Thursday, September 21, 2017 Trumpeter Swan Families

Tern Lake and Seward

On my way home from Anchorage yesterday, I stopped at Tern Lake. Though the sun had already sailed behind the mountains, casting the serene lake into shadows, the TRUMPETER SWAN family was easy to see. As I watched from my car blind, the single cygnet led its parents to an apparently choice dining spot conveniently located right next to the road.

They reached down deep with their long necks, tails up, large webbed feet flailing the air, gobbling down long strands of aquatic plants. After what seemed to be a long time, down went the tail and up came the head, often with strands of salad dangling.

A few MALLARDS swam between them, snatching bits of left-overs. Behind them, a small raft of SCAUP napped with their heads tucked in. COMMON MERGANSERS dove nearby, probably chasing small fish.

Traffic was light, but several vehicles stopped. People popped out and walked right up to the feeding swans with whatever camera or phone they had to snap photos. I was amazed at the tolerance of the swans; the cygnet especially seemed totally unconcerned. I hope this naivety does not bring harm to these magnificent swans.

Today, I spotted the Nash Road Trumpeter Swan family feeding at the Lagoon, at the north end by the boardwalk. The parking lot of full of heavy machinery and noise from the underground power line project and the paving project. The Swans did not seem to mind a bit.

I slowly and quietly approached, partially screened by the surrounding trees to watch and take photos. The three cygnets looked so big and healthy! This family too, did a lot of tipping, but it seemed that usually one Swan kept its head above water, watching. Over the course of the afternoon, the Swans paddled down to the south end to feed, giving all who noticed them a big thrill.

Seward is very fortunate indeed to be graced by these five resident swans. It will be interesting to see if they too, stay all winter.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

09-20-17 Potter Marsh Dragonflies, spiders, and shield bug

Potter Marsh

What a beautiful fall day! The fall colors glowed in the sunshine from the golds of the cottonwoods and aspen to the reds on the mountainsides. What a welcome reprieve from all the rain!

I stopped at Potter Marsh boardwalk on the way home from Anchorage. The seventeen or more TRUMPETER SWANS that I had seen from the highway were not visible from the boardwalk. They attracted a hoard of people; nearby parking lots were full of cars and people with scopes and cameras, and more cars parked (illegally) along the busy highway shoulder. No thanks!

Instead, I found Black Meadowhawk Dragonflies perched quietly on the boardwalk railings, soaking up the sun. They all seemed to orient so the sun warmed their long sides, casting a big shadow. The males are black and the females orangish.

Despite their incredible compound eyes, they didn’t seem to notice (or object) to my camera lens slowly encroaching into their personal space only inches away, then retreating. Must not be in their memory bank for danger.

I also found a large, round, gray spider, a tiny red-orange slender spider, and another a bit larger. They were mostly on the move and harder to photograph, but their eight-legged shadows were impressive!

A single Shield Bug crawled at top speed along the boardwalk railing. This insect is also called a Stink Bug, and is a true bug. In large numbers, these plant-juice suckers can be pests, but I only saw one.

Aside from the preening MALLARDS and a really, really good, stocky shorebird that erupted from the wetlands and flew over the highway and away, I did not see much bird action. Nonetheless, I was very pleased with the fine stroll and other things with wings enjoying the sunshine as much as I.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Traveling Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, September 17, 2017 Cranes, and Swan Drama

Seward, Alaska

Saturday evening I rushed out to the head of the bay in response to a hot tip about SANDHILL CRANES. Apparently the storm had forced them down for the night. When I found them, the majority were busily feeding while a few stood guard, watching vigilantly for any sign of trouble. There was none, so I enjoyed the scene and quietly moved on.

These are the first Cranes I’ve seen in Seward this year. Other lucky people reported a 1000 cranes flying overhead on Monday and hundreds on Saturday. I’m always sorry to miss that grand sight and sound.

Today, I went back to see if they were still here. But the storm had passed and the Cranes took advantage of the calm, partly cloudy conditions to move on.

A MERLIN flashed overhead and landed on a driftwood log. SAVANNAH SPARROWS scattered ahead of me, and two chunky birds, Snipe? Dowitchers? flew up and back down into the sedges too quick to identify.

Five regal TRUMPETER SWANS floated serenely in the pond, two adults and three cygnets. They must be the resident Nash Road family, out to see the neighborhood. I had heard the cygnets were flying, but this was the first time I’d seen evidence.

I glimpsed three more adults through the vegetation surrounding a small pond a short distance away. I wondered if they were Daddy’s Girl and her parents. If so, that could make her a sibling of one of the new parents, and her parents the grandparents of the cygnets. Maybe. I also wondered if these eight swans would be tolerant now that the nesting season was over, and share the larger pond.
I didn’t have to wonder for long. I heard the cygnet parents trumpeting softly, calling back and forth. Hmmm. Something was up. I kept walking down the beach, out of sight to minimize any disturbance. After about 10 minutes, I saw in the distance, all five adult swans flying low over the bay. I think the cygnet parents headed straight for the threesome and chased them off their little pond and into the air.

One adult managed to catch up to another fleeing swan and nailed it in the rump. That must have hurt! Then they all landed, but not for long. With a great deal of trumpeting and loud splashing as their giant webbed feet struck the surface of the water, their powerful wings pumping, the chase was on! Back and forth! I couldn’t keep track of who was who or which was which. It was so exciting!

Finally, the threesome separated out and landed at what must have been an acceptable distance. The two victorious adults, still trumpeting loudly, approached each other and all but high-fived. They were so pumped! After congratulating each other, they decided to return to the big pond. Off they flew, right past the enemy Swans to the pond and landed.

Honking loudly, they called to the cygnets that had flown to the bay without my noticing. The 3 ½ month old cygnets took off and began to circle back to their parents. But when I looked back, the parents had also taken off, and had returned to attack the threesome again. It was a repeat performance! I couldn’t believe it!

The parents drove the threesome off while the cygnets circled around, uncertain of what to do. Finally, they landed out front in the bay, about where they had been before. This time, the parents, after they finished high-fiving, flew over to join their babies, still trumpeting in excitement. They landed and regrouped, then suddenly the whole family took off, heading for the Nash Road wetlands.

As they flew away down the bay, I saw two MORE adult Swans swim out from the creek. I have no idea who they are or where they came from. Ten Swans! What a busy place!

I was sorry my time here had run out. As I left, Daddy’s Girl and her parents floated serenely on the bay, perhaps wondering what the heck just happened. But knowing how fiercely protective these incredible parents have been for the past four generations, I was not surprised. Good job, mom and dad!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, September 15, 2017 Greater Yellowlegs, Peregrine Falcon, Swans

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:27 am, sunset 8:20 pm for a total day length of 12 hours and 52 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 24 seconds shorter.

Mostly light rain and calm today, with a few precious interludes between rain. More rain in the forecast, easing up on Sunday and midweek to cloudy with a chance of rain, and wind then more rain.

I lucked out on the noon walk today at Afognak Beach and enjoyed one of those interludes. Spent pink salmon carcasses littered the beach. On the edge of the ebbing tide, I was very surprised to find a family of GREATER YELLOWLEGS! One adult and three juveniles poked in the silty mud and around recently exposed rocks close to the beach. One plucked and ate an amphipod. They didn’t seem very concerned about me and kept hunting. Such elegant birds with those long, yellow legs and long bills!

Over at the creek, teeming with spawning pink salmon, was another adult Greater Yellowlegs and a SPOTTED SANDPIPER. I wonder how much longer they will be here; or are they considering staying to tough it out?

On a rainy, blustery Tuesday, September 12, I found three TRUMPETER SWANS walking along the tideline when the tide was quite far out. They pecked and poked in the mud; no idea what they found to eat. I could not tell at that distance if this threesome was Daddy’s Girl and her parents; they all looked about the same. After a time, they walked into the water and floated offshore in the bay.

Meanwhile, a bazillion gulls, mostly GLAUCOUS-WINGED and MEW, with several HERRING GULLS raised a ruckus on the flats. I soon spotted the cause: a very determined juvenile PEREGRINE FALCON dashed through the mobs of gulls feeding on pink salmon carcasses. It relentlessly but ineffectually pursued one Mew Gull after another as the gulls rose up in clouds. No place to hide; just fly, fly, fly and try to disappear into the masses. Despite the numerous choices, I did not see a strike. So exciting to watch!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 Tern Lake and Dave’s Creek

Mile 38, Seward Highway

On the way home from Portage, we stopped at Tern Lake. The resident TRUMPETER SWAN family with a single gray cygnet napped on a grassy island in the middle of the lake. I did not see the resident Common Loon family that raised two chicks. More than 20 SCAUP with a few AMERICAN WIGEON and small groups of MALLARDS dabbled near the shore. The light was too dim to determine which Scaup species.

We then drove to the day use area. A large school of Red Salmon swam near the observation deck. Just above the bridge, beaver(s) had delivered freshly cut small trees and started to build a dam. It looked like the middle section blew out and lodged against the rocks below the bridge.  Or maybe they weren’t done yet and had started several dams. This could be a catastrophe if they succeed.

A Red Salmon waited in a pool below the lower pile of branches, considering a route up the cascading stream through the branches to the lake.

Two RUSTY BLACKBIRDS and a HERMIT THRUSH hopped along the tangle of branches, picking off flies. They flew into the underbrush upon our approach, waiting for us to leave. So we did.

What a treat to have seen them!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter