Sunday, March 31, 2019 FOS Lapland Longspurs and Pied-billed Grebe

Seward, Alaska

Another beautiful, sunny day with a low of 29 overnight and a high of 50. March certainly went out like a lamb! April showers to bring May flowers are in the forecast starting on Thursday.

I found tracks on March 29, but today I found the makers: First of Season, 12 LAPLAND LONGSPURS foraging through the fallen beach rye grass. How wonderful to hear them twitter and call!

Thanks to a tip from eBird, I learned that the elusive PIED-BILLED GREBE had relocated to the south end of the boat harbor. The light was great so I bestirred myself to go look. Sulli happened to be birding there as well and pointed out the rare bird napping by the S dock float. (Thanks, Sulli!) We watched from a distance, not wishing to disturb it. Just as we were leaving, the Grebe paddled out of the shade and into the sun where he preened and stretched as if posing for photos. Then he paddled across to the next float, leaving a tiny wake on the calm water. 

This little Grebe has certainly done well to survive in the boat harbor all winter and all alone since November. When it first arrived, it was a juvenile with brown and white streaks on its face and rufous neck. Now it has molted into breeding adult plumage with a flashy white eye-ring, dark eye, and fancy black ring on its light-colored bill. The white “tail-light” remained, making it easy to identify even as it paddled away. Chances are very slim for a mate, but one never knows with birds!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, March 29, 2019 FOS Northern Pintail!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:33 am, sunset 8:34 pm for a total day length of 13 hours and 1 minute. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 29 seconds longer. Overnight temps dipped below freezing, but rose today to 47. Mostly sunny in the forecast for the next five days with highs in the low 50s.

Spring sprang into action upon arrival, waving her magic wand to banish winter. Like a time lapse, ice and snow visibly shrank and disappeared. Spectacular crocuses exploded from the warming earth; a queen bumblebee emerged from hibernation to feast on the golden pollen. The first mosquitoes appeared, the large, lumbering, and hungry females. 

Bedraggled grass instantly turned green next to sunny, south-facing foundations. Dandelions shot up, already armed with buds. Ice on ponds in the sun turned a lovely shade of green, then melted. Slushy ice futilely grips shaded ponds; it won’t last long. 

HERRING GULLS began migrating several weeks ago, their plaintive cries heralding their arrival. Few pay attention to gulls, but credit is due!

The neighborhood SAW-WHET OWL steadfastly beeps from the forested slope of the nearby mountainside. I hope he finds a sweetie!

Today, I found my First of Season NORTHERN PINTAIL, an elegant drake feeding with a pair of MALLARDS. It seemed unusual for him to be alone; I wonder if he migrated from California with other ducks or solo?

The resident pair of TRUMPETER SWANS accompanied by their six beautiful nine-month-old cygnets staked out the coveted Nash Road wetlands when just a tiny bit of open water appeared at the far back. I missed the eviction of the once-cherished babies, as now just a pair of adults remains.

This evening around 6:30 (still light!), I enjoyed watching the Cobb (male) enjoy a bath while the demure Pen (female) leisurely fed nearby on underwater vegetation.

First, he vigorously preened every feather, his long neck looping gracefully. He dipped one wing then the other in the cold water right next to lingering ice, and preened some more. Then he paused, stretched out, and suddenly flipped upside down, black legs flailing in the air, water splashing everywhere. After several seconds, he popped back upright and resumed preening.

The cold water must have been invigorating. He repeated the upside-down bath followed by preening many times, running on air, then flipped back, water rushing off, beak open and feathers askew. It was hilarious to witness!

It won’t be long before the nest-building begins and the cycle of life continues. He’ll be ready to serve as a much more dignified Defender of his Swan Universe! 

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, March 5, 2019 Eagles at the Piling Diner

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:46 am, sunset 6:35 pm for a total day length of 10 hours and 49 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 29 seconds longer.
Gray skies delivered about a half inch of snow overnight, dusting everything white. A chilly south wind belied the 38º on the thermometer, even when rising to 40º. I was glad for my wind pants, warm hat, scarf and gloves. No cheery sunshine today or any day in the 10-day forecast.
I eased to a stop on the side of Lowell Point Road this morning to watch a pair of adult BALD EAGLES enjoy breakfast on the popular “Piling Diner” near the road. Or rather, the larger female intently watched from the adjacent piling as the male ripped into what might have once been a fish. Furthermore, the Eagle’s permanent fierce expression makes it hard to tell if he was enjoying breakfast, or angry. He might have been angry as from my limited viewpoint, it sure didn’t look like much of a feast. More like sketchy leftovers.
Nonetheless, he nibbled and tore and gobbled with his enormous golden beak, holding whatever it was in his massive talons. He paused occasionally to swallow and look about, his beak flecked with bits, glaring in her direction in a very non-invitational way. The wind whipped his regal feathers askew, but he didn’t care.  
After a time, lacking a fine linen napkin, he rubbed his soiled beak on all sides against the edge of the piling table to tidy up. Then he declared the end of his meal with a loud, ringing, wild cry. The female, within whispering distance, answered as if miles away, throwing her head back, beak to the heavens. I wondered if they only have one decibel level: max. FIVE STAR BREAKFAST! DO YOU WANT SOME, MY DEAR?
With a flourish, he sprang from the piling, giant wings outstretched, and cruised up and away into the wind. The female, wasting no time, leaped over to his abandoned plate. Apparently, he had gallantly left something for her. 
She wasted no time devouring every measly morsel. Her meal did not take long; thus no tip or proclamation. Looking justifiably fierce, she launched and flew north along the shoreline, hunting for a bigger entree. I doubt that even a Magpie would be interested in cleaning that table.
Local seafood processors will soon be churning out a fish scrap smorgasbord for all to share. Advance reservations for the Piling Diner are recommended!
Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, March 1, 2019 Winter bliss

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:58 am, sunset 6:25 pm for a total day length of 10 hours and 27 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 29 seconds longer.

Gorgeous, calm, sunny, first day of March with a low of 25 and a high of 41. Crusty snow and ice cover most of the ground, with bare patches of dejected grass under low-hanging spruce branches. 

First bird this morning was a PINE SISKIN feeding earnestly at my sunseed feeder, and another belting out its zipper song nearby. ZZZZZ-ip! My neighbor has steady visitors; I received a report of about 40-50 at another feeder in Forest Acres. Yesterday, an estimated flock of about 70 Pine Siskins mixed with COMMON REDPOLLS fed on alder seeds before they whirled away. It’s so nice to see them again!

Out at the tidelands, a NORTHERN SHRIKE flashed past, a white and black blur that fortunately perched on a snag momentarily so I could admire its striking black mask, beak, wing, and tail. As the tide retreated, 23 shorebirds magically appeared between the noisy MEW GULLS. I’m pretty sure at least one was a droopy-billed DUNLIN among the sturdy ROCK SANDPIPERS. These are continuing winter birds, though not always easy to find.

On the east side of the bay, I counted a huge flock (compared to the usual 2) of 23 HORNED GREBES serenely paddling in a loose raft, accompanied by a diving PELAGIC CORMORANT.  Twenty-two TRUMPETER SWANS, including the 2018 resident family of six cygnets, snorkeled for eel grass and plucked tidbits floating past. These are also continuing amazing, tough and beautiful birds.

Later in the day much to my surprise, I followed up on a report of a Trumpeter Swan feeding by Scheffler Creek, just south of the harbor uplands. Sure enough, the adult stood at the water’s edge, then walked a few dignified steps and gracefully paddled just offshore where apparently it found salad for supper at sunset. 

I watched the clouds move in across the bay as the dew point lowered, creating layers of blue sky, pinkish gray clouds, snowy mountains, dark spruce and steel blue bay. 

COMMON MERGANSERS flew in a long erratic line, heading towards the harbor and perhaps one last meal before bed. A few HARLEQUINS and SURF SCOTERS lingered near the shore. A BALD EAGLE cried out from a cottonwood and RAVENS flew off in pairs: a peaceful, beautiful ending to a fabulous winter day.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Sporadic Bird Report Reporter