Tuesday, March 23, 2021 Shrike, Shorebirds, Kittiwakes and Spring

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:50 am, sunset 8:20 pm, for a total day length of 12 hours and 30 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 29 seconds longer.


The cold north wind took a break yesterday, but today again felt like someone left the freezer door open and the fan on high. Sunny but chilly!


Despite the continuing ice and snow, Spring is nudging its way back. While meltwater with mini-whitecaps flowed down the slushy streets, hordes of newly arrived BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES joined MEW and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS in a screeching white cloud at the head of the bay. More gathered by the seafood processor on Lowell Point Road. 


A few PIGEON-GUILLEMOTS already in snazzy black and white breeding plumage paddled on the fringe of the seabird melee featuring winter residents: BARROW’S GOLDENEYES mixed with a few COMMON GOLDENEYES, COMMON MERGANSERS, and a small raft of SURF SCOTERS. A Steller sea lion lounged nearby, shimmering in the sunshine just under the surface, popping up to breathe.


There were few seabirds at Lowell Point Beach: red-eyed HORNED GREBES (2) still in winter plumage, a pair of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS fishing with a single hen COMMON MERGANSER, and a PELAGIC CORMORANT farther out. No sign of any MARBLED MURRELETS.


Monday, March 22: in the much-appreciated calm on a monochrome day, I watched 31 overwintering ROCK SANDPIPERS and 2 DUNLINS feed at the tidelands. The Dunlins chose to dine together, away from the others. I happened to get a photo showing the flexible bill tips, handy to feel for amphipods and other invertebrates hiding in the sandy silt.


Sunday, March 21: Hardy, overwintering TRUMPETER SWANS continued to battle the elements, feeding on eel grass off Afognak Beach. As they flew north and low, I managed to get a photo of 22 Swans including two cygnets, while a few more stayed behind, almost invisible in the whitecaps and glare of the sun. 


Around the point, sheltered from the wind, two PINE SISKINS quietly foraged through the wrack-line for tidbits while others noisily gleaned tiny seeds from spruce cones swaying in trees overhead.


Friday, March 19: After hearing zero WESTERN SCREECH OWLS along Old Exit Glacier Road (6:45 to 7:15 pm), I headed home to warm up. A bird flashed across the road in front of me in the twilight, landing at the hotspot at Second and Madison. I quickly stopped, rolled down the window and got my camera ready. An immature NORTHERN SHRIKE seemed to be hurriedly digging around in the snow and ice under the bushes. Stashed bird parts? Scattered bird seed? I could not tell. 


It obligingly perched for an instant on a branch, fluffed up for a quick photo then shot off, likely to its nearby night-time roost. Even though I didn’t hear the Owls, I was thrilled with the bonus Shrike sighting. 


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Monday, March 15, 2021 Sandpipers to Brambling

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:14 am, sunset 8:01 pm for a total day length of 11 hours and 46 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 30 seconds longer as we approach Spring Equinox on March 20 at 1:37 am.


March knows how to blow. That cold north wind refuses to stop. Today, it took a little rest by gusting to a mere 21 mph. Overnight lows hover in the teens, and daytime highs might reach mid 20s. Several feet of snow blanket the ground over a layer of ice making footing treacherous. I don’t envy the hungry birds and other wildlife struggling to find food and shelter. 


Mostly sunny in the forecast for the week, with continuing strong north winds. The trick is to get out of the wind, and then the sun is warm and high and delightful. I found a few daring elderberry leaves budding out and even more pussy willows. Spring is on its way!


Sunday, March 8, was the last sunny, calm day I recall. I ventured out to the tidelands to walk the ocean floor. An industrious RAVEN allowed me the honor of observing it clamming, something I have never seen before. Holding her strong bill open about an inch, she thrust it into the sandy substrate and raked back and forth. Finding nothing, she looked closely and tried again in a nearby spot, raking, raking, leaving little upturned sand hills and sand on her bill. 


Occasionally, she stopped to talk about the situation. In fact, we had a little discussion in which she critiqued my Raven or whatever I mistakenly said about her efforts. In a short time, she found a dandy clam, quickly dug it out, and flew off with it in her bill, chortling. What a treat (for her to eat and me to watch)!


I rambled on and spied a flock of 33 shorebirds, mostly ROCK SANDPIPERS and at least one DUNLIN feeding at the tide’s edge, chittering excitedly and squabbling. These hardy winter residents have survived thus far; it would be interesting to learn when they migrate to their summer breeding grounds in western Alaska (ssp tschuktschorum and nominate ptilocnemis) and Pribilofs (nominate ptilocnemis).

Thanks to Dave S for the info. He noted that the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds has fun subspecies maps in the back showing the ranges of the four subspecies of Rock Sandpiper and other birds.


Meanwhile, around noon over at the harbor Uplands, tragedy struck for the immature GLAUCOUS GULL. Other birders reported a BALD EAGLE swooped down and hauled off a gull to the nearby harbor entrance dolphin dinette. I last saw this pretty and uncommon gull the day before, hunkered down in the wind with the other gulls as usual. Though I searched every day since, I fear this one was eaten and recycled back into the food web. Thank you for the joy you brought during your short life, just seeing you.


On Friday, March 12, I found 7 MALLARDS dabbling in the relative calm of the boat harbor right at the water’s edge. The drakes’ heads glowed a gorgeous iridescent green; what a handsome and underappreciated duck! Several AMERICAN CROWS walked about nearby, busily prying under small rocks and gleaning something to eat. I could not tell what was on the menu for either species. 


On the other side of the harbor Uplands, dozens of COMMON MERGANSERS and a few RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS tucked out of the wind and snoozed.


Saturday, March 13, I discovered freshly deposited rows of pale krill (Euphausiids), about an inch long with big black eyes, washed up at the high tide line at Fourth of July Beach. This is an annual spring occurrence noted and enjoyed by hungry Gulls, Crows, and likely others. 


Today, I enjoyed the creaking whistles of the RUSTY BLACKBIRDS hidden in the dense spruce branches in the usual alley location behind Marathon Drive. About a dozen DARK-EYED JUNCOS hopped along the bare ground feeding on scattered birdseed (thanks, Robin C). 

Suddenly, the BRAMBLING materialized for a few seconds then vanished. He’s still here! Even though I didn’t really get to see those Rusties, it was a pleasure to listen and know they too, were still here,

Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, March 6, 2021 Snipe in the snow

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:41 am, sunset 6:38 pm for a total day length of 10 hours and 57 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 29 seconds longer. 


Sunny blue skies returned today after yesterday’s fat snowflakes with a high of 33ยบ. Snow streamers once again sailed off the mountainsides and peaks, propelled by 25-30 mph north winds with gusts over 35. A lovely day if out of the wind.


Apparently, that’s what the WILSON’S SNIPE thought as it probed in the soft mud at the Lagoon in the lee of the road. The sun shone warm and bright on the nearby snow, reflecting even more heat. A few tentative Sitka willow buds even burst open in an early vote for Spring.


The Snipe moved slowly, poking holes in the snow the length of its long, chopstick bill. When it paused, it bobbed gently as if at sea, looking around. After feeding steadily, it rested next to a clump of dead grass, head and bill tucked under its wing, and became almost invisible.


Driving past, I was looking for the Snipe as I have since Wednesday, but did not expect to find it so easily. Hard to miss the dark, long-billed, stocky shorebird against the white snow. Normally elusive, I managed to watch and photograph it from a respectful distance, getting better views than any summer sighting. Winter birding, especially for a Snipe in the first week of March, has its perks! 

In other news, two WESTERN SCREECH OWLS hooted their bouncing ball song from about 6:30 to 7:30 last night along Old Exit Glacier Road. GREAT HORNED OWL, SAW-WHET, and a BOREAL OWL (unusual here), have also been heard in the area recently. I have not yet heard any Owls in town.


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter




Tuesday, March 2, 2021 Snipe!

Seward, Alaska


Sunrise 7:53 am, sunset 6:28 pm for a total day length of 10 hours and 35 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 29 seconds longer.


Sharp-eyed duo Deb and Dan discovered a SNIPE at 5:45 pm today at the inlet to the Lagoon by the Benny Benson Memorial. I caught a glimpse of the stocky shorebird around 6 pm as it flew across the road then disappeared in the gathering twilight.


This is an area more likely frequented by a Dipper, especially in winter. A Snipe in early March in Seward is a marvel; where did it come from and how has it survived our severe winds, snow, and cold temperatures? 


Earlier in the sunny afternoon, I enjoyed watching the RUSTY BLACKBIRDS (4) and the female RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD gobble down millet and cracked corn at the usual spot in the alley south of Marathon Drive. A fluffy SONG SPARROW hopped around territorially but mostly let the other birds, including the WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW and DARK-EYED JUNCOS feed.


Next stop, I watched a small mixed flock of BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES and CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES flit through a dense spruce stand, flicking out the tiny spruce seeds to eat. They hung upside-down without a care, or perched sideways on the cones, sometimes doing the splits to get at those seeds. Occasionally some seeds got loose and gently whirled down like tiny helicopters.


I had no idea my bird-day would end with a Snipe!


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter



Sunday, February 28, 2021 Glaucous Gull, Barrow’s Goldeneyes

Seward, Alaska

Yes, the north wind shouted today, blasting away at 25 mph with gusts up to 36 mph. Snow streamed across the mountain faces and swirled high above the peaks in gauzy, spinning clouds. Fortunately, the sun shone longer and stronger, and the temp hovered just above freezing making it quite pleasant out of the wind.


COMMON MERGANSERS, a few RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS, MEW GULLS, and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS found that refuge in the lee of the Harbor Uplands breakwater. There, they lounged comfortably on the rocks and preened, or bobbed in the waves.


In the icy gravel parking lot just above, it was a different story. The wind raked across the huddled Gulls and Crows, riffling through their feathers though they all faced north like aerodynamic wind vanes. During the numerous reshuffles, they merely had to raise their wings and instantly became airborne, needing only to steer.


The first cycle GLAUCOUS GULL took its place among the mostly GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS. The young GLAUCOUS-WINGED X HERRING GULL hybrid rested and waited as well, all hoping for a handout.


I noticed the young Glaucous Gull has lovely frosty-white eyelids; perhaps a beauty mark retained in the adult plumage. It is indeed a pretty gull with its bicolored black and pink bill, subtle off-white plumage, and pink legs and feet. I enjoyed trying to get photos of it suspended and buffeted in the wind against the brilliant blue sky, white mountains and blue-green bay.


BARROW’S GOLDENEYES paddled and dove just offshore at the high tide. Waves splashed over them as they rode up and down the riled-up sea unperturbed in their beautiful waterproof coats.

As I drove along the Waterfront, I was astounded to see a female BELTED KINGFISHER flying into the teeth of the wind about eye level, right alongside the road.  By the time I had processed this information and turned around, she had vanished. 


I was glad for my warm winter gear and the luxury of the car and heater which made windy winter birding and photography very enjoyable.

Farewell, February!


Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter