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

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