW Swan, Trumpeter                                        
         CW Teal, Green-winged                                     
14               Thrush, Varied                        ­­­                 
         CW Waxwing, Bohemian                          
6                Woodpecker, Downy                                         
3                Woodpecker, Hairy                                            
1                Wren, Pacific                                  

TOTAL SPECIES: 56, 11 for Count Week, 67 total
Total individuals: 2447