Friday, April 21, 2017 Geese, Cranes, Swans, mosquitoes

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:21 am, sunset 9:32 pm, for a total day light of 15 hours and 10 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 23 seconds longer.

Overnight lows are still swinging below freezing; daytime highs reach into the mid to high 40s. It’s a slow breakup, which is appreciated to avoid flooding.

After a cold, dry winter with concrete-hard snow cover, area-wide spruce trees are so dry their needles litter the ground. Shake one for a shower of needles like a neglected Christmas tree. I started watering my trees yesterday, ironically climbing over a snow pile to reach the faucet. Clouds moved in this morning with a chance of rain in the forecast that will help break the drought.

On April 15, Ava reported 5 RED CROSSBILLS at her place. She never took down her hummingbird feeders, but I put mine out again in case the Rufous Hummers are a bit early.

On April 19, I found four dainty BONAPARTE’S GULLS feeding with the much larger MEW GULLS at the tideline. Tasha found the First of Year Bonaparte’s yesterday off Lowell Point Road. GREATER YELLOWLEGS and a LESSER YELLOWLEGS also reported by Tasha, and a single BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER that Sadie spotted yesterday evening seem to be the only shorebirds thus far.

The recent bright sunny weather enticed migrating geese and cranes to keep flying north. On April 19 around 5 pm, I heard but did not find a flock of SANDHILL CRANES flying high overhead. It was so exciting to hear their joyous bugling but I was disappointed not to see them. Later that evening at 8:15 pm, I heard another flock and counted 76 jubilant Cranes in a broad bow, heading north.

On Thursday, Exit Glacier Road aka Herman Leirer Road, was opened to vehicles as far as the Chugach National Forest gate. That evening, I decided to listen for the Western Screech Owl at the 40 mph signs, 1.4 miles past the Box Canyon gate at the junction of Old Exit Glacier Road.

Long after town was in shadow, the sun shone brightly down the Resurrection River valley. The surrounding snowy mountains and glaciers gleamed in the late sunshine. A shaggy, lone Mountain Goat peacefully grazed on impossibly steep terrain. Hidden VARIED THRUSHES sounded off from just about every tree. I also heard a few RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, little but loud. The FOY was April 16, also along Exit Glacier Road.

As the sun slowly sank behind the mountains and twilight descended, the Thrushes gradually fell silent. Large, slow, overwintered mosquitoes emerged and discovered my open car window. All was quiet except for the distant shushing of recently thawed mountain waterfalls.

At 10 pm, a gabble of voices erupted overhead. I leapt from the car and fired off a few images of 84 Geese in a ragged arc heading north. Quite the thrill!

I heard owls in the distance and giving up on the Western Screech Owl site, headed to Seavey’s Corner. A NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL steadfastly beeped in the distance, but that was all. As I drove back down Exit Glacier Road I saw a large owl fly up into a cottonwood tree next to the river.

I stopped and glassed it with my binocs. Even in the dark, I could just barely make out its ear tufts, a GREAT HORNED OWL! It sat on a branch, turning this way and that, and likely unhappy about discovery, dropped off the branch, opened its large wings, and disappeared into the night. A fine finale to an interesting and beautiful evening!

The pair of “intruder” TRUMPETER SWANS continues to stake out Nash Road, enjoying vegetation found in ever-widening leads and openings as the ice melts. After a 10-day absence, I believe I saw the resident swan parents with “Daddy’s Girl” cygnet today. The whereabouts of the other two cygnets is unknown. If the parents wish to reclaim their Nash Road residence, there will be a terrific battle for possession.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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