Wednesday, November 9, 2022 American Coot, and Eurasian Brambling!

Seward, Alaska

Cloudy, mostly calm, scattered showers, temps in the low 30s. Fresh snow on the mountains but not in town.

Thanks to Robin Collman, I was fortunate to see the AMERICAN COOT that he spotted yesterday, and a BRAMBLING that he found this afternoon.

The last report I have on a Coot is from last year on October 18, 2021 at Bear Lake, also first reported by Robin. It didn’t stay long. Today’s bird lingered in a tide-flooding finger of what locals call “Bufflehead Creek” at the Airport estuary after the more wary Bufflehead pair shot off. We only caught brief glimpses as it paddled behind the beach rye grass lining the banks, but the whitish-billed, dark-bodied member of the Rail family is very distinctive.

A Brambling was last seen at the December 19, 2020 Seward Christmas Bird Count with Juncos on Marathon Blvd behind Safeway. Today’s Eurasian bird favored the company of at least dozen ROBINS and VARIED THRUSHES dining on Mt Ash berries in the 200-block of Second Ave. They flew back and forth between tall and dense spruce and the tangled branches of the Mt Ashes.

A pesky STELLER’S JAY and nosy BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE harassed all the birds, making them spooky and hard to find. The Brambling was notably smaller than the chunky thrushes, but bigger than the stub-tailed RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH working the tree trunks. Two SONG SPARROWS called from a nearby fence line, staking out their territories.

Birds once again dazzled a few lucky birders and brightened a dim, rain-speckled day.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter



Tuesday, November 1, 2022 Rock Sandpipers and Swan tragedy

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:22 am, sunset 6:03 pm for a total day length of 8 hours and 41 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 11 seconds shorter.

After being blasted by the north wind and for the past week with gusts to 40 mph, a new low brought diminished winds (a mere 3-11 mph with gusts to 26) and sunshine for a welcome break mid-day. Then, as temps rose from the teens to 30º, came the calm before the storm as the wind shifted to the south, with a forecast for rain and a “wintry mix.” 

I breezed out to the tidelands during that lucky break and found frozen jellies washed up on the beach, including the mini-suns of Northern Sea Nettles, a slurry of Lion’s Mane, and glass-clear Water Jellies. What a curiosity to find these once fluid and graceful animals now stilled and stiff enough to hold like fanciful confections.

Bits of wind-blown rockweed etched perfect concentric circles in the firm sand around their unreliable storm-tossed rock anchors. The capricious wind enjoyed tossing anything movable and played with whatever remained.

As the tide ebbed to just the right distance, 28 ROCK SANDPIPERS and one or two DUNLIN fluttered in to start feeding, chittering and chattering. Their number had increased since I last saw them. They fed and flew, returning again to the same spot. So fine to see these hardy shorebirds likely to overwinter here on the shore of Resurrection Bay.

On the way home, I swung by the harbor and found two young male RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS snorkeling along the docks, their unkempt crests almost flattened. 

The lovely day dissolved when I received a call of distress near dusk at 4:50 pm: two adult TRUMPETER SWANS had flown from Preacher Pond, near the intersection of the highway and Nash Road, in a direct line to Bear Lake. 

One Swan missed the numerous and unmarked lines strung like piano wire between the power poles but the other hit the almost invisible lines and fell like a rock to its death in the driveway to a local business near the pond.

I advised the caller to call the Alaska Sealife Center and the wildlife rescue responders collected the 25-pound Swan before I arrived. How sad to see a few beautiful white feathers on the cold, hard ground under the wires!  

Another preventable tragedy occurred on October 19th when a 4-month old cygnet hit the lines near its birthplace at the Mile 1 Nash Road wetlands, one of the five babies. 

All these hazardous wires surrounding swan habitat and flight corridors should be festooned with bird deflectors, or better, buried. The buried lines along the Lagoon in town are a wonderful success story and example. Sorry for the sad news.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Tuesday, October 25, 2022 Rock Sandpipers, Dunlins, Snow Bunting

 Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 9:03 am, heralded with gorgeous pink clouds, sunset 6:21 pm, for a total day length of 10 hours and 45 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 18 seconds shorter.

Blessed calm today after such a ferocious beating by the north wind this past week! 26º this morning seemed mild though the sun was soon swallowed up by snow-bearing clouds. The first snowfall of the season began around noon with a forecast for less than an inch accumulation today. More snow for tomorrow and the return of the north wind.

I seized the chance to bird the tidelands this morning before the snow arrived. My wish list was ambitious and hopeful, but all was quiet. A thin layer of ice covered most of the pond and shallow puddles, pushing the ducks out to the bay. Two NORTHERN SHOVELERS flew in to join complaining MALLARDS dabbling at the tide’s edge. 

Among them, dwarfed by comparsion, I noticed 8 ROCK SANDPIPERS busily probing and chatting. These are the First-of-Season for me. A bit farther along the beach, I found the two continuing DUNLINS steadily feeding in a shallow pool. One Dunlin hopped as it fed, its recently injured right leg held tight to its body, poor thing.

I randomly chucked a ball into the beach rye grass for the good dog and out popped a SNOW BUNTING! “Tew! Tew!” it called as it flew out of sight. Definitely, First-of-Season!

In the distance, two TRUMPETER SWANS descended to the open water by the pond. I suspect the Mile 1 wetlands is at least partially frozen.

The tide quickly rose, closing the intertidal grocery store, and soon the snowflakes wafted from the mountains to the sea. At the parking lot, the high call of a BROWN CREEPER drew my attention to a nearby spruce where the little one was fearlessly hopping along the underside of branches, dropping to the trunk, and flitting to the next gravity-defying feat.

I was thrilled to find one species on my wish list, the Snow Bunting, and was very happy to find the others. Birding is such that just one bird can make one’s day. Today, despite what began as a very quiet, dim morning, I again found much inspiration and wonder.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, October 22, 2022 Western Screech Owl release!

 Seward, Alaska

Background: According to the Alaska Sealife Center Facebook page, posted on September 29, 2022: “Last week we admitted a new Wildlife Response patient! This Western Screech Owl was reported walking down a road in Seward, Alaska on the 24-hour ASLC Marine Animal Hotline (1-888-774-7325). Western Screech Owls aren’t generally found this far north, but Seward is believed to be at the northern edge of their range.

“ASLC Veterinary fellow Dr. Emmanuelle examined the bird, took x-rays, and reviewed blood test results. Once he was stable, our team safely transported him to Bird Treatment & Learning Center in Anchorage for continued care.

“The vet at Bird TLC examined the owl when he arrived and concurred with Dr. Emmanuelle's initial diagnosis that he had sustained a head injury. Bird TLC reports that he is eating well and is more alert, but they have concerns about his eyesight and head tilt.”

By October 19, the Bird Treatment & Learning Center reported: “Good news, the Western Screech Owl continues to improve! Here he is getting an eye exam from Dr. Karen.

“Did you know Western Screech Owls ‘play dead’ when they feel threatened? Some predators wont’ eat prey they didn’t kill, so this is a helpful defense mechanism for smaller owls. They ‘come back to life’ when the threat has passed.”

I felt very lucky to be present on Saturday around noon when the plucky little owl was carried in a small, covered, animal crate up a trail off Nash Road. After a brief discussion on how to best release it, the door was opened. Without further ado, the Owl silently flew to a nearby branch of a hemlock tree and calmly looked around. For several minutes, he examined the hushed hemlock-spruce rainforest, turning his head almost 360, then down at the people below, gazing up at him. His mottled coloration blended in with the tree bark, perfectly camouflaged.

To my untrained eye, his formerly damaged right eye looked just fine, though he was in need of a thorough preening after his long ride from Anchorage.

I wondered if he recognized this neighborhood; if he had a mate still waiting for him. What a story of a routine flight for a snack gone wrong: getting smacked or blown by a vehicle, or hitting something (moose tracks reported nearby), walking in a daze along the road, then abducted and transported by aliens to another world, examined, enticed with food, then another long ride in the spacecraft and suddenly, back in the woods! No wonder he paused so long to consider this new reality!

The staff noted he weighed 180 g, about 6.34 ounces. The Owling website, lists the average weight of a female at 6.6 oz, and the average weight of a male at 5.4 oz, so the chances are this is a female. The wingspan is 18-24”, the length 7.5-11”, and the tail 3.5”.

I believe the first exciting report of a Western Screech Owl in Seward was in March of 2005 on Exit Glacier Road, 1.5 miles past the gate. Two were reported on April 16, 2014 in the Lost Lake subdivision north of town, and on April 19, 2014 at the same location on Exit Glacier Road. Another was discovered by the Burkes during the December 29, 2014 Christmas Bird Count in a spruce tree near the parking lot for Afognak Beach on Nash Road. And reported again on April 13, 2016 and August 25, 2016 at Exit Glacier Road.

Since then, owlers hope to hear them in late winter along Old Exit Glacier Road, Exit Glacier Road, Lost Lake subdivision, and along Nash Road. Tasha photographed a family in her yard off Exit Glacier road this year! It seems the population is growing in the Seward area..

Many thanks to the fine staff and volunteers of the Alaska Sealife Center and the Bird Treatment & Learning Center for taking such excellent care of this awesome little Owl! Success is so sweet!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter




Monday, October 17, 2022 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Greater White-fronted Goose

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:43 am, sunset 6:44 pm for a total day length of 10 hours even. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 22 seconds shorter.

After squalls of heavy rain and wind yesterday, today dawned (leisurely) overcast and mirror-calm, offering mere occasional showers until 5:30 when more serious rain returned. The temp range remained mild with a low of 37 and a high of 42. We may see some sunshine midweek, alternating with rainy days, accompanied by strong NNW winds.

I finally found the juvenile SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER at the salt marsh that was discovered during the Rare Bird Rush at the end of September and sporadically since, (if it’s the same one.) It was reported yesterday along with a solo GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE.

Although the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper refused to turn around to show off an unstreaked buffy breast, its distinct rufous cap and large white eyebrow differentiated it from the very similar and more common Pectoral Sandpiper. It seemed healthy and after observing me observing it, calmly walked away to resume feeding in the muck at the edge of the pond.

I first photographed a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper in this same salt marsh habitat on September 18, 2015 when it was a Lifer, and haven’t seen one since as they are very uncommon in our area.

As noted then, a long-distance migrant, "the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper is primarily an Asian species that nests in NE Siberia, and migrates to Australia, New Zealand, and nearby islands. Curiously, and uniquely, the adults fly from the breeding grounds overland through Mongolia, China, and Manchuria to coastal Asia, while the juveniles fly east across the Bering Strait to western Alaska, and then fly nonstop directly to Australasia (Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, and nearby islands)." (Website link no longer available,) 

The Condor study of this extensive migratory detour suggested that the most likely reason for the western Alaskan detour is that is allows juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpipers to put on large fuel stores at exceptionally high rates. Some individuals more than doubled their body mass in September, allowing nonstop flight of between 7100 and 9800 km, (4,411-6,089 miles) presumably including a trans-oceanic flight to the southern hemisphere.

As for this individual? It was likely blown off course during one of our many fall storms. I hope it finds enough fuel to power it to Australia!

The Greater White-fronted Goose seems late and lonely. It’s time to head for California.


Two Great Blue Herons were also spotted perched quietly on the defunct coal loader, aka Blue Dipper by the harbor.

BARROW’S GOLDENEYE numbers are increasing as overwintering birds arrive, paddling about in small rafts. A few BUFFLEHEAD and HORNED GREBES have also returned to brighten the fall and winter. 

Rare, unusual, or expected and common, visiting or resident, large or small, it’s a pleasure to watch birds.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, October 13, 2022 Dunlins and Blue Sky

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:33 am, sunset 6:56 pm for a total day length of 10 hours and 22 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 24 seconds shorter.

The predicted cold front from eastern Russia finally arrived with NNW winds at 21 mph gusting to 31, displacing the recent days of heavy rain. The wind rattled and howled, ripping and whisking away anything not nailed down, and a few things that were. 

This morning, the season’s first fragile ice formed on shallow puddles and ponds after an overnight low of 28º. It soon melted as the temp rose to a high of 47º by mid-afternoon. The forecast calls for the return of cloudy weather and rain for the next week with temps in the 40s.

What a joy to see blue sky smiling above the snow-dusted mountains after all those drab, gray, stormy days! Bundled up against the chilly wind this morning, I searched the estuary and tidelands in case any more rare birds had blown in. 

I didn’t find any rarities, but was very pleased to find two DUNLINS foraging along an intertidal stream. Seward often hosts a few Dunlins, overwintering with Rock Sandpipers; time will tell if these two stay to tough it out.

I also found a single adult TRUMPETER SWAN paddling near a blizzard of Gulls at the tidelands. Two other adult Trumpeter Swans have been feeding at Preacher Pond by the intersection of the Seward Highway and Nash Road. I haven’t seen the Swan family with five cygnets at Mile 1, Nash Road for a week.

Exit Glacier beckoned; I don’t know when the road will be gated. Toothy mountain shadows crept across the glacier; the sun is already sinking farther south, blocked by the surrounding mountains. A waning moon rolled across a ridgeline, balanced on a knob, then gently sank behind the snow-speckled mountain. Good-bye, Moon! It may be a while before the clouds let us see you again.

What a delightful fall day, a much-appreciated reprieve from the drizzle, showers, heavy rain, sleet, and raging wind.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter