The 120th CBC in Alaska

The Alaska region saw 37 counts completed during the CBC 120 season (about average number for the past five years). In total these counts involved a near-record 1233 participants in the field and watching feeders who tallied a record 159 species (which included a record 53 passerines), plus seven others during count weeks, and 153,651 individual birds (above the past 5-year average). Sixteen species accounted for over two-thirds of the total individual birds counted, including (* seen in all four of the subregions described below) Mallard*, Surf Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Common Merganser*, Bald Eagle, Mew Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Northwestern Crow, Common Raven* [only species seen on all 37 Alaska counts], Black-capped Chickadee*, Bohemian Waxwing, Dark-eyed Junco, White-winged Crossbill, Common Redpoll*, and Pine Siskin.

Species highlights for the Region overall included a Common Ringed Plover at Shemya, in the far eastern Aleutian Islands, which represented the first occurrence of this palearctic shorebird on any North American CBC; a Great Egret on the Kodiak count – remarkably now the second in two years for that island (and Alaska CBCs), but unquestionably involving a different bird as the first, seen during CBC 119 (on the Narrow Cape-Kalsin Bay count), was subsequently killed by a Bald Eagle; and a Swainson’s Thrush at Anchorage (second Alaska and Anchorage CBC record).

Additionally, and certainly worthy of more discussion than space here allows has been the incredible increase in Anna’s Hummingbirds now wintering annually in southeast Alaska. Briefly, subsequent to the first Alaska CBC record in 1974 (at Sitka), the number of Anna’s tallied annually in the region varied from zero to five through 2012, but increased quite dramatically since with 11 in 2013, 19 in 2014, 25 in 2016, 35 in 2018, and 41 this past season (see Ketchikan highlights below). Further, and equally impressive has been both the number of counts reporting this hummingbird, which was found on only one to three counts annually from 2002 through 2012, but since has steadily increased to 11 counts the past two winters; as well as the geographic range which, since 2013, now includes annually one to four (CBC 120 – see below) counts in the south-coastal subregion.

Considering the extreme size and diverse physiography of Alaska, discussion and highlights of the 37 region counts can best be summarized by dividing them into four general subregions based on their relative geographic setting and winter climate conditions.

The interior/western subregion covers the vast majority of Alaska - characterized by drier and more extreme cold winter climate conditions - was surveyed by 12 counts (Copper Center, Delta Junction, Denali National Park, Eagle, Fairbanks, Gakona, Galena, Healy, Kenny Lake, Nome, Shageluk, and Tok) – air temperatures on several of these counts were in the -20s and -30s F. These counts involved a near-record 419 souls who tallied 42 count day (slightly less than the 5-year running average) plus two other count week species (including 19 passerines), and 6296 individual birds (far below the 5-year average). The Fairbanks count again topped all others with most species (28), and individual birds (4452); while Healy had a record number of participants (150) (Fairbanks close behind with 139). Highlights for this subregion included 806 Bohemian Waxwings at Fairbanks ( new subregion high count), and a Black Guillemot, White-crowned Sparrow, and Golden-crowned Sparrow all at Nome.

Three counts were completed in the southwest subregion which includes the Alaska Peninsula (King Salmon-Naknek) and Aleutian Islands (Shemya and Unalaska) – characterized by wet, windy, maritime climate conditions - where 31 participants tallied 54 count day plus 11 other count week species (including 15 passerines), and 7615 individual birds (all three of these metrics were below the 5-year running averages). Unalaska had the highest species count (37), individual birds (5066), and participation (22). Highlights for this subregion in addition to the Common Ringed Plover at Shemya included a Laysan Albatross at Shemya and a count week European Starling (new to the subregion; died the night before their count) at King Salmon-Naknek [that is correct lower-48, starling is a highlight in southwest Alaska].

Nine counts were conducted in the south-coastal subregion, which borders the Gulf of Alaska 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) – characterized by transitional (maritime to continental) winter climate conditions. These counts involved 458 participants who tallied a record 124 count day plus eight other count week species (including 43 passerines), and a near 5-year average 63,475 individual birds. For the first time since the mid-1970s, the Homer count took top honors with the highest number of species in Alaska (78, plus 8 other count week); while Anchorage again had the highest number of individual birds (14,892) and observers (177). Highlights for this area included 420 Red-breasted Mergansers at Cordova; 985 Bald Eagles at Soldotna, 5 Wilson’s Snipe at Anchorage, 411 Black-legged Kittiwakes at Homer, single Anna’s Hummingbirds at Cordova, Homer (2), Kodiak and Seward, four Peregrine Falcons at Narrow Cape-Kalsin Bay, and 4 Yellow-rumped Warblers at Anchorage; and new State high counts for Brown Creeper (40) at Anchorage and Pine Siskin (4077) at Homer.

Finally, 13 counts were performed in the southeast ‘panhandle’ portion of Alaska (Chilkat, Craig-Klawock, Glacier Bay, Haines, Hoonah, Juneau, Ketchikan, Mitkof Island, Sitka, Skagway, Tenakee Springs, Thorne Bay, and Wrangell) – characterized by generally mild but very wet maritime climate conditions - where 325 participants tallied 124 count day, plus three count week species (including 45 passerines), and 76,265 individual birds – all of these metrics record highs. The most species (76) and individual birds (20,346) were at Glacier Bay, while Haines had the most participants (60). Highlights for this subregion included 97 Ring-necked Ducks at Glacier Bay, 22 Killdeer at Juneau, 2810 Mew Gulls at Glacier Bay, 20 Anna’s Hummingbirds at Ketchikan [where the compiler felt their total represented about only half of the total along the entire local road system], 146 Steller’s Jays at Ketchikan, 1499 Dark-eyed Juncos at Sitka, and two Brewer’s Blackbirds at Ketchikan – all new State high counts; two Pied-billed Grebes at Juneau, 204 Black-billed Magpies at Haines, single Townsend’s Warbler and Evening Grosbeak at Ketchikan, 9 Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches at Sitka, and 3205 Pine Siskins at Tenakee Bay. Also notable, new local high counts were set for Varied Thrush at eight of the 13 subregion counts.

Stay safe and healthy – I am not feeling confident about the CBC 121 cycle!

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