Friday, October 21, 2017 Steller Sea Lion and the Raven

Alaska Sealife Center
Seward, Alaska

Whether cold, rainy, windy, sunny, or no matter what the weather, it’s always a good time to visit the Alaska Sealife Center. Yesterday, a friend and I took one such break from the chilly temperatures and blustery wind.

Aku the baby walrus was gone, having flown by cargo jet the previous day to Sea World Orlando in Florida. He had arrived safely, and that was all the staff knew. His outdoor pool looked very empty without him clowning around with his yellow hardhat, buoys, and black raft.

Staff announced a training for the Steller sea lions. We hustled over to their habitat in time to see two sea lions following the trainer and fish pail to their behind-the-scenes hangout. The trainer re-emerged with a replenished pail of dead fish, flung them into the water and onto the rocks, then retreated.  Suddenly, Pilot, the massive, 8 year-old male Steller sea lion, burst onto the scene with a roar. He headed directly to the pile of fish on the rocks and started chowing down.

A CROW and a RAVEN invited themselves to dinner, perching attentively nearby, bibs tucked under their chins. The Crow dashed in, grabbed a chunk and flew off, but the more wary Raven waited.

The sea lion started tossing fish high in the air, expertly catching and swallowing one after the other. It was quite a show! Raven meanwhile, walked across the rocks just out of reach, each eyeballing the other. While the sea lion was busy reaching for yet another flung fish, the Raven made his move and dashed in and out. The sea lion lunged after him, but too late; another fish chunk was missing and the clever Raven chuckled. I think they’ve danced this tango before.  

When that pile was gone, Pilot dove into the pool with a magnificent splash that sent small seiche waves rocketing across the pool. He dove to the bottom then surfaced, violently shook the larger fish into bits with gusto, and  swallowed the smaller ones whole. Down and up, snorting and splashing with evident enjoyment until every fish was eaten.

We thought the show was over and wandered off to check the seabird habitat and other exhibits. When we arrived downstairs, Pilot was suspended upside down, intently watching a young lady seated cross-legged on the floor in front of him, arms outstretched. He arced around almost in a circle, following her hands, curling around, then shot up for air, and dashed back again. What a graceful, fluid giant! When tired with that, he disappeared out of the water. Was the show over? No! The best was yet to come!

After checking out the octopus, I glanced over to see Pilot playing with a new toy. An enrichment object? Yes, but certainly not one provided by staff. It was a rock or flat chunk of concrete just the right size, weight, and shape to balance on his nose, carry to the surface, slide down his side, chase as it descended in a fluttery flight, tuck under a flipper, flip from one flipper to the other like a magician, hold in his mouth, and generally have a grand time. What a performance! A small crowd gathered to exclaim, take photos and videos, and marvel at his agility, playfulness, and creativity.

After about 40 minutes of this entertaining performance, I heard a staff person behind us radio to the mammal department, “Someone take away that rock before he writes his name on the glass!” Sure enough, wherever Pilot pressed the rock against the glass there were definite scratches. Suddenly Pilot abandoned his beloved toy and shot to the surface where, I assume, he followed a shiny pail full of fish out of the habitat. End of game!

Happy ASLC!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


Thursday, October 19, 2017 Tern Lake Trumpeter Swan Family Flies!

Seward, Alaska

More good news! I received a call from a birder who lives a mile south of Tern Lake. She saw the TRUMPETER SWAN family, including the cygnet, flying south just after 6 pm! She thought they were probably headed to Trail Lake where the water is still open.

No fishing line wrapped around the cygnet’s wings, no issues with flying, no concerns about entrapment in ice. Now that the cygnet can fly, hope is on the wing. Yay!!!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, October 19, 2017 Trumpeter Swan Family Reunited!

Seward, Alaska

What a tremendous relief to find all five TRUMPETER SWANS at the north end of the Lagoon this noon! The three cygnets fed near each other and one adult in the shade away from the boardwalk. The other adult fed in the sunshine near the boardwalk, but paddled over to join them after a while.

I wish I could have watched the reunion when each parent with one cygnet found one another, and the lone cygnet at Preacher Pond was discovered and reunited. I can imagine the triumphant trumpeting, head bobbing, and powerful wings beating the air. Stories to share! They are such a strong, beautiful family!

I did not find them around 4 pm, but hope that they are all together on this cold, blustery night.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, October 18, 2017 Swans in trouble

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:47 am, sunset 6:40 pm for a total day length of 9 hours and 53 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 22 seconds shorter.

Clear and chilly but sunny these past two days with temps from freezing to a high today of 39º and a brisk north wind. It was hard to escape that wind: 17 to 30 mph with gusts to 43 mph! Forecast for much colder temperatures down to 20º by Friday, then rising slightly to mid-30s by Saturday with snow showers all next week.

On Sunday, October 15, I noticed to my dismay that one cygnet of the resident TRUMPETER SWAN family was missing. Only two cygnets fed with their parents at the Lagoon. The 4 ½ month-old cygnet must be injured or dead, or something traumatic separated the family as they are not independent at this age. This is the sight I have dreaded since they began to fly.

I called the Alaska Sealife Center to find out if anyone had reported an injured or dead cygnet. No. Fingers crossed!

I immediately began walking along the Lagoon boardwalk, searching under the power lines. The lines are still up, but the plan is to move them underground next month. Until then, they are a continued threat. Down and back, no cygnet. I drove over to Nash Road and walked along the power line there; nothing.

Monday I thought to check Preacher Pond across the highway from the Nash Road intersection adjacent to the power lines. There, all alone, was the missing cygnet! He was floating quietly, bill tucked under his wing, napping. The north wind pushed him towards the south end of the small pond, upon which he woke up and paddled back towards the center and immediately tucked back in.

I could not see any obvious signs of injury, but he was clearly not acting normally. He should be feeding and preening. He should be with his family. Had they visited the pond a few days ago? Did he hit the power lines and flutter back to the pond, slightly injured, as his family flew away? Why was he stranded here?

Tuesday around 11:30 am I received a cryptic report of a swan with fishing line tangled around its foot near the parking area at Tern Lake. The details were fuzzy. Again I called the ASLC in case this was a rescue operation, but Tern Lake is in the jurisdiction of the Anchorage Bird Treatment Center. I decided to drive the 38 miles to verify the report and if possible, cut the swan loose if attached to the bank. I just had to see if I could help and it was a fine fall day for a drive.

Mountain shadows and ice covered most of Tern Lake, but in a sunny section along the Sterling Highway the water was still open. The resident Trumpeter Swan family with their single cygnet fed peacefully and normally. I observed for a while and did not see any sign of fishing line, but they were not close to the road. No idea what might have happened earlier to inspire the report, but apparently all seemed fine now.

All seemed fine except for the encroaching ice. Two MALLARDS stood on the nearby ice to verify its existence. I have heard that this cygnet does not fly. He is old enough to fly, but apparently has not or cannot. If he does not fly, they will be trapped by the ice. With the continuing cold weather, the ice is bound to encroach even closer.

Then what? Will the parents abandon their cygnet to survive? Will they find the only open water flowing under the culvert and remain stranded together until winter or a predator takes them? Is it possible to catch three, strong, healthy swans and move them to Cooper Landing or Skilak Lake where they might overwinter and find food without flying?

I had to leave them, pondering their fate on the way home. Later, someone mentioned that they had seen the cygnet try to fly, but floundered. Perhaps there IS fishing line wrapped around the wings? None of my photos are close enough to tell. That would certainly explain why it has not been able to fly.

I checked on the cygnet at Preacher Pond on the way home. Still napping, hopefully healing from whatever grounded him. At one point, he woke up and actually raised up his wings part way; they looked symmetrical. Maybe he just doesn’t know where to fly to find his family. I hope they return to find him and they can ALL fly together back to the Lagoon.

It’s a scary time and place to be a single cygnet, and farther north, a bad time to not be able to fly even if you are with your parents.

More bad news this afternoon. I checked on the Lagoon swans, and only found one adult and one cygnet. O no! Once again, I walked the boardwalk up and down and found nothing. I drove over to Nash Road and walked that stretch; nothing. Nothing at Preacher Pond either! Now we’re missing 3 swans: two cygnets and one adult!

I received a report of one adult and one cygnet at Nash Road around 6 pm, but do not know if the family is split and I somehow missed seeing the two earlier, or if the Lagoon swans flew to Nash Road. I hope this has a happier ending than what I found today.

Stay tuned!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter