Wednesday December 26, 2012 Rock Sandpiper and Dunlins study

Seward Sporadic Bird Report

It has been fascinating to watch the flock of about 38-40 winter DUNLINS and ROCK SANDPIPERS these past few days through the snow showers and light rain. They are ravenous, flipping over beach wrack, probing in the silty mud and cobble, picking up amphipods and tiny clams in their tweezer-like bills. At times, they are quite vocal, chattering away like old friends catching up on the latest gossip. When not feeding, they preen and take baths in the freezing water surrounded by ice floes. Tough birds!

The DUNLINS, numbering at least 3, have long black bills, black legs, and overall appear light brown with a sharp line between their "bib" and their white belly. They are easy to distinguish even without their summertime black belly.

The ROCK SANDPIPERS are more diverse, but all are as round as a grapefruit with short yellowish legs. The light gray rock sands are the Pribilof Island subspecies, Calidris ptilocnemis ptilocnemis, called the nominate species. Most seem to have a yellow-orange at the base of the bill. The slightly smaller, darker birds with much less color are the mainland birds, C. p. tschucktschorum. Thanks to Bob Gill, Project Leader of  USGS Shorebird Research for the verification of these photos.

There's an interesting article on the Winter Ecology of Rock Sandpipers at
According to the article, Rock Sandpipers are unique to the north Pacific with fewer than 100,000 individuals, and at least 4 subspecies (including one in Russia.)

The Pribilof subspecies (Calidris p. ptilocnemis) migrates from those 3 islands a short ways to the Alaska Peninsula, Cook Inlet (and, I should like to add, Seward.) It was surprising to read that the presence of these hardy shorebirds wintering along the frozen coasts was apparently first noted by scientists only within the last 10 years. I guess either no one was looking, or knew who to contact. It is an amazing sight!

The Shorebird Guide by O'Brien, Crossley, and Karlson notes the Pribilof subspecies is larger, distinctly more pale, and has lighter flank streaking than the other races. The mainland subspecies (C. p. tschucktschorum) is slightly smaller with a shorter bill, and breeds on mainland Alaska, wintering south to California.  The Aleutian subspecies, (C. p. couesi) breeds in the Aleutian Islands and is largely resident but may winter to Washington.

Sibley's Guide to Birds cautions that the mainland and Aleutian populations have too much variation to really differentiate them. And then there's the Purple Sandpiper that looks almost identical to Aleutian and mainland subspecies, and if it reads the bird books, knows that it should not be here.

It's all very interesting and provides a lot to think about!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Seward CBC December 22, 2012 photos

Here are a few photos from the Seward Christmas Bird Count:

Seward CBC Field Counters at the tally

2012 Seward Christmas Bird Count results

December 22, 2012 Seward CBC

The Seward Audubon CBC is over! Here's the draft final results:

52 Count Day species, 9 Count Week species, and 3358 birds in all,
compared to 2011 61 Count Day species, 6 Count Week species, and 2,461 birds in all.

Weather:  0 to 15º, mostly calm for those on land, and overcast with brief afternoon snow flurries. The boat crew birded in seas to 3 feet with a north wind up to 17 mph. Overall, the lack of precipitation and minimal snow made conditions quite enjoyable for walking and biking despite the cold.

Twenty-five Field Counters, including two young birders, and three Boat Crew, birded the Seward Circle from 9ish to 4 pm while another six Feeder Counters kept vigil at their often lonely feeders. The Tonsina Trail Route was covered this year, as well as the Iditarod Trail, and 2 miles out on Exit Glacier Road with fat tire bikes.

The most common bird at 510, was the WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL, found almost everywhere in amazing numbers. This species did not even make it on last year's count!

Several normally seen species such as the Long-tailed Duck, Scaup,  Northern Shrike, Varied Thrush, Gray-crowned Rosy-finch,  did not make the list at all. Many species had very low numbers. Also surprising was the low count, 4, of juvenile BALD EAGLES. The adults dined well all winter on starving Common Murres, raised healthy eaglets that successfully fledged. Where are they now? Incidentally, no murres were seen.

Many Feeder Counters, especially out of town, wondered where all the birds were, finding few to no birds this fall or winter.  The birds may have found enough natural food with the lack of snow cover and abundance of spruce cones and Mt Ash berries. One feeder watcher in town enjoyed a visit by a three adult BALD EAGLES. She captured a dramatic photo of an eagle swooping in as a NW CROW flew away like a bizarre shadow. Ava contributed the only AMERICAN TREE SPARROW at her feeder.

Despite the best efforts of the Lowell Point team, the two BRAMBLINGS proved elusive after showing the day before for Count Week. They did score on the only GREAT BLUE HERON, and a MERLIN. A remarkable 41 RUSTY BLACKBIRDS stayed in town, feeding on the ground under spruce trees.

The only kids participating in the Count on their usual route on Exit Glacier Road found the usual RAVENS, MAGPIES, and PINE GROSBEAKS and were impressed with a lone COMMON MERGANSER. Then just as they were preparing to leave,  a raptor, which they identified as a PEREGRINE, flashed across the road, chasing a flock of small birds, perhaps Redpolls or Siskins. The boys and mom watched in amazement as the falcon perched on a nearby snag above the car, plucking its dinner, feathers floating down like snowflakes. Now, THAT is a memorable moment!

Another unusual bird was a DUNLIN that erupted off the beach with 11 other unidentified shorebirds. Instead of flying off with them, it veered back and landed on the beach nearby. I shot several photos as it walked past. I wonder now if the others were also Dunlins. At least 5 were seen afterwards during Count Week. 38 ROCK SANDPIPERS were also counted in the same area on Count Day.


Special thanks to Captain Jim Herbert for donating the use of his aptly named Kingfisher III landing craft, fuel, maintenance, preparation, and time on short notice for the 13.5 mile ocean route. Tasha and Sadie meticulously counted the seabirds by gender, and nailed 417 BARROW'S GOLDENEYES, the second highest number.

Kudos to Wendy for encouraging her two young boys to explore nature and contribute to citizen science. Thanks to Kit and Robin for diligently scouting for birds throughout the Circle, far in advance of the Count, and to Janet who birded on her all-terrain handcycle with studded tires. Thanks to the four birders from out of town who came to help us. Many thanks to the folks who feed the birds and to everyone for their time, effort, and enthusiasm counting birds on a cold, overcast day.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward CBC Compiler

Photos will be posted soon.

Draft Final Count Species, Count Week species have no numbers

            3       Gadwall
         128      Mallard ­­­
           15      duck unknown species ­­­
            3       Black Scoter ­­­
            3       White-winged Scoter ­­­
         145      Surf Scoter ­­­
         105      Harlequin Duck ­­­
           34      Common Goldeneye ­­­
         480      Barrow’s Goldeneye ­­­
           29      Bufflehead ­­­
         139      Common Merganser ­­­
           25      Red-breasted Merganser­­­
                     Hooded Merganser
             6      Merganser, unknown species
                     Spruce Grouse ­­­
    ­­­         8      Common Loon
             3 ­­­     Yellow-billed Loon
            19     Horned Grebe ­­­
              2     Red-necked Grebe ­­­
            53     Pelagic  Cormorant ­­­
              1     Great Blue Heron ­­­
            35     Bald Eagle adult ­­­        
              4     Bald Eagle immature ­­­
              1     Hawk species unknown ­­­
                     Northern Goshawk ­­­
              1     Merlin
              1     Peregrine Falcon
              1     falcon, unknown species
                     Sharp-shinned Hawk
            38     Rock Sandpiper
              1     Dunlin
            11     shorebirds, unidentified species ­­­
              9     Mew Gull
                     Glaucous-winged x Herring Gull ­­­
           39      Glaucous-winged Gull­­­
             1      Pigeon Guillemot
             7      Marbled Murrelet ­­­
         124      Rock Pigeon
             1      Belted Kingfisher ­­­        
           10      Downy Woodpecker ­­­        
             6      Hairy Woodpecker ­­­ ­­
           42      Steller’s Jay             ­­­
           78      Black-billed Magpie ­­­ ­­­
          141     Northwestern Crow ­­­        
          115     Common Raven ­­­
            24     Black-capped Chickadee   ­­­ ­­­
            31     Chestnut-backed Chickadee
            10     Chickadee, unknown species ­­­ ­­
            32     Red-breasted Nuthatch­­­        
              2     Brown Creeper­­­
                     Pacific Wren ­­­
              2     American Dipper­­­
             37    Golden-crowned Kinglet­­­        
             18    American Robin­­­
                     Varied Thrush ­­­
             37    Bohemian Waxwing­­­
               1    American Tree Sparrow­­­
               1     Fox Sparrow ­­­
                      Song Sparrow ­­­
               1     White-crowned Sparrow
               1     Golden-crowned Sparrow­­­
             76     Dark-eyed (Slate-colored) Junco
              41    Rusty Blackbirds
            510    White-winged Crossbill ­­­
            278    Pine Grosbeak ­­­
            278    Common Redpoll ­­­
              26     Pine Siskin
              25     songbirds, unidentified

Count Day total: 52 species
Count Week total: 9 species
Total number of birds on Count Day: 3358

Friday, December 21, 2012 Count Week Day 3

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 10:01 am, sunset 3:51 pm, length of day 5 hours, 49 minutes; tomorrow will be zero minutes and 10 seconds LONGER. How about that! Happy Solstice!

Weather: As hoped, the wind and seas did calm down, but so did the temperature, plunging to 8º. The Winter Solstice Sun shone brightly, illuminating the golden wisps of steam dancing down the bay. The clouds are forecast to move in this weekend bearing gifts of snow and sleet. We shall see!

A few more species were added to Count Week today, on this beautiful first official day of winter. Kit and Janet added the HAIRY WOODPECKER, and found a Northern Goshawk in a tree near Japanese Creek and Ash Street. It could be the same one they saw at Tonsina and then across the bay on Nash Road. If so, it sure is a traveler!  Jim scored on a pair of MARBLED MURRELETS in the SMIC boat basin.

Kit, Janet, and Peregrine Joe found a real treat, a YELLOW-BILLED LOON along the Greenbelt. Note: yesterday Kit also found the HOODED MERGANSER for Count Week.

It was easy to add CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES and RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES in town. Fearing Homer's lack of success finding a simple MALLARD, I made sure to check the beaches along Lowell Point and was not disappointed. Many were dabbling at the tide's edge and standing among the kelp-strewn rocks at mid-low tide.

At 12:58, just 10 minutes before the sun slipped behind the mountains, I finally refound the BRAMBLING! eating Mt Ash berries. I managed to get a photo much like my first one, peeking out behind a curtain of branches and dead leaves. He was feeding in the company of DARK-EYED JUNCOS and WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS. A small group of about 7 PINE SISKINS popped up as well. I sure hope we can find at least one Brambling tomorrow!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday, December 20, 2012 Second Day of Count Week

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 10:00 am, sunset 3:50 pm, length of day 5 hours, 49 minutes; tomorrow will be zero minutes and 1 second shorter. As noted, these times do not account for mountains on the southeast slowing our star's ascent and those on the southwest hastening its descent.

Weather: CCW, clear, cold (19º) and windy (17 to 29 mph, maximum gust 46 mph). We're hoping for a little less wind on Saturday and calmer seas so the boat crew has a chance to go out.

The species list grows for Count Week. I walked along the windswept beach for 40 minutes and found cool wind circles, frozen wave ripples, and old tracks of possible snow buntings, but no live birds. Just before I left, I checked one last time way out at low tide, almost into the blinding sun.  Hmmm. Looked like some round, squat little birds pecking away at the water's edge. The pushy wind blew me out there. I snapped photos as I got closer and closer. Then I stopped and counted. 51 ROCK SANDPIPERS! This is a great number for Seward, and well worth the trudge back into the stinging cold. Several ROCK PIGEONS scrabbled in the cobble near the beach, toughing it out in the wild.

It was easy to find the raft of SURF SCOTERS riding the waves with 3 BLACK SCOTERS by the Harbor Uplands. 3 RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS popped up behind them, their rakish loose crests blown sideways. COMMON GOLDENEYES, definitely not as common as the Barrow's, paddled singly and at the edges of the Common Mergansers resting in the lee of the breakwater.

I watched a Bald Eagle adult sunning out of the wind at the south end of the outer breakwater while a large raft of Barrow's Goldeneyes worked the entrance of the boat harbor just out of sight. I didn't stay long enough to find out if this was an ambush or just an innocent spot to sit. Could have resulted in pandemonium when they met.

I refound the GLAUCOUS-WINGED X HERRING GULL hybrid along the Greenbelt. It is a large gull that looks a lot like a Glaucous-winged gull, but it has some black tipped primary feathers.

Back in town, I found a ROBIN, WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS, and chittering DARK-EYED JUNCOS at the horse corral, but no Rusty Blackbirds. A flock of 6 COMMON REDPOLLS landed in some alders next to the road as I drove along with the window open, and stayed long enough for me to grab my binocs for a look.  A male DOWNY WOODPECKER enjoyed a snack at a suet feeder nearby, but no other little birds stopped in.

Jim reported he and Kit found a DIPPER at the Benny Benson Park culvert across from the horse corral for yesterday's count. Today, Jim spotted a friendly SONG SPARROW in the boat harbor and 40+ BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS delivered to his house. Kit scored on a PACIFIC WREN and a VARIED THRUSH at the start of the Tonsina Trail.

There are lots more birds to find, but this is a great start for Count Week!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, December 19, 2012 First Day of Count Week

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 10:00 am (actually more like 10:30 am once it climbs laboriously over the mountains), sunset 3:50 pm, (more like 2:00 pm in the Seward town site after it zips across the southern sky). Length of day 5 hours, 49 minutes (or actually 3 1/2 hours); tomorrow will be zero minutes and 11 seconds shorter as the December 21st 2:12 am Winter Solstice approaches.

Weather: Whoooeeeeee! After two days of cloudy weather, the skies cleared. Nice to see Venus in the morning again, the waxing crescent moon, and the stars and Jupiter at night. The fierce north-northeast wind is just wailing, said to be 24 mph with gusts to 33 mph, and maximum gusts of 45 mph.

Any loose snow is long gone; the mountains are blown bare and brown. Only a crusty, stubborn layer remains, occasionally breaking off into flying chunks. The thermometer hovered around 20º, which was pleasant out of the wind. (Note key word, "out.")

Today the bay was frothing with white-capped waves. The wind ripped the caps right off and swirled them into a rainbow-hued spray. I was amazed to watch a surfer out in the thick of the biggest curls, getting hammered but having fun. Even the seabirds knew better and seemed to be found mostly in sheltered areas.

My first species for the First Day of Count Week was the RAVEN, playing in the wind, of course. Cousins soon showed up: STELLER'S JAYS and BLACK-BILLED MAGPIES.  PINE GROSBEAKS clung precariously to the tops of the swaying spruce trees, calling musically. Around 10 am, Duane called in about a flock of about 50 PINE SISKINS or REDPOLLS flying up the street into the teeth of the north wind.

Of note at the Scheffler Creek outlet by the Harbor Uplands were 5 GADWALL, dabbling near a small flock of preening BARROW'S GOLDENEYES.  I hope they stick around for Count Day on Saturday. COMMON MERGANSERS took refuge in the lee of the Harbor Uplands breakwater. A GLAUCOUS-WINGED X HERRING GULL hybrid with some black primaries coasted overhead; an adult BALD EAGLE stirred everyone up. I did not find the tight flock of 70+ Surf Scoters, but visibility was tricky in the waves. A few NW CROWS blew down the beach.

Over at the SMIC boat basin, Fourth of July Beach and Spring Creek Beach I found a pair of HORNED GREBES, more BARROW'S GOLDENEYES, HARLEQUIN DUCKS, GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, a PELAGIC CORMORANT, and the lone human surfer. Kit found COMMON LOONS, but I did not.

On Dec 17, Kit spotted a SPRUCE GROUSE at Tonsina Trail. Yesterday, I counted 52 BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS feasting on small frozen apples in the 400 block of Third Avenue.

If you haven't yet seen the amazing examples of owl camouflage, check out this website <> I like this website since it gives credit to the image source.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter