Alaska: Summer 2022

Summer 2022: 1 Jun–31 Jul

Thede Tobish

Recommended citation:

Tobish, T. 2022. Summer 2022: Alaska. <> North American Birds.

Summer 2022 was a tale of two dominant weather conditions. Continuing from May was strengthening continental high pressure, characterized by widespread stable, warm, and dry conditions across the region. Record high temperatures and drought-like weather featured from the North Slope down to the Southeast. This spell of fine weather no doubt enhanced June breeding conditions but also allowed for one of the region’s worst fire seasons. Over three million acres had burned by late August, which included large fires in less than typical areas of the state, for instance in the southwest fire management quadrant. This storm-free hot weather ended abruptly in the first week of July when cooler temperatures and steady, widespread rain blanketed much of the state. Only the east half of the Interior was spared the rainy conditions. Several sections of Alaska ended the summer with near record high monthly total precipitation tallies. Southbound migrants seemed late and in lower numbers beginning in early July. Summer rarities, highlighted by the addition of four new species to the Alaska checklist, were evenly distributed across all sections of the State. I urge eBirders to continue the positive trend of including the original finder of rare species, excellent photo, audio, and documentation details in new checklists.

Sub-regional Compilers

Steven C. Heinz (Southeast Alaska), Nicholas R. Hajdukovich (eBird Compiler).

Swans through Rails

An adult-type Whooper Swan hung around with other waterfowl out the Council Road near Nome, where casual in spring, 15-18 Jun (Jerry Messinger ph., Gavin Bieber ph., et al). A female Wood Duck with two chicks in tow at Juneau’s Community Garden marsh 2+ Jul (Deb Rudis , Mary McCafferty ph.), established Alaska’s first confirmed nest record. At least two males and a female Wood Duck were present in the vicinity here from early Jun and multiple birds have been observed in this location in Juneau in late spring and summer for six consecutive years. The Eastern Spot-billed Duck found on Buldir Island in the Western Aleutians 4 Jun (McKenzie Mudge ph., Janet and Kevin Pietrzak) was the latest spring record of this otherwise casual visitor. Most spot-billed duck records involved early spring or winter individuals in the Central and Western Aleutians. Tufted Duck rarely reaches the Alaska Mainland, so an adult male that spent 12–26+ Jun (Josiah Verbrugge ph., m. obs.) on Tern Lake in the central Kenai Peninsula was significant. Most Mainland records include winter birds and this Kenai bird could well have been the individual found wintering the past couple years on the Kenai River not too far from Tern Lake. Nome area birders documented 1–3 drake Stejneger’s Scoters mostly off Cape Nome 2–26+ Jun (Chris Wood ph., Tom Johnson et al.). This Northeast Asia breeder seems to be annual in late spring offshore from Gambell and may well be the same status in the Nome vicinity. Up to two Pied-billed Grebes were present and displaying at Barnes Lake on the lower Stikine River 27 Jun—5 Jul (Brad L. Hunter) in suitable nesting habitat. This season’s Common Cuckoo reports included singles from St. Paul Island 19 Jun (Neon Krukoff Jr., St. Paul Tour, Sulli Gibson ph., Luis Gles ph.) and from Dutch Harbor in the Eastern Aleutians from 22 Jun (Bobbi Lekanoff, Lynda Lybeck-Robinson ph.). Common Nighthawks made a good showing this season, including one in Juneau 26 Jun—2 Jul (Roy Churchwell, m. ob.) and five at the Klehini River bar near Haines 21 Jul (Zak Pohlen ph., Cal Gesmundo). This species remains a very rare and local visitor in Southeast and in the eastern Interior and the Klehini River bar has been a traditional site with occasional nesting for more than a decade. Noteworthy Sora reports included one at Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks 9 Jul (Steve Dammer) and at least two vocalizing birds from Duck Lake in upper Knik Arm’s Palmer Hayflats State Game Refuge 17–18 Jun (Justin Saunders audio recording, Ben Legasse). The upper Knik Arm wetlands have produced sporadic Sora reports in summer for years.

Plovers through Herons

The Common Ringed Plover that appeared on the North Slope coastal tundra at Utqiagvik 14 Jul (John Myles ph., Logan Anderson audio recording, Aaron Yappert ph.) may be the first for that community. This high Arctic breeder is regular on St. Lawrence Island but otherwise casual in late spring and fall elsewhere on the Alaska western periphery. Given that most southbound Hudsonian Godwits overfly Southeast Alaska, the count of 90 from Sitka 22 Jul (m. ob.) constituted one of the highest ever for the Southeast region. The season’s only notable Ruff report was a male in Juneau 13–15 Jul (Scott Vulstek, et al.), which was only the second in summer for Southeast. Calidrid reports were a little light this season, highlighted by lone Temminck’s Stints from Gambell 2 Jun (Colette Micallef ph.) and St. Paul Island 8 Jul (St. Paul Tour, Luis Gles ph., Gibson ph.), only the second in summer for the Pribilofs, a single Long-toed Stint at Gambell, where not annual, 5 Jun (Andy Stepniewski ph., Rich Hoyer ph., et al), and at least one Little Stint from several sites in Utqiagvik 4–16 Jul (Logan Anderson ph., Ryan Zuckerberg ph., Chris Benesh ph., et al.). The Utqiagvik road system remains the best chance in Alaska to see this High Arctic breeder. Southeast Alaska’s first ever Crested Auklet was substantiated 19 Jun (Eric Groth ph.) from what seemed an odd locality in protected waters of Endicott Arm well away from the outer coast. I suspect this individual reached this part of Alaska as a previous fall or winter wanderer. A SY Sternula tern that frequented two estuaries in the Anchorage coastal zone 21 Jul—4 Aug (Ben Legasse ph., Robert L. Scher ph,. Josiah Verbrugge ph., et al.) was accepted as Alaska’s first Least Tern by the Alaska Checklist Committee. The identification hinged on the coloration of the rump, upper tail coverts, and central tail feathers, all of which were silver gray and concolorous with the back and upper wing panel. The dark P10 shaft may well also support the identification. The Eastern Palearctic Little Tern subspecies, sinensis, shows a pale P10 shaft while all races of Little Tern show white to very light silver-gray rumps to central tail feathers. The closest out of range Least Terns have been reported sporadically from coastal Washington and southern Alberta. The only prior Alaska report of a Sternula tern came in early Jul from Buldir Island in the Western Aleutians—that record was left as Sternula sp. as the photos were not definitive. The immature Short-tailed Albatross photographed off Forrester Island in southern Southeast Alaska 1 Jun (Erin Jakubak ph.) was south of the species’s normal summer distribution when most records come from the northwest Gulf of Alaska. Sitka birders obtained a series of documenting photos for Alaska’s first light-morph Wedge-tailed Shearwater off Kruzoff Island 23 Jul (Connor P. F. Goff ph.). This record is puzzling given the species’ affinities for warm Tropical waters, and that most Pacific State’s reports come in fall or winter. Manx Shearwaters made an average summer showing in Southeast waters this summer, including two west of Kruzoff Island 22 Jun (Connor P. F. Goff ph.) and a single farther north off Yakutat Bay 22 Jun (Brendan Murtha ph.). Most Alaska Manx records are limited to Middleton Island waters and off Yakutat in the North Gulf of Alaska. Seabird biologists encountered a Gray Heron sporadically around Buldir Island in the Western Aleutians 1–7+ Jun (McKenzie Mudge ph., Kevin Pietrzak). There are at least five Alaska records for this widespread Palearctic species.

Vultures through Swallows

Known as a casual, typically spring migrant in the state, two Turkey Vultures made news west of most reports, one out of Nome over the tundra near Solomon 10 Jun (Tom Johnson, Cory Gregory ph.) and another near Port Alsworth on Lake Clarke west of Cook Inlet 10–12 Jul (David Fink ph., Beth Warren). A Northern (Yellow-shafted) Flicker corpse located south of Gambell 13 Jun (Jill B. Campbell ph.) constituted St. Lawrence Island’s second in spring and fourth overall report. Utqiagvik birders discovered an Eastern Kingbird in the productive cemetery there 28 Jun (Chris Wood ph., et al.). There are several North Slope Eastern Kingbird summer season records of presumed spring overshoots. Cape Pierce seabird cliffs in western Alaska was a remarkable location to produce Alaska’s third photo-confirmed Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 30 Jun (Janelle Trowbridge ph.). Previous photos and sight records came from the southeast. One of the season’s best rare passerines found in the Utqiagvik cemetery was certainly a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher seen by many 16–22+ Jun (m. ob., Dave Krueger ph.). This taiga breeder reaches its range limits in southeast Yukon Territory and there is a disjunct small population in the Yukon River watershed in Alaska’s central Interior. Willow Flycatchers were located again in the southeast, a single in Hyder 14 Jun (Devon Bradley ph.), and two singing birds in Ketchikan 16 Jul (Steven C. Heinz ph., audio recording). Willows are now recorded nearly annually on the southeast mainland over the past decade while the Ketchikan birds provided a second local record. A lone Say’s Phoebe at Hyder 30 Jun (Michelle Sopoliga ph.) was a second record for that locality and among very few summer reports for Southeast Alaska. Getting quite late was an extralimital singing Warbling Vireo near Skilak Lake in the central Kenai Peninsula 20 Jul (Aaron J. Lang ph.). This individual represented the third Kenai record, the first for summer for this species known as a breeder in southeast Alaska mainland riparian corridors. Nome birders managed great photos of a very out-of-range Northern Rough-winged Swallow 2 Jun (Michelle Sopoliga ph., Marc Kramer ph., David W. Sonneborn). Another Northern Rough-winged Swallow from Sitka 9–10 Jun (Connor P. F. Goff, Matt Goff ph.) was a rare outer coast report, more typical mainland river corridors in the more southerly southeast. Decent details came in for a Purple Martin at Utqiagvik 17 Jun (John Nash ph.). There are four prior North Slope records for this casual spring overshoot. The Common House-Martin at Gambell 2 Jun (Rodney Ungwiluk Jr. ph., m. ob.) highlighted an otherwise slow year for Asiatics there. It provided the 10th spring migrant record for St. Lawrence Island.

Mimids through Cardinalids

Gray Catbirds made a push into southeast Alaska this season, highlighted by singles at Sitka 11 Jun–12 Jul (Karen Johnson, m. ob.), Petersburg 11–12 Jun (Becky Knight ph.), Ketchikan 26 Jun (Steven C. Heinl ph.), and Hyder 17 Jun (Hannah Gage). Boosted by this year’s showing and annual reports over the past five years, this species is now considered rare rather than casual with most reports tied to southeast Alaska communities. Utqiagvik has long been a magnet for rarities from both North America and the Palearctic with this summer’s spotlight a Redwing 15 Jun (Chris Benesh ph., m. ob.). This individual, likely an overshoot from eastern Siberia, follows the state’s only prior report of a 2011 fall bird in Seward. It was initially discovered in the village cemetery on a seemingly early-ish date of 30 May (Geoff Butcher ph.). To end up in Utqiagvik in late May likely required overflying a lot of frozen conditions. This year’s only Gray-streaked Flycatcher sighting came from St. Paul Island 16–17 2022 (St. Paul Tour, Luis Gles ph., Sulli Gibson ph.). The Gray Wagtail that lingered at St. Paul Island 9–12 Jul (St. Paul Tour, Luis Gles, Sulli Gibson ph.) constituted one of very few Jul Alaska records. Most Gray Wagtails occur as casual late spring migrants. This past mid-May’s huge influx of Bramblings to the Bering Strait environs left a few in the Nome area into mid-Jun, including a single at Cape Nome 3 Jun (Nicholas R. Hajdukovich ph.) followed by 1–2 thru 13 Jun (m. ob.). Bramblings are otherwise rarely reported from the Seward Peninsula. Getting late for a spring migrant was the Common Rosefinch at Gambell 16 Jun (Alex Patia ph., Steven C. Heinl ph., Clarence Irrigoo Jr. ph.), while the female-type Common Rosefinch at a Nome feeder 19 Jun (Kate Persons, ph.) constituted the mainland’s second ever. Alaska’s first documented Chestnut-collared Longspur was an odd tale, discovered on the deck of a fishing vessel in Warren Channel in central Southeast’s outer coast near Coronation Island 4 Jul (Andrew Montgomery ph.). Although the species breeds north only into the southern portions of Canadian prairies, there are a handful of extralimital records from western Washington and British Columbia and one prior unsubstantiated Alaska sight record. The male Yellow-headed Blackbird at St. Lazaria Island 26 Jun (Jennifer Lewis ph.) was an unusual offshore find for this casual southeastern visitor. Casual for the Bering Sea and only a second for the Pribilofs was a male Red-winged Blackbird at St. Paul Island 10 Jul (Luis Gles). There’s no easy explanation for either the date or locality of the Lucy’s Warbler observed briefly near Chena Hot Springs northeast of Fairbanks 27 Jul (Michelle Sopoliga ph.), obviously Alaska’s first record of this desert Vermivora that ranges north to southeast Nevada and southwest Utah. There are apparently a few reports north of there to the Pacific Northwest. Three extralimital Western Tanager reports away from the species Alaska breeding areas along southeastern mainland rivers were unprecedented this summer, including one each from a roadside campground on the Richardson Highway 8 Jun (Richard A. MacIntosh, Molly A. MacIntosh), from the Feather River on the Teller Road out of Nome 15 Jun (Hal Michael ph., Pat Michael), a Seward Peninsula first, and way north from the Utqiagvik cemetery 19 Jun (Garrett Lau ph.), also a North Slope first. Western Tanager does range into the southeast Yukon Territory, which could have been the source of these records.

Report processed by Andrew Keaveney, 03 Apr 2023.

Photos–Alaska: Summer 2022

After more than six years of a Wood Duck presence at Juneau’s Community Gardens marsh, breeding was confirmed on 2 Jul for the first time in Alaska, with a female tending to two ducklings, photographed here on 5 Jul. Photo Kelly Kirkpatrick.

Among the numerous rarities found this summer on Alaska’s North Slope, this Redwing skulked for cover 15 Jun. It constituted Alaska’s second documented record following the first from fall at Seward.

This Common Rosefinch at a Nome feeder 19 Jun 2022, represented only the second ever for the Alaska Mainland.