Sunday, January 6, 2018 Red-breasted Sapsucker!

Seward, Alaska

Due to concerns about marauding black bears, the responsible homeowner did not put up the birdfeeders and suet feeders until recently. To his amazement, a male RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER materialized and clung for life to the suet feeder in the cold.

Where does this bird (or species) go when we are not able to see it? 

The Hooded Merganser(s), Killdeer, and Red-breasted Sapsucker are all unusual, out-of-range species that should not be here yet magically appear winter after winter.  

Tough birds, all!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, January 5, 2019 dead Albatross!

Seward, Alaska

Sharp-eyed Tasha spotted a dead, large, dark bird floating in a small life raft loosely tied at the end of E dock in the Seward Harbor. She reported it to me shortly before noon, and notified the harbor staff on her way to a noon meeting.

I was unable to respond until 1:38 pm; it was still there. What a sad sight! The bird floated on its back with no sign of the head. Its exposed breast was frosted white; the underwater wings looked long and black. The net basket encrusted with mussels and seaweed indicated that this orange raft had been at sea for a long time.

I knelt down and with a big heave-ho, grabbed the bird by one soggy wing and landed the dripping carcass on the icy concrete dock. Huge, heavy bird! The long, narrow dark wings unfolded. I got a look at its long, pale bill and black feet. It had to be an ALBATROSS!

How in the world did this phenomenal pelagic Albatross get trapped in the netting to die in the raft? The extensive damage to its neck and head spoke of entanglement, struggle, and perhaps abrasion after death. Perhaps it landed on the abandoned raft out in the Gulf of Alaska, tried to grab a fish through the netting, got its head stuck, and flipped over into the raft while trying to escape. The long-winged bird did not have a chance. What a tragedy!

To verify the ID, I used the COASST Field Guide to Alaska Beached Birds. Three webbed toes, foot huge: Tubenoses > Albatrosses. The Short-tailed Alabatross, Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses all have a hooked bill, huge body, long, narrow wings. Allegedly they all smell like WD-40, but this one’s foul odor could have killed a snake. 

Plumage aside, the measurements immediately ruled out the Short-tailed as too large. However, the numbers were in range for both species: bill 115 mm (slightly longer and out of range for both), wing chord 50 cm, tarsus length 99 cm.

Unfortunately, details about the plumage on the head were not available. But the mostly dusky brown plumage, dark breast, dark underwing linings, and black feet pointed to BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS.

According to the Fish and Wildlife Alaska Seabird Information Series, though the Black-footed Albatross primarily nests in the NW Hawaiian Islands, it forages in Alaskan waters in the summer months. Non-breeders may remain in Alaska throughout the year and breeding birds may also journey to Alaska to find food for their young, a more than 5000-mile round trip!

According to the All About Birds website, the North American Waterbird Conservation Plan estimates a population of 148,000 breeding Black-footed Albatrosses in North America. It is listed as a species of highest concern. Risks include fishing practices including unmodified long-line fisheries, drift nets, and bycatch, sea-level rise, storm surges, and oil pollution of marine waters. Add ingestion of plastics. Add an abandoned life raft with a deadly webbing basket.

As of yesterday, the raft was still there. It’s past time to get that innocent-looking killer out of the water and deactivated.

Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, January 2, 2019 eight more species!

Seward, Alaska

A thin, waning, fingernail moon smiled like a sideways Cheshire cat in a completely clear sky before dawn. As if in apology for yesterday’s stormy tantrum, today was delightfully sunny, calm and warm with a high of 41º and spectacular scenery. What a stunning change!

With ease and a bit of patience, I found seven species that were nowhere to be seen in yesterday’s storm: KILLDEER, the lone LONG-TAILED DUCK male, five GREAT BLUE HERONS, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES, 2 RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, 2 male HAIRY WOODPECKERS, and 6 PINE GROSBEAKS.

Thanks to a tip from John M, a napping juvenile PIED-BILLED GREBE joined my new year’s list for a total of 35 species.

The forecast for the rest of the week is partly cloudy/sunny, temperatures falling into the teens accompanied by northerly wind, and a chance of snow. Regardless of the weather or repeat species, my spirit will be buoyed by beautiful, resilient birds.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

January 1, 2019 New Year’s Day Birding
Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 10:02 am, sunset 4:01 pm for a total daylength of 5 hours and 59 minutes. Tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 0 seconds longer. 

2018 rolled away with a grumble of winter thunder and hard rain; the New Year added 25 mph south wind with gusts 40 to 52 mph, crashing surf, and pelting rain. At least it wasn’t cold with a low of 35 and a high of 43º. Incredibly, the forecast is for gradual clearing tomorrow, sunny for Thursday and Friday as the wind shifts back to the north and the temp drops into the 20s.

As required by arbitrary tradition, I headed out into the gloom to see what I could see. Visibility was limited but thanks to the slapping windshield wipers, noisy defroster, and parking strategically to keep the rain and wind out of the open window, car birding was actually pretty fun.

First bird was a RAVEN, croaking as it flew fearlessly into the blasts, fueled by nature’s raw energy. The Lagoon, mostly frozen in the middle, hosted a few BUFFLEHEAD females and a COMMON GOLDENEYE hen on the south end. A BELTED KINGFISHER perched in an overhanging tree, patiently watching for breakfast. ROCK PIGEONS sailed overhead in a tight flock heading to a neighborhood feeder.

At the north end, an adult BALD EAGLE dropped from the sky, displacing several resting COMMON MERGANSERS and MALLARDS, then landed on the shore. To my surprise, the ducks nonchalantly paddled around the giant predator, just out of beak’s reach. Do they know when they are not on the menu? A BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE flew overhead, just checking.

No Dipper. No Hooded Merganser. No Trumpeter Swans. No river otters. One can hope to conjure them up!

Next, I headed to the ice-free harbor to look for the Pied-billed Grebe from several but limited viewing spots. Instead I found more Common Mergansers with a few RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS in their midst, paddling about and diving. More Common Goldeneyes, and BARROW’S GOLDENEYES. Even the harbor had waves. Several harbor seals lounged at the surface then lazily submerged, unperturbed by the weather.

A flock of MEW GULLS cried excitedly and dove crazily in the wave crests surging into cruise ship dock. Peering hard through the rain-blurred window, I could not tell what they were feeding on.

Back at the waterfront, I found the usual gang of NORTHWESTERN CROWS and gulls including the GLAUCOUS GULL, two THAYER’S GULLS, GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, and a gull missing its entire tail. There is a story! It seemed to balance and fly well enough despite the loss.

A SONG SPARROW hopped among the rocks, as dark as the surf-splashed beach. 

Just offshore, PELAGIC CORMORANTS, a small flock of SURF SCOTERS, a single HORNED GREBE, and more Goldeneyes and Mergansers rode the waves. Scanning the sky, I found a single BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE adult flying into the wind. Where was it during the Christmas Bird Count?

No male Long-tailed Duck or Pacific Loons, seen just recently.


No Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Pine Grosbeaks, Tree Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Pine Siskins, or Hairy Woodpecker, not even a Red-breasted Nuthatch!

I glassed Afognak Beach, looking for the Killdeer, as long as I could stand being buffeted by the wind and stung by the rain. No luck. A red squirrel scolded. Moose droppings decorated the trail.

At the wetlands, I found five TRUMPETER SWANS including two cygnets, hunkered down against the wind and rain. In the distance I spotted two more adults. The six cygnets, if they were with the adults would have been difficult to see in the dim light, but I hope they were OK. Tough weather!

Just after sunset around 4:20, I drove along the Waterfront. Two sea otters rocked in their sea cradle, eating. A pod of about 15 Steller’s sea lions surfaced to breathe and look around, all piled together like puppies.

For my last bird species, I finally located a small flock of HARLEQUIN DUCKS bobbing in the waves. 

All tallied, I found 27 species for the first day of the new year, despite the challenging conditions. A good start with the hope of many more to come.

Wishing you all a very happy, birdy, New Year!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter