Monday, May 11, 2009

Birds About Town: April 2009

This is the ninth and last BAT column of the season. It covers, with a few exceptions, the period from 10 April through 9 May 2009. Thanks to Shirley Berns, Nate Fitzgerald, Carolyn Heitman, Dave Kubiak, Mike Marion, Lynne Murphy, and Patrick Saltonstall for providing photos or audio tape during the period. Remember that a photo, even a marginal photo, can be tremendously helpful in identifying and documenting birds. When you see a bird of interest, get in the habit of taking a photo of it. Feel free to call me with bird reports or questions about birds or birding at 486-3087, or email me at: The Kodiak bird checklist is available at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge visitor center in downtown Kodiak and online at: Good birding!

As usual, the spring waterfowl migration began in earnest in late April. This movement is made up of some birds that will nest on Kodiak Island and some birds that will pass right on through Kodiak on the way to the Alaska Peninsula and points north. A large number of ducks and geese settled out in the three bays on 29 April, with some remaining for the next few days. There was also a large movement of ducks into the Hidden Basin, Ugak Bay area on the same date (LM). Also, as usual, a small movement of shorebirds began in late April and continued into early May. Most new passerine migrants appeared in early May. The timing of arrivals so far has been fairly normal.
Greater White-fronted Geese made a lot of news in late April. A flock flew over Monashka Bay on 21 Apr (AS), and on 29 Apr, there was a major movement into Chiniak Bay. Early that morning in Bells Flats, the calls of geese overhead were constant (KJ, CJ), and later that day about 375 Greater White-fronts and 40 Cackling Geese accompanied more than 1,500 ducks in Womens Bay (CT, SB, RM). On 30 Apr, Greater White-fronts were common on lawns on the Coast Guard base (BSt). They continued to be common at Womens Bay over the next few days (RE, JP, MK, RM; see photo). A flock of about 12 Greater White-fronts settled down on Mission Lake on 30 Apr (JFin, DF), and also frequented Pearson Cove Park over the next few days (PH, SJ). The last of the wintering Emperor Geese departed their Womens Bay (GC) and Ugak Bay (LM) haunts on the same day…..4 May! A few days earlier, lucky observers watched departing Emperors flying over Lake Louise (PB), and Monashka Bay (LE). Brant made a good showing this spring with good numbers passing through the Kalsin Bay to Cape Chiniak area on 24 Apr (MG, SL, HN, CC). A flock of probable Aleutian Cackling Geese (with conspicuous white neck collars) flew over the College Birding Class at Womens Bay on 25 Apr, but it kept on flying to the southwest, making positive identification impossible. On a very stormy 11 Apr, BSc came across a single swan sitting on the beach at Spruce Cape, not exactly typical swan habitat. Tundra Swans, one of our earliest migrants, continued to move through the area, with ten in Womens Bay on 17 Apr (SPer), two at Kalsin Pond 19-21 Apr (SB, RF, JP, RM), and one on Mission Lake 1-7 May (MMu, JFin, DF, BH, JP). Northern Pintails were a major player in the big 29 Apr waterfowl movement, with an estimated 1,295 at Womens Bay alone, along with 160 Green-winged Teal, and 162 Northern Shovelers (CT, SB, RM). Eurasian Wigeons accompanied American Wigeons into the area this spring, with a maximum count of nine in the three bays on 29 Apr (CT, SB, RM), and six in Hidden Basin on 2 May (LM). Amazingly, this species has never been documented breeding in North America! A flock of six Ring-necked Ducks was on Kalsin Pond on 2 May (College Birding Class), with two remaining through at least 7 May (SS). This species has become increasingly common in the archipelago in recent decades, and will no doubt be found breeding here some day soon. The College Birding Class encountered several flocks of geese on its 2 May field trip, so when another passing V of birds was examined over Womens Bay, some participants were shocked to see high flying Double-crested Cormorants rather than geese. The flock disappeared from view over the mountains to the southwest. Double-crested Cormorants breed as far west as the eastern Aleutians. Wintering Great Blue Herons typically depart the Kodiak area in April, so many late April and even early May records this spring seemed a bit odd. One was seen along the shore of Kalsin Pond (!!!) on 20 April (JP, RF); three (including at least one in breeding plumage) were in Trident Basin on 22 Apr (CT, HN, CC, SL, MC, RM); at least one was in Trident Basin on 29 April (MW, DH, JB); and the last bird of the spring was one photographed in Dog Bay on 5 May DaK). Merlins were seen on 29 Apr in town where they are suspected of nesting (IB); 4 May in cottonwoods near the golf course where they are also suspected of nesting (RM); and 5 May at Middle Bay (MF). The Merlin is the only commonly nesting falcon in the archipelago.

The shorebird migration so far has been normal. We typically see a small numbers of birds, but a nice variety. Some species are through-migrants (eg: Black-bellied Plover), and some are local breeders (eg: Greater Yellowlegs). With some species, it is difficult to determine which are the first migrants, because the species also winters in this area. I do my best. First migrants during the period were: Greater Yellowlegs at Karluk River - 20 Apr (MG); Greater Yellowlegs on the road system – 21 Apr (CR, JP); Wilson’s Snipe - 22 Apr (CR); Black-bellied Plover, Pacific Golden-Plover, Surfbird, Black Turnstone, Rock Sandpiper – 29 Apr (CT, SB, RM); Semipalmated Plover, Dunlin, Whimbrel, Marbled Godwit – 30 Apr (JFit, NF, RM; see photo); Short-billed Dowitcher – 2 May (College Birding Class); Least Sandpiper – 6 May (RM). The best places on the road system to see shorebirds are on the muddy and sandy flats at the heads of Womens and Kalsin Bays. The sedge and mud flat across from Kalsin Pond is probably the best place. Remember, you are looking for one of this and five of that…..not large numbers! Another habitat for migrant shorebirds is beaches and capes out Narrow Cape way. A flock of five Pacific Golden-Plovers was atop Narrow Cape on 3 May (SL, RB). An adult Bonaparte’s Gull was being chased mercilessly by Northwestern Crows at Potatopatch Lake on 25 Apr (CT, SB, RM), and what was presumably the same bird remained on Mission Beach for the next two days (TP, RM, JP, DH). The only other Bonaparte’s Gulls seen this spring were the two at Kalsin Bay estuary on 2 May (College Birding Class). While this beautiful little black-headed gull is a common breeder on the adjacent mainland, there is no indication that it breeds in the Kodiak archipelago. An adult Slaty-backed Gull made a one day appearance at the mouth of the Buskin River on 11 Apr (RM). The first Tufted Puffins of spring were seen by LM in Ugak Bay on 28 Apr. By 4 May, dozens surrounded Mary Island at the head of Womens Bay (RM). Horned Puffins, which arrive somewhat later than Tufteds, have not been reported yet. A Short-eared Owl, hit by a car, was found along the Anton Larsen Road on 4 May (PS).

An urban Black-billed Magpie took a liking to the cocoa fiber hanging basket liner material in CH’s yard, and helped itself to quite a bit of it for nest-making in late Apr. NF submitted an interesting video clip that showed several Northwestern Crows taking turns catching small fish, probably sticklebacks, in the creek draining Potatopatch Lake onto Mission Beach on 6 May. A singing Winter Wren was beautifully photographed (see photo) on Whale Island on 27 Apr (DaK). Weeks after MS built a “wren home” in the eaves of her cabin on Anton Larsen Island, a Winter Wren was busily constructing a nest in it. SPes and KM watched an American Dipper along a small creek flowing into Lake Catherine on 11 Apr, and TP and RM watched a dipper carrying nesting material up to the girders under an abandoned bridge across the Buskin River on 26 Apr. The first Hermit Thrush of spring was one in Fort Abercrombie on 2 May (SS). Our huge numbers of wintering Varied Thrushes pretty much disappeared in mid-Apr (JFin, CH, JP, CH, RM). Some of the wintering birds may have returned to the mainland (?), while others no doubt dispersed throughout the Kodiak woods. Although it is a difficult call, because of the large number that overwintered, my guess is that the first spring migrant Fox Sparrow was the singing bird in CT’s yard in Monashka Bay on 16 Apr. Wintering Lincoln’s Sparrows remained near town feeders through 19 Apr (DaK, DeK) and 25 Apr (MMac). There is only one summer record of Lincoln’s Sparrow in the archipelago, although they nest commonly as close to us as Homer. The Rusty Blackbird flock that lived on the Coast Guard base for most of the winter was last seen there on about 19 April (BSt). While White-winged Crossbills were fairly common in the spruce forest, the only cross-billed customers at feeders during the period were Red Crossbills (BO, JFin, MMar), with adults feeding young at the CH (16 Apr), SB (21 Apr), and MMac (26 Apr) feeders. I would be remiss in not adding that SB had a lone White-winged Crossbill land briefly on her porch rail and think about going to her feeder. The only Common Redpoll report was from a Bells Flats feeder in early Apr (SPer, SH).

Paul Banyas, Shirley Berns, Ian Bruce, Ryan Burt, Gary Carver, Margo Connolly, Chad Cook, Libby Eufemio, Rosemary Eufemio, Dale Finlay, Jan Finlay, Josh Fitzgerald, Nate Fitzgerald, Raymond Fletcher, Mary Forbes, Mike Getman, Carolyn Heitman, Patrick Holmes, Steve Honnold, Beverly Horn, David Horn, Sue Jeffrey, Chan Johnson, Katya Johnson, Meghan Kelly, Dave Kubiak, Debra Kubiak, Shelly Lawson, Molly MacIntosh, Rich MacIntosh, Mike Marion, Kevin Murphy, Lynne Murphy, Marti Murray, Hana Nower, Bob Otto, Sara Persselin, Suzanne Peschier, Judy Phillips, Ted Pobud, Jeanne Pontti, Cecil Ranney, Patrick Saltonstall, Bob Scholze, Midge Short, Al Spalinger, Bill Stenberg, Stacy Studebaker, Cindy Trussell, Mark Withrow.

College Birding Class and Friends: Roberta Austring, Shirley Berns, RaeJean Blaschka, Josh Fitzgerald, Nate Fitzgerald, Mary Forbes, Holly Hunter, Sue Jeffrey, Beth Kouremetis, Sara Loewen, Rich MacIntosh, Jeanne Pontti, Chad Pysher, Bill Stenberg, Cindy Trussell, Jill Wittenbrader.