Monday, December 12, 2016 Drama at Ava’s Place

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:53 am, sunset 3:50 pm for a total day light of 5 hours and 57 minutes. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 28 seconds shorter.

Clear skies prevailed again today with temperatures ranging from a low of 13 to a high of 21 with light northerly winds. Tomorrow is forecast to be cooler.

Once again in the predawn twilight, I heard the ’hood hummer ticking from the depths of a spruce near my neighbor’s heated feeder. I hoped to see him, but instead saw the WHITE-THROATED SPARROW scratching through the frozen dirt.

A flock of about 30 ROBINS and PINE GROSBEAKS mobbed one of the few remaining Mt Ash trees along the 300 block of First Avenue. I heard the BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS chirring.

Along the waterfront, handsome BARROW’S GOLDENEYES fed in a tight raft, diving in synchrony. A single RED-BREASTED MERGANSER female snorkeled along, quite close to shore while a large group of COMMON MERGANSERS paddled past. A small flock of SURF SCOTERS splashed and dove farther offshore.

Like a moth to the flame, I headed to Ava’s Place. I enjoyed watching and listening to the whirring wings, melodic whistles, and cat-fights of the PINE GROSBEAKS as they flowed back and forth from the trees to the feeders. A lone PINE SISKIN popped up in their midst, scavenging fallen sunflower seeds in the yard. This is the first one I’ve seen in a long time, and it’s odd that there’s only one.

After a time, I heard the wonderful ticking voice of the local celebrity. The ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD zoomed into view, resplendent, iridescent, and confident. He checked out the front window feeder, then sipped at the lamp-heated feeder under the car porch. Temporarily satiated, he sat in the sun on a branch. What a thrill to see this beautiful toughie again!

Ava is researching buying fresh flowers from the local grocery store to provide pollen for protein. In addition, she is considering blending crushed insect-based fish food with sugar water, and letting that solution freeze to the base of a feeder where he likes to feed. These are all good ideas that may extend his life if he accepts them.

The congenial rhythm of the birds feeding was abruptly disrupted by the flash of a black and white bird streaking through the yard. A NORTHERN SHRIKE! Pandemonium ensued as the Grosbeaks dashed away in all directions and the little birds vanished. I hoped the hummer was smart enough to hide too. The yard was empty for many long minutes.

Then, first one brave and hungry Pine Grosbeak tentatively reappeared, then another, and another. Just as it appeared the threat was over, back came the Shrike. Again the birds scattered, but this time, the Shrike followed.

I watched the Shrike swirl after a bird through an alder thicket across the driveway. Such dexterity! There may have been two Shrikes, hard to tell. The blur of predator and prey swept through Ava’s front yard; the prey was a BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE!

What a frightful experience to be singularly chased by an extremely adept predator, through the alders, through the dry grasses, up, over, and through one obstacle after another. I did not see the finish nor did I want to as they flashed out of sight. One bird has to eat, the other wants to live. It’s tough. It’s life.

I stayed long enough to watch the regulars return and resume feeding, still wary and watching, but hungry enough to risk it.

Over at Fourth of July Creek, I heard a ringing call and followed it to find an AMERICAN DIPPER. Undaunted by the ice overhanging the creek, he calmly walked in the frigid water, plunging his head underwater to hunt macroinvertebrates and tiny fish. Here’s another tough bird, this one a local, a passerine that dives like a duck and seems impervious to the short, cold days of winter.

I received a report of a RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER in the Clearview Subdivision, but it was too late for me to track him down. I hope to look tomorrow. What frozen sap is sustaining him???

At day’s end at 3:40 pm, a lovely pink alpenglow stole up the mountains on the east side of Resurrection Bay then faded to a delicate wash of lavenders, blues, and grays. The almost full moon rose after I left, but I saw it in my imagination, just as I imagined the two Anna’s Hummers snuggled up in a spruce tree for the long night.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter 

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