Sunday, February 12, 2017 Banner Day!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:42 am, sunset 5:42 pm for a total day light of 8 hours and 59 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 20 seconds longer.

The past week of winter with temps in the 20s, then single digits, with strong north winds ended abruptly today. From an early morning low of 5º, the temperature rose steadily to 32º by evening accompanied by increasingly denser snowfall. Unfortunately, there’s a “dramatic shift in the weather this week” with rain and snow showers in the forecast and possible heavy snow.

My day started out with a bang on the morning walk around the block with the good dogs. As we trudged up the hill in the alley behind my house, I heard a twig snap, and looked up the steep bank to my right. An enormous, magnificent momma moose stood at her full, imposing height, looking down at us not 10 feet away. Her calf stood close behind. I immediately turned and ran back downhill with the dogs in tow, and ducked behind my neighbor’s house. Fortunately, momma was satisfied with my decision and did not follow. We cut through the yard and headed home on the street feeling very small but grateful. THAT was exciting!

A couple hours later, I headed to Fourth of July Beach, hoping to squeeze in one more ride on my kicksled before all the lovely snow turned to slush. I decided to leave my camera in the car as it was snowing and the light was dismally dim, even at noon.

We were having a lovely time cruising along the beach when suddenly a flock of birds erupted from the high tide line ahead where they had been scavenging or getting grit. SNOW BUNTINGS! They posed photogenically on a snowy piece of driftwood and adjacent beach rye grass stalks. In their midst was a very white McKAY’S BUNTING. Darn! No camera!

I watched them work their way through a few remaining patches of ryegrass, acrobatically landing on the top then riding the stalk down to the snow like little cowboys at a rodeo. They then plucked the seeds from the fallen stalk while standing conveniently on the ground. After a while, they all rose up and like the swirling snowflakes, flew off in a flurry, merging into the gray sky.

I continued to the creek where I stopped to scan the bay for sea birds. A MEW GULLS, two MARBLED MURRELETS, a few SURF SCOTERS, one HORNED GREBE, a few HARLEQUINS and BARROW’S GOLDENEYES… What???!!! Two tiny dark birds flew past just offshore. One held his fancy crest upright, CRESTED AUKLETS! They bounce-landed on the calm water, then again took off flying. Darn! So close and no camera!

It was pretty obvious I needed my camera, so we headed back. ABC, Always Bring Camera. On the way, I spied the Buntings again and took a different exit to avoid disturbing them. Back to the car, I loaded up the sled and dogs, and drove back to the beach. I slowly retraced my tracks, looking for everything and anything. Who knew what might show up next on this magical, snowy, gray day?

The Buntings had moved, but fortunately were farther down the beach in the ryegrass. I was able to cautiously approach and take a few photos of the McKay’s Bunting walking along the crusty snow, feeding from fallen seed stalks. No sign of the Auklets. Several people with their dogs had now arrived, and so I left. The Buntings will have to dodge around the dogs; I hope they will find enough seeds to sustain them.

I checked out the SMIC boat basin in hopes of refinding the Auklets. I did not, but enjoyed watching the handsome BARROW’S GOLDENEYES dive under the docks and surface with mussels for lunch. A few SURF SCOTERS shared the basin but did not seem to be diving much. In the increasingly heavy snow, it was hard to see clearly.

On the way home, I stopped by Ava’s Place, where departing birders reported they had just seen the ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD. I watched for about 20 minutes without any luck, but was glad to know he was there. I also heard a report of the RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER back in town.

Next I stopped in at the harbor Uplands by the Mariner’s Memorial. A SONG SPARROW hopped around among the NW CROWS and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS. Peering out into the snowstorm, I spotted a female GREATER SCAUP, a male BLACK SCOTER, and a pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS. A nice raft of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES with a few COMMON GOLDENEYES clustered just off the harbor jetty. PELAGIC CORMORANTS huddled on one of the dolphins, barely visible in the snow.

When I got home, I happened to check the feeder and whipped out my binoculars to verify a FOX SPARROW feeding hungrily on the sunseed chips. What a nice bird to end a banner day!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

1 comment:

  1. Nice photo of the McKay's! Here in Cordova I should be on the lookout tomorrow for the odd auklet too, thanks for the reminder.