Wednesday, October 31, 2012 Smews at ASLC, and Rusty Blackbirds

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 9:17 am, sunset 6:01 pm, length of day 8 hours, 41 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 11 seconds shorter.

Weather: Brrr! The NNW wind abated a bit from yesterday, down to 10-15 mph with gusts to 26 mph. Combined with temperatures in the mid-20s, the windchill diped to  -9ยบ F. Featureless gray clouds hold a promise of snow, but the frozen ground remains mostly bare. The abundant Mt Ash berry crop waits expectantly for all fruit-loving birds.

Unleaded gas is $4.58/gallon.

Today, the Alaska Sealife Center released two SMEWS into the main bird habitat. They shot out of the small animal crate and briefly flew around before landing in the water. This novelty created quite a buzz for the resident birds. The COMMON MURRES and PIGEON GUILLEMOTS seemed most upset with the intruders and chased them around. Hopefully, the young male and older female will be accepted into the flock soon and peace will return.

The Smews were obtained from a breeder, not from the wild. This Eurasian species is a rare visitor to Alaska in the Aleutians and Pribilofs. Like the Red-legged Kittiwakes on display, this is a wonderful opportunity for birders to observe them through the seasons. Both are now gray birds with chestnut foreheads and crowns. Soon the male will mature into the classic stunning "cracked ice" white and black plumage. The ASLC offers free admission to Alaskans on Wednesdays from November through February, open 10-5 daily, closed on TDay and Christmas.

I saw a couple dozen beautiful BARROW'S GOLDENEYES in the choppy waters near the Founder's Monument as I left the ASLC. Next, I visited Lowell Point to swim the good dog (who has no problem with freezing temperatures or wind chill). It was nice to see a STELLER'S SEA LION in the wild, poking its nosy-nose out of the water, observing us with curiosity. HARLEQUINS swam and dove in pairs off shore and along the road.

Peregrine Joe reported 2 RUSTY BLACKBIRDS at the horse corral by the Lagoon. I found one when it flew to the top of a cone-laden spruce tree. It did not eat or linger, and quickly flew back down to the ground under the willows.

An adult BALD EAGLE standing on the ice of the Lagoon with a salmon carcass grew tired of the 3 MAGPIES and GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL that hounded it for scraps. Snatching up the carcass, it flew off to a tree snag for a few moments of peace.

Joe also found a YELLOW-BILLED LOON.

Ava reported the BOHEMIAN WAXWING returned today after a few days' absence, rejoining the juvenile CEDAR WAXWING and ROBIN.

Robin C reported 4 GREAT BLUE HERONS at the beach on Monday.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

PS I learned today that the swan that was recently rescued in Seward is a TUNDRA SWAN. She will be released in a week or so in a Washington refuge where she will join last year's rescued swan, Marshmallow, who suffered from an arrow injury at Tern Lake. If all goes well, the Tundra Swan's foot will heal, and she will be able to rejoin her family when they migrate north in the spring.

Her caregiver, Tasha, said the lonely swan would not eat initially and seemed despondent until she put a mirror in the enclosure and played Tundra Swan calls. 
Those brilliant but simple tricks worked and now her prognosis looks very good.

Thanks, Tasha and the ASLC!

Thursday, October 25, 2012 Cedar Waxwing photos

The CEDAR WAXWING juvenile showed up for breakfast at Ava's at first light, as did the territorial AMERICAN ROBIN male. I waited for the bright sun at noon for photography and was fortunate to find the bird after a short wait. 

The Waxwing fed on both the red Mt Ash berries and the black Mayday berries. It was funny to watch; as the berry went down, the waxwing's shape changed from a stretched out slim bird to a really dumpy belly bird.

The robin frequently landed close to the waxwing and made it fly to another branch or to a tree away from the yard. After eating many berries, the little bird sat in the sun, all fluffed up, no doubt warming up the cold fruit, before feeding again.

It will be interesting to see how long it stays, and if any others join it.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Long and sleek, stretching for berry.

Down the hatch!

No longer sleek!

Warming up in the sunshine.

Big bossy Robin.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012 Cedar Waxwing and more

Busy day!

Ava reported a single juvenile CEDAR WAXWING in her yard, feeding on Mt Ash berries and chased from tree to tree by a territorial resident ROBIN.

My neighbor reported two juvenile NORTHERN SHRIKES flying around the yard at noon. One chased a STELLER'S JAY.

I refound the SHORT-EARED OWL and a single AMERICAN PIPIT at the beach.

Robin C reported a NORTHERN HARRIER hunting over the salt marsh. He also found a TRUMPETER SWAN cygnet in distress at the head of the bay off Mile 2 Nash Road. The Alaska Sealife Center rescuers, including Tasha, managed to capture the bird and calm it with a blanket. The swan has a broken foot and will be cared for at the ASLC.

A single swan was reported at 5:30 pm standing on the ice at the Mile 1 Nash Road wetlands. The open water is rapidly closing.

Robin C also reported a SOLITARY SANDPIPER on Monday, October 22, a very late sighting.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

October 23, 2012 Shrike vs Hairy Woodpecker, Orange-crowned Warbler

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 8:59 am, sunset 6:23 pm, length of day 9 hours, 24 minutes; tomorrow will be 5 minutes and 20 seconds shorter.

Weather: Our streak of clear, sunny, windy, cold weather continues, with a forecast for more of the same through to Monday. Temperatures have dropped into the low 20s, with highs to the upper 30s. The brisk north wind at 14 mph with gusts to 32 mph, has blown away most of last week's light snow, leaving crunchy green grass. A bountiful crop of bright red Mt Ash berries clings to the trees, an important food source for our robins, varied thrushes, and incoming winter visitors.

This morning, a sharp rapping on the side of my house invited me outside into the sunshine, camera in hand. A juvenile HAIRY WOODPECKER finished up a siding inspection then sat on my deck rail, looking around. A quick movement caught my eye; a first winter NORTHERN SHRIKE perched close by in a Mt Ash. The woodpecker took off, followed closely by the shrike. I only saw a glimpse of a collision as they tumbled out of sight and heard a loud complaint, then the two instantly separated and flew off in opposite directions. I haven't seen a shrike around here in a long time. It was quite exciting!

Robin C called to report a MERLIN and a single SNOW BUNTING at Lowell Point, so I headed that way for the noon walk. I found neither, but enjoyed watching a very late ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER flitting along the beach. The little bird hopped up on the small bits of driftwood, picked through the dried leaves and seaweed, wandered through the beach rye grass stalks, and posed in the sunshine. It was a lovely and unusual lunch spot out of the wind.

Two curious River Otters surged up to investigate the dog, who ignored them completely. A Harbor Seal poked its gleaming round head up to look around, then resumed fishing. HARLEQUINS, gathering once again for the winter, sunned at the beach edge and dove offshore. A lone MALLARD hen paddled very close to shore, then flew off, quacking loudly. One GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL walked along the beach; other excited gulls gathered over some food source just around the corner. An adult BALD EAGLE soared low over the water checking for waterfowl availability, but none were, so it circled higher and higher and away.

STELLER'S JAYS flew bravely across the sky from one forest edge to another. CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES called from the spruce trees.

Back in town, a BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE drank eagerly from a freshly filled basin. As local water sources freeze up, consider installing an electric birdbath heater. The birds will love you!

Peregrine Joe reported a GREAT BLUE HERON at the Lagoon, always nice to see.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, October 21, 2012 Eurasian Skylark!

On my way to Homer, I detoured into the Alaska State Parks Deep Creek State Recreation Area, mile 137.5 Sterling Highway, just south of Ninilchik, to look for the rare Eurasian Skylark. The bird was first seen on October 18 by Anchorage birder Steve Waltz who just happened to take a look on his way to Homer.  The bird is listed as rare to casual migrant in the Western Aleutians, Pribilofs, and on Gambell. This is the first record on mainland Alaska, according to the Anchorage Audubon website. Quite a find!

I understand the place was bristling with birders and spotting scopes on Saturday, fighting the chilly, brisk wind. But Sunday morning, just before noon, was calm, sunny, and beautiful. The parking lot was deserted except for one parked car. At the far end, a lone birder stood with his spotting scope, peering around. As I drove slowly along, I spotted a fellow traveler, high-stepping its way along the parking curbs in the first parking lot. Sure enough, it was the EURASIAN SKYLARK, out for a walk, picking up beach rye grass seeds and other tidbits scattered by the recent wind. 

I cut the engine, whipped out my camera, and started shooting. It didn't seem to mind, though it looked directly at me several times. It wandered through the parking lot, headed towards the beach, but kept walking steadily through the gravel and past the little shack. When it seemed safe, I drove up to the birder and parked. Enric, from Anchorage, had been there for a half hour, desperately searching everywhere in the seemingly vast area for the bird. A speck like that could just be anywhere!

I was pleased to show him his Life Bird, still walking towards us through the next parking area. We were able to walk around it and get great views from behind the little shack. Two more birders drove up and also got great views.

After it disappeared into the beach berm area, it did seem like a needle in a haystack. I felt very lucky to find the bird so easily, knowing it's not always like that! I wish this plucky little bird a safe journey, wherever it may go.

For a summary of rare bird reports in South-central Alaska, go to <>

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter on the road

Sunday, October 21, 2012 Eagles dine on Swan

I received a report while I was away checking out the Eurasian Skylark, that two adult BALD EAGLES were feeding on a cygnet, probably TRUMPETER SWAN, on thin ice at the Mile 1 Nash Road wetland pond on Sunday.  Two adult swans and two other cygnets fed calmly in an open area about 30 yards away. All that was left is a big pile of feathers.

That must have been quite the struggle!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday evening October 17, 2012 Short-eared Owl

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

As the late afternoon sun rolled over the mountains, I managed to squeeze in a quick beach walk. Such a magical light! The beach rye grasses swished and whispered in the strong north wind, radiant golds and russets, drained of all green. It seemed pretty quiet, bird-wise, not even a ranting raven.

Suddenly, a SHORT-EARED OWL lifted off from the driftwood ahead and flew in a long arc in front of me along the beach. Its stunning yellow eyes glowed in the sun's spotlight. Then it wheeled about and flew high and higher, a tiny form against the snowy mountains. I switched from my camera to my binoculars to savor the wondrous sight.  Even better, it abruptly changed its mind and flew down to land on the flattened sedges a long ways down the beach. As it sat there looking around, I saw for the first time, the tiny ears that give this magnificent owl its name.

Not wanting to disturb it, I turned around and walked back into the lengthening mountain shadows.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 Should have waited...

Last night around 1:30 in the morning, I awoke to a terrible, disorienting, crashing, scraping, and creaking. What in the world?! Was my roof collapsing? Was someone trying to break into the house though the wall?

I leapt out of bed and rushed to the windows to peer outside. Nothing, nothing, then OH! A black bear stood on its hind legs, batting at the squirrel-proof bird feeder that I had installed so recently. I raced around to the window and raised the blinds. Rap! Rap! Rap! Rap! "Bad BEAR!" I shouted, knowing all along it was a good bear led astray. Rap! Rap! Rap! Rap! "Bad BEAR!" The valiant dog added her opinion to the situation, and the bear, much smaller now on all 4s, decided the dining was no longer very pleasant and reluctantly wandered away across the yard.

I went back to bed, ready to remove the feeders first thing in the morning. Bang! Crash! The bear was back, whacking the feeder against the window and feasting on the spilled seeds. Once again, I rapped on the glass and shouted. Then I threw my jeans and coat on over my pjs, hopped in my boots and went outside.

What an unexpected, stunning night! The whole sky shimmered with stars; Orion rose in the east with Jupiter, just as he did over Kodiak a few weeks ago. A skiff of new snow brightened the whole yard.  The good dog, looking more like a black Ridgeback than a Lab, was thrilled to clear the area for me. I stepped around the fresh bear scat on the deck and removed the still intact feeder, intact except for about 5 pounds of sunseeds.

Then I checked the one in the front yard inside the cat exclosure fence. That bear didn't bother to use the entry area, but just climbed over in a beeline to the feeder and bent down the fence. Then it knocked the feeder's squirrel guard off and drained the whole #15 of seeds onto the ground and gorged. There wasn't much left of the feeder to remove, but I took it away anyway.

I should have waited longer for the bears to hibernate. After the flood, I didn't hear of any in the area and thought it was safe. I feel terrible for letting this bear feed on my birdseed. If it lives to next year, I'm sure it will remember what a great place I have for delicious, fresh sunflower seeds, and if it's a female, she will introduce her cubs to this wonderful spot.  "Ah," she'll reminisce, licking her lips, "here's where I feasted that starry night. It was SCRUMPTIOUS!"

After I removed the feeders, there was no further interest and all was quiet. In the morning, the Steller's Jays and Black-billed Magpies were more than happy to help clean up the scattered seeds left on the ground.

Lesson learned, I hope!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, October 11, 2012 Frosty morning leaves and a few birds

Seward Sporadic Bird Report

A series of sunny days was so welcome after the drama of the recent flood. Without dense clouds to conceal the sun's movements, it is clear that the sun is sneaking farther and farther south, and rising later and later. The clear nights delivered twinkling stars, the Milky Way, and a sprinkling of planets. Some folks were lucky to view the Northern Lights.

In the morning, sparkling and ephemeral icy jewels decorated the grasses and tree leaves, thanks to Jack Frost. It was a wonder to watch the perfect crystals slump when touched by the feeble warmth of  the rising sun. Many leaves then fell at the slightest touch of air movement, succumbing to the inevitable march of the season, going out in glory.

A hike to the Mt Marathon Bowl reversed the morning progression of melting. The Bowl lay deep in shadows even in mid-afternoon. The alpine plants held perfectly still, as if afraid to disturb their frozen finery. It will be a long while before they see the sun again.

Bird activity was also quiet: a young DIPPER regarded us curiously from a rock in mid-stream, then flew noisily downstream. WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, far fewer in number than this summer, still called from high in the spruce forest. I heard a PINE GROSBEAK singing its lovely lilting song. A large unidentified raptor cruised over the mountainside alders then disappeared over the ridge. How I wished I had gotten a better look!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report reporter