Unalaska Christmas Bird Count Escapes Winter Storm

Dec 31, 2019

Girl Scout Troop 381, one of eight parties at this year's Christmas Bird Count.

A huge and prolonged Northerly storm and wickedly bitter wind chills are gripping the Aleutians now, and we’ve battened down our hatches with care.  Our few seconds of longer daylight are barely meriting detection.   

Good thing we got our Christmas Bird Count pulled off a couple weeks ago, on Sunday, December 15th, 2019.

Count conditions were brisk, with NW winds increasing to 30 knots by the afternoon, but with only scattered rain showers.  Temps held around 40 degrees F, with no snow on the ground at sea level.   We had eight parties in the field,  with 22 adults and more than a dozen youngsters, including Girl Scout Troop 381  who enthusiastically joined the count this year! 

In total we counted 5,067 individual birds, of 38 different species.  We spent a combined 32 hours covering 27.5 miles of coastline, wetlands, lake shores, foothills and spruce groves.  We didn’t break any records this year, or pull in any mega rarities, but we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves while adding another year’s data to the count.  During count week (the three days before and three days following the count day) we noted 5 additional species that eluded us on count day. 

Here are the Christmas Bird Count results for December 15, 2019.  CW means count week birds. 

Emperor Goose 386; Mallard 10; Green-winged Teal 97; Greater Scaup 180; scaup species 18; Stellers Eider CW; Harlequin Duck 968; White-winged Scoter 15; Black Scoter 1,240; Long-tailed Duck 194; Bufflehead 98; Common Goldeneye 19; Barrow’s Goldeneye CW; Common Merganser 3; Red-breasted Merganser 94; Common Loon CW; Horned Grebe 7; Red-necked Grebe 3; Double-crested Cormorant 8; Pelagic Cormorant 91; cormorant species 23; Bald Eagle 316; Merlin 2; Rock Ptarmigan CW; Black Oystercatcher 23; Rock Sandpiper 31; Mew Gull 31; Glaucous-winged Gull 152; Black-legged Kittiwake 25; gull species 694; Common Murre 1; Pigeon Guillemot 128; Marbled Murrelet 1; Crested Auklet 2; Tufted Puffin 1; alcid species 2; Belted Kingfisher 7; Northern Shrike 2; Black-billed Magpie 1; Common Raven 156; Pacific Wren 1; American Dipper 1; Song Sparrow 18; Golden-crowned Sparrow 2; Snow Bunting CW; Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch 14; Common Redpoll 2.

I haven’t spent time yet comparing our results to past year’s counts.  All that data is available to folks on the CBC website, if you’re interested.  Even so,  I can say that in recent years genuine winter conditions come much later, and result in the later arrival of our sea ducks and Emperor Geese.  The first Steller’s Eiders used to arrive in mid to late November, but showed up later than ever this year, on December 10th, and only a small flock of a dozen so far at that.

The sad tally of ONE Common Murre probably reflects the huge die-offs in the Bering Sea, although choppy seas and gray skies on count day limited our visibility.

The Bohemian Waxwings that showed up in early December, evaded us during the count, but slyly made a reappearance after count week was over.  

All the best to everyone, stay safe and snug over the holidays, and a Happy New Year to All!  Here’s to exciting birds, wherever you are this winter!

Suzi Golodoff is a local naturalist and the compiler for the Unalaska Christmas Bird Count.