Monday, March 19, 2018 Spring?

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:03 am, sunset 8:10 pm, for a total day length of 12 hours and 7 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 30 seconds longer.

It seems Winter is defrosting the freezer and tossing out leftovers that need to be used up before their imminent expiration date. Over the past 10 days, we’ve received a hearty helping of a blizzard featuring horizontal snow seasoned with sleet and west wind, a dash of new ice, scraps of blue sky peeking between snow squalls, rolls of somber gray morning skies giving way to warm sunshine by afternoon, bits of warm sunshine (42º!) turned to an illusion by the cold north wind, a soup of calm and cloudy days with light rain, followed by a blast of high wind, and mixtures of every combination thrown out for good measure.

Time for this chore is running out as the lovely Spring Equinox nears her 8:15 am arrival on March 20 (Never mind we are already past 12 hours of daylight.)

The forecast is for sunshine with a side of wind for the most of this week. Then as a huge storm approaches, about a foot of snow is forecast for next week with temperatures bouncing around freezing. Winter sure doesn’t want to leave unnoticed!

Snow still covers most of the ground, pushing the birds to feeders, but patches of brown grass are emerging. Above the constant background clamor of hundreds of PINE SISKINS and COMMON REDPOLLS, I heard the tiny bells of the DARK-EYED JUNCOS singing their spring song.

Away from the racket, BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES sang their sweet “fee-bee!” VARIED THRUSHES, here all winter, ring their telephones ever louder and more skillfully with practice. SONG SPARROWS piped up from brush piles with enthusiasm.

But the sweetest song, was that of the Red, interior subspecies of FOX SPARROW. This extraordinarily dapper male overwintered in my neighborhood, causing much excitement. I did not recognize his full, rich voice at first as he sings a different song from our usual “Sooty” Fox Sparrow. Luckily, I saw him in action; his concert freely given made me smile all day.

The SHORT-EARED OWL, first spotted on March 5th is still here. On March 12, I spotted four GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES, though one has been reported intermittently in town this winter. Also on March 12, I found 15 TRUMPETER SWANS, one more than usual, including five cygnets! Now I wonder if the family with one adult and two cygnets is the Nash Road family, or is it the family with two adults and two cygnets? We will never know, but how exciting to have so many swans overwintering here!

The tiny RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET has survived the winter so far at Ava’s, sustained by her suet feeders. Ava also had at least 10 ROBINS on March 15, a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, hundreds of Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls, several CHESTNUT-BACKED and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES,  and a DOWNY WOODPECKER.

A caddisfly adult landed on the side of my sun-warmed house March 15; I wonder where it hatched as not much of the local lakes/ponds are open. That night, I finally heard the soft hooting of a nearby GREAT HORNED OWL around 9 pm. The next night, I heard the steady beeping of the SAW-WHET OWL far up the mountainside.

See-saw goes the weather, but Nature knows Spring is on her way.
Hang on for the wild ride!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, March 9, 2018 American Three-Toed Woodpecker!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:33 am, sunset 6:45 pm for a total day length of 11 hours and 12 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 30 seconds longer.

A huge storm blew in on Thursday, delivering at least a foot of snow to Seward and double that to Moose Pass and points north. No more exposed dead grass! The birds are feeding hungrily at feeders, attracting feathered bird feeders. More snow and sn’rain is in the forecast for the next week as temperatures dance around 32º.

An odd chatter caught my ear this morning. At the top of a cottonwood perched an adult NORTHERN SHRIKE, casually assessing the possibilities for breakfast at a nearby bird feeder hot spot.

Later in the day, I flushed a dark bird from a tree at Two Lakes Park. Fortunately, it flew to another tree nearby and landed on the trunk. Despite the blowing snow and dim light, I was able to get a decent look and photo: a female AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER! This species is more typically found north of Seward, such as the nesting pair at Mile 12, so it was quite a treat to find her here.

This evening, while shoveling snow off the back deck, the local renter showed up at her usual check-in time of 5:30 pm, scolding me about the racket and disturbance below. I was surprised that the BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE wanted to roost with more than an hour of daylight left. But the PINE SISKINS and COMMON REDPOLLS had also mostly disappeared from the front yard feeder, so maybe 5:30 is bedtime for many birds.

But not for the Shrike. I heard him chattering across the alley and while I hoped he had a successful day and a full belly, I also hoped that he had not noticed my little Chickadee. I’m rather fond of him/her!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, March 5, 2018 Short-eared Owl!

Seward, Alaska

Just above the tall bleached grass stalks waving in the chilly north wind, a SHORT-EARED OWL floated and pirouetted, hunting.

While April and May are more common months to spot this magical migrating owl, one stopped by in mid-January 2010, mid-February 2014, and early March in 2009 and 2013. On March 4, 2013 there were two Short-eared Owls.

I’ll be looking!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, March 4, 2018 wild birds and Alaska Sealife Center seabirds

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:48 am, sunset 6:33 pm for a total daylength of 10 hours and 44 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 29 seconds longer.

After bouts of high winds and angry seas the past week, and the briefest of snowfalls yesterday, the ground is alas! once again bare and khaki brown. It looks like April. Temps bounced around from the high teens to high 30s, with similar temps and a mixed forecast of partly cloudy and snow/snow showers for the next week.

On Wednesday, February 28, a single GREATER SCAUP female (first of year) popped up in the lee of the boat harbor uplands near resting BARROW’S GOLDENEYES and COMMON MERGANSERS. She took a little bath a short distance away. I haven’t refound her since. 

The RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER was reported at a different, private feeder within a half-mile of the first sighting. Nice to know he is still around!

On Friday morning, March 3, I heard three VARIED THRUSH singing somewhat feebly, but singing nonetheless. A short time later, I received a report of an injured Varied Thrush in the same area, likely mauled by a loose neighbor’s cat. So irresponsible and sad! Bird Note on public radio just happened to feature this handsome thrush that morning. They erred in implying only the male has a black breast band; both genders do but the female is overall much more subtle.

The beeping SAW-WHET OWL seems to have relocated farther north on Mt Marathon, so I don’t hear him as often. It was tough to hear anything when that north wind roars.

I’ve enjoyed visiting the Alaska Sealife Center to check on the baby beluga and the seabirds. Most of the birds are now in breeding plumage and looking mighty fine!

I watched a TUFTED PUFFIN carefully gather bits of dried grass scattered around the habitat, walking with that endearing bobbing gait. When she had a beakful, she seemed so pleased. It must be a challenge to pick up successive pieces of grass without dropping the others, but she managed just as she does with multiple tiny fish for her babies.

Unfortunately, another Tufted Puffin sidled up and tried to steal a temptingly long piece. That resulted in a splashy escape. When she surfaced, she only retained a few pieces of her fragile prize. She paddled around with her few strands and such a serious and protective demeanor. The grass attracted the attention of a COMMON MURRE who also tried to swipe it. Mercy! What’s a Puffin to do? She dove and in the process, lost it all. Ah, too bad. But, it’s only March; she has plenty of time to get the job done.

After enjoying the King Eiders, Puffins, Rhinoceros Auklets, and other beautiful birds, I was just in time to watch the staff feed the Beluga calf his bottle. So cute! He’ll be going to SeaWorld San Antonio, Texas sometime very soon, so I feel lucky every time I get to see him.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, February 24, 2018 Anchorage Audubon Seward Field Trip!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:11 am, sunset 6:12 pm for a total day length of 10 hours and 1 minute. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 28 seconds longer.

The north wind worked hard today to redistribute last night’s 2” of light, new snow, shredding it into streamers and swirls from the mountain tops, roofs, roads, yards, and beaches with 17 mph winds gusting to 28 mph. The temp rose only slightly from 24 to 32. Midday, the sun pantomimed an illusion of warmth when it peeked between the clouds. But overall, it finally felt like winter again.

A flock of about fifteen Anchorage Audubon Society birders braved the blowing snow to drive to Seward for the annual Seward field trip. With ten stops between 10 am and 3 pm, the group collectively spotted 35-36 species.

Hundreds of PINE SISKINS mixed with much smaller numbers of COMMON REDPOLLS chattering in the trees greeted us at our first stop at Ava’s Place. The male RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET, still alive through the winter, darted in for suet when traffic slowed. An AMERICAN TREE SPARROW, immature WHITE-CROWNED and a GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW hopped through bleached grass stalks and under an alder nearby. A handsome male ROBIN perched up in the alder, cautiously waiting to approach the feeders. Ava said this Robin has learned to eat suet directly from the feeder by gripping it with its feet and flapping its wings for balance. It takes a lot of effort, but beats waiting for suet scraps to fall.


The flocks of Siskins suddenly rose like a swarm of bees and buzzed away. We quickly looked for the reason, as it wasn’t us. There in a cottonwood behind the house perched an adult NORTHERN SHRIKE, peering around. That pretty much cleared out the busy bird feeders except for a few daring Chickadees.

Next stop was Afognak Beach at Mile 2.5 Nash Road. After donning ice creepers for the icy slope to the beach, we scanned the nearby bay and found the twelve TRUMPETER SWANS, including the two cygnets that hatched at the Mile 1 Nash Road wetlands in June. We all wondered what they are finding to eat this winter in the ocean, along the tide’s edges, and in the nearby streams. The area to the south of Afognak Beach has an important eelgrass bed, if they can reach it. These swans are tough!

Scope birds included MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, a few BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, and a few COMMON MERGANSERS. An adult BALD EAGLE perched on a lookout tree on the point.

We looked for Western Screech Owls in the nearby spruce trees just in case; no luck.

Next stop, Spring Creek Beach at Mile 5 Nash Road. The new breakwater for the SMIC basin is done and provides sheltered water for boats and birds. In the bay we found the first PELAGIC CORMORANT, a few HARLEQUIN DUCKS, a few more COMMON MERGANSERS, and BARROW’S GOLDENEYES. A small pod of Steller sea lions surged past. A BALD EAGLE perched in a tree and called as another flew overhead. No Dippers were found in Spring Creek or the pond, but it’s a good place to look.

Next stop, Stash and Store Pond at Mile 3 Seward Highway. We had high hopes for the Hooded Merganser, maybe two, but no ducks were seen.

Next stop, the Benny Benson Memorial Park by the Lagoon in town, across from the former horse corral. The Lagoon has refrozen except for a small open area where we found a female BUFFLEHEAD, and two COMMON GOLDENEYE females. The creek is another good spot for a Dipper, but none were found. A small flock of Pigeons flew past. There is no doubt that one or two Bald Eagles were seen here too.

Next stop, the Cruise Ship Terminal just off Port Avenue. Up to 8 GREAT BLUE HERONS have been seen here recently. We lucked out and watched one fly awkwardly across to the cruise ship dock and perch on the railing. Then it flew back across to the coal conveyor belt chute and slid to a stop to land there. The heron looked especially forlorn in the blowing snow and wind. I hope his buddies are safe and out of the wind nearby.

Next stop, back to the Harbormasters for the half-hour lunch break. Some considered the $2 7-minute hot shower option, or the much cheaper hot air hand dryers in the restrooms, but most found revival in a heated vehicle and food. Our group checked out the Harbor Uplands and found four RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, dozen or so COMMON MERGANSERS enjoying the lee of the Uplands, one COMMON GOLDENEYE fishing with several BARROW’S GOLDENEYES,  a large flock of NORTHWESTERN CROWS, a sea otter, and later, a SONG SPARROW.

At 1 pm, we regrouped and headed to the town hotspot at Second Avenue and Madison Street. The trees and shrubs along Second were literally hopping with birds: a hoard of PINE SISKINS and a few COMMON REDPOLLS, a bright, adult WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW, immature GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW, SLATE-COLORED and OREGON JUNCOS, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH, and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES.

A red, interior FOX SPARROW was a highlight but hard to follow in the underbrush, as was a bright, male VARIED THRUSH, orange as a pumpkin and so big in comparison to all the other birds, but hard to see. Heard but not seen was a scolding STELLER’S JAY. The Steller’s Jay numbers have recently plummeted in this neighborhood, noticed especially by the neighbors who feed them peanuts.

Suddenly, a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK swooped through the alders and small spruces, scattering all the birds to the wind. The hotspot owner has seen this bird frequently; yesterday it killed a siskin for lunch. Gotta eat! Perhaps this hawk is partially responsible for the lack of Steller’s Jays too.

After this exciting sighting and subsequent lack of birds, we headed out to Lowell Point. On the way, some spotted a sea otter eating a flatfish. This is unusual, especially since sea otters are not adapted to handle fish parasites. A few seabirds including Harlequins, Barrow’s Goldeneyes, and Common Mergansers, and Mew and Glaucous-winged Gulls were spotted from the road but it was difficult to stop to look. The storm surge and high tides at the end of December pummeled Lowell Point Road, reducing it to a one-lane road in several areas, so drivers, including birders, had to be cautious.

A quick stop at the sewage treatment lagoon revealed many handsome and quite impeccable COMMON GOLDENEYES, mostly males, diving and recycling the town’s offerings. Mallards are often found here as well.

Lowell Point beach at the State Park was somewhat sheltered from the wind, which was appreciated. We found two more Pelagic Cormorants fairly far out. Two MURRELETS, tiny and fast flew past, species unverified. A couple Ravens flew overhead and I’m sure there were a couple Bald Eagles here too. We listened for Crossbills, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, and Pacific Wrens, but found none. This is a good spot for all three.

This was the final official stop of the fabulous 2018 Anchorage Audubon Seward Field Trip. From here, birders wandered back to town, checked out other birding spots like the Alaska Sealife Center and Bear Lake weir for dippers, then headed back up the highway towards home. I checked out the Waterfront and found a small flock of hungry and hopeful gulls including what two immature THAYER'S GULLS.  Many thanks to gull expert Steve Heinl for his identification help.

He noted the first-cycle Thayer's is likely a Thayer's, although it isn't a very well-marked bird, meaning it doesn't have the barring on the scapulars and wing covers that most of them show. What I thought was a small Herring Gull is probably a second-cycle Thayer's with a darkish eye, slender straight bill, and nicely barred/vermiculated scapulars and wing coverts. Steve said pure Herring Gulls are actually pretty rare in Alaska in the winter.

As for the Glaucous-winged Gull, Steve noted some birds may have black on their bills for their entire lives, but it's commonly shown by younger birds, perhaps birds in their fourth of fifth winter. And the bright pink leg color may depend on what they are eating, or they're just variable.

There's always more to learn about gulls!

Thanks to Andrew Fisher for coordinating this field trip, and to everyone who took the time and interest to participate. A special thanks to Dan for zipping around, taking care of people and details like new batteries for the green laser, and connecting birders to birds. Thanks to the drivers who shared the ride. I appreciate the group’s cooperation to pose for the photos too. 

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

PS Let me know what I missed in my report.
Trumpeter swan
Harlequin duck
Common goldeneye
Barrow’s goldeneye
Common merganser
Red-breasted merganser
Pelagic cormorant
Great blue heron
Bald eagle
Sharp-shinned hawk
Mew gull
Thayer’s gull, two!
Glaucous-winged gull
Downy woodpecker
Northern shrike
Steller’s jay
Black-billed magpie
Northwestern crow
Common Raven
Black-capped chickadee
Red-breasted nuthatch
Ruby-crowned kinglet
American robin
Varied thrush
American tree sparrow
Fox sparrow
Song sparrow
White-crowned sparrow
Golden-crowned sparrow
Dark-eyed junco
Oregon junco
Common redpoll

Pine siskin