Saturday, May 27, 2023 Bull Moose, Trumpeter Swans, Surfbirds

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 4:55 am, sunset 10:57 pm for a total day length of 18 hours and 1 minute. Tomorrow will be 3 minutes and 46 seconds longer.

More gray skies and light rain with temps from 35 to 42 at sea level; snow reported on the Race Point of Mt Marathon. Getting used to this cool, rainy weather.

Driving past the Mile 1 Nash Road wetlands, I was surprised and elated to see a majestic Bull Moose posed like a statue in the newly emerged horsetails and other aquatic vegetation. What a massive, prehistoric-looking animal! I usually only see the cows and youngsters, also impressive, but not like this!

He stood at attention, scrutinizing the nearby woods, then relaxed to feed. After a while, he leisurely strode to the edge of the pond and walked in. I wondered how deep it was; deep enough for him to swim. Those big ears swiveled towards the wary and watchful nesting TRUMPETER SWANS. I have no doubt they would have been triumphant over even such a monster as this.

Fortunately, the moose was not at all interested in finding out, and swam past. He shook off vigorously, water flying, as he emerged on the other side. After a few more bites of green, he wandered off and disappeared. Wow. How can this huge beast survive on greens and shoots? Incredible.

I checked out Spring Creek Beach. The wetland pond is still flooded from a winter storm surge that flung up enough gravel and cobble to block the outlet. Spruce, alders, willows, and beach rye grass are several feet underwater. The sockeye smolt can’t get out and the adults can’t get in to spawn.

A pair of GADWALL paddled along the pond ahead of me. This pair has been here for the past week or so, often in a small intertidal pool. They are alert, but very tolerant. The hen took a bath then waddled ashore to preen while the drake waited a safer distance away. It was so fun to watch her arranging all her feathers without any fear. Beautiful hen and very handsome drake.

A few BARROW’S GOLDENEYES dove offshore with SURF SCOTERS, PIGEON GUILLEMOTS, 3 MARBLED MURRELETS, and HARLEQUIN DUCKS. A Sea Otter cruised past, swimming backwards as usual, with lunch on its belly, and Steller Sea Lions porpoised along.

A BELTED KINGFISHER rattled overhead while a LINCOLN’S SPARROW sang in the rain from the spruce tip. Unseen, a SONG SPARROW replied from the protection of spruce boughs. I suspect AMERICAN CROWS have nests in these dense spruce trees as one chased me off.

A few optimistic fishermen cast into the waves, hoping to snag a newly arrived Red Salmon. Despite their presence, three SURFBIRDS foraged on the algae-covered rock jetty. Their coloration blended in perfectly, as it does on the barren gravel ridges in the tundra and mountains. These seem late; over 20 were here last week. Time to nest!

On the way home, I just missed a big event at the mile 1 Nash Road wetlands. Both Swans were trumpeting loudly, their wild voices ringing and echoing off the nearby mountainside. 

After shimmying and fluttering, heads bobbing up and down, they each in turn stretched their angel wings to release energy. It seemed they had just scored a major victory against an unseen (to me) foe and driven it away. Then the pen (female) paddled back to her nesting duties and the cob (male) resumed eating, both parents still on duty.

My morning began with the plucky male RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD surveying his kingdom from the power line along the alley behind my house as nesting VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS swooped around him. “My” birds. It’s just so amazing that they returned to the same place after migrating so many, many treacherous miles.

This wonderful day ended with the sweet serenade of the HERMIT THRUSH, so tranquil. I feel so lucky!

          Happy Birding!
          Carol Griswold
          Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter


Monday, May 22, 2023 Hooligan frenzy

Seward, Alaska

Another monochrome day, but filled with high decibel excitement at the tidelands. Thousands of Gulls, mostly GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULLS and BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES, swarmed the numerous intertidal streams across the head of the bay, screaming and shrieking. 

Successful fishers not only had to expertly catch the hooligan, but then race away with evasive aerial maneuvers to avoid greedy pirates.

Juvenile Glaucous-winged Gulls practiced catching chunks of sunken wood and sticks, trying to figure out the art of fishing. Nearby Gulls feigned interest, just in case it might be edible.

Steller Sea Lions, living up to their name, roared, bawled, and growled just offshore, then swirled underwater to chase and catch the hooligan. Harbor Seals quietly popped up for a look around, then slipped underwater to continue fishing.

Dwarfed by the action, outnumbered, and drowned out, ARCTIC TERNS ferried smaller fish from the bay to shore. A small flock of dainty BONAPARTE’S GULLS quietly rested, also uninterested in the melee for the too-large hooligan.

TREE and VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS cruised over the estuary pond, dodging the mud and grass-gathering Kittiwakes still busily denuding the exposed hummocks. It was fun to see a dozen or more Swallows perched like living ornaments on the handy roots of a driftwood log to rest and preen.

On the way out, a BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE flew down to investigate clumps of dead grass for nesting material. Its tail feathers were ragged and worn, but the striking wings looked newly minted and beautiful.

                 Happy Birding!
                 Carol Griswold
                 Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter



Sunday, May 21, 2023 Fishing

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:07 am, sunset 10:44 pm, for a total day length of 17 hours and 37 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 18 seconds longer.

Brief interludes of sunshine these past few days cheered the spirit between frequent rain squalls with temps ranging from 35 to 43ยบ. Lawns in town turned bright green seemingly overnight on this watering schedule and lawn mowers sprang to life. Similar cool temperatures and showers are in the forecast for the ten days.

Clouds of screaming Gulls in local streams this week signaled the arrival of hooligan (aka euchalon) as they hovered and dove, trying to catch one by one. Somehow RAVENS and BALD EAGLES managed to either scavenge dropped fish or patiently catch them. 

Farther upstream, fishers scooped them up by the many dozens with dip nets, quickly filling coolers for use as bait or dinner. 

After spawning, the surviving smelt will return to the ocean to regain their energy and, if lucky, return year after year to spawn, with a lifespan of 3-5 years. 

The 6-10” hooligan are too big for ARCTIC TERNS. They were busy targeting salmon smolt and 9-spined sticklebacks in the estuary pond and wetlands. 

Whereas the smolt are migrating to sea to grow and mature, the sticklebacks are migrating from saltwater to brackish or fresh water to breed. The male stickleback will build, guard, and aerate the eggs, then care for the newly hatched larvae. In the fall, the surviving sticklebacks return to the ocean. The males may live to age 3, the females to age 5 or more. 

The Terns did not care about these fascinating anadromous fish life cycles, but after an intense search, hovered, dove, and plunged into the water. Then, if lucky, they offered each unlucky fish a free flight-see around the area before graciously delivering the treat to a waiting lady, or gobbled it down headfirst, spines notwithstanding.

             BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES invaded the saltwater estuary this week to noisily gather nest building supplies. Dozens gathered to attack the exposed hummocks of sedges and mud, ripping out hunks with their bills. They often dropped the load, and immediately returned to get another, loudly demanding a full refund.

             The nearest nesting colony is about 18 miles to the south at Cape Resurrection. I do not understand why they travel so far to gather their nesting material, likely dropping most of it nearby or en route. Regardless of the inefficiency, it seemed like an exciting tradition.

             Other birds of note today: five SANDHILL CRANES landed overnight and took off by midday with a few GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE. Three wary TRUMPETER SWANS rested in the pond; I wonder if they are non-resident migrants? Three WHIMBRELS, also stragglers, foraged in the newly emerging grass of the uplands for invertebrates.

             I found my FOS YELLOW WARBLER male singing in the alders, just starting to leaf out, joining ORANGE-CROWNED, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, TOWNSEND'S WARBLERS, RUBY-CROWNED KINGLETS, VARIED THRUSH, ROBINS, FOX SPARROW, and SNIPE. I also heard my FOS WILSON’S WARBLER here a few days ago. The choir is assembling!

             Happy Birding!
             Carol Griswold
             Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter









Saturday, May 13, 2023 Lingering and new Shorebirds, and Rufous Hummingbirds

Seward, Alaska

Sunrise 5:25 am, sunset 10:25 pm, for a total day length of 17 hours and 0 minutes. Tomorrow will be 4 minutes and 48 seconds longer.

Sunny intervals today with a low of 36, high of 43 and a chilly south wind with gusts to 12 mph. Showers are forecast for the rest of the week with a sunny break midweek bringing temps soaring to 53. 

Another pulse of 14 MARBLED GODWITS arrived a few days ago at the tidelands. The tawny brown birds napped, long bills tucked under a wing, balancing on one leg. I wonder how long and how far they flew to arrive here, so tired. Yesterday and today, I found a few feeding, poking their long, bi-colored, recurved bills into the mud as they strolled along.

A male HUDSONIAN GODWIT, also with a long, bicolored bill but shorter (15.5”) than the Marbled Godwit (18”) and more colorful, wandered among the sedge tussocks, poking and prodding for invertebrates. About a dozen SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHERS (11”) fed in the shallow pond with sewing machine speed.

At Scheffler Creek, just south of the boat harbor, two WHIMBRELS (17.5”) stalked along the algae-covered rocks at the ebbing tide, finding food with their amazing, long, black, decurved bills.

Four BLACK-BELLIED PLOVERS, such striking shorebirds! examined the rocks and puddles with their characteristic stop-start walk. A First-of-Season WANDERING TATTLER, dipped and bobbed along the tide’s edge. Two BONAPARTE’S GULLS paddled just offshore.

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOWS swooped past so close, I could have touched them. Both the TREE and Violet-green Swallows are moving into town, checking out neighborhoods and nest boxes.

At home, a FOS RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD, female, fed hungrily at my sugar water feeder. Usually, I see the males first, but I was thrilled to see her. Ava reported a hummer a week ago just out of town.

Leaves are peeking out, the grass is greening, and the snow is almost all gone. It’s starting to seem like Spring!

Happy Birding!
Carol Griswold
Seward Sporadic Bird Report Reporter