Seward Nature Channel, Swainson's and Gray-cheeked Thrush
- Seward, Alaska Sporadic Bird Report
Friday, June 10, 2011
It's hard to keep up with the Seward Nature Channel! It's on 24/7 with exciting action from the ocean to the mountaintops and beyond. All you need to do is get outside and tune in.
The first episode I was able to catch this morning featured a FOX SPARROW scratching furiously in the dirt, bouncing as he worked industriously. That chore done, he flew to the cable line to sing his cheerful song and answer a neighboring Fox Sparrow. His foxy reddish back and tail explained his name. I spied a red squirrel in the background, totally immobile on the branch and hoping I wouldn't notice it. Baby squirrels are probably nearby in their secret nest, their eyes about to open. Watch out, baby birds!
Next I tuned into the ocean and cruised the beach looking beyond the innumerable RVS for the humpback whales that were reported in the bay yesterday. No luck, but it's nice to know these mammoth mammals are around. Down at the beach south of the harbor uplands, a PIGEON GUILLEMOT repeatedly dove close to shore catching several long skinny fish, possibly gunnels. It was tricky to get the fish down, and required much whapping and submerging of dinner before it could be successfully swallowed. I wondered how it must feel to eat a thrashing, unwilling fish, wiggling all the way down. Oooo! Maybe that's why the pigeon guillemot paused after swallowing, to follow dinner's progress. Three MARBLED MURRELETS paddled and dove just beyond. It's great to see these ocean birds from the beach.
How wonderful to have Kenai Fjords National Park so close! A short time later I opened my car door at the Exit Glacier parking lot and immediately heard the exciting, spiraling song of a SWAINSON'S THRUSH, high in a tree, answering a more distant rival. This is the only woodland thrush whose lovely, complex song goes up in pitch. In Nature, the journey is the destination, not the advertised features. All those people hurrying to see the glacier missed a fabulous bird that flew all the way from as far as Argentina to be here.
ROBINS and HERMIT THRUSHES sang sweetly close by, a VARIED THRUSH whistled farther away. Then I heard the other thrush I was hoping for: the GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH. He was singing high in the cottonwoods, hidden by their green leaves. I did see a thrush hopping on the ground, but not well enough to get a photo. It is quite likely that this far north species nests here, in brushy willow-alder thickets and low spruce trees with dense undergrowth. Its natural history and ecology is not well known, but it flies thousands of miles to overwinter in South America from Columbia and Venezuela south to Peru and Brazil.
Other bright tropical visitors serenaded along the trail: YELLOW WARBLERS, ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, and WILSON'S WARBLERS. COMMON REDPOLLS blew their little raspberry calls as they swooped overhead. I found a redpoll nest in a small willow tree, the mom's little red cap giving her away as she kept her precious family warm and dry.
What a special natural area, and that's not even mentioning the walk-up glacier and big wildlife!
The next nature episode was just a short ways away at the Resurrection River trailhead. A sign on the trailhead bulletin board warned that a brown bear had charged a hiker on June 7th, just a quarter mile in. Yikes! Be careful! But just in the parking lot, I heard a PACIFIC WREN'S mile-long song, the impossibly loud song of the tiny RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET'S "see, see see? you you you! look at me, look at me, look at me!", the rapid trill of an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER, and the sewing machine song of a WILSON'S WARBLER.
It is impossible to absorb all of Nature's gifts of beauty and understanding on her 24/7 show. But the more you look and listen, the more she will share with you. Just now, from the comfort of my chair, I saw a CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE flit from one spruce branch to another with a beak full of tiny caterpillars for his babies. The action rolls on!
Stay tuned to YOUR area and
Seward Sporadic Bird Report reporter