Alaska: Fall 2018–Summer 2019
Fall 2018: 1 Aug–30 Nov
Winter 2018–2019: 1 Dec–28 Feb
Spring 2019: 1 Mar–31 May
Summer 2019: 1 Jun–31 Jul
Tobish, T. 2022. Fall 2018–Summer 2019: Alaska. <https://wp.me/p8iY2g-cfM> North American Birds
This report summarizes observations in context of regional significance or of unusual dates or locations. The accounts include those for the twelve-month period from fall 2018 through summer season 2019. Alaska’s overall conditions for this coverage period mostly continued a three-year trend of temperatures above long-term means. This is especially consistent in the north portion of the region. Northern Alaska again reported deviations from normal with Utqiaġvik (Barrow) leading the way. This report interval also continued above average sea surface temperatures, especially in the Gulf of Alaska, and diminishing Arctic and winter Bering Sea pack ice coverage and older ice age classes. Spring 2019 found near record low coverage of Bering Sea pack ice. With reduced pack ice limits, oceanographers have identified a breakdown of the northern Bering Sea “cold pool”, which serves as a deep-water boundary between southerly warm ecosystems and the Arctic. Warmer conditions are now intruding northward. This anomaly is impacting the north sections of the Bering Sea with fish and seabird die-offs and food chain alterations. Generally mild conditions again delayed the fall freeze-up well into December in some coastal zones. With some significant positive temperature departures from normal of 5–10+°F, March was unseasonably warm, especially north of the Alaska Range. These conditions likely translated to quite a few early spring arrival dates from Southeast Alaska localities. A few spring season storms produced favorable conditions for decent fallouts in the Aleutians. It was a relatively slow fall season in the Bering Sea, where the island outposts experienced unfavorable or neutral weather conditions. In contrast, Southeast Alaska reports for the fall period were considered some of the most exciting ever, as highlighted from Sitka especially.
Steven C. Heinl (Southeast Alaska), Nicholas R. Hajdukovich (eBird Compiler).
Geese through Rails
Even with decent photos accompanying reports, it is challenging to consistently assign Bean-Goose reports to species. Taiga Bean-Goose accounts included singles from Attu 25 May–5 Jun (m. ob., Ruben Stoll ph.) and Shemya 6 Sep (Richard Fischer ph.). Tundra Bean-Goose sightings included at least one from Gambell 26–28 May, then two there 29 May (Clarence Irrigoo ph., Gavin Beiber, Stephan Lorenz et al.), one (likley) Tundra at St. Paul Island 28 May–1 Jun (St. Paul Tour, Sulli Gibson), and another single from Attu 31 May–5 Jun (Christian Hagenlocher ph., et al.). A hen Garganey photographed along the Snake River near Nome 7 Jul was Mainland Alaska’s first (Stanton Hunter, Racine M. Barton ph.). A pair of Blue-winged Teal probably overshot known areas from the central Interior and ventured into the Bering Sea to St. Paul Island (St. Paul Tour, Sulli Gibson ph.). This marks a first for the Pribilofs. What appears to be a possible juvenile male Falcated Teal was unusual for fall at Shemya 7–14 Sep (Richard Fischer ph.). More notable, was a drake Falcated Teal that spent most of the summer at Anchorage’s Potter Marsh 3 May–12+ Jul (Bill Taylor, Tasha Dimarzio ph., et al.). This constituted the region’s first Mainland observation. Unusual Tufted Duck reports included a long-staying pair on the North Slope at Utqiaqvik, where accidental 12 Jun–22 Jul (m. ob., Kim Nelson ph.) and a female in the Cordova area 19 Nov–22 Feb (Trae Lohse, Drew Lindow, Aaron Bowman ph.). This area has produced a few winter reports since the 1980’s. The female Greater Scaup with five ducklings in tow in Niyrakpak Lagoon southeast of Gambell 28 Aug (Paul E. Lehman) established a second breeding record for St. Lawrence Island.
Pied-billed Grebes pushed beyond typical Southeast Alaska sites where they are nearly annual in very small numbers from late fall into winter. Singles were in Seward 28 Nov–8 Apr (John Maniscalco ph., Zac Pohlen, et al.), in Cordova 29 Jul (Aaron Bowman ph.), and offshore at Kodiak 27 Oct (Richard A. MacIntosh ph.). Totally unexpected was an elusive Yellow-billed Cuckoo found by a visiting birder at Anchorage’s Potter Marsh 30 Jun–11 Jul (Evalynn Trumbo ph., m. ob.). The region’s three prior reports were all salvaged specimens from the Jul through Aug timeframe from Southeast Alaska. Another summer random Ruby-throated Hummingbird, probably Alaska’s fifth, appeared in the Homer area 28 Jun (fide Aaron J. Lang ph.). Previous records include birds from Nome, St. Michael, Palmer, Wiseman, and Elfin Cove. Most notable of the now typical fall Anna’s Hummingbird reports outside Southeast Alaska, were lone birds west to Dillingham 5 and 23 Oct (Ellen McArthur, Vincent Thrutchley) and from the Gulf of Alaska at Kodiak 27 Aug–1 Nov (Lila Schwantes, Tom Schwantes ph.), where it was a second record for the island. Still casual in Alaska, single male Costa’s Hummingbirds were located, at Juneau 17–19 Nov (fide Gus B. van Vliet, Gwen S. Baluss ph.), and to the north at Valdez mid-Oct–17 Dec (Amanda Bauer ph.). Most of the nearly 12 state records came from Southcoastal Alaska in fall. Lone Virginia Rail reports came in from Ketchikan 14 Feb (James D. Levison ph., et al.) and to the north at Haines 26 May (Nicholas R. Hajdukovich, audio). Over the past decade or so, Virginia Rails have been nearly annual mostly in fall and winter in Southeast Alaska, where the state’s first record came in winter 1986. Much anticipated was Alaska’s second Eurasian Coot from Shemya Island in the Western Aleutians 2–17 May (Richard Fischer ph.). This species has been recorded in the Commander Islands but is otherwise unusual east of the Sea of Okhotsk.
Shorebirds through Sulids
The reporting period’s plover highlights seemed average and eveny distributed across the state. Two American Golden-Plovers in Gustavus to 7 Nov (Nat K. Drumheller ph.) likely represented the region’s first confirmed Nov record. Killdeer made summer season news away from central Interior locales with singles reported from peripheral sites at Nome 15 Jun (m. ob., Tom Johnson ph.), at Kotzebue 18 Jun (Julie Bryson), and well north at Utqiagvik 9 Jun (Cole Tiemann ph.) and Prudhoe Bay 4 Jul (Varinia Sagastume, Mathew Danihel ph.). Most exciting was Alaska’s first confirmed Snowy Plover found on Egg Island near Cordova 7 Jun (Anne Schaefer ph., Mary Ann Bishop, Kirsti Jurica). A prior report of a bird photographed in Nome from May 1991 could not be confirmed as Snowy or Kentish Plover (Gibson et al. 2013. Third report of the Alaska Checklist Committee, 2008-2012. W. Birds 44: 183–195). A wandering Bristle-thighed Curlew was an odd date from Utqiagvik 1 Jul (Ben Legasse) and likely the North Slope’s second report. A. M. Bailey’s 1948 Birds of arctic Alaska included an Aug 1943 specimen from Meade River. MacIntosh documented an Asiatic variegatus Whimbrel at Kodiak 20–26 Aug (Richard A. MacIntosh ph), a rare appearance away from Bering Sea islands where this subspecies is occasional mostly in spring. Interior birders found a Marbled Godwit in Fairbanks 27–30 May (Robin Collman ph., Josh Parks ph.). The specimen was salvaged and keyed out to nominate fedoa, the first confirmed for Alaska. The previous first inland Alaska sighting also came from Fairbanks from late May 2004 and was presumed by date and location to also have been nominate fedoa. Alaska breeding and Pacific Coast beringiae typically moves into the region and onto nesting areas in Southwest Alaska in late Apr/early May. The Black Turnstone from Fairbanks 22 Aug (Jacob Pelham ph.), which appeared after a large storm, was one of very few Interior Alaska reports. Puschock’s Attu Island tour group located a Great Knot following a storm 25–26 May (John Puschock ph., Christian Hagenlocher ph.), which represented about the sixth from the Aleutians. A Curlew Sandpiper documented at St. Paul Island 18–21 Sep (Victor Stoll, Sulli Gibson, Linda Widdop ph.) added to the few fall reports for this casual migrant found more often from Bering Sea sites in spring. Little Stint reports included singles at St. Paul Island 19 Sep (Sulli Gibson, Victor Stoll ph., Nicole Koeltzow) and from Shemya Island (Richard Fischer ph.), which was the earliest of the very few Aleutian records. In Utqiagvik, shorebird biologists found a single Little Stint 18 Jun (Daniel Tinoco ph., Stephan Lorenz ph.) and then discovered North America’s first nest with eggs 20 Jun and a second nest with eggs 1 Jul (Ben Legasse ph). One nest was abandoned and the other likely predated. Another Solitary Snipe skulked in dry hillside thickets at St. Paul Island 23–24 Sep (Aaron J. Lang ph, St. Paul Tour), the region’s third ever and second from that locality. Common Snipe was newly documented for the North Slope from Utqiagvik 2–8 Jul (Tim Baerwald, Ben Legasse ph). Adak Island produced another Spotted Redshank 30 Sep (Frank Haas ph). This species remains a casual bird for the Aleutians with most records from fall.
This reporting period’s only South Polar Skua report was a lone bird out in the North Gulf of Alaska 92 miles ESE of Kodiak’s Cape Chiniak 16 Sep (Richard A. MacIntosh). Another Long-billed Murrelet appeared in the murrelet feeding flocks in Kachemak Bay off Homer 9 Jul (Todd McGrath ph.) where this species has been occasionally located in summer. Franklin’s Gulls made a strong northerly showing in spring, highlighted by singles at Fairbanks 19 May (Robin Collman ph.), at Utqiagvik, a local first, 27 May–5 Jun (Tim Baerwald, Ben Legasse), and from Midway Lake on the Alaska Highway east of Tok 26 May (Nicholas R Hajdukovich ph.). Most Alaska reports of this very rare spring migrant come from the state’s lower half. North America’s first Pallas’s Gull (Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus) hung around Shemya Island 2–5 May (Richard Fischer ph.). The carcass was salvaged on 14 May and deposited at the University of Alaska Museum. This species is found from Central Asia and Mongolia and has strayed to southern Japan. Most surprising was an adult Black-tailed Gull near Cordova 4–11 May (Zac Pohlen ph., Cal Gesmundo, Aaron Bowman, Sam Wilson ph., Brad Benter ph.). This represents a second record from Southcoastal Alaska and a rare find away from Bering Sea outposts where the majority of this casual visitor’s records originate. Significant Ring-billed Gull reports reached well beyond Southeast Alaska this spring where the species is a casual spring migrant, one each from the Arctic Coast at the Colville River Delta 27 May (James Helmericks ph.) and from Nome 7–9 Jun (Doug Gochfeld ph., et al.). I know of no prior North Slope report while there is at least one previous Nome area record. This report period’s only Manx Shearwater was seen in outer Sitka Sound 18 Jul (Scott Schuette). Most records of this very rare probably annual summer visitor come from the North Gulf of Alaska. Sitka Sound also produced the period’s lone Brown Booby 2 Nov (Moses Johnson ph., Karen Johnson). This bird subsequently rode a vessel into Sitka harbor where it spent the night before departing as the boat headed west. It was seen again in Sitka Sound 8 Nov (Moses Johnson, Matt R. Goff). This bird provided the fourth Southeast and ninth overall Alaska record.
Egrets through Reed Warblers
Only one Great Egret submission came in this period, one bird at Kalsin Bay on Kodiak Island that first appeared 23 Oct (Paul Friel). It remained in the area to 29 Dec (Wenona Suydam ph.) when it was snatched and consumed by an immature Bald Eagle. An early spring migrant Steller’s Eagle was documented at Shemya Island 1 May (Richard Fischer ph.) and another or possibly the same bird was later found at nearby Attu Island 26–28 May (John Puschock, Barbara DeWitt ph.). Steller’s Eagle continues a casual spring, fall, and winter straggler throughout the Aleutians and Southwest Alaska. Astonishing was the Long-legged Buzzard (Buteo rufinus) that took up residence at St. Paul Island from 23 Nov–7 Apr (Barbara Lestenkof ph.; m. ob.). The bird was seen actively hunting shrews and feeding on eider carcasses during its long stay. This species winters in northeast Africa and ranges from the southern Caucasus east to central Mongolia and has wandered to western Siberia. A Long-eared Owl at Gustavus 16 Jan–24 Feb (Travis Ohlson, Nat K. Drumheller ph.) fit the pattern of records for this casual fall/winter visitor to coastal sites in Southeast Alaska. The odd-date Short-eared Owl from Gambell 4 Mar (Clarence Irrigoo ph.) was likely an extremely early spring migrant. We have quite a few Mar reports in the region that may involve early movers northward from Alaska wintering sites. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers wandered through the Coast Range into Southeast, where there was one prior record. Singles were documented at Juneau 15–16 May (Davis Balser ph., m. ob.), at Gustavus 23 May (Nat K. Drumheller ph.), and along the Haines Highway 26 May (Nicholas R. Hajdukovich ph.). Most of the noteworthy flycatcher observations for this report came in from the summer/fall season. Highlights started with two late season Tropical Kingbirds, Alaska’s sixth and seventh, single birds at Juneau 6 Oct (Patty A. Rose ph. audio, Susan Fredericks, Jeffrey F. Sauer, Gwen S. Baluss, Gus B. van Vliet) and Ketchikan 26 Oct and 4–12 Nov (Ben L. Limle ph., Jim H. Lewis, Steven C. Heinl ph., Andrew W. Piston). Southcoastal Alaska has few Eastern Kingbird records so singles in Anchorage 7 Jul (Timothy Piraniun ph.) and then 8–16 Aug (Hannah Vincelette, Justin Saunders ph, m. ob.) were exceptional. Utqiagvik observers documented Yellow-bellied Flycatcher for the North Slope 2 Jul (Ben Legasse ph). Clearly this was an overshoot migrant. This species has been found breeding at a few central Interior Alaska sites and is more common in northeast British Columbia. Gambell observers discovered another Willow Flycatcher in the productive middens 2 Oct (Paul E. Lehman, Gary H. Rosenberg ph.). This find follows the only prior Bering Sea record, also from fall at Gambell. Accidental for the North Slope was a Least Flycatcher found in willow thickets at the Colville River Delta 14 Sep (James Helmericks ph.). The period’s only Eastern Phoebe held a territory on a Denali Highway bridge on the south side of the Alaska Range 2–29 Jul+ (Felipe Guerrero, Jeff Walters ph., Zac Pohlen ph.). Pohlen located a nest at the bridge with 5 eggs 29 Jul but only one bird was ever seen at the site and the eggs never hatched. We have a similar nest observation from the recent past from summer in Nome, which included a pair.
Another Brown Shrike, a sixth fall record for the locality, was documented at Gambell 20 Sep (Mike Schall, Corinne Schall, Gary H. Rosenberg ph.). Record warm Mar temperatures no doubt influenced a new state record early (by three days) Violet-green Swallow arrival at Petersburg 26 Mar (Brad L. Hunter). Also probably record early for the region was the Barn Swallow in Juneau 5 Apr (Patty A. Rose et al.). Of particular significance was the mid–Oct discovery of Mountain Chickadees in subalpine habitat on Grandchild Ridge near Juneau. Quite a few birds and small flocks were located 9–15 Oct (Gwen S. Baluss ph., Brad Benter ph., James D Levison ph), including two birds 9 Oct, two flocks totaling 20+ birds 12 Oct, and seven on 15 Oct. Mountain Chickadee was initially listed as a casual winter visitant near sea level in Southeast Alaska on early Alaska checklists based on four Juneau reports from the late 1960s to mid–1970s. There had been seven subsequent records including an Aug bird in subalpine Warm Pass Valley north of Skagway. This species is widespread in montane areas of central-southern British Columbia east of the Coast Range and it is sparsely distributed in montane areas farther north in the province and a localized resident into the southern Yukon. A late season Marsh Wren in cattail/sedge habitat in Ketchikan, first located 2 Dec, remained in the area to 3 Mar (Steven C Heinl ph., Andrew W. Piston ph., et al.). Alaska’s first Marsh Wren was a mid-fall individual north of Anchorage. Following the last decade’s trend were more fall season Willow Warblers at Bering Sea outposts, including one at St. Paul Island, a local fifth record 15 Sep (Sulli Gibson ph.) and three separate singles at Gambell 1–3 Sep (Luke Seitz, Victor Stoll, Greg Scyphers ph., et al.), 3–5 Sep (Aaron J. Lang ph., et al.), and 7 Sep (m. ob.). These bring the total fall records for Gambell since 2002 to 20. Lehman identified another Sedge Warbler at Gambell on 4 Oct (Paul E. Lehman, Gary H. Rosenberg p.) as the fall’s Asian bird of the season. North America’s first Sedge Warbler was also a fall bird from Gambell.
Muscicapids through Sparrows
A Gray-streaked Flycatcher from St. Paul Island16 Sep St. Paul Tour, Sulli Gibson ph.) was a rare fall season find in the Bering Sea. Records of this casual migrant from the Aleutians/Bering Sea islands have trended mostly from fall over the past 15 years. Two Red-flanked Bluetail sightings were submitted: one each from St. Paul Island 16–25 Sep (St. Paul Tour, Victor Stoll ph., et al.) and to the north from Gambell 25–31 May (Gavin Beiber et al.), which represented a second Gambell spring report. A rare fall season Taiga Flycatcher skulked in the crab pot storage area at St. Paul Island 3–7 Sep (St. Paul Tour, Luke Seitz and others ph., et al.). Like the Gray-streaked Flycatcher, fall Taiga Flycatchers have increased over the past 10–15 years. Of the few Eye-browed Thrush sightings, one east to Adak Island 31 May (Frank Haas ph.) was most noteworthy. Gray Catbirds again reached Southeast Alaska: with one documented at Sitka 7 Sep (Karen Johnson ph.) in the fall, and separate singles from Craig 23 Jun (Paul Sweet) and 9 Jul (Susan-Wise Eagle) in spring and summer, respectively. These new reports bring the total Southeast Alaska records to 14. A Gray Wagtail made news in the Nome area 11 Jun (Kevin Zimmer, Brian Gibbons ph, Gavin Beiber) as a first for the Alaska Mainland. Included in the usual handful of Olive-backed Pipit reports was a northerly bird at Utqiagvik 1–2 Jul (Bruno Drolet ph., Ben Legasse). This bird is significant as an unusual report for summer and accidental for the North Slope.
St. Paul Island accounted for single Common Rosefinches in fall from 26 Sep (St. Paul Tour, Nicole Koeltzow ph.), and in spring from 22 Jun (St. Paul Tour, Sulli Gibson ph.). These bring the Common Rosefinch total for the Pribilofs to 12. The Pine Grosbeak at Shemya Island 5 May (Richard Fischer ph.) is intriguing since the Palearctic subspecies kamtschatkensis has been substantiated a few times from spring dates in the Western Aleutians while Nearctic flammula is considered an uncommon resident in the Eastern Aleutians. Most unusual was a territorial House Finch in an Anchorage neighborhood 24 Jun–7 Jul (W. Douglas Robinson, Ben Legasse ph., m. ob.). The two prior Anchorage area records also came from spring. The Pine Siskin at Gambell 20–28 Oct (Clarence Irrigoo ph.) was very rare at that offshore outpost and two weeks later than previous records. Significant Emberizid reports came in from Southeast Alaska, where a Little Bunting was found at Juneau 7 Sep (Patty A. Rose ph.) and a Rustic Bunting hung around Sitka 3 Nov–16 Dec (Eric V. Parker ph., Cathy M. Parker, Amanda Damin, Nicole Koeltzow). The Little Bunting was a first for the Alaska Mainland while the Rustic was a tenth for Southeast Alaska. Among the slew of rare birds from the Sitka area was the region’s fourth ever and second local Lark Sparrow from 9 Aug (Andrew Thoms, Matt R. Goff ph.) and Alaska’s first LeConte’s Sparrow 13 Oct (Connor P. F. Goff ph.). LeConte’s Sparrows nest as close to the region as northeast British Columbia and the Peace River watersheds, into southeast Yukon Territory. Ten Swamp Sparrows scattered at six communities across Southeast Alaska between 18 Oct and 10 Jan (m. ob.) was a well above average fall showing for this rare fall migrant. Spotted Towhee made a similar strong fall showing with five reports, including two in Ketchikan 11 Nov (Andrew W. Piston ph.) and 10 Dec (Yvonne Ripley ph.); singles in Juneau 22 Nov (Kari Monagle ph.) and 27 Nov (Patty A. Rose ph.); and then one at Gustavus 19 Nov (Nat K. Drumheller ph.). These bring the Alaska Spotted Towhee records to 20.
Blackbirds through Wood-Warblers
The lone Yellow-headed Blackbird report for the period was a female in Juneau 29 Jun (J. Millsaps ph., Brenda Wright, Cody Millsaps). This casual, mostly late spring and summer visitant shows up sporadically usually in Southeast and Southcoastal Alaska. Visiting birders had a singing Bobolink over a Homer area hayfield 23 Jun (Wesley Hochachka ph., Sarah Dzielski ph., Tom Auer). There are only five prior Alaska records including one from each end of the state from the North Slope to Hyder for this species that breeds north into the southern third of British Columbia. Similarly rare for Alaska with fewer than 15 records and no clear pattern of occurrence is Common Grackle. This fall, one was observed in Juneau 2 Nov (Mark W. Schwan) and another appeared in spring at Gustavus 24–28 May (Nat K. Drumheller ph.). Casual for the region was an Ovenbird in Skagway 24 Aug (Larry Hooge). The roughly 10 Alaska records, including just one from Southeast, are nearly evenly split between early-summer and fall. The species breeds across northeast British Columbia into the southeast Yukon Territory. A waif Black–and–white Warbler wondered north to the Arctic Coast at the Colville River Delta 14 Sep (James Helmericks ph.), the second North Slope record from the same location and the region’s eighth report. Tennessee Warblers infiltrated Southeast in big numbers including at least 15 in the Juneau area 25 May–21 Jul (m. ob.) and singles from Chichagof Island 7 Jul (Amy Clark Courtney), near Haines 6 Jul (Michelle Lake) and Sitka –10 Jul (David J. Krause, Connor P. F. Goff). In typical summers, only a few Tennessee Warblers are encountered but numbers are erratic and tied to spruce budworm cycles from breeding areas to the east. Of the usual very late-fall season Orange-crowned Warblers, singles at Anchorage to 3 Dec (Andrew Fisher) and in the Eastern Aleutians—where casual mostly in late fall—and at Dutch Harbor 14 Dec (Lynda Lybeck-Robinson) were the extremes. Single Nashville Warblers at Ketchikan 1 Nov (Steven C. Heinl ph.) and at Sitka 15–16 Nov (David J Krause ph., Matt R. Giff ph.) represented only the seventh and eighth for Southeast and brings the state total to at least 15, all from the fall season. Among the numerous good warbler observations from Sitka in the fall was a Magnolia Warbler 31 Oct (Matt R. Goff, ph.) that provided a first local record. Soon after first being sighted, it was taken by a Northern Pygmy-Owl. This species is a casual fall migrant in the region mostly from Southeast Alaska. Palm Warbler made an unprecedented fall showing across the region in fall 2018. Highlights included up to 16 birds distributed across six Southeast communities between 2 Oct and 30 Nov with several areas having three–five birds at a time (m. ob. ph.): up to four from Gambell including two individuals 5 Oct with one through 7 Oct; one from 10–13 Oct, and another 11 Oct (Paul E. Lehman, Gary H. Rosenberg ph.)—bringing that site’s totals to six records; a lone bird from Unalakleet 7 Oct (Nicholas R. Hajdukovich ph.); one from Bethel 26 Sep (Drew Lindow); and a single at Dutch Harbor 26 Nov (Nicholas R. Hajdukovich ph., Suzi Golodoff). These are staggering numbers and noteworthy locations at Alaska’s perimeter for one fall season, when more typically two–five birds would be a good showing. This exceptional fall Wood Warbler showing was capped off with single Black-throated Gray Warblers at Ketchikan 18 Oct and 6 Nov (Andrew W. Piston, Steven C. Heinl ph., Ben L. Limle), thought to be the same bird, and at Sitka 31 Oct–5 Nov (Matt R. Goff ph., David J. Krause). A male Black-throated Gray at Mitkof Island from 5 Jul 1989 and two in Hyder in summer 2016 are the only other Alaska records.
Report processed by José Ramírez-Garofalo, 06 Jan 2022.