The 122nd Christmas Bird Count in Alaska

While reviewing the findings of the 122nd Christmas Bird Counts in Alaska one word kept coming to mind – unremarkable. In other words, the individual counts from this past cycle exemplified a good old Alaska winter – very wet in the coastal areas, very snowy inland, and just plain cold everywhere. As a result, a surprising number of the resident birds were missed on the ‘count days’; and notably fewer of the fall migrants that often ‘linger’ into the early winter simply did not this year – for example, no Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, American Pipit, or Yellow-rumped Warbler were reported on any State count this year – all species that have each previously been found during at least seven of the past 10 years.


Looking at the State in closer detail, 12 counts were conducted in the southeast ‘panhandle’, where the climate is generally characterized by mild but often very wet maritime conditions. These counts, with their 269 total participants, tallied 93 count day (very low) plus 10 count week species, and 36,902 individual birds (better than 2021 but still low). Sitka again produced the most count day species (65); Glacier Bay the most count week species (15) and individual birds (7751); and Haines the most participants (52). Noteworthy count day species for this subregion included a Wood Duck again at Sitka, a new State high count of 31 Anna’s Hummingbirds at Ketchikan [remarkable], and a Harris’s Sparrow at Mitkof Island; and count week species including Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel at Sitka, Brandt’s Cormorant at Ketchikan, American Coot at Juneau, Snowy Owl at Chilkat (no details provided), and Barred Owl at Juneau.


Nine counts were conducted in the south-coastal subregion, which extends from the western Gulf of Alaska across the Cook Inlet-Kenai Peninsula to Kodiak Island, where relatively ‘mild’ winter climate conditions typically prevail (but not this year). These counts, with their total 465 participants, tallied 112 count day (low) and four count week species, and 58,090 (very low) individual birds. Kodiak reported the most species (82, highest for the State) and individual birds (13,957, also highest for the State), Seward had the most of count week species (9), and Anchorage the most participants (181, highest for the State). Highlights for this subregion included: 1419 Emperor Geese at Kodiak, 11 Sharp-shinned Hawks at Homer (new Alaska high count), 1012 Bald Eagles at Soldotna (new high count for this subregion), 1456 Feral Pigeons and 1817 European Starlings at Anchorage (both new Alaska high counts – Anchorage must be very proud), single Northern Flickers at Anchorage, Homer and Matanuska-Susitna Valley, three Lapland Longspurs at Kodiak, two Brambling at Homer, and a count week McKay’s Bunting at Narrow Cape.


Fourteen counts were completed in the interior subregion, which covers the vast majority of Alaska and is characterized by drier and more extreme cold winter conditions (count day ‘high’ air temperatures were below -20 F on four counts!). The total counts involved a low 230 hardy participants who tallied 29 count day plus four other count week species, and a low 4552 individual birds. Fairbanks again topped all others with most species (25), individual birds (3556), and participants (117). Highlights for this subregion included: a Lesser Scaup and White-crowned Sparrow at Fairbanks; and suspect (no details provided) Varied Thrush and Fox Sparrow at Healy. And surprisingly, no ptarmigan species were reported on any interior count this year.


Three counts were completed in the western subregion of the State, which shares similar but slightly milder winter temperatures with the interior conditions. These counts produced a total of 18 species (lowest in five-plus years), 1083 individual birds, and involved a record high 81 participants. Shageluk reported the most species (13) and involved the most participants (34), while Nome tallied the most individual birds (552). Most notable were 119 Common Redpolls at Bethel (new high count for the subregion).


And ending our look at the State, three counts were completed in the southwest subregion – characterized by wet and windy maritime conditions. On these counts, 29 participants tallied 55 count day plus five other count week species, and 8377 individual birds. Unalaska reported the most species (37), individual birds (5479), and participation (15). Highlights for this subregion included: 30 Gadwall and 547 Greater Scaup at Unalaska (both new high counts for the subregion); an Arctic Loon, 60 Laysan Albatross (new State high count), and a count week Whiskered Auklet at Shemya; and a count week Red Crossbill (photographed) at King Salmon-Naknek.


Finally, and with great sadness, all of the 122nd counts in Alaska were dedicated to the memory of David D. Delap, who died in October 2022. Dave had lived in Anchorage since 1965, was a well-loved teacher (twice nominated for teacher of the year in the Anchorage School District), and to say the least a life-long and avid birder. Dave participated in 52 Anchorage CBCs, and was the compiler for a remarkable 33 years, retiring from that role in 2004 – may he rest in peace.