Wednesday, December 12, 2018 Nordic Viking Day 4

Seward, Alaska 
snow flurries, 25ยบ, north wind

KTVA Channel 11 from Anchorage covered the continuing preparations to raise the F/V Nordic Viking and reported on the 6 pm news.
Diver Karl VanBuskirk of Storm Chasers released a 500 gallon diesel fuel tank that breached the surface like a whale (!) and released a rainbow sheen. He also sealed up hull openings in preparation for raising the vessel,.
Alaska Cadux, a non-profit oil spill response organization based in Anchorage was on the scene coordinating oil containment booms and sorbent pads, rolls, and booms.
US Fish and Wildlife Service monitored wildlife in the harbor, along the Waterfront, and in the Lagoon. Fortunately, no distressed wildlife was noted. Longer term effects from ingesting oil are a concern. Thin, fluttering red mylar ribbon was installed over absorbent booms across the culvert in the Lagoon to prevent birds and other wildlife from approaching the booms.
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation on the scene, monitoring containment.
Seward Harbormaster Regis continued to monitor progress.

Thanks to all the agencies and individuals for driving down to Seward to help ensure containment of the diesel fuel, monitor wildlife, support preparations for a successful raising, and document this unfortunate event.

Seward is lucky to have a local qualified commercial diver and marine salvage contractor, Karl and Storm Chasers, on the scene.

As to why this vessel sank, local mariner Mike Brittain stated decisively that a sinking is due, 100% of the time, because it filled up with water. Fisherman Bob Linville further explained that the above water planks on old wooden boats such as this, may dry and shrink over time or the caulking may fail, resulting in a quick sinking.

Carol Griswold

Tuesday, December 11, 2018 Sharpie, and Northern Shrike 
Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:52 am, sunset 3:52 pm for a total daylight of 6 hours. Tomorrow will be 1 minute and 46 seconds shorter.

About an inch of snow transformed the landscape to winter overnight, though the temperature hovers around freezing in a delicate dance between rain and snow. 

This morning, shortly after sunrise, I heard a strangled “squawk!” and glanced down the block. A couple hundred yards away, I saw two dark bird shapes struggling in the snow in the middle of the quiet street. I whipped out my little point and shoot and tried to document the scene, wishing for my binocs and telephoto lens. 

The larger bird, a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, soon subdued the smaller bird and all was still. The Hawk shrouded his kill, holding his wings in an arc around the dinner table, glancing around fiercely. Satisfied there were no uninvited guests, he then began preparing breakfast by ripping out beakfuls of feathers.

Rather than disturb this exchange of life forces, the dogs and I turned and went the other way. About 25 minutes later, on the way back home, I examined the kill site. I could see the imprint of the hawk’s wingtips in the snow, the depressions where the struggle occurred, and a sprinkling of feathers and a single large drop of bright red blood. Wow. 

I searched unsuccessfully for the Hawk perched in a nearby tree, quietly digesting his meal. Tomorrow will be another precarious day, another hunt, perhaps another death to sustain this life. Nature red in beak and claw!

Later in the afternoon, over near Fourth of July Beach, I chucked a green tennis ball for the good dog. Suddenly, a NORTHERN SHRIKE swooped down from the nearby alders after the flying ball and almost hit the racing dog! He then realized neither were suitable prey and veered off and away, probably hugely disappointed and disgusted. Hope he finds something more suitable to sustain him. Pretty slim pickings now; no Pine Siskins or Common Redpolls yet.

As for the Pied-billed Grebe, I have not seen it since December 2. That was also the first and last day to see TWO HOODED MERGANSER hens and one male at the Lagoon with three TRUMPETER SWANS.  

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, November 30, 2018 Pied-billed Grebe still here

Seward, Alaska

At 8:30 am, still predawn twilight, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake radiating from about 10 miles NW of Anchorage rumbled through Southcentral with an abrupt jolt, followed by east-west and rotational shaking. It seemed to last a long time, too long, but was probably less than a minute. The tsunami warning siren went off in Seward and those living in the zone beat it to higher ground or left town in a stream of traffic.  Fortunately, no tsunami was generated and life returned to almost normal, except for cleaning up the shambles.

Figuring that the earth just had a major adjustment, I decided it would be safe to venture into the tsunami zone to check on the PIED-BILLED GREBE at the Seward Harbor Z float. Most of the harbor ice had melted so he could be anywhere.  After a few minutes, however, there he was! Today he was actively diving, presumably feeding, and in intervals, preened. All good signs. Hopefully, he will survive the winter here. Maybe Seward will count him for the Christmas Bird Count!

Also present, a small flock of COMMON GOLDENEYES, MEW GULLS, PELAGIC CORMORANTS, and the male BELTED KINGFISHER who apparently owns the dock by Icicle Seafoods.

I also birded in another tsunami zone, Fourth of July Beach. There weren’t many birds, but it sure was great to see a COMMON LOON in winter plumage, a few HARLEQUIN DUCKS, BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, and HORNED GREBES. Three Steller’s Sea Lions cruised along, breathing explosively as they flowed past. Frozen Northern Sea Nettles like pinwheel candies decorated the tideline. Beautiful aliens from another world.

After such a startling and humbling event, it was such a pleasure to find everything more or less normal. Seward was very lucky this time.

Best wishes to everyone, especially my birder friends. Be careful and be safe!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, November 29, 2018 Pied-Billed Grebe in Seward!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:31 am, sunset 4:04 pm for a total daylight of 6 hours and 33 minutes. Tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 28 minutes shorter.

Sparkling sunshine today after seemingly endless cloudy, rainy days. The tradeoff was a dip in  temperature from the recent slew of 40s to a chilly low of 17 and a high of 29. Snow is briefly in the forecast then rain as the temp rises back to the 40s.

Seward birder John Maniscalco discovered a rare juvenile PIED-BILLED GREBE yesterday afternoon in the Seward Boat Harbor. I drove all of five minutes to the harbor to seek it out this morning. Yesterday, it was warm; last night the “ice-free” harbor froze with only a few open areas, which limited the little Grebe’s range, if it was still around. 

I spent several thoroughly enjoyable hours walking up and down the floats looking for open water and birds. En route, I watched the spectacular half-moon setting behind the stunning snowy mountains, watched an enormous US Air Force jet blast overhead (probably left Anchorage ten minutes ago), admired the sleeping boats, and checked out bird-free reflections in the few open areas. 

There weren’t many birds. Five MEW GULLS flew overhead, a small flock of BARROW’S GOLDENEYES paddled serenely by Icicle Seafoods, a male BELTED KINGFISHER perched on the dock and rattled over the thin ice looking for open areas to fish.

Running out of open water areas, I decided to check the other side of the harbor by the big tugs and Z Float. As I drove up, I saw 5 BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, and nearby, the unmistakable silhouette of the PIED-BILLED GREBE. YAY! I took some bad photos with the sun almost directly behind it, then parked and tried to sneak down the walkway to get a slightly better angle. I was relieved to see that the juvenile Grebe was wary, and began paddling away when it saw me. I stopped, and it came back. 

Rare birds are vulnerable; usually alone, in a strange place, with no buddies to help them identify and track danger, find food and shelter. I didn’t linger and slowly backed away to leave it in peace.

Pied-billed Grebes are noted as residents and short-distance migrants that should be wintering/residing down the Pacific Coast from Vancouver south, and across the southern half of the US and into northern Central America. It’s quite a mystery how this bird ended up in the Seward Boat Harbor at the end of November. Maybe it’s the same bird as reported in Homer last month. Who knows? 

Meanwhile, it was a pleasure seeking this bird today, and a delight to find it.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, November 4, 2018 Hooded Merganser female!

 Seward, Alaska

While checking the Lagoon this morning, I found a female HOODED MERGANSER diving with a dozen BUFFLEHEAD! The TRUMPETER SWAN family of 8, and the three other adult Swans hungrily tipped up in the ever-shrinking open area. Three River Otters galloped along the shore then dove into the water. A few MALLARDS napped nearby with one eye open on the BALD EAGLE watching the menu from a spruce tree.

The handsome male Hooded Merganser usually shows up first and if we’re lucky, a female. So now I’m looking for the male. Clear Creek was moved back into its main channel this summer to control flooding, but it also lowered one of their favorite fishing areas at the Stash and Store pond. It may no longer be suitable habitat, but is still worth a look as well as Clear Creek by the bridge at the Pit Bar.

Two RED-NECKED GREBES and a HORNED GREBE spotted fishing along the Waterfront in town. 27 COMMON MERGANSERS including one dashing adult male favor the lee of the Uplands. Many Gulls waited expectantly by the seafood processing plant at Lowell Point and along Lowell Point Road: MEW GULLS, GLAUCOUS-WINGED, HERRING GULLS.

Other bird notes:
Wednesday, October 31: I caught a glimpse of a RAVEN flying with a dead STELLER’S JAY in its beak at Lowell Point Beach. A macabre Halloween feast, and unusual for the wily Jay to get caught. I tried to get a better look, but the Raven landed in some thick spruce boughs and neither were unavailable for comment.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, October 30, 2018 Short-eared Owl!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:16 am, sunset 6:08 pm for a total day length of 8 hours and 51 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 13 seconds shorter.

27 WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS zipped over the Lagoon yesterday, chattering. First flock of the fall that I’ve seen.

After the season’s first snowfall yesterday, today dawned with something else new: a peek at the sun! The sun, however, brought the north wind with gusts to 23 mph which quickly blew away the meager snow in town, leaving the icy patches. The forecast is for chilly temperatures for the next few days with lows in the low 20s overnight to mid-30s daytime. Then, with a slight rise in temps, back to rain or snow showers for the next week.  

I was surprised to find a female LONG-TAILED DUCK this morning, diving near a dozen COMMON MERGANSERS in the lee of the wind by the harbor Uplands. This has become an unusual fall and winter species.

A murder of NORTHWESTERN CROWS mobbed a snack car along the Waterfront that drove off and left me with the expectant crowd. A few brave ones rode along on my hood and rearview mirror, but I have learned not to feed them or face mobbing forever. They don’t forget a food source! Instead, I enjoyed watching them crack through the ice-covered puddles and finding no liquid water, gobbled down the ice chips.

At 12:30, my neighbor sent me a photo of an Owl perched high on top of a power pole a block south of my house. I dashed out, but it had vanished. Slowly, I drove up the alley, looking in vain for that needle in a haystack. Suddenly, the brown owl appeared, flying low away from me! I sped up, following, losing, then refinding it just as it landed in the green grass by the side of the road. Several unsuspecting vehicles passed it, but it did not flush. I crept up and parked alongside the road near the amazing owl.

A SHORT-EARED OWL!! I was expecting a Great-Horned Owl as I’ve never seen this species in my neighborhood before. The beautiful Owl looked right at me with its stunning yellow eyes as I clicked away, but did not seem perturbed. It was alert to the few vehicles driving past, and put up its horns when a couple bicycles rolled by. The addition of two more bicycles and a couple of dogs on leashes exceeded its maximum for tolerance and it wafted away.

This is a species of high conservation concern in North America mostly due to declining grasslands. An ADFG study found Short-eared Owls satellite-tagged in Nome flew to states in the Pacific Northwest, Midwest, and Texas. One flew almost 4000 miles from Nome to central Mexico.

May it find munchies in urban Seward or more suitable grassland habitats with voles on its long migration south. Bon voyage!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, October 28, 2018 The Wet Week’s Wrap-up

Seward, Alaska

Monday, October 22 Sunshine!
A perky PACIFIC WREN called insistently from my back yard while performing an inspection of the house siding, deck planter, and nearby shrubs. I tricked the curious little wren to pop up for a quick photo by pishing briefly. I hope he finds enough spiders and other invertebrates to tide him over, maybe even for the winter.

Gulls gathered at Resurrection Bay Seafoods at the start of Lowell Point Road hoping for fish scraps. The extreme weather and rough seas have been so bad, few fishing boats went out and of those, even fewer were able to fish for Pacific Cod.

I continue to search without success for the adult California Gull that Scott Schuette spotted on Sunday. I think I found his ICELAND (THAYER’S) GULL, and BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, MEW GULLS, GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, HERRING GULLS, (and hybrids, no doubt).

Wednesday, October 24 Rain, then a peek at the sun
A cow Moose crossed the road at dawn in the rain; amazingly difficult to see such a big animal in the twilight! Also spotted in the early dawn, six wary GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE at the tidelands. This sure seems like a late date for them.

Report of 50+ Geese flying high overhead, heading south. I wonder if they could have been more Greater White-fronted Geese or perhaps Snow Geese that were recently reported in the Kenai area.

Friday, October 26 Cloudy
Single TRUMPETER SWAN at the Lagoon, spotted frequently these past few weeks, always alone. The resident Trumpeter Swan family of eight has been hanging out at the Nash Road wetlands.
An adult BALD EAGLE polished off the best parts of a silver salmon carcass at the Lagoon then waded off to rinse its beak. Instantly, the attending two BLACK-BILLED MAGPIES and two juvenile GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS moved in to feast on the rest.

A cheerful DIPPER chatted conversationally to itself as it scouted for salmon eggs and macroinvertebrates in the small streams feeding into the Lagoon. It was such a pleasure to slowly walk along, watching it flip over alder leaves at the edge, dive into the water, popping up with a pink salmon egg, and survey its world from an alder. What a joyful bird, rain or shine!

A BROWN CREEPER gleaned tiny invertebrates from under the potato chip bark of a spruce tree. I often hear them, but it’s always special to see one.

Saturday, October 27 Rain, rain, rain
Two active River Otters ran around at the Lagoon north shore, checking out silver salmon that are still spawning, and possibly the remnants of the Eagle’s carcass, before plunging back into the safety of the water.

Sunday, October 28 Rain, then cloudy, then back to rain with wind
I was surprised to hear a ROBIN scolding in the alley before flying down to feast on red Mt Ash berries. I haven’t seen or heard a Robin in several weeks. Everyone seems grateful for a few hours without rain.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter