Saturday, July 20, 2013 Red Crossbill juveniles

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 5:11 am, sunset 10:55 pm, length of day 17 hours, 44 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 15 seconds shorter.

Incredible sunny weather continued with highs today in the mid-70s and a welcome north wind to help deflect the hungry, biting flies.

Ava called to report a family of RED CROSSBILLS at her porch feeders. She hadn't seen them previously, so we wonder where they were nesting. When I visited later in the afternoon, two streaky juveniles were busy cracking open sunflower seeds that had fallen from the railing feeders to the porch deck.

At first glance, they looked like the many PINE SISKINS that were also hopping around, cracking open sunflower seeds. The have about the same coloration, streaky, with yellow tinges. But the crossbills have such a large head in proportion to their bodies, and they are taller and bulkier. Then there's that amazing bill that looks like the poor bird must have hit a window hard to knock the two halves asunder. But what a tremendous seed-cracker! The juveniles knew just how to maneuver the seed in place with their tongue, then apply the right amount of pressure to open it up. A few dexterous flips and the oily contents were down the hatch. This can be better appreciated by trying it yourself. Those seeds are very, very hard!

A gorgeous, apricot-colored male perched in the leafy coolness of a young Mayday tree nearby, quite content to just relax and watch his youngsters feed themselves. Meanwhile, the harried VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW parents flew frantically about gathering insects (hopefully a lot of those darn flies!) to stuff into their babies' gaping beaks. This batch was still in the nest, tucked into the porch roof soffit. Other area swallow families have fledged and are feeding themselves; the late spring really spread out the nesting cycle.

The flurry of activity of the cheeping swallow babies, the HAIRY and DOWNY WOODPECKERS, CHESTNUT-BACKED and BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEES, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, PINE SISKINS, and RED CROSSBILLS suddenly ceased. All the birds on the porch froze in place. I heard the alarm cries of swallows and quickly left the porch to look up. Sure enough, a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK cruised high overhead, harassed by the brave swallow parents. It soon moved on, and slowly the birds resumed feeding, always watching and listening for danger.

Back home, I enjoyed watching the activity at my birdbath. The birds really enjoy the cool running water during these hot days, stopping to get a drink, and then a dunk. The nearby spruce trees twittered with invisible TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS, then first a beautiful male, then a juvenile cautiously came down to take a bath. A young CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE waited its turn, always deferential. An ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER dashed in and out. ROBINS and STELLER'S JAYS barged in and took a turn. The birds looked so disheveled afterwards, but pleased. I am glad to provide this little oasis for them.

Ava welcomes birders, no need to call or knock. Take the first left off Nash Road onto Salmon Creek Road, go over Salmon Creek bridge and take an immediate right. Drive to the end of the long driveway to the cedar-sided house with the blue roof and all the birds.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter 

Thursday, July 18, 2013 TWO Caspian Terns!

Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Sunrise 5:07 am, sunset 10:59 pm, for a total length of day of 17 hours, 52 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 5 seconds shorter.

Heat wave! (at least for Seward) The temp hit 80ยบ at 1 pm today! HOT! In addition to the usual kayak groups at Lowell Point, a couple of paddle boarders appeared including lassies in bikinis, a very rare sight indeed, and several people even went swimming in the sparkling ocean. It looked like a California beach. Crazy!

Later in the afternoon, during a sudden and very brief episode of gray clouds and sprinkles, I refound the CASPIAN TERN. Actually there were two! They obliged me this time by flying quite close, circling overhead while I madly clicked the shutter, and one even vocalized, a very harsh sound. I could even see their black feet tucked up and the short notched tail. As the largest tern in the world, they looked huge compared to the slender, graceful, and buoyant Arctic Terns, and their large red bill almost looks fake. Lipstick?

The Alaska Seabird Information Series by the USFWS (Google it) has a lot of information on this tern including:
4 ½' wing span, males and females look alike, reclassified in 2006 from the genus Sterna to its own genus Hydroprogne due to genetic sequencing analysis, populations in North America and globally are of Low Concern. This tern is found on every continent except South America and Antarctica.

Ed Clark noted that Caspian Terns are becoming more common along South-coastal Alaska but are still considered rare statewide. Furthermore, the first nesting pairs of Caspian Terns were documented by Aaron Lang's inlaws near Cordova. Aaron had an article a few years ago in the journal "Western Birds" about the Caspian Terns' nesting and distribution.

Caspian terns were reported at Vitus Lake and Seal River near the Bering Glacier in 2002 and 2003. I did not find any there in 2007, but I did not have access to a boat to reach the rumored colony.

This is a bird to look for anywhere around Resurrection Bay. Check those gulls closely!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 Caspian Tern in Seward!

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

When is a gull not a gull? When it has a huge red bill, black cap, dark underside primaries, and slightly forked tail! I finally found a CASPIAN TERN, a Life Bird, in Seward! This is not the first sighting for Seward, but I was never lucky to see one in previous years.

I'm sure others must have seen it as it flew effortlessly right over the busy harbor this afternoon, along the crowded waterfront and campers, and seemed to head down towards Lowell Point.

I checked the fisheries bay bird feeder just south of the boat harbor. It was loaded with BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS, MEW GULLS, and a few DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANTS. It's a good spot and worth checking frequently.

The other seafood processor at the start of Lowell Point Road was not processing, and had zero birds, but that could change as fishing boats come in to unload.

I was so startled at seeing this oddity, I only got a few bad photos from a distance. I'll be looking for it and hoping to get some better images.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Sunday, June 30, 2013 Black Oystercatchers

Seward Alaska Sporadic Bird Report

Much to my surprise, despite the increasing crowds and loose dogs at Lowell Point, I discovered two adult BLACK OYSTERCATCHERS calmly poking through the algae-covered rocks at low tide today.

No predictions on how long they will stay, but it sure was amazing to see them!

Also spotted patrolling the shoreline, were 7 SURF SCOTERS, 5 HARLEQUIN DUCKS, and several small groups of MARBLED MURRELETS.

Ava reports lots of baby birds around her yard and at the feeders: baby everything! PINE SISKINS, PINE GROSBEAKS, RED-BREASTED NUTHATCHES, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES, DOWNY and HAIRY WOODPECKERS, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, TREE and VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS. Also she suspects the RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD eggs have hatched as she is seeing more activity at the sugar water feeders by the hungry moms.

Unfortunately, after a catastrophic rainstorm a few years ago that collapsed all the nearby CLIFF SWALLOW nests and killed the babies, there are no longer any CLIFF SWALLOWS.

The ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS that arrived too early for our late spring, learned to feed at the suet feeder. Now they are eating sticky insects off the hummingbird feeders and have figured out how to get sugar water as well.

I received another report of this behavior: CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES sipping sugar water from hummer feeders. Smart birds! and no teeth to rot!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter