Sunday, June 4, 2017 Yakutat Tern Festival Bird TLC, Russell Fiord Wilderness

Yakutat, Alaska

We returned just in time for the Anchorage-based Bird Treatment and Learning Center (Bird TLC) program. TLC volunteer John Zarnetske presented “Flame”, a female Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus. As a juvenile, she was likely hit by a vehicle and found by the side of the road near Valdez with a fractured right wing. Unfortunately, the wing had to be amputated and she became an Education Bird in 2007.

It was very endearing how Flame looked at John, following his every move intently with those large golden eyes. She looked so small compared to one flying in the field; those long wings are deceptive. She weighs about a pound, all feathers and hollow bones. She briefly stuck up her “ears” which are not ears but feather tufts.

After Flame was safely back in her crate, TLC volunteer Dave Dorsey extracted “Ghost”, an impressive Snowy Owl from his crate. Ghost was found in 2005 in an unlikely area, near Soldotna in the Kenai Peninsula, with a broken wing. The delicate wing bones did not heal properly and he too, became an Education Bird. Ghost is 12 years old and weighs four pounds, enough for Dave to use a supporting post. 

Ghost was extremely alert, and filled the room with his presence. What a gorgeous bird! Dave built an exclosure on the back of his house, where Ghost has lived for the past 12 years when he is not “at work.”

Dave and John did not say, but Bird TLC has a great website at where you can learn more, become a member, adopt a bird,  and donate to a good cause.

Knowing our chances of winning the big raffle prize were slim, a few of us slipped away before the Award Ceremony and headed down the road to the Russell Fiord Wilderness trailhead. It's nice to have friends with wheels! 

The clouds had returned and rain was in the air by the time we arrived at the traihead. The trail led 0.7 miles down a rustic road lined with salmonberries in bloom. Bumblebees zoomed all around us in amazing numbers, busy pollinating. The dirt road soon petered out and the real people trail began, taking us up and down over several moraines through a spruce-hemlock forest. Of note, the "fiord" spelling applies to the land, and "fjord" applies to the sea.

Before we descended to the fjord, we had a nice view of the distant snowy mountains peeking out from under the clouds, the fjord stretching before us, and the band of dead trees circling the head of the bay. These gray, mostly delimbed trees reminded me of the Ghost Trees in Seward and Portage where the land subsided after the 1964 Great Quake, and the salt water killed the trees. Here, maybe they drowned when Hubbard Glacier surged across the mouth of Russell Fjord, turning it into a salty lake.

The tangy smell of a saltwater beach greeted us at the end of the trail. Mussel shells and wrack marked the tide lines. A PARASITIC JAEGER patrolled the bay, looking for piracy opportunities as usual. The fjord list included: ARCTIC TERNS, CASPIAN TERNS, MEW GULLS, HERRING GULLS, BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS, MARBLED MURRELETS, PIGEON GUILLEMOTS, RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS. Add BALD EAGLES (of course!)

To our left, four GREAT BLUE HERONS fished along shore. They were not happy to see us and soon flapped ponderously away. TREE SWALLOWS helped diminish the mosquitos that were thrilled to greet us. NORTHWESTERN CROWS worked the tide line. RAVENS flew across to the forest. WILSON’S WARBLERS and HERMIT THRUSHES sang from the woods.

Suddenly, I spotted a raptor-type bird sitting high in a cottonwood. We slowly walked towards it to get a better view. As I took photos, it flew off its perch. A RED-TAILED HAWK! That was unexpected! An ARCTIC TERN immediately rushed over to harass it as it spiraled up and away.

It was time for us to leave too, so we turned and trudged back up the bank to the trail. On the way back, I found a beautiful cluster of Heart-leaved Twayblade Orchid in bloom with purplish flowers. Sometimes the best way to see something new is to walk the same trail back. The bumblebees were gone, done with their hard work and ready to rest as the temperature cooled and light rain began.

What a fantastic, busy day we enjoyed today!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Traveling Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

1 comment:

  1. Carol, thank you for the kind write up for Ghost and Flame. Also, thanks for the feedback on missing out on talking about the website. We crossed a lot of territory at different times. Check out