August 22, 2017 Northern Goshawks

Seward, Alaska

After receiving several reports of large raptor-style birds patrolling, chasing, and harassing hikers and their dogs, I decided to investigate on the next sunny day. The sun finally returned today and the two good dogs and I headed to the Lost Lake Trail at mile 5, Seward Highway.

A short distance from the parking lot in the beautiful hemlock-spruce forest, I heard a PACIFIC WREN scolding. Two HERMIT THRUSHES (late migrators) and a VARIED THRUSH silently flew from the trail into nearby alders and vanished. WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLS chattered from the cones high above. The sweet notes of a PINE GROSBEAK floated down. CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES called cheerily from the hemlocks.

Soon the trail forked and I followed the winter trail, listening and looking. In the far distance, I heard the cry of a RED-TAILED HAWK, “Keeeyuuurrrrr!” This cry repeated several more times while I hiked.

I passed the reported location, about 600 feet from the junction and kept walking and listening. Nothing. I wondered if the birds were out hunting or had left. The day was lovely and the blueberries plentiful. I kept walking. Suddenly, a large bird swooped across the trail ahead and landed in a hemlock tree not far from the trail. A NORTHERN GOSHAWK! Yay! First sighting for me for this year!

I took a photo, and mission accomplished, turned around and went home.

Not! I stayed for an hour, enjoying watching this youngster perched on a branch in the dappled sunshine. He peered curiously at us, unconcerned, and but seemed especially alert when he heard the camera shutter. Paparazzi! Then he preened and stretched, wagging his long, banded tail, shaking out his yellow leg and curled talons.

A second Goshawk called from a perch deeper in the forest. The cry reminded me of the piercing sound made by a blowing across a blade of grass stretched tight between one’s thumbs. The two birds called back and forth, sometimes in unison, sometimes in conversation, listening and responding.

Neither bird seemed particularly active; maybe both had already dined and it was time to relax and attend to their feathers. Sibley notes this is North America’s largest accipiter, weighing up to 2.1 pounds, length 21”, wingspan 41”. The pictures in the bird books show a yellow eye for the juvenile, but this bird has beautiful, very pale gray eyes.

Sibley also notes that the begging cry of a juvenile is a “plaintive scream ‘kree-ah’.” I wonder if what I heard previously was this instead of a Red-tailed Hawk? But no adult appeared or was heard.
I left the youngster still perched on the now-shady hemlock branch. I was amazed how difficult it was to see him; his brown, streaky breast camouflage was excellent. Then he flew across the trail to another perch and I had to go back to see. I left again, but the second Goshawk suddenly appeared with loud fanfare and landed near the first. I turned around to confirm it was a juvenile: yes, the conversationalist. As the two swooped low down the path and veered off into the forest, I made my final exit, savoring the experience and glad I could tarry.

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold                                                                           

Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter

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