Monday, November 30, 2015 Beach Survey: Murre Wreck

Every month, I survey the beach south of the Seward Airport as part of the COASST citizen science program (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survery Team). Although COMMON MURRE carcasses litter the Seward boat harbor and various other places around town under favorite BALD EAGLE perches, I had not found any carcasses on my surveys. Until today.

Over the past five days, Seward experienced a huge storm with south winds and surf combined with extreme high tides between 12.5 and 13.4 feet. The beach was strewn with debris including mats of seaweed, broken branches, and large driftwood logs. Tangled in the wrack, I found many storm-washed COMMON MURRES, but only one intact. All the rest had been partially eaten.

More carcasses were deposited on the beach rye grass berm. Freshly killed carcasses lay amidst a snowstorm of white feathers near the driftwood perches of the Bald Eagles. Due to the high, high tide, I found another 5 carcasses tossed into the grass up to 2 blocks from the beach. I’m sure I missed many in that zone.

The tide did a major cleanup, depositing at least 36 carcasses along the beach. It was a very sad duty to report all these Murres, but hopefully the survey will add important data to help scientists understand this phenomenon that extends from northern Oregon and Washington to the Gulf of Alaska.

On a brighter note, the resident TRUMPETER SWAN family with all four cygnets was again feeding at the recently thawed pond. Yesterday, I found 3 adults in a nearby pond that were not part of this family. It is possible that the very protective resident swans drove them off.

The Swan Diverter Fund is up to almost $800.00, thanks to recent generous contributions. If you would like to help save the swans from senseless power line deaths, please see the November 15, 2015 blog entry for contact information.

Totally unrelated, if you haven't heard about the talking MAGPIE living at the Alaska Zoo, check out this amusing website <> Hi George!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

Thursday and Friday, November 26-27, 2015 A Little Homer Birding

Homer, Alaska

Heavy rain in Seward, cloudy with squalls, surf, and wind in Homer.

The State of Alaska 511 website reported “Good Driving Conditions” from
Seward to Homer on Thanksgiving Day. The details included:
“Warnings: Be prepared for winter driving, possible hydroplaning, reduce your speed, slippery road surface, snow removal equipment on roadway…
Atmospherics: Cloudy, heavy rain, rain, rain and snow mixed, wind
Pavement: Black ice, icy patches, slush, surface water hazard, wet surface
Wind Direction: NE Wind
High Winds: Yes
Temperature 34-38 degrees”

It sounded hazardous, but was actually mostly pretty good without any of the dramatic details listed. They should have stopped at the summary.

At a short stop at the beach in Ninilchik, three moose rambled across the hillside below the Russian Orthodox Church, the first of the trip. Several COMMON MURRES paddled along Cook Inlet, not far from shore. A flock of about 10 flew down the Inlet farther out. A few carcasses rested at the water’s edge, an all too familiar sight.

We arrived in Homer in mid-afternoon, just as the clouds lifted to let the sun peek under the heavy clouds to the west. I did a little birding along the dirt road on the east side of the spit by the Deep Water Port.

COMMON MURRES paddled resolutely here as well, mostly single, some in pairs. One oblivious Murre paddled in a straight line, causing a LONG-TAILED DUCK drake to take evasive action. Several dead Murres floated in the water, others gathered at the high tide mark, and scavenged carcasses littered the uplands. What a sad sight!

In contrast, the other seabirds seemed to be doing just fine. A flock of about 30 BLACK SCOTERS, orange bills glowing in the low light, whistled harmoniously, like a band of woodwinds sighing. It was fabulous to hear their concert! Three, much more drab, WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS lingered nearby as if listening.

Several single RED-NECKED GREBES in winter plumage dove for fish; they nest at Beluga Slough, so they didn’t have far to migrate. A single, red-eyed HORNED GREBE also fished actively.

A small flock of COMMON MERGANSERS flew overhead. A single RED-MERGANSER drake preened its already beautiful plumage. Also spotted, a pair of HARLEQUIN DUCKS and two PIGEON GUILLEMOTS.

As the light continued to dim, a COMMON LOON surfaced and calmly eyed me before slipping away. A PACIFIC LOON popped up farther out.

While looking at a buoy festooned with PELAGIC CORMORANTS, I heard a “whoosh!” and saw a Humpback Whale surface and dive in the peaceful twilight bay. Several minutes passed, and again it surfaced to breath and dive, flukes up. What a wonderful sight!

Over on a lichen-splattered boulder, a RAVEN feasted on what appeared to be a MURRLELET carcass. The head, ever a delicacy, was already gone.

Several SONG SPARROWS flitted among the rocks and stored equipment, including that of the famous "Time Bandit." A flock of about 25 GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES flashed overhead. One sat on a post nearby and chatted. By 3:45 pm, it was too dark to photograph, so we headed to our Thanksgiving feast.

The next afternoon, I checked out the same area. Running out of daylight at 3:45 pm, I found dozens of gulls resting on the gravel boat trailer parking area. Among them was an especially white bird, a SNOW GOOSE! What a surprise! This is the first Snow Goose I’ve seen this year! The poor, lost goose pulled at the short dead grass patch in the gravel, walking slowly as it grazed. At least it had company to help warn it of dangers. 

Over on the spit side, just out of the splash zone of the surf, I found about 50 ROCK SANDPIPERS huddled together. A BALD EAGLE perched alertly on a piece of driftwood close by, looking mighty interested in a possible bedtime snack. The Rock Sandpipers did not seem alarmed. Maybe they figured their chances were good it would be the other guy.

The last birds of the day were two GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES gleaning seeds from the beach ryegrass. This is the first time I’ve seen this species feeding on wild food in the winter; all the others were at feeders.

I know I missed several spectacular birds in Homer, but I was pretty satisfied with all that I managed to squeeze in a short time.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold

Seward Sporadic Bird Reporter

Seward Christmas Bird Count Saturday December 26th

Seward, Alaska

The Seward Christmas Bird Count will be Saturday, December 26 from 9 am to 4 pm. If the weather is too severe for the boat crew, the backup date will be the next weekend, TBA either January 2 or 3.

It looks like we could use more field counters this year. If you are interested in participating, please send me an email at

Happy Thanksgiving! I am grateful for all the readers of my blog!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter