Tuesday, August 1, 2017 Tern Lake Scaup and Dipper

Mile 38, Seward Highway

Sunrise 5:39 am, sunset 10:27 pm for a total day light of 16 hours and 48 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 54 seconds shorter.

Cool, cloudy weather with sprinkles; temps in the mid-50s. Feels muggy with 92% humidity. Forecast about the same for the next few days.

I had an errand up the road today and birded Tern Lake for an hour and a half. Just as I turned off the Seward Highway to the Sterling Hwy, I caught sight of a mess of little ducklings diving in a tiny slough across from Tern Lake. They popped up and dove down like downy popcorn. Between the three SCAUP moms, I counted 28 cute ducklings, all about the same age.

I find Scaup identification very difficult. Size is relative, the head shape varies based on the bird’s activities, who knows if the bill nail is larger or smaller? The white patch at the base of the bill was diffuse and not even that obvious. Finally, one hen stretched while preening. Based on the white stripe on the primaries extending into the secondaries, I’m calling these GREATER SCAUP. I would appreciate any verification, corrections, and ID tips!

In the back, three much older AMERICAN WIGEON juveniles preened, their mom ever watching nearby. A single older NORTHERN PINTAIL juvenile dabbled by itself.

The calm water reflected the green trees and grasses from the adjacent hillside, spangled with the bright magenta of the blooming fireweed. A lovely swimming hole for the duck families.

As if on cue, all the little bobbers and moms bee-lined for the single log protruding from the water at a perfect angle. Whether waddling, hopping, flapping, or flying, all abilities were able to access a perch out of the water. Wing to stubby wing, they immediately proceeded to preen furiously. A timer went off, and suddenly it was naptime. A small raft of about 9 dozed nearby, drifting in lazy circles. ZZZZZZZ. So peaceful!

Trying to blend in with the intermittent traffic, I eased my giant car-blind away, hoping to leave them snoozing.

I glassed the quiet waters of Tern Lake. No Arctic Terns graced the sky or fed their begging young. Nope. All gone by now, heading to the other hemisphere. So quiet without them! Only a few MEW GULLS remained to try to fill the vacuum; I found one gray baby waiting quietly for food.

Two long white necks rose up like periscopes from the middle of a sedge island. I hoped the single TRUMPETER SWAN cygnet was with them, hiding in the greenery. I did not see the Common Loon family, but there were plenty of places to hide.

Next, I visited the USFS Day-Use Only Picnic Area at the west end. Dave’s Creek flows out of Tern Lake here, and thence to the Kenai Lake system. I did not see any adult salmon yet, but a juvenile DIPPER proved very interesting and entertaining.

He didn’t seem to mind my watching him at work in the rushing, clear stream. Plunging his head, and sometimes whole body, underwater, he held on tight to the slippery rocks with his sharp claws, the water pouring over his waterproof plumage.

The aquatic insect expert probed and found invertebrates that were also trying to hold on tight and be invisible. Caddisflies, mayflies, stoneflies, craneflies; I hope many were biting fly larvae!

An excellent resource, Aquatic Insects in Alaska by John Hudson, Katherine Hocker, and Robert Armstrong, gives us a peek at the dipper’s dining menu with excellent photos and descriptions. It’s a glimpse of the fascinating world of aquatic life hiding just under the water.

Happy Birding!
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter
Carol Griswold

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