Tuesday, January 31, 2017 Birding in the Slop

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:13 am, sunset 5:10 pm, for a total day light of 7 hours and 57 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and zero seconds longer, putting us over the 8-hour mark.

What a difference a few degrees makes! With the temperature hanging above 32º, what might have been lovely, useful snow was instead slop in several wet variations including mist, rain, sn’rain, sleet, showers, and supersaturated snow. Tomorrow is forecast to be about the same, but inexplicably, the sun is rumored to return Thursday for a week. As always, we shall see!

There is nothing more uplifting than birding on a glum day. Feeling more like a boat than a car, I drove to Ava’s, spraying water on both sides, receiving the same, and leaving a wake. At least my car looks clean!

As the heavy flakes thumped down on the already overburdened branches, birds materialized in cameo appearances on the little Mayday tree. A cheerful BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE called out loudly, undeterred by the weather. And then I saw it was the one with a deformed bill, still getting along, not complaining.

Several PINE GROSBEAKS perched momentarily on the snowy branches. One in particular looked soggy; I hope she will be OK. Then a bright and handsome ROBIN, a giant in comparison to the others, landed in a shower of shaken snow. At least two Robins have figured out how to eat from Ava’s buffet alongside the Grosbeaks and other regulars.

Next, a small flock of PINE SISKINS zipped in and wasted no time to belly up to the seeds spread along the porch railing. They still have not figured out the special sock hanging like a ripe fruit, filled with Niger seed just for them.

A little, long-tailed sparrow flitted in, an AMERICAN TREE SPARROW! Nice to know he’s still around, looking dapper.

On the far side of the yard, I spotted a tiny bird floating along unlike any other bird: the ANNA’S, of course. He sat in the midst of the snowy branches, unperturbed by the giant snowflakes that could have easily flattened him with a direct hit. If he thought this snowstorm might be a bit of a setback to his plans, he gave no notice. With three heated sugar water feeders in easy reach, all he has to worry about is choosing which one.

Feeling much better, I backed away then mopped up the inside of my car door with a large towel and shook it off. Wallowing back down the road through the snow sludge, I was glad to return to my warm, dry home. Those birds are a lot tougher than I!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, January 28, 2017 Anna’s Hummer still humming!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:19 am, sunset 5:02 pm for a total day light of 7 hours and 42 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 52 seconds longer.

After the big snow dump, officially noted as 32”, the temperature rose to 39º.  Instead of snow, rain mixed with sleet pelted down, turning the snow to concrete and the streets to ice. On Wednesday, the unusual weather brought lightning and thunder at 11:30 am, followed by more hard rain with winds from the south. Very turbulent, crazy weather!

So, how did Seward’s smallest celebrity fare through all this? Quite well, thank you! I popped in at Ava’s Place when I could and found him as perky as ever. He has now endured up to18-hour nights with temps as low as 3º, brutal winds and wind chill, light rain to hard rain, sn’rain, sleet, and heavy snow; and other conditions I cannot imagine. What a champ!

This afternoon, he zipped over to inspect the trunk of the Mayday tree, possibly searching for insects, checked out the suet feeder without feeding, sat on a small branch for a brief minute for his fans, then zoomed away at top speed and disappeared around the house.

Ava noted that he seems to be cruising more, flying across the river, or over to the neighbor’s feeder, but he always comes home. When it was really cold, he did snuggle up to the 100-watt lamp at night. Smart move!

As nothing, not even a hummer, can subsist on sugar solution alone, Ava is now providing dried mealworms/grubs packaged for chickens that she pulverizes then stirs into a regular sugar solution. She dips the bottom of the hummer feeder into the solution and (when the temps allow) lets it freeze. The hummer knows where to find this protein-rich treat and hovers under the feeder to eat. He is a very lucky little guy!

I’ve only heard him ticking this winter, but Ava said he is singing his buzzy little song again, and even confronted her decorative hummer hanging from the porch. Life is good!

As the Mt Ash berries in town have all been devoured, the Robins in town have dispersed; I even watched several hopping through the plowed snow chunks along the waterfront, possibly eating sand bits. 

A few fortunate VARIED THRUSHES and ROBINS found Ava’s Place, where they too enjoy the dried grubs, suet, and sunseed chips. PINE SISKINS numbers increased from just a few over the last week to about 50 today, mingling with the PINE GROSBEAKS, and adding their buzzy “Zzzzzzzzzzip!” to the chorus.

I received a late report of the RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER that was spotted 4 to 5 days ago, back at the Mayday tree and feeders in the neighborhood near the schools. I wonder where he has been hiding as I have not seen or heard any reports since late December.

On January 23, I surprised a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK on a recent passerine kill in the neighbor’s driveway. I did not want to disturb the diner any further and did not get to see what was on the menu.

On January 26, a CRESTED AUKLET was reported near the Alaska Sealife Center. I have looked several times without success; it would be fun to see it.

On January 27, I discovered a small earthworm wriggling slowly across the crusty snow. Like the rest of nature, he’s a pretty tough little invertebrate to survive this weather medley.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter
Sunday, January 22, 2017 Snowstorm and Hummer
Seward, Alaska

It started snowing on Friday and continued through Saturday night, dumping at least 30” of snow. After shoveling for the past 3 days, it seemed like a lot more! Apparently Seward was/is under an Emergency Declaration due to the difficulty getting the roads plowed. Yesterday the gas stations were closed and only two clerks made it to work at Safeway. Pretty bad! Today was lovely, sunny, and calm at my house though the north wind rattled down the bay.

While occasionally leaning on the shovel, I spotted a First-of-Year SHARP-SHINNED HAWK dashing through the yard. Later, ROBINS, BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS, and PINE GROSBEAKS checked and rechecked the Mt Ash trees for any possible remaining berries. Any trees with fruit are VERY popular for these fruit-lovers.

Two VARIED THRUSHES found sunseed chips, scattered in many layers in my feeder enclosure, also a dozen JUNCOS, and a SONG SPARROW. CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES found the whole sunflower seeds, and the DOWNY WOODPECKER checked out the suet. They did not appreciate my shoveling of the roof so close, but it had to be done.

I finally got my car out of my driveway late this afternoon, breaking through some drifts and berms. Fortunately, the roads were plowed by now, with giant berms, tall snow dividers down the middle of many streets, and mountains of snow piled on every corner. First thing, I checked on the town hummer feeder, wading past my knees in the drifted snow. The feeder was intact and the ports were liquid. I ticked for the hummer, but the snow-laden spruces remained silent.

Although the sun had just disappeared behind the western mountains, it was still light, so I headed to Ava’s Place. Fortunately, Ava’s Place was plowed. I pulled up and started scanning with my binocs. I found the little guy almost immediately, sitting on his favorite metal bucket on the shelf below the lighted feeder. Yay! Guess a major snowstorm doesn’t faze him, and maybe the warmer temperatures (low today 13, high of 22) are appreciated.

Instead of sitting there all fluffed up and despondent in the shadows, just out of reach of the racing north wind, he was actively preening like it was summer and he had a hot date. It was amazing to see that long bill reach down and adjust the belly feathers; his neck must have been uber-stretched to make it reach! So he preened, contemplated, and got ready for another long winter’s nap. It was such a relief and joy to see him!

The forecast wavers back and forth, but it looks like we’re in for warming temperatures (boo!) bringing wet snow or even rain. Monday and Tuesday call for 5 to 8” of snow, less than 1 inch on Wednesday when the temp hits 39, then 5 to 8” on Friday, 8 to 12” on Saturday, and then we shall see.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, January 19, 2017 Hummer Feeder Failure

Seward, Alaska

The fierce north wind howled and roared all last night, and finally diminished to a low rumble by mid morning. I was so confident in the new super-insulated feeders that I only took a short piece of electrical wire in case I needed to poke out a little ice in some of the feeder ports.

What I found was complete failure of the feeders, thanks to the snarling wind. The new foam box was nowhere to be seen, blown to oblivion. The little nightlight that was nestled inside dangled from its electric cord, swinging in the wind, shining brightly. The caulk had failed on the bottom of the feeder still wearing its cheery pink sock cap, allowing the wind to separate the feeder from the box. I should have tied the feeder to the box for backup. The 75-watt lamp dangled in the breeze by its cord, luckily also unbroken.

I was disappointed to find the heat-taped feeder was frozen though it was still on top of the 7-watt nightlight in the super-insulated box. I unhooked it and tied it to the stepladder top platform as best I could with increasingly colder fingers. Then I aimed the 75-watt lamp close to it and tied it down, in hopes of melting the sugar solution and keeping it liquid.

I gathered up the remaining components of my feeder to fix at home. On a whim, I drove around the neighborhood, looking for the wayward foam box. What luck! It had blown over the cliff and was trapped by some alders near the road, looking none the worse for its flight. Maybe I’ll put my name and address on it!

After that big disappointment, I headed to Ava’s for a boost. I didn’t have long to wait. There he was, the little jewel, flashing the magenta, metallic sequins on his head and throat in the sun. He was more active today, taking short flights, always in the sun.

While hoards of PINE GROSBEAKS surged from the carport to the trees, whistling and mewing, he sat calmly on the various accidental perches under the carport, watching. Nothing seemed to bother him, this little sparky speck. I was tickled he perched facing out today so I could see him flashing now and then. Be still, my beating heart!

And now, back to the feeder repair. The cold and wind are forecast to stick with us for several more days, providing a perfect, if frustrating environment to figure out how to keep a hummingbird feeder from freezing.

In other Anna’s news, Kate reported both the banded male and female Anna’s at her feeder in Cordova yesterday: https://www.facebook.com/alaskahummingbird/
Gwen in Juneau reported a female and young banded male in Auke Bay on January 11th. Tough birds all!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter