The 116th CBC in Alaska

Thirty-seven CBCs were conducted in the Alaska region during the 2015-2016 season which tallied 149 species (plus 8 additional during count weeks, cw) and a 5-year average low 123,658 individuals, and involved a new record 1157 total observers (810 field plus 347 at feeder). Apparently two other Alaska counts were apparently conducted, but the compilers did not complete their data entry.

Statewide, new high counts for the Alaska region were set for Least Auklet (121, Unalaska), Sharp-shinned Hawk (6, Homer), Merlin (5, Anchorage), and Cedar Waxwing (21, Wrangell Island; although no details were provided). However, of much more significance the CBC season coincided with the beginning of a massive winter die-off of Common Murres in the north Pacific (on the order of hundreds of thousands); and described by State and federal biologists in the press as “unparalleled in the historic record”, and “possibly the largest ever recorded”. Dead or dying murres were reported on almost all of the counts conducted along or near the coast, from the eastern Aleutians to southeast; as well as on THREE counts in the frigid central interior (see below).

For the sake of this summary I have divided the Alaska region into four general subregions, based primarily on characteristic environment and winter climate conditions.

Four counts were completed in southwest Alaska, covering the Alaska Peninsula (Dillingham, Izembek N.W.R., and King Salmon-Naknek) to the eastern Aleutian Islands (Unalaska); where 59 participants tallied 49 species (plus 4 cw), and 11,698 individuals (all below the 5-year averages). Unalaska produced the highest species count (49), Izembek N.W.R. the highest number of individuals (1967), and Dillingham the most observers (23). Species recorded for the first time on a subregion count included Red Crossbills at Dillingham (no details), and a Golden-crowned Kinglet at Unalaska. New subregion high counts were also set for Surf Scoter (12) at Izembek; Black Scoter (1165), Crested Auklet (931), Merlin (4), Belted Kingfisher (9), Golden-crowned Sparrow (6), and Pine Siskin (6) all at Unalaska; and Pine Grosbeak (256) at Dillingham.

The central, western and northern ‘mainland’ subregion (covering the vast majority, and certainly coldest areas of the Alaska region) was surveyed by 12 counts (Bethel, Cantwell, Copper Center, Delta Junction, Eagle, Fairbanks, Gakona, Galena, Kenny Lake, Nome, Shageluk, and Trapper Creek-Talkeetna); where 280 very hearty (crazy?) birders tallied a record 46 species (plus 1 cw), but below 5-year average 8952 individuals. Fairbanks again led the way with most species (30), individuals (4140) and participants (112!). Two Common Murres (starving birds – see above) were recorded for the first time on any subregion count at Trapper Creek-Talkeetna, as well as during count weeks at Cantwell and Fairbanks. New subregion high counts were also set for Common Raven (1247) at Bethel; and Mallard (617) and Rock Pigeon (927) at Fairbanks. A very hardy Lincoln’s Sparrow at Fairbanks was also noteworthy.

Nine counts were conducted in the southcoastal area, spanning from eastern Prince William Sound (Cordova), across the Cook Inlet-Kenai Peninsula (Anchorage, Eagle River, Homer, Matanuska Valley, Seward, and Soldotna), to Kodiak Island (Kodiak and Narrow Cape-Kalsin Bay); where 495 participants tallied a record 119 species (plus 8 cw), but below 5-year average 53,945 individuals. A ‘Kodiak Island’ count again produced the highest number of species for the subregion and State (74), but this year on the Narrow Cape-Kalsin Bay (not the city) count, while Anchorage again had the highest number of individuals (12,311) and observers (179! – a new State record). A Red-breasted Sapsucker at Homer was new to a subregion CBC. New subregion high counts were set for Trumpeter Swan (382, Cordova), White-winged Scoter (1083, Narrow Cape-Kalsin Bay), and Northern Saw-whet Owl (2) and Hoary Redpoll (26) both at Anchorage. Also noteworthy were a Ruddy Turnstone at Kodiak (cw), and single Orange-crowned Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler both at Seward.

And finally, 12 counts were performed in the southeast ‘panhandle’ portion of Alaska (Chilkat, Craig-Klawock, Glacier Bay, Haines, Juneau, Ketchikan, Mitkof Island, Sitka, Skagway, Tenakee Springs, Thorne Bay, and Wrangell); where a record 323 participants tallied a near record 114 species (plus 11 cw), and below 5-year average 49,033 individuals. The most species (68) were found at Sitka, the most individuals (13,314) were at Glacier Bay, and Sitka had the most participants (80). A new subregion high count was set for Eurasian Wigeon (7) at Tenakee Spring (but no details!). And also noteworthy were a Spotted Towhee at Juneau, and a Purple Finch at Wrangell (again no details!).

My wishes for the upcoming 117 CBC season include (1) all completed counts being reported; (2) no more reports of “Winter Wren” (which has yet to be confirmed in Alaska – ever), unless they are well documented; and (3) details (e.g. field notes, photos, etc. – not the worthless Audubon form) for ALL unusual species or numbers (not just those new to a count); but I am not holding my breath.

Cheers!

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