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30th Annual Christmas Bird Count Results

BLOY.jpeg
Suzi Golodoff
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Black Oystercatchers

On New Year’s Day 2023,  our Unalaska community held its 30th annual Christmas Bird Count,  participating in the international Audubon count that’s been going on since the year 1900.  Our Unalaska Island count circle is centered at the local airport, and we had 8 field parties composed of 20 adults and 8 kids, fanned out in all directions.  We also had one dedicated feeder watcher. 

Count day weather was decent, mostly cloudy with thick, slow-moving snow squalls and NW wind at 20 knots.  Temperature was 32F and the lakes and rivers were open and unfrozen.  There was little to no snow at sea level. 

Counters covered a combined 22 miles by foot and by car, and spent a combined 23 hours out in the field.  The road to Summer Bay was blocked by recent rock slides so no one birded out there, but we had folks hiking up the Ballyhoo road, out on the spit, along all the local  coastlines of Amaknak Island and Illiuliuk Bay to the head of Captains Bay, and following Town Creek up to Unalaska Lake and the wetlands. 

Here are the results of what we saw on Count Day, January 1, 2023.  Any species followed by CW are ‘count week’ birds; species that weren’t seen on count day but were noted during the three days before and following count day.  We tallied 4,432 individual birds of 39 species on count day with an additional 7 species seen during count week. 

Emperor Goose 445; Mallard 8; Green-winged Teal 21; Greater Scaup 99; Lesser Scaup 2; Steller’s Eider 32; King Eider CW; Harlequin Duck 1118;  White-winged Scoter 62; Black Scoter 694; Long-tailed Duck 146; Bufflehead 140; Common Goldeneye 68; Barrow’s Goldeneye 3; Common Merganser 4; Red-breasted Merganser 116; Rock Ptarmigan CW;  Horned Grebe 1; Red-necked Grebe 1; grebe species 1;  Common Loon 4;  Double-crested Cormorant 3; Red-faced Cormorant CW; Pelagic Cormorant 272; cormorant species 9; Bald Eagle 257; Black Oystercatcher 119; Rock Sandpiper 168; Pigeon Guillemot 72; Marbled Murrelet 3; Horned Puffin 1; alcid species 24; Black-legged Kittiwake 2; Mew Gull 3; Glaucous-winged Gull 264; gull species 130; Belted Kingfisher 2; Merlin 1; Black-billed Magpie 1; Common Raven 3;  Pacific Wren 4; American Dipper 1; Snow Bunting 1; Orange-crowned Warbler CW; Townsend’s Warbler CW; Golden-crowned Sparrow CW; Dark-eyed Junco CW; Song Sparrow 6; Gray-crowned Rosy Finch 116; Common Redpoll 15.

A few notes:

  • Emperor Goose numbers look low on the count but we know there are more in the area.  On December 31, I counted 700 just along the front beach in Unalaska Bay; however on count day they had dispersed to areas we didn’t cover. 
  • We added a ‘first time ever’ bird to our Christmas Count:  a Horned Puffin, looking quite odd in winter plumage. ( see attached photo ).   But that was our only ‘alcid excitement’, and tragically we continue to see drastically reduced numbers of Common Murres ever since the recent, wide spread die-offs.   While Common Murre counts tend to be reflective of our local weather conditions, we’ve gone from a high count of 4,067 in 2002, to a steep decline of zero or single digit counts over the past six years. 
  • Alarmingly, Common Ravens seem to have disappeared into a black hole.  We’d been wondering ‘Where are all the ravens lately?”  and I’d hoped the CBC would answer that.  But with everyone out in all directions on count day we came up with a total of 3.  Our high count was 830 in 2002, and our average over the past ten years is 216.  Being scavengers, one could wonder if a whale washed up somewhere and had them all away from town, but our Bald Eagle count doesn’t suggest that, and they’d be at that ‘party’ if there was one.  Avian influenza is a possibility and I’ll get this information out to the scientific community.   
  • Otherwise, its good to see strong numbers of most waterfowl and sea ducks including Common Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Red-breasted Mergansers, Black Scoters, and our ‘old standby’ Harlequin Ducks.  Of all the species we count every year, Harlequins seem our most reassuringly consistent, evenly dotting every stretch of our coastline. 

Suzi Golodoff is a local naturalist.  She organizes the bird count each year in Unalaska.

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  • 15 adults and three kids spent a combined 20 hours out in the field, on foot and by car, covering a combined 27 miles of our circle. We had counters across Amaknak Island, along the Unalaska River into the valley, from Captains Bay to Morris Cove.