Wednesday, July 12, 2017 Tern Lake Treasures

Tern Lake, Mile 38 Seward Highway

Sunrise 4:55 am, sunset 11:09 pm for a total day light of 18 hours and 14 minutes. Tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 30 seconds shorter.
Sun, sun, sun! Yesterday’s high reached 72º, today’s high was 66º at 6 pm, and a low of 52º at midnight. Tomorrow’s high is forecast to be 82º which is HOT for coastal Seward.

On the way back from an errand to Cooper Landing this afternoon, I stopped at Tern Lake for a couple hours to enjoy the birds. First stop was the Picnic Area where a Tiger Swallowtail fluttered through on its seemingly random yet purposeful flight. So many silky white parachutes tumbled from the tall cottonwoods it looked like it was snowing despite the blue sky and warm temps.

Next stop, the main parking lot. ARCTIC TERNS looped around the lake, expertly scooping up small fish to feed to their begging fledglings. While waiting for delivery, two adorable fledglings preened and loafed on a little log. When the winged food delivery angel was sighted, they commenced a ratcheting racket, beaks wide open, “Feed me! Feed ME!”

Whoosh! In flew the angel, pausing momentarily to transfer the fish, then up and away to get more. This worked most of the time, but one time the parent overshot its mark, leaving both babies following the surprise move, still begging with open beaks while the parent abruptly banked and turned around to try again (successfully.)

I only saw the left fledgling fed once, while the right fledgling was fed repeatedly. Only when the left baby finally flew off and landed in the lake a short distance away did the parent dip down and feed it.

I counted about 20 Terns flying around the lake, plus there were others resting I could not count. How wonderful to see these graceful, elegant terns and their babies!

On the far side of the lake, I spied a COMMON LOON and its two fuzzy brown chicks close to a green, wind-blown grass and sedge  island. The parent dove repeatedly nearby and fed the babies. They were too far away to determine how equitable this food service was.

Two TRUMPETER SWANS preened a short distance away on a higher area that may be their nest site. I was surprised to see both species here as they are both known for their fierce territoriality and aggressive defense of home base.

After a while, the Swans serenely paddled around the point near the Loon family without incident, and lo and behold! There was a single, light gray cygnet between them! The little family paddled near the road to feed on the emerging pond plants for a while.

The cygnet looked about the same size as the three cygnets at Nash Road. At one point, the little guy inadvertently ran into its parent, poking it in the butt. The goosed parent leaped ahead, honking in surprise. Whoops! Realizing what happened, calm soon returned, but it was hilarious to see!

While I was watching the Tern babies, a GREEN-WINGED TEAL momma with about 8 tiny ducklings swam past. Their heads were mostly yellow with a strong brown eye-stripe extending from the back of their dark eyes and a large brown spot below the eye-stripe. The crown was also brown like a little mohawk, and the brown fuzzy body had large yellow spots sprinkled around for camouflage.

Then a momma LESSER SCAUP got brave and also paddled quite close to the road with her 8 little puffy ducklings. It looked like they still had an egg tooth at the bill tip. Their faces were mostly light yellow with a faint eye-line through their bright brown eyes in an otherwise brown head and body. So cute! It was great to see the two duckling species for comparison.

Just past the Terns, the other Common Loon appeared, half- submerged like a stealth submarine. It puttered along, then silently slipped underwater and disappeared.

 MEW GULLS dominated the air, both in sound and numbers. Two babies rested in the sun just around the corner from the Tern youngsters. One easily flew around and returned.

Suddenly pandemonium broke out. The Loons yodeled in alarm from their positions across the lake from each other. Wow! The Terns ramped up their rasping cries and the Mew Gulls tooted their tinny horns loudly. I looked around and found the perpetrator, a BALD EAGLE. He flew high across the lake, feigning innocence on his reconnaissance flight, accompanied by a bomber squad of Mew Gulls and Arctic Terns that made sure he kept moving along. It took some time for the excitement to subside and the normal rhythm to return.

I stopped on the east side of the lake to see a family of RED-NECKED GREBES with 3 zebra-striped chicks resting in the tangle of pond vegetation along the shore. I was glad to see them as road construction near the Mile 15 Lily Pad Pond make it hard to visit the Red-necked Grebe family there.

All in all, a wonderful time enjoying the Tern Lake treasures!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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