Wednesday, January 22, 2020 Tufted Duck Lifer!

Cooper Landing, Alaska

I sure was hoping to see the rare Eurasian TUFTED DUCK at Cooper Landing. It would be a Lifer. Found by Tim Stevensen 25 days earlier on December 29, 2019, time was ticking away. Rare birds are lost birds, and as such, are unpredictable. Buoyed by recent reports, it was worth a try.

As I crossed the bridge over the Kenai River at Cooper Landing, I noticed a nice flock of ducks milling in the short stretch of open water on the left (east) side of the bridge. Swans fed next to the ice on both sides. I continued to the closest access, the Alaska State Parks boat launch, and parked by the river.

Good thing I brought my scope as the light was dim and the birds far. I scanned the mixed flock of Scaup, COMMON MERGANSERS, and COMMON GOLDENEYES. Most were actively diving and feeding. It felt like “Where’s Waldo?” Then I saw a suspiciously white-flanked duck, napping. The pattern was distinctive. But when the wind blew just right, his fancy tuft flew out and cinched the identification. Yay!

The TRUMPETER SWANS in the background caught my attention next: two adults and three cygnets. I wondered if these could be the missing Seward residents which I haven’t seen in a while. If so, how did they know to fly north to find this small stretch of productive open water? Is this knowledge passed on through the generations? 

On my side of the bridge were two adults and one cygnet. Could these be the Tern Lake swan family? Tantalizing thought, and not quite as far to fly. I noticed the cygnet led the parents, as did the very independent Tern Lake cygnet. One can only speculate, but it seems very possible.

Dabbling MALLARDS and a diving DIPPER rounded out the species list.

I shot a few documentary photos and packed up to the soft honking of the Tern Lake Trumpeter Swan family as they paddled regally along the edge of the river ice. A sweet, familiar, and wild sound to top off an exciting mini-expedition. 

Seward reports:
Monday, January 20: two SHORT-EARED OWLS were reported hunting in a vacant property near the highway just south of Sea Lion Avenue. The same afternoon, a very white (male) Short-eared Owl hunted at the airport then disappeared. A few minutes later, an adult NORTHERN GOSHAWK suddenly appeared, landed in a spruce tree, waited and watched, then flew off.
Tuesday, January 21: the unusual female RING-NECKED DUCK (hybrid?) was seen at the Lagoon with 5 MALLARDS and 3 BUFFLEHEAD. 
Today: the male RED-BREASTED SAPSUCKER suddenly reappeared after an unexcused absence since December 27, 2019.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, January 17, 2020 Birds in Flight, Underwater (BIFU)

Seward, Alaska

Kinglets, Warblers, and Swallows, so quick and erratic, make challenging subjects to photograph. Ramp it up with birds in flight, underwater, in dim light, behind reflecting glass, at the Alaska Sealife Center. 

As the once-frozen fish or squid drift slowly down, the seabirds fly or paddle after them. Then, prey in beak, they spiral effortlessly to the surface like little jets with silvery air bubbles streaming behind.

I joined the first day I saw this incredible sight back in 1998 when the Center first opened. I’m still fascinated, and persist in trying to capture BIFU on camera.

Descending abruptly from above, the large-bodied COMMON MURRES slice the water with their long, narrow wings like powerful oars, their bodies often silvery with air bubbles. They frequent the deepest parts of the 21.5’ deep tank, mere child’s play for a species that can dive 600’ or deeper.

Slender PIGEON GUILLEMOTS and HORNED PUFFINS with even smaller wingspans, stroke quickly, easily spinning and changing directions. They seem to prefer the mid to upper levels, though they too will investigate possible food on the bottom.

Sea ducks, like the COMMON EIDER and LONG-TAILED DUCK, undulate underwater, using their heads, necks, body, and large webbed feet to propel themselves underwater. Paddling seems much more laborious than flying. These ducks seemed to poke and pry at the rocks more often, investigating other possible food sources. Then, up they go, back to the surface.

I didn’t see the RHINOCEROUS AUKLETS, TUFTED PUFFINS, SMEW or HARLEQUIN DUCKS underwater this time, which gives me yet another excuse to go back. Even if the vast majority of the photos (thankfully digital) end up in the trash, it’s fun to try!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


Friday, January 17, 2020 Spectacular Winter De-Light

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:44 am, sunset 4:33 pm for a total daylength of 6 hours and 48 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 2 seconds longer.

After two weeks of single digit temperatures, strong north winds and sunshine, the thermometer rose steadily today from 12º to 20º while the wind mercifully dropped to a mere 8 mph. A dark gray blanket of clouds lurked at the mouth of the bay by late afternoon, possibly bearing the snow and warming temperatures forecast for Sunday-Tuesday. 

The short, cold, clear-sky days since the CBC provided ghostly streamers of rising and blown steam from the warmer bay; inspiring vistas of blue-shadowed snowy mountains; an almost regular opportunity to watch the moon wax fat and wane thin as it rose, sailed across the starry sky, then set over those spectacular mountains bookending the bay; frozen jellies lining the beach with their amazing spoked-wheel patterns overlaid on their solid white ice bodies. The low, golden, northern winter light makes me take photos like a tourist.

The day after the Count, the ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD disappeared, likely a victim of the bitter cold and long nights. What a marvel to last so long, giving all so much joy at his very existence. I spotted the lone TRUMPETER SWAN reported on the ice at the Lagoon nine days after the Count but not since, neither the RING-NECKED DUCK. The SHORT-EARED OWL continued at the tidelands, but no one has reported from Tonsina to see if that owl is still there with the Three-Toed Woodpecker.

Ava’s RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET(s) is still active, squeezing in suet snacks between the much larger and more aggressive DOWNY and HAIRY WOODPECKERS, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES. While his bright ruby-red crown is indeed impressive, his golden feet are astonishing! So big and bright! There’s a good case for renaming the species to Golden-slipper Kinglet.

Enjoy de-light and Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

2019 Seward CBC Results Checklist

Count Day: January 4, 2020
Count Week: January 1–7, 2020
Carol Griswold, Compiler 
  15   Bufflehead                                             
  26   Bunting, Snow                                       
    1   Canvasback
  28   Chickadee, Black-capped             ­­­                           ­­­
    2   Chickadee, Boreal                                           
  29   Chickadee, Chestnut-backed                                   
    4   chickadee unknown species                                     
  14   Cormorant, Pelagic                                         
    8   cormorant unknown species ­­­                                    
    3   Creeper, Brown                   ­­­                  
    2   Crossbill, Red                               ­­­                  
702      Crossbill, White-winged            ­­­                           ­­­                  
125   Crow, Northwestern                                                
    8   Dipper, American                          ­­­                  
   24  Duck, Harlequin                                     
     1  Duck, Ring-necked                                         
   10     duck unknown species                           
   41  Eagle, Bald total                                                      
31 Eagle, Bald adult                                       
  5 Eagle, Bald immature                                
  5 Eagle, Bald unknown age                                                     
     1  Eider, King                                   ­­­                  
     5  Gadwall                                                 
 253  Goldeneye, Barrow’s                                      
   60  Goldeneye, Common                                      
     5  Grebe, Horned                                                
     2  Grebe, Red-necked                       ­­­                  
    81 Grosbeak, Pine                                       
     1  Grouse, Spruce                                       
   61  Gull, Glaucous-winged                                  
     1  Gull, Herring                                                   
   36  Gull, Mew                                                       ­­­
     3  Gull, Thayer’s                                                 ­­
     2  Hawk, Sharp-shinned                                      
     1  Heron, Great Blue                                           
     1  Hummingbird, Anna’s                                    
    36 Jay, Steller’s                                           ­­­                  
    88 Junco, Dark-eyed (Slate-colored)
    64 Junco, Dark-eyed (Oregon) ­­­                           
     3  Kingfisher, Belted                                                            
    68 Kinglet, Golden-crowned             ­­­                  
     4  Kinglet, Ruby-crowned                                  
 CW  Kittiwake, Black-legged                                 
     1  Loon, Common                    ­­­                  
     1  Loon, Pacific                                                   
     1  Loon, Yellow-billed                                        
   60  Magpie, Black-billed                                               ­­­
 168  Mallard                                                   
 279  Merganser, Common                                      
     1  Merganser, Hooded                                        
   19  Merganser, Red-breasted                               
     5  Murrelet, Marbled                                           ­­­
   25  Nuthatch, Red-breasted                                  
     2  Owl, Great Horned                       ­­­                  
     1  Owl, Northern Saw-whet
     2  Owl, Short-eared                                   
 224  Pigeon, Rock (feral)                                        
     1  Ptarmigan, Willow                                          
     2  ptarmigan unknown species                   
  114 Raven, Common                                             
  461 Redpoll, Common                         ­­­                  
      1 Redpoll, Hoary                                      
    44 Robin, American                           ­­­                  
    15 Sandpiper, Rock                                    
      1 Sandpiper, unidentified                                                    
      1 Scaup, Greater                                                
    18 Scoter, Surf                                                     
      1 Shoveler, Northern                                         
      1 Shrike, Northern                                    
  298 Siskin, Pine                                   ­­­                  
      3 Sparrow, American Tree                                 
      2 Sparrow, Fox                                ­­­                  
      4 Sparrow, Golden-crowned                             
  CW Sparrow, Lincoln’s                                         
     11 Sparrow, Song   
  CW Sparrow, White-throated                    ­­­                  
      7 Sparrow, White-crowned                                
      4     sparrow unknown species                                        
      4 Swan, Trumpeter                                             
      1 Teal, Green-winged                      ­­­                  
    69 Thrush, Varied                     ­­­                  
    47 Waxwing, Bohemian                    ­­­                  
    13 Woodpecker, Downy                                               
      8 Woodpecker, Hairy                                                  ­­
      1 Woodpecker, Three-toed                             
      2 Wren, Pacific  

     162 unidentified species (mostly redpoll and siskin flocks)
  72 Species for Count Day, 3633 total individuals
   3 species for Count Week: Black-legged Kittiwake (2),
      Lincoln Sparrow (1),  White-throated Sparrow (1)                                                             

2019 Seward Christmas Bird Count: Anna's Hummingbird!

Seward, Alaska

The north wind screamed, steam rose off the white-capped bay, the thermometer hovered in the mid-teens, heavy overcast threatened snow, the sun rose at 9:54 am and set 6 hours and 11 minutes later at 4:06 pm. 

Tucked in the woods, a tiny Anna’s hummingbird perched on top of his sugar water feeder, inspiring and humbling the bundled-up 2019 Audubon Seward Christmas Bird Count volunteers.

Winter storms postponed the Count twice, hoping for better weather that never came. As we reached the last possible Saturday on January 4, a small craft advisory with a heavy freezing spray warning, north wind to 25 knots and seas 5 feet effectively canceled the Resurrection Bay survey. That cut out about 15 square miles of the Count Circle centered at Nash Road and the Seward Highway.

Nonetheless, 17 intrepid field counters collectively drove 79 miles, walked 16 miles, skied 4 miles, snowshoed 4.23 miles, and hand-cycled 3.5 miles, starting in the predawn hour of 8 am to the darkness of 5:30 pm. Eight feeder counters collectively watched their feeders for 30 hours.

In addition to the incredible Anna’s hummingbird, other exciting discoveries awaited. A Canvasback, Northern Shoveler, and a Ring-necked Duck made the Count for the first time. A remarkable 4 Ruby-crowned Kinglets, another species that should have migrated, endured the cold winter. Owls were well represented with 2 Great-horned Owls, two surprise Short-eared Owls, and a Saw-whet Owl.

Varied Thrushes seemed to be everywhere this winter, scoring a record 69 birds. Robins weren’t far behind with 44, almost reaching the previous record of 49 in 2001. Twenty-six Snow Buntings, which hadn’t yet been seen this winter, popped up at Tonsina Point.

17 species only had one individual including Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, King Eider, Hooded Merganser, Spruce Grouse, Willow Ptarmigan, Pacific Loon, Common Loon, Yellow-billed Loon, Great Blue Heron, Three-toed Woodpecker, Northern Shrike, and a Hoary Redpoll. Only 4 Trumpeter Swans were seen, down from 11 last year.

The highest count was 702 White-winged Crossbills, close to the 2015 record of 855, mostly concentrated in Old Mill Subdivision. Honk if you see these birds on the road getting gravel. Pine Siskins and Common Redpoll numbers seemed to be increasing over the past few weeks, with 298 and 481 respectively. These irruptive species were mostly absent last year.

In all, 72 species and 3633 birds were counted, plus three additional species for Count Week, the 3 days before and 3 days after Count Day. This is 16 species more than the 61 species and 1649 more birds than the 1984 birds counted in 2018, a low count year.

Many thanks to the dedicated volunteers who spent many hours and effort to look for birds and keep track of statistics for this citizen science effort. Special thanks to Captain Mike Brittain for standing by, ready to safely transport the boat team around Resurrection Bay in the trusty M/V Dora. 
Thanks to Resurrect Art Coffee House & Art Gallery for graciously hosting the birders before and after the Count. 

The long winter is far from over. Keep those feeders full of sunflower seeds and suet. And sugar water, if you happen to have a hummingbird!

Happy Birding!
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter and Seward CBC Compiler
Carol Griswold

Sunday, January 5, 2020 Feathered Thugs

Seward, Alaska

A couple of thugs, those two sleek RAVENS. They leapt into the air over their prone victim, wary and watchful. Then boldly landed in unison, pecked hard, and leapt again in case. Gleeful, giddy, thrilled, and self-congratulatory. Up, then back down. I could tell they were up to no good.

I screeched to a stop, clambered out of the car, and raised my arms. Whoosh! Off flew the bullies in a panic, colliding in their haste.

Lying on his belly in the pure white snow lay a beautiful and very much dead, male SHORT-EARED OWL. His outstretched tawny wings fluttered in the cold north wind, as if willing its master to once again take flight. His enormous eyes were wide open; the black pupils dilated despite the bright sunshine, leaving only a rim of yellow fire around them.

I gently turned him over, folded his wings, and picked him up, stunned by how little he weighed. The thugs vastly outweighed him. One Raven is almost 3 ½ times heavier: 2.6# to 0.75 #, and armed with a deadly, strong beak.

I imagined the hungry Owl wafting about the vacant downtown lot on this cold, sunny afternoon, looking for a tasty vole, shrew, or even errant house mouse. Suddenly, the Ravens, not picky about species, spied their mortal enemy and gathering courage, dove down and struck. A struggle ensued, told by the broken slabs of crusty snow, the mayhem of tracks, and wing marks. No blood marred the scene, just the sad body of the Owl and a few loose feathers.

At times like this, Nature is hard to witness. The beautiful owl’s death seems criminal, but the perpetrators cannot be blamed or brought to justice. How I wish I was there sooner!

Bird on,
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, January 2, 2020 Mt Ash Bonanza!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 10:01 am, sunset 4:03 pm for a total daylength of 6 hours and 1 minute. Tomorrow will be 2 minutes and 7 seconds longer.

Temps in the low teens today shrank the snowflakes to shivering pellets that blanketed the sky to the ground. The snow showers and flat light made driving challenging, but I wanted to survey the Mt Ashes around town.

What a bonanza! Even non-birders noticed the variety of species plucking Mt Ash berries in the snowstorm: VARIED THRUSHES glowing like lit jack-o’-lanterns, puffy ROBINS, PINE GROSBEAKS in sunset hues, ever elegant BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS, and even a few sleek, black NORTHWESTERN CROWS. I found them at Resurrect Art on Third and at the Alaska Sealife Center, though any Mt Ash with berries is bound to attract them sooner or later.

While watching the berry-eaters, I spotted a small flock of COMMON REDPOLLS nearby, hanging upside down off of alder cones, extracting the tiny seeds. These are the first Redpolls I’ve seen in a long time.

I briefly glimpsed the red, (interior) FOX SPARROW and two WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS at Second and Madison, along with more bright VARIED THRUSHES, DARK-EYED JUNCOS, STELLER’S JAYS, and a PIGEON.

Yesterday along the Waterfront, I found a large raft of COMMON MERGANSERS with at least two female RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS swimming close to shore, buffeted by the cold south wind. The female KING EIDER paddled along with them just on the edge of the raft. Great to know she’s still around!

In a nearby parking lot, I found an adult THAYER’S GULL standing behind GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS huddled forlornly on the snow. The Thayer’s Gull had a small bill, bright pink legs, heavily brown-streaked head and neck, and black primaries with large white spots.

Other January 1 reports: Sadie found a LINCOLN’S SPARROW at Ava’s Place with 2 AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS. John and Robin found a female HOODED MERGANSER at Clear Creek by the Pit Bar.
Robin reported a WHITE-THROATED SPARROW at a friend’s feeder. The incredible male ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD was documented on January 1 by Robin and today by John. He puts all whiners to shame!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter