Sunday, September 20, 2020 mystery shorebirds, Peregrine Falcon, sparrows, and swans

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:40 am, sunset 8:04 pm for a total day length of 12 hours and 24 minutes as we approach Fall Equinox on September 22 at 5:30 am. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 28 seconds shorter.

High today of 54º, calm, overcast; a welcome change from the big rain and windstorm last week. Showers/rain in the forecast for next week.

The Nash Road wetlands TRUMPETER SWAN family fed voraciously on water horsetails close to the road today. I wonder if the two cygnets, now almost 4 months old, have tried to fly yet. It’s time to explore other dining options in the area as this one closes for the winter.

At the tidelands, two distant shorebirds flew high but remained unidentified. Then I heard the “tew, tew” and rattle of LAPLAND LONGSPURS and counted about 15 as they too became specks in the gray sky. 

I had no sooner shifted my focus back to the beach when the flash of the immature PEREGRINE FALCON caught my eye. A light-colored, long-winged shorebird flew for its life and apparently succeeded. The Falcon gave a quick chase then broke off, first flying along the edge of the tide, then lifted up and quickly stroked for town. I hope it found a plump Pigeon for lunch instead.

Yet another mystery shorebird with a very long bill flew high overhead. So hard for me to identify these specks in such poor light, even when enlarged on the computer. Any suggestions are appreciated!

Two LINCOLN’S SPARROWS chased each other around the dried cow parsnip stalks and drying beach rye grasses. There may have been three.

Three or four SAVANNAH SPARROWS popped up on driftwood to check me out. So nice to see them as it’s time for them to migrate soon.

Two immature BALD EAGLES briefly tussled for a coveted perch on top of an old piling. The victor enjoyed the view of the salmon stream below while the loser perched on a low snag too far from the stream. When the Eagle blinked, the surprising blue nictitating membrane shuttered its eyes for an instant. Pretty cool.

As I left, a GREATER YELLOWLEGS called as it flew, unseen. Nice to hear a familiar call on this day of mystery shorebirds.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter













Wednesday, September 9, 2020 Sandhill Cranes, and Golden Eagle





Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:14 am, sunset 8:38 pm for a total day length of 13 hours and 23 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 24 seconds shorter.

Sunny! Blue skies! High of 58º, overnight low of 45º, NNW wind at 5-10 mph. 

At first, I doubted my ears. SANDHILL CRANES? About a half hour later, I heard a second flock bugling joyfully. I frantically scoured the blue sky until I finally spotted them, high, high, high overhead flying SSE heading over the mountains.

I tricked the camera into seeing them and counted 180 when I got home and enlarged the image on the computer. What a thrill!

Later in the afternoon, I just happened to take photos of Resurrection Peaks, a rugged mountain complex on the north side of Exit Glacier Road. The black speck soaring over a peak turned out to be a GOLDEN EAGLE juvenile! 

Sun and north wind in the forecast through Sunday may encourage migrants to fly over Seward instead of landing. Listen for them then look high!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter









 

Friday, September 4, 2020 Termination Dust and Rainbows

Seward, Alaska

Not all the rain made it to the ground yesterday. The clouds saved some to sprinkle like confectioner’s sugar on the surrounding mountains, promising more termination dust followed by the winter frosting.

The spent clouds then retreated behind the mountains for a nap for most of the day, allowing the bright and warm sun to smile on Seward. When they crept back in early evening, dark, glowering, and refreshed, rainbows exploded across the dramatic mountainscape. 

What a brilliant phenomenon, a spectacular show just in time for the First Friday Art Show! What a treat for the Labor Day weekend visitors along the Seward Waterfront!

Thank you, rain clouds and sunshine, for that exquisite artwork!

Happy Birding!
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter







Thursday, September 3, 2020 Greater White-fronted Geese

Seward, Alaska

During a forecasted break in the rain, I ventured out to the tidelands. The rain was not unexpected (wrong again!), but the 26 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE were a very sweet surprise. Their musical voices expressed dismay at my sudden appearance, but as I eased away, they settled back down to the essential business of eating. Among all the speckled bellies and white bill bases marking the adults were several plain juveniles. 

At least 10 SAVANNAH SPARROWS popped up and down along the beach and in the beach rye grass. Two of the three 1-year old TRUMPETER SWANS rested in the pond among several dozen ducks including NORTHERN SHOVELERS, AMERICAN WIGEONS, MALLARDS, NORTHERN PINTAILS, and GREEN-WINGED TEAL.

Back in town, a multitude of ROBINS flew between fruit trees, feasting on the berries of the unfortunately plentiful Mayday trees, Mt Ash, and Red Elderberries. It was hard to judge the number of Robins as they kept moving and it was raining. Rough guess of more than 50. Several burst into song, just like spring. “Cheer-up! Cheerio!” Good advice!

A small raptor, either a MERLIN or SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, chased a rattling pair of BELTED KINGFISHERS directly overhead and around the neighborhood. I appreciate the raptor’s need to eat, but hope the more abundant Pigeon Special is also on the menu.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter




Monday, August 31, 2020 Black Oystercatcher, Peregrine hunting

Seward, Alaska

Unsettled day after the big storm last night, but gradually the weather calmed down and the sun even dared to peek out.

I headed to Fourth of July Beach this morning. The booming surf pounded onto the beach, rearranging the gravel contours. Bundles of seaweed, still firmly attached to their host rock, rolled loose among broken cockle shells. The sea remained restless and roiled with Godwin Glacier silt from raging Fourth of July Creek.

Scanning the far edges of the beach, I found a single BLACK OYSTERCATCHER resting just out of reach of the surf. Normally, I would expect them to be migrating to SE Alaska and British Columbia by now. But maybe last night’s strong south wind blew it north. I hadn’t yet seen one this year, so that was a treat. 

The resident BALD EAGLE family successfully fledged two youngsters this summer. The chocolate-brown Eaglets stood on the shore, probably wondering where food came from, or exactly how to catch a pink salmon. One of the parents perched above the nest, watching. 

Then a GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL ruined the peaceful scene. It spent a great deal of time and effort circling while screaming the whole time, dive-bombing the adult who ducked and yelled at it to no avail. The Eagle seemed pretty frustrated to be harassed while just quietly resting. All in the life of a predator.

Later, at the head of the bay, I startled a flock of AMERICAN WIGEONS into flight, salad still in beaks. Soon after they relanded, they again took off, but this time chased by the immature PEREGRINE FALCON, last seen on August 19. 

For what seemed an interminable time, the young Falcon circled and hovered, dove and pulled up, trying to nab a duck. I was busy tracking the Falcon, but I think those ducks somehow submerged and whipped out snorkels to breathe. They were there, somewhere, but not in reach of the Peregrine. 

A GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL swooped in several times and tried to drive the Falcon away, just like at Fourth of July Beach. At least it wasn’t quite as persistent. Finally, the tired Peregrine flew back to the beach to rest and reconnoiter. 

I checked the time stamp on my photos when I got home. Three and a half minutes of strenuous flying and maneuvering, and no lunch. All in the life of a predator as well. 

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter






























 

Sunday, August 30, 2020 Swans, and Northern Shovelers

Seward, Alaska

Nothing like a totally wrong weather report to start the day with a smile!  This morning’s unexpected sunshine and blue sky propelled me back to the tidelands to seek any new migrants. 

At first it seemed very quiet, then something startled two TRUMPETER SWANS into flight, a path that circled overhead and in wide loops. I believe they were two of the three resident 1-year olds. They landed in the bay and began preening and nibbling on something: algae? Such resilient waterfowl, at home in fresh and salt water year-round.

No sign of the Pacific Golden-plovers. One local shorebird popped up, a SPOTTED SANDPIPER, in winter plumage without any spots. In addition to the usual MALLARDS (including a hen with a late brood), AMERICAN WIGEON, GREEN-WING TEAL, PINTAILS, and GADWALL, a few NORTHERN SHOVELERS have arrived. 

Still lots of gulls, mostly GLAUCOUS-WINGED and MEW, and of course, RAVENS and BALD EAGLES. I found one SAVANNAH SPARROW. A SHARP-SHINNED HAWK circled over the spruce and disappeared against the mountains. A lovely, bright morning indeed.

In the afternoon, I checked on three Trumpeter Swans at the Lagoon. Like gorgeous vacuums, they were sucking up sockeye salmon eggs in the shallow north end. The Mallards tipped up to reach the pink eggs as well. An old-timer friend once told me that if you shook a Mallard upside down, salmon eggs would come tumbling out. I believe it!

A BELTED KINGFISHER dove in with a noisy splash then rattled off. WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS chattered from the cone-laden spruce trees. They have been especially widespread this summer. Hope they stay the winter.

The sunny weather window gradually closed as the dark clouds returned. By 5 pm, the forecasted torrential rain and strong wind began. I sure appreciate the delay.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

 





























 









Saturday, August 29, 2020 Pacific Golden-plovers!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:48 am, sunset 9:11 pm for a total day length of 14 hours and 23 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 22 seconds shorter.

Today’s high reached 56º but the calm, sunny morning soon hid her smile. By noon a strong south wind kicked up white caps on the bay and glowering dark clouds surged over the mountains. Bouts of heavy rain began by early evening with more forecast for the next 10 days.

Knowing the forecast, I enjoyed a great walk along the tidelands this morning. I heard one SEMIPALMATED PLOVER but saw no other shorebirds; it seemed very quiet. Then I saw two PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVERS standing quietly about 15 feet away. They watched me without fear, as if I were the first person they’d ever seen. I crept around them to put the sun behind me and on them. What beautiful, gold-flecked shorebirds!

I recalled being smitten when first seeing this species nesting in the tundra in Denali National Park many years ago. How special for Seward to be part of their long migration to and from Hawaii. After fattening up on amphipods and other invertebrates, they could fly the 2800 miles to their same overwintering territory in Hawaii in 3-4 days.https://phys.org/news/2011-06-plovers-tracked-pacific.html

Cool note from Wikipedia, their genus Puvialis means relating to rain, from the Latin “pluvial”. How appropriate!

Bon voyage! Hope to see you back here in the spring!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Update:
Many thanks to Pat Pourchot who noted that I most likely saw American Golden-plovers nesting in Denali. Pacific Golden-plovers breed in coastal western Alaska. The sighting was so long ago, he also noted that technically it could have been the same species, as that was before the species were split.