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June 2003

by Magill Weber

Maritime Wildlife Refuge
& Izenbeck National Wildlife Refuge
via MV Tustemena

Other Observers:

Renze Portengen

James Fischelson

This trip report covers a week of observations on the birds seen from the Alaska Marine Ferry System’s MV/Tustemena June 2003 sailing (as the only birders aboard), as well as information on Izembeck National Wildlife Refuge located east of Dutch Harbor, near the town of Cold Bay. Izembeck NWR has been birded very infrequently and is not covered in George West’s book. The decision to forgo Dutch Harbor and Unimack Pass was made hastily, but gave us the chance to spend two days exploring a truly remote place along the Tustemena’s Route at Izembeck NWR. This is not a destination for those unprepared to be totally and completely alone in a tundra environment, in an area with a dense bear population. However, Izembeck is easy to reach via the Tustemena, and provides a spectacular wilderness camping and birding experience.


My only notes on George West’s excellent chapter regarding the ferry trip: West states that “Northern Fulmar is abundant” (we saw only two during six days on the ferry). West also calls Buller’s Shearwater “possible but unlikely” (we saw at least four between Kodiak and Chignik on both legs of the route). In addition, as West mentions in this chapter, in June 2003 the ferry did not pass the Baby Islands during daylight hours. In addition, we experienced very calm waters throughout, making a scope very useful on board.

Pelagic Species list:

Northern Fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis, KH

Buller’s Shearwater, Puffinus bulleri HK, KH

Sooty Shearwater, Puffinus griseus HK

Short-Tailed Shearwater, Puffinus tenuirostris, HK, KC, CK

Fork-tailed Storm Petrel, Ocenodroma furcata, CK

Double Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus KH

Red-faced Cormorant, Phalacrocorax urile, K

Pelagic Cormorant, Phalacrocorax pelagicus, K

Common Merganser, Mergus merganser, H, KH

Parasitic Jaeger, Stercorarius parasiticus, CK

Bonaparte’s Gull, Larus Philadelphia, H

Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescens, KS

Sabine’s Gull, Xema sabini HK

Black-legged Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla, K, KC

Arctic Tern, Sterna paradisaea KC, SC

Aleutian Tern, Sterna aleutica,SC

Common Murre, Uria aalge, K, HK, KC, KS, SC, CK, KH

Thick-billed Murre, Uria lomvia, KC, KS, CK, KH

Pigeon Guillemot, Cepphus columba, K, KS, KS

Marbled Murrelet, Brachyramphus marmoratus, K, KS

Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Brachyramphus brevirostris KC, KS

Ancient Murrelet, Synthliboramphus antiquus HK, KC, KS

Cassin’s Auklet, Ptychoramphus aleuticus, (aleuticus) KS

Crested Auklet, Aethia cristatella, KS

Horned Puffin, Fratercula corniculata HK, KC, KS, SC

Tufted Puffin, Fratercula cirrhata, K, HK, KC, KS

K= Kodiak Harbor/Kodiak Island
HK=Homer to Kodiak Island
KC=Kodiak Island to Chignik
KS=King Cove to Sand Point
SC=Sand Point to Chignik
CK=Chignik to Kodiak Island
KH=Kodiak Island to Homer

Landbirds (Stops in Homer, Chignik, Kodiak, and Sand Point)

Black Oystercatcher, Haematopus bachmani, K

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, K

White-winged Scoter, Melanitta fusca, K

Mew Gull, Larus canus, K

Black-billed Magpie, Pica pica, K

Rock Dove, Columba livia, K

Northwestern Crow, Corvus caurinus, K

Common Raven, Corvus corax (kamtschaticus), K

Swainson’s Thrush, Catharus ustulatus, K

Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus, H, K, C

American Robin Turdus migratorius, H, K, C

Varied Thrush, Ixoreus naevius, K

Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota, H, K, C

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor, K

Bank Swallow, Riparia riparia, C

Violet-green Swallow, Tachycineta thalassina, C

Wilson’s Warbler, Wilsonia pusilla, C

Yellow Warbler, Dendroica petechia, K

Orange-crowned Warbler, Vermivora celata, C

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Dendroica coronata, H, K, C

Winter Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes, H

Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia, (sanaka) K

Golden-crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla, C

Belted Kingfisher, Ceryle alcyon, K, H

K=Kodiak Island




Izembeck National Wildlife Refuge, Cold Bay, Alaska

While the birding at Izembeck NWR was somewhat disappointing, the spectacular setting amongst several active volcanoes, and close mammal sightings, made the trip very worthwhile. We had close encounters with Kodiak brown bear, red fox, arctic ground squirrel, and river otter among others. Certainly it appears that Izembeck has the potential to host some truly bird rare species during the summer month. Izembeck provides an authentic wilderness experience that would be difficult if not impossible to replicate elsewhere. The refuge is treeless maritime tundra dotted with kettle lakes and productive salmon streams amidst rolling hills and craggy mountains. Summer temperatures range from about 40-50F.

The Tustemena arrived in Cold Bay at about 12noon on June 13th and returned at 4:30am on June 15th. This provided almost 48 hours of birding time.

We camped on the refuge approximately seven miles from the town of Cold Bay. All camping was done following strict bear safety precautions. Staff at the Visitor Center mentioned that there were “less then 5 campers” in the last few years because of the Brown Bear density, and recommend that campers bring a gun or bear spray and a bear canister for food when camping or hiking. The refuge office in the town of Cold Bay is open as the ferry arrives, and provides checklists and maps of the area. Refuge staff were extremely accommodating and friendly. The area birded included Izembeck Lagoon, Cold Bay airstrip, and the seven miles of tundra between the Lagoon and the town of Cold Bay.

Species list:

Black Scoter, Melanitta nigra

Northern Pintail, Anas acuta

Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos

Greater Scaup, Aythya marila

Willow Ptarmigan, Lagopus lagopus

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus (alascanus)

Sandhill Crane, Crus canadensis

Semipalmated Plover, Charadrius semipalmatus

Rock Sandpiper, Calidris ptilocnemis (couesi)

Spotted Redshank (possible unconfirmed)

Spotted Sandpiper, Actitis macularia

Western Sandpiper, Calidris mauri

Wilson’s Snipe, Gallinago gallinago

Pomaraine Jaeger, Stercorarius pomarinus

Aleutian Tern, Sterna aleutica

Swainson’s Thrush, Catharus ustulatus

Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus

American Pipit, Anthus rubescens (pacificus)

Wilson’s Warbler, Wilsonia pusilla

Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis

Lapland Longspur, Calcarius lapponicus (alascensis)

Yellow Warbler, Dendroica petechia

Magill Weber
Madison, Wisconsin  
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