Saturday, August 19, 2017 Peregrine Falcon and other delights!

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 6:22 am, sunset 9:38 pm for a total day light of 15 hours and 15 minutes. Tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 18 seconds shorter.

Sparkling day! Blue sky and sunshine! Crystal clear air cleansed by recent rains. Low 48º at 7:30 am, rising to a very pleasant 59º high by 12:30 pm. Today was a day of many discoveries at several locations.

Blue sky framed Mt Marathon, Phoenix Glacier, and Mt Benson, bathed in bright sunshine. Reluctant gray clouds lingered at the peaks, unwilling to move along. Phoenix Glacier continues to retreat, revealing more rocks between the deeply crevassed ice lobes.

While examining a pink salmon carcass at the tidelands, I heard an odd cry behind me. I looked up and to my amazement, saw a juvenile PEREGRINE FALCON flying past! As quick as I could, I switched cameras and shot off a few images of the fantastic falcon. It stroked powerfully with purpose, heading for a tranquil gathering of gulls resting on a small spit.

Instant pandemonium! It flew through the blizzard of screeching white feathers, but did not succeed in striking any. I lost it in the melee but was thrilled at the sighting. This is the first Peregrine of the year for me.

Overhead, first one BALD EAGLE then another and another began spiraling up into the blue sky, taking advantage of the south breeze. Several juveniles were missing so many feathers due to molting, it was surprising they could even fly. Their wings reminded me of a child’s gap-toothed smile. Soon, there were at least a dozen eagles plus speck-dot black RAVENS and white gulls soaring ever upwards above me in a lovely ephemeral mobile, dancing between the wisps of clouds.

A few SAVANNAH SPARROWS flitted along the beach, and two LEAST SANDPIPERS. Shorebird-wise, it continues to be pretty quiet.

Another surprise awaited. The good dog sniffed out a small mammal carcass. I checked it out and found an inch-long SEXTON BEETLE, or Burying Beetle at work. This impressive stout black beetle sported brilliant orange and yellow patterns on its wing covers.

They are famous for finding carcasses, suddenly appearing where they have otherwise not been seen. They can bury the carcass if not too large, or move it to a more suitable spot on their sturdy backs. Then they advertise for females to lay eggs near the future food source.

This one carried mites as most do, serving as taxis, delivering the mites to carcasses where they reproduce. Such a fascinating story, right before my eyes!

Check out these links for more information by ecologists Mary Wilson and Bob Armstrong at

Also check out this link showing spectacular photos of hummingbird flower mites hitching a ride on the bills of tropical hummingbirds.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, August 19, 2017 Trumpeter Swan Family

Seward, Alaska

After a long period of scant sightings and worried speculation, today I finally got a good view of the Nash Road TRUMPETER SWAN family. Two adults, three cygnets; all accounted for! I was amazed how much the cygnets have grown! At nearly 3 months, they are almost full-size.

The family hung out at the original nest site mound in the middle-back of the wetlands. One adult and one cygnet busily preened, casting lovely feathers adrift like little boats to sail on the pond. The other adult paddled into view, then other two cygnets appeared and walked up onto the nest site to join the preen party.

All those long necks, three gray and two pure white, looping around every inch of their sleek, beautiful plumages! When the all-gray cygnets stretched and beat their growing wings, white primary and secondary feathers flashed.

If they’re not yet flying, it won’t be long.

The Lagoon underground power line project is moving along, but unfortunately, the wires will be above ground until November. I hope the deflectors will serve to alert this precious swan family of the presence of the killer wires. Just a few more months!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, August 19, 2017 Exit Glacier and Mayflies
Seward, Alaska

It was such a nice day, sandwiched between seemingly endless rain, that I decided to be a real tourist and visit Exit Glacier too.

The parking lot was full to overflowing, but remarkably there were periods when I had the whole trail to myself. During one of these amazing gaps in visitors, I spied a large, winged insect on the paved path. I crouched down and took several photos.

It was so striking with its banded abdomen and almost clear wings. Most striking were the three tails, not ovipositors. This must be a Mayfly!

Fortunately, it flew off before a herd of boots squished it.

Not too much farther along, I found another one and again took photos. This one held a beautiful green ball of eggs under its curved abdomen. Wow! I’ve never seen anything like that!

The Mayflies seemed so out of place in such a wild and young ecosystem. Exit Creek was raging from the recent rains and snowmelt. Feeder creeks were erratic, and I didn’t notice many ponds or other suitable Mayfly habitat. To randomly find two adult Mayflies at Exit Glacier was really amazing.

I tried to identify the species when I returned home. There are about 50 species in Alaska, and I was unsuccessful in identifying this one. Two of the descriptions, however, mentioned the ball of eggs. 

One said the Mayfly scatter-bombs her eggs by dropping the entire ball over the water. The other said she dips down repeatedly and drops just a few at a time.

There were many websites for fly fishers. Mayflies are such an important food source for fish that every successful fly fisher has imitation nymph and adult Mayflies in his tackle box, knows their life cycle, and notices the timing of the hatch when large numbers emerge at once and fish enjoy a feeding frenzy.

It was so interesting to learn that when the immature aquatic stage called the nymph or naiad emerges, it molts into a fully winged adult stage called the subimago, and then molts again into the final adult stage. This is a unique characteristic among insect orders.

The long tails and wings that are held upright instead of flat over the abdomen are primitive ancestral traits of the first flying insects. Primitive or no, this is a very complex insect!

Mayflies are indicators of a clean, unpolluted environment. Yay!

Mayflies are in the Order Ephemeroptera, which refers to “ephemeral” as in the adults don’t live very long. I felt very fortunate to notice these beauties in time!

If anyone knows more about this particular species, please let me know.

Happy Trails!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Saturday, August 19, 2017 To Feed A Horned Puffin Puffling

Seward, Alaska

I visited the Alaska Sealife Center and checked out the bird habitat as there’s always something interesting to see. I was just in time to watch a HORNED PUFFIN with four long, fat fish in her bill waddling and flapping determinedly over the rocks and driftwood. It was quite amazing to see those four fish lined up in her bill, just like the pictures. It wasn’t a record, but nonetheless impressive.

She headed for a red, wooden nest box where her 3-week old “puffling” waited. The box was not designed for puffins, but they chose it anyway. The hole was high, and the nearest piece of driftwood was a challenging distance away. She flapped for balance as she leaned towards the hole, calculating the distance and angle. As she caught her balance by resting her beak against the box, her darling all-black puffling popped its head out and tried to grab a tempting fish. He pulled hard, but mom would not let go. He tried again and again as mom maintained her grip and balance.

Meanwhile, dad who had been watching intently nearby suddenly reached out and grabbed one of her four fish. That was interesting! Did he snarf it down? Nope! Now both parents had fish for the baby and the bright-eyed fuzzy baby was hungry and getting hungrier by the minute.

Unlike many baby birds that instantly begin flapping and begging loudly when a parent appears, this puffing was very quiet but focused. It was almost weird how quiet they all were; not a peep or swear word!

After a long standstill, dad made a daring leap for the nest hole and disappeared inside. But when he came out headfirst, he still had the fish! After a while, he tried again. This time he managed to balance on the edge completely plugging the hole, and apparently fed his puffling. When the deed was done, he backed out and awkwardly fell down several feet to the ground in the gap between the box and the log. Oops!

After watching his stunt from a safe distance, mom sidled back down the log with her three fish to the nest box and peered anxiously at the hole. Again the hungry baby reached out and after a few tries, managed to grab the closest fish. He pulled so hard and she held on so tight, that he yanked momma off her precarious perch. Down she went, down the gap, just like dad.

After a while, she managed to flap-walk back to the log, still firmly clutching those three fish. Again the baby tried unsuccessfully to grab a fish, wondering if she was ever going to feed him. Mom made a valiant leap for the hole, SPLAT! missed, slid down the face and fell to the ground. Gosh, this was hard!

She returned and by golly, the same exact spectacle happened AGAIN! The baby was probably now wondering why she suddenly kept disappearing, and where she went with his dinner.

By this time, dad was back on the log, trying to snag another fish from mom, but she turned away just in time and flap-walked away to protect her stash. The dad followed, but she took a clever circuitous route back and reached the nest log first in a slow-speed chase. Once again, she peered into the hole, recalculating the distance and height. So serious for such a comical-looking bird!

Once again, the baby tried to grab a fish, and this time was successful! But he let go too soon; the fish teetered on the lip of the nest hole then fell to the ground. Another sudden and mysterious disappearance!

I couldn’t believe it when the baby grabbed one of the two remaining fish, pulled hard, and yanked mom off her perch AGAIN! Splat and crash! Down she went into the gap, a now popular slapstick routine.

In a short time, she was back on the log, as determined as ever. After more calculus, she made a brave leap to the hole and struggled mightily with her webbed feet and wings to get in. But it was not to be. Down she went through the gap to the ground. I felt so sorry for her, but had to stifle my laughter. It was so hilarious!

Such determination! She REALLY wanted to deliver those fish in person, in the box! Again, still clutching her two precious fish, she returned to the log. Flapping hard this time, she jumped again, hit the bulls-eye and sailed through the nest hole in one shot like a pro. YAY!!! Dinner is served!

After a minute, her head reappeared in the opening, as she sat contentedly, savoring the moment. Mission accomplished!

It took her 12 minutes of concentrated effort in all including one theft, one fish overboard, and several falls to deliver two of the four original fish to her puffling. Maybe next year, the devoted pair will choose a rocky ledge instead of a box. Or request a ramp!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter