26 May - 12 June 1999
by Brad Bergstrom
Between 26 May and 12 June, I birded Gambell, Nome, St. Paul Island, and Barrow (also Anchorage and Kenai Peninsula). Winter was heavy and spring unusually late in the northern and western outposts, with extensive pack ice staying much later than usual.
Here are some highlights.
Gambell, St. Lawrence Isl., 26-29 May
Still winter here! Land birding was very slow, although a 24-hr spectacle of seabirds going by, including a few IVORY GULLs (including two perched) and YELLOW-BILLED LOONs (all fast flybys); rafts/flocks of SPECTACLED EIDER and occasional STELLER'S EIDER. One or two SLATY-BACKED GULLs. Many Guillemots including a handful of BLACK GUILLEMOT. A cold vigil between the mountain and the "ice shelf" one morning brought a pair of DOVEKIE flying overhead and calling. Most abundant seabird by far were CRESTED AUKLETs, and LEAST AUKLET probably second -- stupendous numbers!
Lake still 95% frozen, but along fringing marshes and in boneyards were a couple each of BLUETHROAT, YELLOW WAGTAIL, and NORTHERN WHEATEAR and one nice male BRAMBLING. A couple of WOOD SANDPIPERs only other thing of note. Only 2 Asian vagrants... disappointing. I heard reports that in the week or so after my visit, WHITE WAGTAIL, COMMON RINGED PLOVER, and HAWFINCH were seen.
NOME (29-30 May): with only 24 hrs. here (I'd spent a week here in 1993), I concentrated on the mouth of the Nome River and Safety Lagoon (still mostly frozen). One basic-plumaged BLACK-HEADED GULL at the river mouth the only thing unusual, but fabulous views of both ROCK & WILLOW PTARMIGAN in every possible stage of molt, hanging out along the still snowy roadsides. Most of the regular breeders were back on the tundra.
St. Paul Island, 1-4 June
I missed a day of my four-day tour (well, they call it "five days") thanks to Alaska Airlines canceling my flight back from Nome, but I made up for lost time in what was a truly phenomenal 3 days on the Pribilofs! 10 Asian vagrants, and another 2 I missed by a couple of days, including WOOD SANDPIPER (many), COMMON SANDPIPER, COMMON GREENSHANK (3+), GRAY-TAILED TATTLER (3), TEREK SANDPIPER, LONG-TOED STINT, RUFF, COMMON CUCKOO (6 in one afternoon!), BEAN GOOSE, TUFTED DUCK, and BLACK-HEADED GULL. Most unusual was the population of about 100 SLATY-BACKED GULLs on the island! Another great bird was MCKAY'S BUNTING (not seen at Gambell and not expected here) -- there was a pair displaying together at Hutchinson Hill and perhaps nesting. At the same place and during the same afternoon that we experienced the Common Cuckoo invasion, one of the guides saw a RED-BREASTED FLYCATCHER (1st Pribilofs record). Unfortunately, he turned out to be a one-hour wonder, and none of the visiting birders managed to find him. A day or two before my arrival, several people had seen BLACK-TAILED GODWIT, and a beautiful, pink ROSS'S GULL spent about a week being seen in Salt Lagoon, only to be hit by a car!
Although it was very cold and the tundra just barely starting to green up, all the regular breeders were back. Also seen were STELLER'S EIDER (pair), KING EIDERs (but no adult males), a few RED PHALAROPEs, a THAYER'S GULL, and an ANCIENT MURRELET in the surf; pair of RING-NECKED DUCKs (rare for the Pribs). Most HARLEQUIN DUCKs I've ever seen, by far.
Barrow, 10-12 June
You don't come here for vagrants or diversity, but where else can a commercial jet take you to see the bizarre and wonderful courtship display of the PECTORAL SANDPIPER (which hyperinflates its esophagus to produce surprisingly low-pitched hoots, not to metion a comical appearance)? Tundra ponds were still 90% frozen, and I imagine that limited numbers of birds. No floating YELLOW-BILLED LOONs (only very few PACIFIC and RED-THROATED) but a few close fly-bys, better seen than in Gambell. About 8-10 SNOWY OWLs.
Adult males of the three EIDERs besides Common were well seen, and STELLER'S EIDER was particularly abundant. It seems virtually every RED PHALAROPE in the world is here (which explains why it had always eluded me!), and they are very approachable, too. Gorgeous bird! Other most common shorebirds during these 48 hrs were SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER, DUNLIN, AMER. GOLDEN-PLOVER, and LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (which the 3rd ed. of the NGS guide doesn't show breeding within 300 miles of Barrow--oops!). A few WESTERNs and one BAIRD'S SANDPIPER, but I suspect they were still coming in. A pair of REDHEADs was unusual for the area (if NGS is correct).
Also abundant were POMARINE JAEGERs (some of the other 2 as well), SNOW BUNTING, LAPLAND LONGSPUR, COMMON REDPOLL (more so than HOARY--other way around in Gambell), and of course OLDSQUAW and N. PINTAIL. Strangely, there is only one gull here--GLAUCOUS. TUNDRA SWANS, GR. WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE, SHORT-EARED OWLs, COMMON SNIPE....
Cook Inlet near Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage is a great place to see flocks of HUDSONIAN GODWIT, SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER and SURFBIRD in breeding plumage, and the residential neighborhoods nearby are decent birding to round out your Alaska list, especially of coniferous forest birds. Potter's Marsh produced a photogenic male BARROW'S GOLDENEYE.
During the second week of June In the Kenai, the Lower Trail Lake Campground produced two active THREE-TOED WOODPECKER nests and a N. SAW-WHET OWL calling all night. At a place called Miller's Landing just south of Seward, a male STELLER'S EIDER swam near the mouth of a small stream, in proximity to Harlequins and a WANDERING TATTLER. This was supposedly most unusual for the area, especially in June.
The native Village of Port Graham (a 15-min flight from Homer on Smokey Bay Air) was a very birdy place, lousy with NW CROWs, RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRDs, CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEES, BALD EAGLEs, TOWNSEND'S WARBLERs, VARIED and HERMIT THRUSHes, and as many PINE SISKINs as all the rest combined. Saw 3 SPRUCE GROUSE on the logging (argh!) road a few miles walk from town and two rather large flocks of WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILLs. Lots of black bears in this area!
Birds seen (and heard only) in Alaska 26 May - 12 June 1999.
1 = just one seen (or heard);
2 = 2-8;
3 = 9 to 20 or so;
4 = scores!;
5 = hundreds!!;
6 = thousands!!!
**Locality Codes & Dates:
GM = Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, May 26-29
NM = Nome and vicinity (Seward Peninsula), May 29-30
AN = Anchorage area, May 31 and June 13
SP = St. Paul Island, Pribilofs, June 1-4
KE = Kenai Peninsula, June 4-10
BA = Barrow, June 10-12
|Greater White-fronted Goose||3||BA|
|Black (Common) Scoter||3||GM,NM,BA|
|American Golden Plover||3||GM,NM,BA|
|Pacific Golden Plover||2||NM|
|Red Phalarope||5||SP(3 indiv.),BA|
|Herring Gull (vega race)||4||GM(most),SP|
|Slaty-backed Gull||4||GM,NM,SP (esp. SP)|
|(Northern Saw-Whet Owl)||1||KE|
|Three-toed Woodpecker||2 (nests)||KE|
|American Tree Sparrow||2||NM|
|McKay's Bunting||2 (pr)||SP|
|Gray-crowned Rosy Finch||4||SP|
Tundra Vole, Brown Lemming, Arctic Ground Squirrel, Red Squirrel, Mountain Goat, Dall Sheep, Moose, Reindeer, Black Bear, Arctic Fox
Brad Bergstrom, Ph.D., Professor TEL 912-333-5770 /-5759
Department of Biology FAX 912-333-7389
Valdosta State University e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Valdosta, GA 31698-0015 Home: 912-333-0743
Home Page-- http://www.valdosta.edu/~bergstrm/