Alaska : Fall 2016 – Summer 2017

August 2016–July 2017

Thede Tobish
[email protected]

Recommended citation:

Tobish, T. Fall 2016 – Summer 2017: Alaska. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-9vM> North American Birds.

This report summarizes observations in context of Regional significance or of unusual dates or locations for the twelve-month period from fall 2016 through summer 2017.

Alaska’s overall temperature for 2017 followed a three-year trend of above long-term means. Northern Alaska again reported a high temperature deviation from normal with Utqiaġvik (Barrow) leading the way. The three last consecutive years have been Alaska’s warmest, most likely influenced by the strong El Nino, above average sea surface temperatures especially in the Gulf of Alaska and diminishing Arctic and winter Bering Sea pack ice.  Exceptional mild conditions delayed the fall freeze-up well into December in some coastal zones. However, March was unseasonably cold, averaging about -7 °F below normal as a high-pressure system persisted over most parts of Alaska in March, causing cold Arctic air to settle at low altitudes for several weeks. As a consequence, March was the only month of the year to show a negative departure from normal. Summer season forest fires were mostly average or lower than 2015-16 while the winter snowpack was below average for most sections of the State.  These conditions may have slowed the early push of spring migration. A few spring season storms produced favorable conditions for notable fallouts in the Aleutians and a decent array of Asiatic species. 

It was a relatively slow fall season in the Bering Sea.  Island outposts reported less than favorable weather conditions generally and most significant species were located later in the season.  It becomes increasingly apparent with these seasonal accounts of the role climate change exerts on Alaska bird status and distribution. The pace of new early arrivals and late departures, increasing less hardy species in winter, and the presence of warm water pelagics seem to be rising at least for the past decade.

Contributors (state editors in boldface)

G. S. Baluss, L. Barber, H, Bauscher, S. Beaudreault, R. B. Benter, J. K. Boone,  A. Bowman, I. Bruce, S. Cobb, K. Confer,  K. Cornelius, A. C. Courtney, D. Crowson,  B. H. Demerjian,  J..Donachy, N. K. Drumheller, J. L. Dunn, C. D. Eckert, M. Faizan, C, Feeeney, E. Fernandez, G. Frost, D. D. Gibson, S. Gilliland, D. Gochfeld, M. R. Goff, S. Golodof, J. Gorey, C. Gregory, B. and F. Haas, N. R. Hajdukovich-E-bird Compiler, J. Hanfman, A. Harper, S. Hauser,  S. C. Heinl-Southeast Co-Compiler, I. J. Helmericks,  B. L. Hunter, C. Irrigoo, C. Johnson, P. Kappes, W. Keys, J. F. Koerner, A. J. Lang-Southcoastal Compiler, K. R. Larsen, J. Layton, P. E. Lehman, B. Lesenkoff, J. D. Levison, J. H. Lewis, D. Lloyd, S. Lorenz, R. A. MacIntosh, H. Masters,  J. McDermott, M. Mudge, V. NihEideain, L. J. Oakley, L. Olson, B. B. Paige, C. & E. V. Parker, W. L. Peavler, B. Peluso, H. Pendell, K. Pietrzak, A. W. Piston-Southeast Co-Compiler, P. Pourchot, R. Prentki, B. Pyle, S. Rice, P. A. Rose, G. H. Rosenberg, W. T. Sampson, J. Saunders, J. F. Saur, J. Scheel, R. L. Scher, J. Schou, R. Schuerger, S. C. Schuette,  M. W, Schwan, D. Shirley, J.  Skene, J. Smith, D. W. Sonneborn, St. Paul Tour (S. C. Schuette, S. Lorenz, A. Vilag, et al.=2016/ C. Cox, P. Chaon, C. Mom et al.=2017), T. Springer, T. Stevenson, D. Stoker, C. P. Susie,  J. Taylor, T. G. Tobish, G. B. van Vliet, N. Warnock, S. Wild,  J. J. Withrow, K. Zimmer.

Abbreviations: North Gulf (North Gulf of Alaska). Referenced details (†), photographs (ph.), videotape (vt.), and audiotape (at.) are on file with the Alaska Checklist Committee.  Italicized place names or dates denote especially unusual locations or dates for the noted species.

Waterfowl

Another waif northbound Emperor Goose appeared off course in Anchorage, where there are a couple prior records, 25 Apr lingering to 3 May (TS ph., m.obs.).  A Ross’s Goose at Gustavus 7-16 Apr (NKD) provided the 3rd local record and the 8th for Southeast, all from spring, of this casual visitor to the Region.  Late May storms drove a lone Taiga Bean-Goose to Attu 1 June (RBB ph.).  One to two of the more regular Tundra Bean-Goose were also recorded from 26 May to 1 June in Attu.  More unusual was a very late group of eight Tundra Bean-Geese from Buildir I. 15 June (JG ph.) and singles from the Bering Sea at Gambell 25-26 May and 14 June (PEL et al.).  A pair of Wood Ducks turned up in Juneau 22 Apr (ACC et al.). These were joined by subsequent males thru May, totaling four males by 31 May (GBV)—all five were together through the first week of June. One to two Wood Ducks were observed in Juneau into the fall.  A drake Falcated Duck described at Buildir 20 Jun (KP) was a very rare summer season find.  Two young drake Common Pochards associated with other Aythya on Middleton I. ponds 20-27 Oct (NRH et al.). These follow a Sep 2012 report from this island and add to the few Southcentral records. Of the handful of scattered Tufted Duck observations from the Region’s Southwest, single females at Kodiak 2-3 Nov and 13 Dec thru 27 Jan (RAM ph.) were noteworthy. Following the Pribilof’s first ever stejnereri White-winged Scoter (NB-elevated to species status by AOS CLC in 2019) from Oct 2013, one was again documented at St. Paul 27 June-7 Aug (St. Paul Tour, DG ph.). Most reports of this casual visitor have come in spring at Gambell.  Aside from the typical summer reports from Kenny L. in Southcentral, a single Ruddy Duck at Gustavus 21 Oct to 13 Nov (NKD ph.) was the only other significant find; there are now about 20 Southeast records.

Grebes through Rails

Most surprising was a Pied-billed Grebe on Jim L. near Palmer 2 Aug thru 5 Sep (DL, KC ph., et al.), The species is casual away from Southeast, which produced up to nine mostly single records scattered between Gustavus and Wrangell 16 Sep to 16 Nov (m. obs.). Middleton I. for the second time harbored an Eared Grebe 22-27 Oct (LHD ph., et al.). The species remains casual for the Region.  Mourning Dove is typically found as a rare fall migrant mostly in Southeast, so one at Gustavus 9-13 Jul (NKD ph.) adds to the few summer observations.  While reports of Anna’s Hummingbird continue to increase across Southeast from all seasons and most communities, the species was finally photo-documented at Kodiak 27-28 Jul (TS ph., RAM ph.). Anna’s continues as casual away from Southeast, with mostly fall reports from coastal towns.  After at least six sight records since 1967all from Southeast, Calliope Hummingbird was finally documented, in Juneau 3-5 Sep (GBV ph., PAR ph.). The species reaches north into central interior British Columbia.  The Virginia Rail rescued from a house cat in Sitka 8 Jan (SW, MRG ph.) was re-sighted in the area 9-11 Mar. The species is known from a handful of mostly late fall and winter records in Southeast.

Shorebirds

Far Eastern Curlew staged a good spring showing with singles located from Adak 26 May-4 Jun (FH ph., BH, et al.), Attu 1 Jun+ (RBB ph.), and at St. Paul I. 9 Jun (St. Paul Tours).  This wader is not annual and rarely are there multiple sightings like these.  This winter’s Ruddy Turnstones doubled the total prior winter tally, with singles from Petersburg 29 Jan (KC ph.) and farther out in the North Gulf at Kodiak 10 Jan to 4 Feb (RAM ph.).  The Nome R. mouth again produced a Great Knot 16 Jun (DG ph.). Many of the recent records of this casual spring migrant come from this estuary, which gets heavy coverage between mid-May and late June.  Temminck’s Stint remains a sporadic spring migrant, and the one found this year at Adak 27-28 May (FH, BH) was exceptional.  Spring season Little Stints are irregular and most reports come in fall.  Notable this year included singles from Buldir 31 May (MM ph., KP) and then St. Paul 16-17 Jun (St. Paul Tour).  Jack Snipe continues a remarkable run of fall season occurrences from the Pribilofs, where this skulker has been nearly annual over the last decade, with singles documented at St. Paul 9-16 and 22-25 Sep (St. Paul Tours). For the third year running, a Spotted Sandpiper spent the winter at Sitka to 23 Feb (MRG ph.). Spotteds largely depart Alaska by late Sep; there are roughly a dozen winter records. St. Paul I. had two Marsh Sandpipers this year, singles 13 Aug-5 Sep and then in spring 29 May-14 Jun (St. Paul Tours).  Most    Alaska reports come in early fall; this was one of few in spring.   

Gulls through Boobies

The seawatch at the Point in Gambell produced an extralimital adult Red-legged Kittiwake 2 Jun (AJL et al.), only a second local report. Skagway was an unlikely location for an Ivory Gull, an adult 1 Feb (AB ph.), a first photo-documented and a fifth overall for Southeast.  An extremely early Sabine’s Gull at Kodiak 7 Apr (RAM ph.) was almost certainly the State’s earliest arrival; we have very few Apr sightings. At the other extreme were Nov Sabine’s Gull sightings in Southeast, singles at Ketchikan 8, 9, 11 and 12 Nov in Ketchikan (SCH, AWP, JHL), from Sitka 11 Nov (HB), and at Haines 20 and 23 Nov (JS, MF ph.).  The latter established a record departure date for Alaska.  A first cycle Black-tailed Gull surprisingly established a fourth Gambell record 13 Jun (PEL) and the season’s only sighting.  An adult Western Gull was photographed at Sitka 2 Jun (CPS ph., MRG ph.), an unusual find for summer of this casual migrant/winter visitor. Most of the state’s report s over the last decade have come from Sitka.  At least four Caspian Terns around Nome’s Safety Sound 6 Jun-29 Jul (m.obs.), a lone North Slope bird at the Colville River mouth 27 Jul (IJH ph.), and a single accidental for the Interior at Healy Lake near Delta Junction 16 Jun (NRH ph.) headlined a strong summer showing for the Region.  The Arctic Tern at Kodiak 7 Apr (RAM) constituted the earliest Alaska spring arrival by weeks.  Brown Boobies continue to reach into the Region coincident with peak sea surface temperatures with three singles found this year, from off Southeast’s Kruzof I. 6 Aug (KM ph.) and east and southeast of Marmot I. off Kodiak 12 Aug (SC) and 6 Sep (CJ) respectively.   

Egrets through Falcons

Great Egrets appeared across the state this year, highlighted by single birds from St. Paul 21-29 Nov (St, Paul Tour), from Atka most of the winter to 24 Mar (IB), another at Attu 19-21 May + (fide RBB), and at Kodiak 16 Aug (RAM ph.).  Turkey Vultures are casual in the Region mostly as early spring overshoots. Southeast observers forwarded two reports, lone birds at Wrangell 10 Apr (VN ph.), which became the State’s earliest by 15 days, and at Juneau 30 Jul (GBV ph., PAR ph., et al); there are now five Southeast records.  A Black Kite (Milvus migrans) from east Asia appeared at St. Paul I. 2-3 Jan (BL ph.), Alaska’s first report for this common migrant and breeder to the coasts of the Sea of Okhotsk, Japan, and Korea. This form is known for migration movements over large overwater expanses.  Significant Swainson’s Hawks included sightings in Southeast, from offshore where unknown at Sitka 3 May (CPFG ph.), and a second bird from Juneau 10-16 May (MWS ph., m. obs.); there are now about ten Southeast records. One of the year’s most exciting finds was Alaska’s first Lewis’s Woodpecker at Petersburg 10-30 Nov (SR, BLH, KC ph., JDL ph.).  This individual was observed flycatching and eating apples. Later, the carcass was retrieved in the area 17 Dec (to UAM). This woodpecker breeds north to south interior British Columbia. It occasionally has reached farther north to Hazleton and Takla L. with three older extralimital records from Masset, Haida Gwaii.  Another west Aleutian Eurasian Hobby was documented from Attu 23 May (RBB ph.). This small falcon is occasionally seen mostly in the Near Islands following the first reports from the 1980’s.

Flycatchers through Wrens

A vocal Tropical Kingbird at Sitka 29-30 Oct (MRG ph. & audio, JDL ph., m.obs.) was the Region’s fifth and the first since 2002.  Small numbers of hatch-year Tropical Kingbirds disperse sporadically northward on the Pacific Coast in fall; Alaska’s previous four reports came from Ketchikan in Oct-Nov.  Long overdue, Alder Flycatcher was finally added for Kodiak when a window-kill Alder was retrieved at a Bells Flats home 19 Aug (BP ph.).  The summer’s only Willow Flycatcher observation came again from Hyder for the third consecutive summer. At least one Willow held a territory at Hyder 3 Jun-31 Jul (SCS, LHD ph. AWP);  there are fewer than 20 Southeast records.  Following the report from the previous year, another Eastern Phoebe appeared in the Nome area 9-16 Jun (SH, NRH et al.). A second Eastern Phoebe held a territory at Columbia Ck on the Taylor Hwy south of Eagle 11-17+ Jun (GF, RLS, TGT).  These mark the Region’s 9th and 10th records approximately.  In the fallout following the passage of a strong spring storm across the western Aleutians was a classy Brown Shrike at Attu 1 Jun (RBB ph., et al.), a second island record and one of very few from the Aleutians of this casual migrant. The hardy Cassin’s Vireo in Juneau 1-4 May (GBV, DWS ph., et al.) provided a new early arrival date for Alaska—it appeared ahead of deciduous tree leaf-out.  The best and most surprising bird of the summer season has to be the Rock Wren in Gustavus 3-25+ Jul (BPP ph., JDL ph.), Alaska’s first. The species nests north to southeastern British Columbia.

Leaf Warblers through Pipits

Significant Phylloscopus reports came in fall including two Common Chiffchaffs from Gambell 30 May-1 Jun and 4-5 Jun (PEL et al.), the 5th and 6th for that outpost, an early fall Dusky Warbler also at Gambell 21 Aug (PEL), and a Yellow-browed Warbler from St. Paul I.  24 Sep (St. Paul Tour).  Red-flanked Bluetail reports continue to increase in the Bering Sea, with this year’s report coming from St. Paul 24-28 Sep (St. Paul Tour).  Taiga Flycatcher, still not annual, was reported in spring from Attu 31 May (RBB ph.) and in fall at St. Paul 8 Sep (St. Paul Tour).  A Pied Wheatear, Alaska’s first, and judged by Palearctic experts to be a second-year bird, showed up at a Cape Nome area jetty 4 Jul-4 Aug (AH ph., TGT, LJO).  Although there are spring and fall records from Japan, this Central Asia plains breeder took wandering to extremes.  Another or possibly last summer’s Veery sang on territory in Hyder 2-26+ Jun (AJL ph., JDL ph., et al.). This individual marks Alaska’s 5th record with all but one from the Hyder woods.  A couple weather events brought pulses of Eye-browed Thrushes into Alaska’s periphery, highlighted by tallies of 16 then 22 from Attu 23 and 31 May (RBB ph., et al.), and noteworthy sightings farther afield where less often found, with at least one around Adak 15-18+ May (SG ph., et al.), and another from Gambell 28 May-2 Jun (AJL et al.). Two Eye-browed Thrushes present at Buldir I.  “for a couple weeks” to 9+ Jul (MM ph., KP) were an unusual mid-summer record.  Three Gray Catbird reports came in for the summer, singles from Hyder 2 Jun (SCS), near Ketchikan 24-25 Jul (RS†), and near Juneau 7-29 Jul (JFS, PAR ph., MWS ph.). There are 11 prior Alaska reports. Gambell birders continue to pile on Siberian Accentor records, with another three located there 7-9 Sep (2 together) (LP, GHR et al.), 1 and 23 Sep (CF, m. obs.).  Two fallouts of Olive-backed Pipits from Attu produced unusually high counts of 15 from 21 May and 18 on 31 May (RBB ph.). These have only been exceeded by the banner fallouts from spring 1998 and 2001. Pechora Pipits made a good spring showing, with singles reported from Attu 21-22 May (RBB ph.) and east at Buldir 21 May (PK†). The lone fall bird reached St. Paul I. 8 Sep (St. Paul Tour). 

Fringilids

Of the usual scattering of spring season Bramblings, the high count of 167 + from Adak 17 May (SL, JH) was unprecedented there. Favorable spring weather brought widespread Hawfinch numbers to the western parts of the Region. Building from 19 May arrivals, by far most significant were Hawfinch high counts of 26+ from St. Paul on 1 Jun (St. Paul Tour) and 10+ from Adak 4 Jun (RBB ph., FH, BH) and ten for the season 24 May-3 Jun (AJL, m. obs.) from well north at Gambell where the occasional single is the norm.  Equally unprecedented was the hardy Hawfinch located in late winter in Anchorage 2 Mar-3+ Apr (EF ph., m. obs.)—there are now five Mainland records and very few in winter for the State.  Common Rosefinch made news with lone birds at Attu 23 May and 1 Jun (RBB ph.), east to Adak 3-10 Jun (m.obs.), and later from 13 Jun at St. Paul I. (St. Paul Tour).  This NE Asian species is typically found later in spring but not annually. Two Eurasian Bullfinches in one year is a big event, including one each at Gambell 2 Oct (PEL, JKB, JD, CF), only a second local record, and from Unalaska 16 Apr (SG ph.), a rare find for the eastern Aleutians.   The House Finch at a Ketchikan feeder 17 Oct-30 Nov (JFK, SCH ph.) provided the 7th local and 11th Alaska record and first from fall. A singing male House Finch discovered in Girdwood 25 Mar-17 Apr (TGT, NW, WK ph.) and another migrant individual in Anchorage 24 May (LB ph.) were equally as impressive, and Alaska’s first away from Southeast. A male Cassin’s Finch wintered at a feeder near Palmer early Jan-19+ Mar (JS, JT ph.); most of the State’s approximately eight prior records come from Southcentral.

Emberizids

Proving worthy of its hardy status was a Pine Bunting that arrived at Gambell 18 Nov and survived blizzards and building snow by scavenging beach ryegrass seedheads thru 2 Dec (CI ph., m. obs.). It represented a first for St. Lawrence I. and Alaska’s fourth and latest record. Single Little Buntings 30 Sep (PEL et al.) and 21 Oct (CI ph.) brought the fall season total to 31 for that locale since 1993.  Of the usual scattering of Rustic Bunting reports, one from Adak 15-19 May (JS ph., m. obs.) was notable away from standard sites. Getting late in the season was yet another Pallas’s Bunting at Gambell 22 Oct (PEL), the fifth in fall at that site, all since 2006. Bowman managed to relocate a Spotted Towhee reported from a few days prior at Cordova 27 Nov (AB ph.), one of few away from southeast, which produced  three more sightings, at Ketchikan from late fall to 17 Dec (JHL ph.), another returning bird from late fall thru the winter at Juneau (m. obs.), and one at Sitka 13 Dec (HP, MRG ph.). Two different Swamp Sparrows documented from Middleton I. 20-25 Oct (NRH ph., et al.) were the second from this offshore hotspot.  There are about three records away from Southeast.  Of the usual handful of White-throated Sparrows reported, a lone bird glimpsed in late Oct, that spent 17 Jan – 12 Marr (JD ph.) near Chignik half-way out the Alaska Peninsula, was unprecedented and well beyond most prior records west of Southeast. A lone winter White-throat from Dillingham in 2014 is likely the Region’s previous westernmost report.

Blackbirds through Buntings

Another in the occasional series of one-off odd locality Brown-headed Cowbird sightings came in from Toolik Lake/MP 130 of the Dalton Hwy 12 Jun (SB ph.) in the northern Interior. The female Brewer’s Blackbird that arrived 21 Dec and overwintered at Hoonah in southern Southeast (JS, ACC) was likely the same bird from the previous winter. Summer season wood-warbler highlights were limited to the North Slope’s surprising third Cape May Warbler occurrence at Utqiaġvik 15 Jun (DS ph., et al.), two Hyder area Magnolia Warblers, where casual, a single 14 Jun-3 Jul (WLP, m. obs.), and two present 26 Jun (JDL), and the Region’s first documented Northern Parula from Ketchikan 28-292 Jun (AWP, SCH ph.). Alaska’s other Northern Parula report was an old sight record from 23-24 Sep on isolated Middleton I. Of the usual handful of Tennessee Warblers in Southeast, two in Ketchikan 2 Jul (SCH, JHL) were only the second local record and considered unusual off the Mainland.  Gambell produced two Tennessee Warblers 1-9 Oct and 4 Oct (PEL CI, et al), that site’s 3rd and 4th records, all in fall.  The MacGillivray’s Warbler in Gambell middens 4- Oct (PEL, et al.) constituted the third in fall season for that locality and the Bering Sea. Lazuli Buntings made news from two extremes, one at Ketchikan 28 Jun-6 Jul (AWP, SCH ph.), a second local find, and another at Gambell 2-6 Oct (PEL, ph., CI ph., m. obs.). These mark the Region’s approximately 11th and 12th records-the Gambell bird was the Bering Sea area’s first.

Report processed by Byron Swift, 27 Dec 2020.

Photos–Alaska : Fall 2016 – Summer 2017
Hover or click on each image to read the caption.