On December 17th, 2017, Unalaska held its 25th Annual Christmas Bird Count! We had sixteen adults and six kids in seven field parties, who spent from daybreak 'til dusk covering a combined thirty five miles of habitat, from coastlines and roads, rivers and lakes, to spruce groves, hillsides and docks.
Howling winds and wet snow threatened our scheduled count day, so we postponed a day, and got a decent afternoon with workable westerly winds and mostly clear skies. Temps were around 35 degrees F with one inch of snow on the ground. None of the lakes were frozen.
We tallied 5,349 individual birds of 45 species, and recorded an additional three species during 'count week.'
Most of our sea duck and freshwater duck numbers were what we expected, and some, like Black Scoters, were even above average. But the Emperor Goose numbers were way down, from an average of 1,200 over the past twenty years to 467 this year. This may just mean that the flocks, which move around quite a bit, were outside the places where we counted. We’ll see over the coming winter months how many are really in the area.
But where are the Steller’s Eiders? Over the past twenty five years they have averaged around 500 in our count circle, but have been steadily dropping in recent years. In 2014 we counted 125. In 2015: 77. Last year: 49. This year: 13. These few showed up later than ever, in early December, and my hope is their numbers will increase as the winter deepens. Unlike Emperor Geese that move around with the tides and weather, Steller’s Eiders are remarkably ‘loyal’ to particular spots, and are known for this ‘site fidelity’. So it is worrisome to find their usual hang-outs empty.
On the other hand, we saw remarkably high numbers of Pine Siskins. Years ago we seldom saw these, but they’ve become ‘regular’s now, and this fall some good sized flocks showed up, with perhaps a hundred in the area. In early September we also had a few Red Crossbills show up, and in October a few more. We missed them on count day but had three during ‘count week’ and that’s a new bird for us during a Christmas Bird Count!
We also had, for only the second time on a Christmas Bird Count, a late staying, (maybe overwintering!) Orange-crowned Warbler. Two years ago we had one, along with a Townsend’s Warbler.
Here are the results of our count. Birds followed by CW ( count week) indicates a species NOT seen on count day, but seen during the three days before or three days following.
Many thanks to all the counters who cheerfully brave the weather every year!
Emperor Goose 467; Mallard 18; Green-winged Teal 12; Greater Scaup 187; Steller’s Eider 13; eider sp 1; Harlequin Duck 1,159; White-winged Scoter 179; Black Scoter 1,314; scoter species 176; Long-tailed Duck 116; Bufflehead 94; Common Goldeneye 66; Barrow’s Goldeneye 2; goldeneye species 1; Common Merganser 5; Red-breasted Merganser 140; Pacific Loon 3; Common Loon 3, loon species 9; Horned Grebe 15; Red-necked Grebe 18; grebe species 10; Double-crested Cormorant 6; Red-faced Cormorant CW; Pelagic Cormorant 93; cormorant species 17; Bald Eagle 249; Merlin 3; Rock Ptarmigan 7; Black Oystercatcher 35; Rock Sandpiper 85; Mew Gull 22; Glaucous-winged Gull 109; Black-legged Kittiwake 1; gull species 198; Common Murre 9; Pigeon Guillemot 129; Marbled Murrelet 12; Crested Auklet 3; alcid species 2; Belted Kingfisher 7; Northern Shrike 1; Black-billed Magpie 1; Common Raven 165; Pacific Wren 5; American Dipper 2; Orange-crowned Warbler 1; Song Sparrow 20; Golden-crowned Sparrow CW; Dark eyed Junco 4; Snow Bunting 2; Gray-crowned Rosy Finch 88; Common Redpoll 3; Pine Siskin 62; Red Crossbill CW.
Suzi Golodoff is a local naturalist. She organizes the bird count each year in Unalaska.