Alaska: Fall 2017–Summer 2018

Fall 2017–Summer 2018: 1 Aug 2017–31 Jul 2018

Thede Tobish

Recommended citation:

Tobish, T. 2021. Fall 2017–Summer 2018: Alaska. <> North American Birds.

This report summarizes observations in the context of regional significance, or of unusual dates or locations, spanning the twelve-month period fall 2017 through the summer season 2018. Alaska’s overall temperature profiles for 2017 and 2018 followed a multi-year trend of above long-term means. This period was below the record set by 2016’s highest ever annual departure of 1.5°F warmer than the previous record holder (2014). Northern Alaska again reported high temperature deviations from normal with Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow) leading the way. The past few years have been Alaska’s warmest, likely influenced by a strong El Nino, above average sea surface temperatures especially in the Gulf of Alaska, and diminishing Arctic and winter Bering Sea pack ice. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation continued to measure mostly above zero, which also translates to warmer conditions. Relatively mild conditions again protracted the fall freeze—up well into December in some coastal zones. The Arctic sea ice extent receded to near record lows in November and December. It was a relatively decent fall season, periodically favorable for rarities, especially in the Bering Sea. About seven influential storms crossed the region for the peak migration season in September and October. One of these originated off Kamchatka as a reconstituted remnant typhoon that moved east with intensities of 930 millibars. Lehman announced this as the best fall ever for Asiatics at Gambell. Once the season ended, that outpost had accounted for three new

species for North America and numerous other reports of high significance. I am heartened by the evolution of photo-documentation of rare or odd date records that now comes in mostly via eBird. The volume of eBird data from Alaska reporters in all seasons now dwarfs what Alaska regional editors received historically via direct submissions.

Contributors (subregional editors are in boldface):

Adkins, G. Allen, J. Allison, G. S. Baluss, G. Beiber, S. Beaudreault, R. B. Benter, J. K. Boone, A. Bowman, A. Brelsford, J. Brunjes, L. Burke, T. Burke, S. Byers, C. J. Clark, E. W. Clark, S. Cobb, A. C. Courtney, P. D’Amelia, M. Danihel, B. H. Demerjian, N. K. Drumheller, J. L. Dunn, G. Dutson, W. Egelhoff, H. Elliott, B. Friedrichs, J. J. Frost, D. Gochfeld, C. P. F. Goff, M. R. Goff, S. Golodof, B. and F. Haas, C. Hagenlocher, N. R. Hajdukovich -E -bird Compiler, S. C. Heinl -Southeast Co -Compiler, J. Hansen, N. Hayward, J. Helmericks, E. Hopson, C. Irrigoo, A. Johnson, C. Johnson, W. Keys, K. Kidd, L. Kidd, J. F. Koerner, K. L. LaBounty, L. A. Lamm, R. Lanctot, A. J. Lang -Southcoastal Compiler, B. Legasse, P. E. Lehman, M. G. Levine, D. Lindow, S. Lorenz, D. Lyon, G. Lyon, R. A. MacIntosh, T. Metcalf, P. Mickelson, D. Mitchell, M. Morrison, M. Mudge, E. Neipert, B. B. Paige, C. M. Parker, E. V. Parker, J. Parks, J. Pfitzer, A. W. Piston -Southeast Co -Compiler, L. L. Pizzuto -Phillips, J. Puschock, P. T. H. Randles, M. Renner, B. Robinson, C. Robson, P. A. Rose, G. H. Rosenberg, D. D. Rudis, T. Saunders, R. L. Scher, S. C. Schuette, M. W, Schwan, L. Schwantes, T. Schwantes, P. Scully, B. Shepherd, D. Slager, D. W. Sonneborn, R. Stoll, V. Stoll, St. Paul Tour (C. Cox, P. Chaon, S. C. Schuette, C. Mom et al. 2017/W. S. Gibson, C. Cavasos, P. Chaon 2018), C. P. Susie, J. Taylor, T. G. Tobish, G. B. van Vliet, G. Weaver, S. C. Weidensaul, S. White, R. Wirth, S. Wise.

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 through Rails

An adult Ross’s Goose in Juneau 11 May (LAL ph.) was Southeast’s ninth and the year’s only one confirmed. Good numbers of spring Tundra Bean-Goose reports drew notice, highlighted by at least one at Adak 12 May (m. ob.) and a record total of six in the Gambell area late May–21 Jun (PEL ph, CI ph, m. obs.). A lone Tundra Bean-Goose from the Arctic coast at Utqiagvik 7–8 Jun (BL ph., WE) was a first for northern Alaska. Wood Duck numbers in Juneau, where the species has become more regular, maxed out at four 28 Apr–2 Jun (BS, m.obs.). Cruise ship birders found a Baikal Teal at a stop on Attu I. 20 Aug (SCS †), which continues the pattern of sporadic w. Aleutian fall reports since 1983. The spring’s Cinnamon Teal best reports came from unusual locales, with a pair each found at the Kasilof R. mouth on the Kenai Pen. 4 May (LB ph.) and in Fairbanks 18–26 May (JJF, JP, NJH ph). This period’s lone Falcated Duck account was a pair from Adak 2 June (m. ob.). The female Smew located on tundra ponds at MP 81 along the Denali National Park road 7 Jun (SCW ph.) constituted the Interior’s first record and probably only the second ever for the Mainland. A Ruddy Duck pair in Homer 11 May (AJL, MR ph.) was the period’s most unusual report for this rare spring and summer visitant. Decent details accompanied an Oriental Turtle-Dove observation from Dutch Harbor (GA †), a fourth Aleutian report and a second from this e. Aleutians locality of this casual, mostly late, spring migrant. Common Cuckoo reports came in for both spring and fall, including a single at St. Paul I. 31 May (WSG ph.); another from Mainland along the Teller Rd. out of Nome 17–19 Jun (DS, CH ph., et al.); and then lone birds from Dutch Harbor 9–19 Sep (SG ph.) and Adak 21–24 Sep (FH, BH ph.), which was called Cuculus sp. St. Paul birders also documented an Oriental Cuckoo 5–9 Jun (WSG ph., et al). A roaming Eurasian Collared-Dove was reasonably described in Port Lions 26–28 Jul (DW, GW, KA ph.), the Kodiak Archipelago’s second confirmed record. Following several fleeting observations over the years, Kodiak finally got its first Anna’s Hummingbird 27 Jul–24 Oct (LS, TS, fide RAM). Anna’s continue to thrive through the winter in Southeast, as a conservative count of 20 for the season from the Ketchikan area attests. Another fall Costa’s Hummingbird, approximately the region’s 13th since the first in 1989, surfaced in Homer 9–30 Sep (DL, GL ph., m. ob.). The same cat that caught a Virginia Rail last winter in Sitka brought in another there 26 Dec (RW ph.). Most of the region’s approximate 20 records came from the Southeast Mainland.

Shorebirds through Falcons

Asiatic species and mostly in the Aleutians from the spring passage dominated this report period’s significant shorebird sightings, most notably: a Far-eastern Curlew at Attu 27 May (JP, NH, et al.); single Black-tailed Godwits from Buldir I. 28 May (BR, MM) and Attu 26–28 May (JP ph., NH); another Nome area Great Knot 5–6 Jun (AB ph.), where now almost annual; single Temminck’s Stints at Adak 25 May (FH ph., BH), Gambell 6 Jun (HE ph.), and north from Utqiagvik 23 Jun (BF ph.); solitary Little Stints documented at Adak, where casual mainly in fall

28–29 May (FH ph., BH) and at Utqiagvik 15–18 Jun (CR, WE ph., DG ph.); six and five Common Sandpipers respectively from Shemya (EN) and Attu (JP, NH) 25 May; a Gray-tailed Tattler from Utqiagvik 21–23 Jun (RL, LK, WE ph.); a rare spring Spotted Redshank at Adak 25–29 May (FH ph., BH); and a Common Greenshank east of regular report areas from Adak 27–28 May (FH, BH). A flock of 55 Marbled Godwits at Sitka 29 Apr (MRG ph., KLL) was likely the largest count ever in Southeast. Of special note was a bright Little Stint located in the Goose Bay Refuge flats in Upper Cook Inlet 24 May (TS ph.), which constituted a first for South-central Alaska. Wilson’s Phalarope reports included one in Homer, a local first, on 21 May (MR et al.) and a pair at Goose Bay Refuge south of Wasilla 25–27 May (m. ob., many ph.), where this rare spring visitor is seen sporadically. The season’s exceptional fall shorebirds included yet another Jack Snipe from St. Paul I. 24–26 Sep (ST PAUL TOUR, CC ph., PC ph.) and a flighty Green Sandpiper; only the region’s second in autumn, also at St. Paul 19–24 Sep (ST PAUL TOUR, CC ph.). St. Paul birders described two Long-billed Murrelets from their seawatch 30 Sep (CC †, PC †), where this obscure species has been sighted before. There are now approximately a dozen Alaska records. It was a relatively uneventful year for rare gulls. Notable, were at least two out-of-place Ross’s Gulls documented from Izembek Lagoon on the Alaska Pen 23 and 24 Nov (JB ph., CM). At this date most Ross’s Gulls are still in their Arctic migration swing. Another presumed northbound adult Ross’s Gull was described at Hooper Bay, where essentially unknown in spring 24 May (AJ †). Casual spring season Franklin’s Gulls again appeared, with singles noted at St. Paul 16–23 May (WSG ph.) and in the Anchorage area 19–20 May (PS ph., et al.), where there are a handful of reports. Visiting birders photographed an immature Heerman’s Gull on Chiswell Rocks beyond the mouth of Resurrection Bay 30 Jun (DM ph., JA). This marks only the second summer record of the dozen or so Alaska reports, which are focused in mostly late Aug and early Sep in Southeast. Most unusual in Southeast was a Black Tern near Haines 5 May (MD ph., et al.). It represented Southeast’s 4th and approximately the State’s 15th and earliest record by more than two weeks. Shipboard observers substantiated a Nazca Booby, Alaska’s first, in the North Gulf of Alaska 21 km off East Amatuli Is. 30 Aug (MGL ph.). Another Sulid from south of Kodiak 24 Aug (SC), identified by the observer as a Nazca, was problematic. The AK CLC felt the photos were not definitive and declined to accept the identification, choosing to call the record Masked/Nazca. These sightings follow increased reports from California waters since 2015. On the heals of these reports came two separate Brown Booby accounts, singles from east of Kodiak 12 Aug (SC ph.) and from not far from the same coordinates 6 Sep (CJ ph., SW). These recent Brown Booby sightings bring the Alaska total to eight confirmed. The period’s only Great Egret reports came in from Adak, where casual: 17 May (FH, BH, SL ph., AJL ph.) and from Southeast on Prince of Wales I. 27 Nov (TM ph.), and Haines 23–30 Nov (fide PTHR). A Turkey Vulture cruising over Kesugi Ridge off the Parks Hwy in the Alaska Range 10 Jun (CR†, GD) was latish and out of this casual spring visitor normal range mostly from the eastern Interior. Two Golden Eagles seemingly paired at Sitka’s Blue Lake 13 Jun were subsequently found at an active nest 20 Jun (EVP, CMP, CPS, MRG, CPFG), This represented a first confirmed nesting in Southeast’s Alexander Archipelago for the species that is otherwise a rare summer visitor from the Mainland. This cycle’s Eurasian Hobby showed up at St. Paul 31 May (CR ph., et al.), adding to the four or so prior Pribilof records.

Flycatchers through House Sparrow

Surprisingly few noteworthy Tyrannid reports came in for the period, limited to an accidental Bering Sea Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, well-scrutinized from St. Paul 4 Sep (ST PAUL TOUR, CC ph.); a territorial Willow Flycatcher in Juneau 24 Jun–13 Jul (DDR, GBV); and an amazing Eastern Phoebe from Anchorage’s Kincaid Park 1 Jun (JH ph., vt.), with another at Hoonah offshore in Southeast 26–27 May (ACC at.). The Anchorage bird marks South-central’s first record of this casual visitor found mostly later in June. A flighty Old World young shrike in the Gambell middens, at first sighting 3 Oct tentatively identified as an immature Brown Shrike, was eventually confirmed under further scrutiny and by a series of excellent photos as Alaska’s first Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio). This striking bird remained in the area through 22 Oct (GHR ph, PEL, CI ph., SB ph.). The species Palearctic breeding range spans Western Europe into Central Asia and there are a few extralimital records from Japan and Korea. Most unusual from 46 km offshore east of Kodiak 29 Sep was an adult Northern Shrike in a ship’s rigging feeding on a Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel (CJ ph.). Like other southbound passerines, this species must occasionally cross the North Gulf well offshore on their way to Southeast. Single Purple Martins near Gustavus 13 May (NKD ph.) and Juneau 14 Jun (PAR, MWS ph., et al.) provided the 4th and 5th records for Southeast. Gambell produced another somewhat early Common House-Martin 28 May (JLD, GB) where there were about eight prior spring sightings. More noteworthy were fall Common House-Martins from St. George I. in the Pribilofs 31 Aug (NKD ph.) and a first for that season at Gambell 14 Sep (PEL †). The amazing Rock Wren discovered in Gustavus from July (q. v.) remained in the area through 18 Nov (NKD et al.). The spring’s most significant Phylloscopus was a weather worn Common Chiffchaff feeding on the tundra in Utqiagvik 16–21 Jun (BL, PD ph., WE). This recently added species has been recorded six times in spring at Gambell. It was an exceptional fall showing for Old World warblers from four genera from the Aleutian/Bering Sea outposts, including Gambell’s third confirmed fall Common Chiffchaff 13 Sep (VS ph., RS, PEL); two Wood Warblers from Gambell 13 Sep (PEL, CI ph., et al) and then 16–21 Oct (CI ph., RBB ph.), which mark that site’s second and third records; a single Dusky Warbler from St. Paul I. 31 Aug (ST PAUL TOUR) and five variously around Gambell for the season 19 Aug–20 Sep (fide PEL); and birds by range were likely Kamchatka Leaf Warblers from Adak 16 Sep (FH, BH) and at St. Paul I. 22 Sep (ST PAUL TOUR, PC ph., CC). Off-the-charts exciting were two skulkers from the Gambell middens, which turned out to be Alaska’s first ever Thick-billed Warbler (Arundinax aedon) 8–13 Sep (VS, RS, AJL ph. m.obs. and ph.) and River Warbler (Locustella fluvialis) 7 Oct (SB ph., PEL et al.). The former breeds from e. Siberia to the Amur Basin and Ussuriland while the latter only gets as close as west central Siberia. Three of the four Muscicapid flycatchers known from the region showed this year, starting with two Gray-streaked Flycatchers from Attu (JP, NH ph.). Fall highlights included a good showing of Gray-streaked Flycatchers, with singles at St. George I. 9–10 Sep (NKD ph.), at nearby St. Paul I. 19 Sep (ST PAUL TOUR, CC ph.), and Adak 13–15 Sep (FH ph., BH); the region’s second ever and Gambell’s first fall season Asian Brown Flycatcher 3 Sep (AJL ph., et al.); and a lone Dark-sided Flycatcher from St. Paul I. (ST PAUL TOUR, CC ph.). A very late Rufous-tailed Robin flushed out of the Gambell middens 20 Jun (PEL†), accounted for the region’s fifth and a local first. Stormy conditions brought several Red-flanked Bluetails to the Bering Sea, including Gambell’s fourth in fall 26 Sep (RS ph., GHR ph., et al.), and at least two from St. Paul I. 8 and 23 Sep and then 2 and 5 Oct (ST PAUL TOUR, CC ph.). A flighty Taiga Flycatcher in the Gambell thickets 9 Sep (PEL, GHR ph., et al.) marked one of few of the region’s for the fall season. Gambell birders documented another rare in spring Stonechat 28 May (AJL ph.). Far more unusual was a very late juvenal Stonechat photographed in willows on the North Slope’ s Colville R. delta 15 Oct (JH ph.). It was a quiet spring for Palearctic Turdids save for an exceptional count of 42 Eye-browed Thrushes following storm conditions at Shemya I. 24 May (EN). Single Dusky Thrush accounts came in from St. Paul I. 1–2 Oct (ST PAUL TOUR), from the Mainland in South-central where accidental, at Kenai 20 Oct (LB ph.), and from Sitka 1 Dec–7 Mar (MRG ph., LPP). The Sitka bird represented the third from Southeast. Hyder’s town edge thickets produced a singing Gray Catbird 7–8 Jun (GHR ph., WK, EWC, TGT), a first local find and about the eleventh Alaska report. A female House Sparrow wandered north in Southeast to Gustavus 7–16 Jun (NKD ph., BBP), providing a first local record and only eight in Southeast away from Ketchikan.

Wagtails through Tanagers

Gray Wagtails are not annual in the region so spring birds at Shemya I. (one) 24 May (EN ph.) and Attu (three) 25 May (JP, NH) were good finds. A Gray Wagtail at Gambell 18–19 Oct (SB ph., CI ph., RBB) was exceptional as both a first in fall and second ever for that locale. Most unusual for Southeast was a White Wagtail in Juneau 15 Oct (LAL, JP ph.), which marked a fifth record for this section of the region. The productive late May North Pacific storms drew exceptional numbers of Olive-backed Pipits to western outposts, with peaks of 28 at Shemya I. 24 May (EN) and 20 from Attu 25 May (JP, NH), and 10 from St. Paul I. (ST PAUL TOUR). Way out of range was an Olive-backed Pipit photographed at Seward 28 Oct (SCS ph., RBB). This marks only a third record for South-central and one of very few from the Mainland. Two Pechora Pipits discovered at Gambell 25 Aug (PEL) expands that site’s fall report records to 22. A calling Evening Grosbeak detected near Cordova 18 Oct (AB, PM) was probably a local area first and one of few reports away from Southeast. One to three Hawfinches chased around Adak 2–6 Jun (m. ob.) was the spring’s only report of note. Much more unusual were single Hawfinches at Kenai 19–22 Oct (TB, LB ph.) and just to the north from Anchorage 1–14 Jan (DWS, et al.), which was a second local record there. Always thrilling was a male Eurasian Bullfinch from Gambell 25 May (SL, ph., AJL ph.) where this Old World finch turns up occasionally. A male House Finch on the Southeast Mainland in Wrangel 1 Oct (SW ph.) was only a second fall report for Southeast of this very rare Alaska visitor. Lehman deemed it an excellent Little Bunting showing at Gambell, with five individuals found between 9 and 23 Sep (PEL, et al.). The immature male Gray Bunting discovered at Attu 25 May (NH ph., et al.) was only the fourth ever for Alaska. Two each of this limited range east Asian Emberiza came from Shemya and Attu in the second half of May. It ended up as a very quiet year for unusual sparrow reports. Juneau’s Western Meadowlark 16–18 May (BAA, MWS ph., et al.) was a first May sighting. Only two of the region’s records of this casual migrant are outside the late fall-winter timeframe. Alaska’s 2nd Hooded Oriole, a female, was captured by biologists doing hummingbird research in Ketchikan 13–14 Jun (CJC, AB, EH ph., SCH ph.). This species is irregular in the Pacific Northwest to Oregon and casual into southern British Columbia. A male Brown-headed Cowbird was way out of range up the Dalton Hwy. at Toolik Field Station 25–30 Jun SB ph.) and one of very few from the Interior. The Brewer’s Blackbird that hung around St. George I. at least 1Aug–9 Sep (NKD ph.) was a Bering Sea first of this otherwise very rare, mostly fall visitor to Southeast. This period’s rare or unusual Parulid reports were limited and included rare Bering Sea Tennessee Warblers, singles from Gambell 15–16 Sep (PEL, m. ob.), a fifth fall record there, and St. Paul I. 6 Sep (ST PAUL TOUR); a local second, an exceptional winter Orange-crowned Warbler at an Anchorage feeder 15 Jan (JT ph.); probably two different American Redstarts on the Arctic coast, which had only one previous fall sighting, at Cooper I. 2 Sep (MMo ph.) and from nearby Utqiatgvik 15 Sep (NRH ph.); at least four Magnolia Warblers in the Hyder area 6–23 Jun (TGT, GHR ph., WK, EWC, RBB, RLS, NKD) and another in Juneau 7 Jun (KK ph.); a surprising overshoot Bay-breasted Warbler in the Gambell middens 6–8 Jun (PEL ph.), photos of which establish the State’s first documented record; and a long-staying Yellow-rumped Warbler at a Soldotna feeder from Nov–7 Feb+ (KK). The Bering Sea got its first western Tanager at St. Paul I. 27 Sep (ST PAUL TOUR, CC ph.). This uncommon local breeder from Mainland Southeast is casual beyond that range mostly in fall.

Report processed by José R. Ramírez-Garofalo, 1 Mar 2021.

Photos–Alaska: Fall 2017–Summer 2018

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