Sunday, July 23, 2017 Violet-green Swallows in boat

Seward, Alaska

Freed from my baby swallow foster care, I headed across the bay to Fourth of July Beach. Fourth of July Creek (River) was ripping, flowing from Godwin Glacier, full of meltwater loaded with silty sediment. A huge fan of milky-green water extended out into Resurrection Bay, churned by the waves.

About 20 MARBLED MURRELETS paddled along, diving and catching sand lance. I was fortunate to photograph one struggling with a feisty fish that preferred not to be eaten. Too bad! The Murrelet held on firmly while the fish flipped and flapped.  Eventually its struggles ceased and down the hatch it went. Down for another!

A small cloud of screaming BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES plunged into the waves, perhaps also targeting sand lance.

Just beyond the Murrelet, I spied a pair of WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS riding up and down the waves. This species is not common here any time of year, but especially in the summer. A young HARLEQUIN DUCK trailed behind them.

Sixteen Harlequins in several small rafts, and a single PIGEON GUILLEMOT also rode the waves. Unless all these Harlies were female, the males may be in eclipse plumage already.

On the way home, I happened to pass several old boats in dry storage. I noticed two swallows flying around and then the unmistakable sound of babies begging. Hmmmm. Where would the nest be in this barren gravel wasteland? Surely it was not up to official standards!

I scrutinized the old boats, riddled with holes of all sizes for drainage, and who-knows-what. Suddenly, the babies’ voices rose in anticipation and the handsome dad zipped into a large hole. At least two yellow baby beaks stretched out for the fast food delivery. A millisecond later, he flashed away to grab some more insects.

The browner mom dashed in and out, sometimes carrying away a white fecal sac. Despite her best efforts, the entrance to the unusual nest sported some additional whitewash. Given the peeling paint and various colors around the hole, a casual observer would probably not notice the additions.

I wondered why these swallows were so late. I appreciated how hard the parents worked to feed their precious babies and hoped that they would soon be ready to fledge. Time was running out!

Not my problem! 

So long! Good luck! 

And off I went, carefree.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward, Alaska

Update: I measured the hole after they fledged: 4.5". I don't know how the babies stayed inside as the walls of the drainpipe curved upwards quite steeply. Completely non-standard, but somehow successful.

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