Wednesday, October 18, 2017 Swans in trouble

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 8:47 am, sunset 6:40 pm for a total day length of 9 hours and 53 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 22 seconds shorter.

Clear and chilly but sunny these past two days with temps from freezing to a high today of 39º and a brisk north wind. It was hard to escape that wind: 17 to 30 mph with gusts to 43 mph! Forecast for much colder temperatures down to 20º by Friday, then rising slightly to mid-30s by Saturday with snow showers all next week.

On Sunday, October 15, I noticed to my dismay that one cygnet of the resident TRUMPETER SWAN family was missing. Only two cygnets fed with their parents at the Lagoon. The 4 ½ month-old cygnet must be injured or dead, or something traumatic separated the family as they are not independent at this age. This is the sight I have dreaded since they began to fly.

I called the Alaska Sealife Center to find out if anyone had reported an injured or dead cygnet. No. Fingers crossed!

I immediately began walking along the Lagoon boardwalk, searching under the power lines. The lines are still up, but the plan is to move them underground next month. Until then, they are a continued threat. Down and back, no cygnet. I drove over to Nash Road and walked along the power line there; nothing.

Monday I thought to check Preacher Pond across the highway from the Nash Road intersection adjacent to the power lines. There, all alone, was the missing cygnet! He was floating quietly, bill tucked under his wing, napping. The north wind pushed him towards the south end of the small pond, upon which he woke up and paddled back towards the center and immediately tucked back in.

I could not see any obvious signs of injury, but he was clearly not acting normally. He should be feeding and preening. He should be with his family. Had they visited the pond a few days ago? Did he hit the power lines and flutter back to the pond, slightly injured, as his family flew away? Why was he stranded here?

Tuesday around 11:30 am I received a cryptic report of a swan with fishing line tangled around its foot near the parking area at Tern Lake. The details were fuzzy. Again I called the ASLC in case this was a rescue operation, but Tern Lake is in the jurisdiction of the Anchorage Bird Treatment Center. I decided to drive the 38 miles to verify the report and if possible, cut the swan loose if attached to the bank. I just had to see if I could help and it was a fine fall day for a drive.

Mountain shadows and ice covered most of Tern Lake, but in a sunny section along the Sterling Highway the water was still open. The resident Trumpeter Swan family with their single cygnet fed peacefully and normally. I observed for a while and did not see any sign of fishing line, but they were not close to the road. No idea what might have happened earlier to inspire the report, but apparently all seemed fine now.

All seemed fine except for the encroaching ice. Two MALLARDS stood on the nearby ice to verify its existence. I have heard that this cygnet does not fly. He is old enough to fly, but apparently has not or cannot. If he does not fly, they will be trapped by the ice. With the continuing cold weather, the ice is bound to encroach even closer.

Then what? Will the parents abandon their cygnet to survive? Will they find the only open water flowing under the culvert and remain stranded together until winter or a predator takes them? Is it possible to catch three, strong, healthy swans and move them to Cooper Landing or Skilak Lake where they might overwinter and find food without flying?

I had to leave them, pondering their fate on the way home. Later, someone mentioned that they had seen the cygnet try to fly, but floundered. Perhaps there IS fishing line wrapped around the wings? None of my photos are close enough to tell. That would certainly explain why it has not been able to fly.

I checked on the cygnet at Preacher Pond on the way home. Still napping, hopefully healing from whatever grounded him. At one point, he woke up and actually raised up his wings part way; they looked symmetrical. Maybe he just doesn’t know where to fly to find his family. I hope they return to find him and they can ALL fly together back to the Lagoon.

It’s a scary time and place to be a single cygnet, and farther north, a bad time to not be able to fly even if you are with your parents.

More bad news this afternoon. I checked on the Lagoon swans, and only found one adult and one cygnet. O no! Once again, I walked the boardwalk up and down and found nothing. I drove over to Nash Road and walked that stretch; nothing. Nothing at Preacher Pond either! Now we’re missing 3 swans: two cygnets and one adult!

I received a report of one adult and one cygnet at Nash Road around 6 pm, but do not know if the family is split and I somehow missed seeing the two earlier, or if the Lagoon swans flew to Nash Road. I hope this has a happier ending than what I found today.

Stay tuned!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, October 12, 2017 Costa’s Hummingbird!

Homer, Alaska

Sunrise 8:39 am, sunset 7:07 pm for a total day length of 10 hours and 28 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 17 seconds shorter.

I finally could no longer resist the tantalizing and shrinking chance of seeing a COSTA’S HUMMINGBIRD in Alaska. Who knows when another opportunity might arise? Who knows how much longer the tiny hummer will stay? I made arrangements and drove to Homer.

Light rain began as I arrived at the site: the sky was gray, and the light dim. I stood quietly, waiting and listening. The adjacent feeders and shrubs attracted several vocal RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES and chipper BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES. PINE GROSBEAKS called from spruce tops. A BALD EAGLE stroked past. Also spotted a GRAY JAY and SPRUCE GROUSE male.

After about 20 minutes, suddenly and silently, the Costa’s appeared at the feeder. He got right to work and sipped steadily, pausing now and then to glance around. From the side, his gorget appeared black, with little “wings” extending on each side like the Anna’s. (Both species are in the genus Calypte.) His tail seemed stubby compared to the Rufous and Anna’s. His wingtips extended slightly beyond the tail.

After about 5 minutes, he abruptly departed, but flew into a nearby willow shrub and perched on a bare branch. The homeowner said that is one of his favorite perches. I heard him calling in a very subdued, light, high, chip. I maneuvered around the willow to get a better view of his front. He didn’t seem to mind.

Sibley describes him as “small and dumpy; short-tailed and round-headed with short, thick neck.” Humph! He was extremely cute with bright, black eyes, a green back, white belly with some greenish feathers, almost invisible black feet, a rosy, iridescent forehead, green crown, and a spectacular violet gorget. I only caught flashes of the violet, but felt lucky for any color at all on this gray day.

He sat there for several minutes, shaking off the raindrops, looking all around, flicking out his tongue now and then. He was alert, but unafraid. Then he zipped back to the feeder for another snack, and came back to his perch.

Sibley notes this species is 3.5” long with a wingspan of 4.75” and weighs 0.11 oz (3.1 grams) compared to the much larger Anna’s at 4” long, 5.25” wingspan and weight of 0.15 oz (4.3 grams). Such a tiny toughie!

National Geographic notes the Costa’s is fairly common in desert washes and dry chaparral in its southern California and Arizona breeding range; its year-round range is in Baja Mexico; its winter range is coastal Mexico.

Also noted is “casual north to south-coastal Alaska and west to Texas.” Not noted is WHEN; fall extending into mid-October and later (previous Anchorage Costa’s) was probably not what the authors had in mind.

Here’s a link to the November 2015 Anchorage female Costa’s:

The little guy finally blasted off, tearing around the side of the house, and disappeared. I too, departed, absolutely delighted to have met this little heart-throb. Life Bird!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thanks to Bob Winckler for correcting the gender on the Spruce Grouse!

Saturday, September 30, 2017 Shorebirds!

Seward, Alaska

The sky miraculously cleared last night and I saw a gorgeous half moon suspended in the sky! I haven’t seen the night sky for so long, it was a bit of a shock!

The sun reigned all day, gracing us with its warm, glowing presence. The SHARP-SHINNED HAWK still patrolled the neighborhood in the morning, accompanied by his Corvid buddies.

I decided to do my COASST beach survey a day early in case of inclement weather the next day. A single TRUMPETER SWAN fed in the pond at the head of the bay. It seemed very wary, which made me suspect it was a migrant, not one of our many locally raised swans. Three NORTHERN PINTAILS swam nearby.

I flushed a complaining SNIPE, so fast I was unable to get one photo before it dove back into the grasses. A GREAT BLUE HERON rose majestically from the wetlands and flew ponderously to the low tideline. I haven’t seen a GBHE in months! I wonder where they hide?

While admiring the white bones of a pink salmon carcass, one of a zillion along the beach, I glanced up and instantly dropped to my knee and started shooting images. Close by were three LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS intently probing the mud, and a single juvenile PECTORAL SANDPIPER. I was astounded! I haven’t seen shorebirds for weeks!

The Dowitchers did not seem perturbed at my presence, in fact, I had almost walked right past them. They kept feeding, probing their long, sensitive bills into the mud. The Pectoral Sandpiper, however, stood at attention, ready to flee. After a few long moments, he bolted, followed by the Dowitchers, but not far. They continued to feed, they and their reflections, in a shallow intertidal puddle.

Finally, they all took off, heading towards the tideline, the Great Blue Heron, and the noisy gulls. What a treat!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Friday, September 29, 2017 Sharp-shinned Hawk juveniles

Seward, Alaska

This was a day for SHARP-SHINNED HAWKS! In the morning, I watched a juvenile Sharpie chase STELLER’S JAYS and BLACK-BILLED MAGPIES around my neighborhood. He announced his presence on a perch in a cottonwood with piercing cries, warning every bird around. That only seemed to attract the Corvids, as if to play.

Nonchalantly picking at the ground under the tree, the Jays feigned ignorance. Then down swooped the fierce hawk and the Jays merely flew into the nearby spruce to jeer. Around and around to no avail the hawk flew. Nearby Magpies chattered conversationally as if critiquing its form. Were they coaches or potential prey? Judging from its lack of success, either the hawk was not listening, or it just had really bad judgment in its choice of prey.

Later that afternoon across the bay, I spied another juvenile Sharpie perched on a snag, its tail spread wide, its wings held open, trying to dry out. Though I was far away and in my car, he fixed his yellow eyes on me and carefully turned around to watch me watch him.

I left him hanging loose to air dry in the light rain, hoping that both youngsters found something to eat today.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter