Friday, April 22, 2022 Crane Day! (and more!)

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:20 am, sunset 9:33 pm, for a total day length of 16 hours and 51 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 22 seconds longer.

Squalls with light, stinging rain moved in yesterday, ending our intoxicating sunny streak. Temps ranged from a low of 34 overnight to a high of 44. A chilly wind vacillated from E to S, from calm up to 16 mph gusts. 

Tuesday around 10:40 pm, I heard but could not see, SANDHILL CRANES flying overhead, seemingly heading west over Lowell Canyon. A few of the brighter stars like Arcturus were barely visible. Thursday night, about the same time, I again heard Cranes, but flying north. The night was much darker due to the clouds. I wondered where they last staged and fed, how many miles they had flown, how they knew where they were, and where they hoped to stop to rest and feed. 

This morning, I heard VARIED THRUSHES and ROBINS singing in the forest on the Mt Marathon slope of my neighborhood. Did they arrive in the night? 

BALD EAGLES swooped and whooped along the edge; will they nest or is this just a real estate tour? There’s been a lot of activity there recently with two pairs chasing each other, interlocking talons and spinning like a top while plummeting towards the earth in a rush of wind, releasing just in time. So exciting!

The waves of Cranes began about noon; their joyous bugling heralded their arrival as they emerged out of the dark clouds in small Vs and extended and merged flocks of 100s. Funneled up the bay, some flocks hugged the eastern mountains, flying past Mt Alice; some flew up the middle of Resurrection Bay, others followed the western mountains and turned up Resurrection River valley past Exit Glacier; and others milled and mulled high overhead, a noisy swirl of indecision, before striking north again. 

By mid-afternoon, 13 landed at the head of the bay to rest and feed. These served as decoys, luring several other tired flocks to circle and land, long legs extended, and huge wings and long necks outstretched as they gracefully floated down.

Barely had they landed than a Bald Eagle lazily flew past and caused the whole lot of Cranes, Geese, and Ducks to rise up in a panic and flee. Some then decided to continue north, but most settled back down, at least for a short while. I was surprised a large bird like a Crane would fear an Eagle and expend all that energy to take off and return. They know best!

In the adjacent thawing pond, the lone continuing TUNDRA SWAN fed steadily, not disturbed by any ol’ Eagle. CANADA and GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE and a few CACKLING GEESE rested and fed among the sedges, ready to leap up in a panic with the Cranes. 

Increasing numbers of ducks rested, paddled or dove in the open water: NORTHERN SHOVELERS, GADWALL, MALLARDS, NORTHERN PINTAILS, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, COMMON MERGANSERS, BUFFLEHEAD. A few ARCTIC TERNS and many SHORT-BILLED GULLS flew noisily overhead.

Out in the flats, Robin C shared the first of season BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, two males in breeding plumage, resting quietly, so tired, and a PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER perky enough to feed, stop-start-stop.

The Cranes kept coming in almost regular intervals, and by the time we left, there were more than 100 gathered at the marsh. What thrilling day and such a treat. I'll be hearing them in my sleep!

Species that I missed included a NORTHERN HARRIER, a MERLIN, a PEREGRINE, a EURASIAN and a few AMERICAN WIGEON, LEAST SANDPIPER, and one SAVANNAH SPARROW. Always something more to find as Spring generously delivers gift after gift.

Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter





















 

Monday, April 18, 2022 Arctic Terns!

Seward, Alaska

Overnight low of 29, daytime high of 49.

The sun burst through despite the cloudy forecast and shone mightily all day, a bright star in a surreal blue sky. A chilly south wind kept expectations low, but hopes high as I ventured to the beach.

After a long wait, I heard that sharp “chip!” and then found four magnificent ARCTIC TERNS sailing effortlessly along the bay, circling along the snowy mountain peaks, and back. One rumbled proudly while carrying a small surprised fish to impress his sweetie. No time to waste! What a deep joy to welcome these hot-rod, long-distance migrants back!

Sleek and handsome SHORT-BILLED GULLS clamored over favorite nesting spots. Some sat contentedly on recently exposed mounds of mud and leaves as if already nesting.

A juvenile BALD EAGLE tore into the remnants of a young porcupine that had drowned and washed up over the weekend. RAVENS darted in and out, barely out of reach. Plucked quills and fur littered the beach like feathers. There wasn’t much left of the sad carcass, just the grippy pad and claws of one foot remained untouched as the tide again rose to reclaim the remains.

A River Otter bounded along the beach and slipped into the creek. When I got home and checked my photos, I saw a cable or other object draped firmly across its back. It did not flap or move. I hope the dexterous Otter will be able to remove it safely, whatever it is.

I found my first-of-season GREATER YELLOWLEGS silently fishing in the wetlands. It caught and swallowed headfirst what looked like a sculpin. A GREAT BLUE HERON flushed and flew ponderously to a quieter part of the wetlands to skulk.

Many niches remain unfilled and understaffed, waiting. I filled my hummingbird feeder in expectation of the Rufous Hummingbirds’ imminent arrival. Who is next? Sandhill Cranes? Geese? Stay tuned!

Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

PS To my faithful subscribers, I have no idea why the formatting is so weird sometimes, with random words in bold and centered spacing. Or why the photos are not on a slideshow. I hope Google will fix these bugs!




























 

 

Sunday, April 17, 2022 Spring is trickling in!

 

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:35 am, sunset 9:21 pm for a total day length of 14 hours and 46 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 25 seconds longer.

Spring seems reluctant to release Winter’s apron strings, hanging on to below freezing temps at night and creeping up to the low 40s. A cold south wind did more to sublimate the snow last week than the cloud-shrouded sun, but many feet of snow remain outside of town and in large patches in town. 

Despite the cranky weather, the migratory birds are trickling in daily. The cacophony of screeching gulls excited by seafood processors’ fish “waste” continues dawn to dusk and fills the otherwise quiet night. 

BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES rock and roll with multitudes of GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS and SHORT-BILLED GULLS. HERRING and GLAUCOUS-WINGED X HERRING (COOK) GULLS laugh, “heh, heh, heh,” overhead. PIGEON GUILLEMOTS and PELAGIC CORMORANTS in breeding plumage forage along the edges of the melee. 

Tasha spotted two first-of-spring ARCTIC TERNS yesterday, right on time. I heard a “chip” today and searched eagerly for the buoyant, bold flyer without success. 

A pair of NORTHERN SHOVELERS sluiced the surface of the estuary with their enormous bills. Two recently arrived CANADA GEESE hungrily plucked sedge corms, recently released form the ice at the wetlands while a pair of GADWALL rested nearby on last year’s sodden leaves. 

A TUNDRA SWAN reached down for emerging vegetation in a narrow lead in the otherwise still-frozen pond. There were two a few days ago. MALLARDS, PINTAILS, and GREEN-WINGED TEAL hovered about, hoping for scraps. COMMON MERGANSERS dove for fish. Have the 3-spine sticklebacks, an anadromous species, returned for the Terns? A nice flock of LAPLAND LONGSPURS was reported in the grasses.

Ice mostly covers the Nash Road Mile 1 wetlands, but in a narrow lead, I found a female HOODED MERGANSER. Farther back, a pair of Common Mergansers dove. The TRUMPETER SWAN pair that has been guarding this much-coveted nesting site was not present. It may be another week before the nest island is available for the lucky winners to start nest-building.

Three Trumpeter Swan adults and three cygnets fed on eelgrass south of Afognak Beach. The large flock of up to 33 this winter is apparently dispersing as leads open up. 

One of two independent cygnets tragically died on March 11 after colliding with an invisible powerline at dusk near Old Nash Road. Seward hasn’t had any Swan deaths since the Lagoon power lines went underground and bird deflectors were installed along the hot spots at Nash Road wetlands, Preacher Pond, and the pump station by Scheffler Creek. The deadly lines are nearly invisible in that dim light, especially to an inexperienced 9-month old Swan. The electric department will try to install more deflectors as the lines are maintained.

Winter ducks overlap Spring along the Waterfront and in the ever-melting Lagoon including BARROW’S and COMMON GOLDENEYES, BUFFLEHEAD, and COMMON MERGANSERS waiting to migrate to their nesting grounds. I spotted a COMMON LOON in winter plumage by the harbor entrance. 

Much to my delight, the o-so-sweet sound of a ROBIN singing greeted me yesterday morning at 6 am. Soon, soon, the rest of the choir will arrive, tune up, and perform the much-anticipated Celebration of Spring. They’re on their way now!

Happy Birding!

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

I will add photos later…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, April 2, 2022 Fog, snow bunting, crocuses

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 7:20 am, sunset 8:44 pm, for a total day length of 13 hours and 24 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 29 seconds longer. So much daylight!

April Fool’s Day trick yesterday: fat snowflakes sifting down in a wet snowstorm. Continuing winter trick: piles of snow blanket the ground several feet thick, except for under spruce, edge of roadway, and next to buildings. 

Dandelion rosettes downtown look ready to send up flower stalks. Crocuses bloom inches from snow, but no bumblebees are out yet. Blooming willows wait expectantly for emerging insects and warblers feasting on the pollinators.

The forecast today for drizzle and snow showers proved wrong, wrong, wrong. A fog so thick that headlights hardly helped greeted the morning as I headed out to check out the low tide. The sun struggled to peek through, burning holes in the fog that framed the surrounding snowy mountains in mysterious, ever-changing vistas.

A few LAPLAND LONGSPURS scurried through the beach rye grass and the newly emerging green spears, searching for old seeds. A surprise, single SNOW BUNTING called overhead as it flew past. I heard the soft music of TRUMPETER SWANS in the distance but could not find them in the fog.

A few more, wary NORTHERN PINTAILS and GADWALLS joined resident and migrating MALLARDS, feeding in the sodden sedge wetlands and tideflat streams. GULLS cried and laughed overhead; more, many hundreds (a thousand?) screamed raucously at the mouth of Resurrection River. BALD EAGLES flapped ponderously on patrol, happy to stir the Gulls into a blizzard of feathers.

Suddenly, the good dog spotted a river otter strolling from the beach to the tide’s edge almost a mile away. Her barking spurred the otter into a fluid run across that wide expanse, a remarkable athletic feat. It finally reached a stream deep enough to plunge in and swim. I was sorry to have disrupted its peaceful stroll, and relieved the dog minded and did not give chase. The river otter, equipped with strong, sharp teeth and claws is more than capable of defending itself if necessary.

By late morning, the sun won the battle with the fog and shone warm and bright, raising the temp to 43ยบ. Back in town, the Lagoon was mostly ice-free at the north end with a large lead along the east side and an ever-widening open area at the south end. COMMON and BARROW’S GOLDENEYES, BUFFLEHEAD, and COMMON MERGANSERS dove, courted, and napped in the sun. A BELTED KINGFISHER, here all winter, rattled from the still dormant alders. 

RAVENS are nesting; I noticed twig-gathering last month and found a telltale black tail showing above the rim of a stick nest. 

A pair of HOODED MERGANSERS were reported here yesterday by Robin C, but I did not find them today. He also reported hearing a WESTERN SCREECH OWL around 10:30 pm at Old Exit Glacier Road a few nights ago, and a GREAT HORNED OWL at Stoney Creek Road. I have not heard any Saw-whet Owls this year in the forests of Mt Marathon and Bear Mt, and fear the concrete-hard snow may have prevented them from finding food.

The forecast calls for more snow, snow/rain, and snow showers, all variations of precip hovering just above freezing. If this happens, I’ll remember this mysterious, magical day. If it proves wrong, I’ll just savor it. Spring is here and those migratory birds are on their way!

Happy Birding!                                                

Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter