North American Birds

VOLUME 69 No1 2016

A Quarterly Journal of Ornithological Record Published by the American Birding Association. The mission of the journal is to provide a complete overview of the changing panorama of our continent’s birdlife.

Issue link: http://nab.aba.org/i/629070

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N O R T H A M E R I C A N B I R D S 40 T H E C H A N G I N G S E A S O N S : O U T P O S T S When one thinks of the Yukon, visions of endless interior boreal forest may come to mind. But not far inland, the Whitehorse region is blessed with excellent waterbird habitat and indeed lies just 140 kilometers north of the Skagway/Haines, Alaska area, thus not terribly far from marine habitats. Mix that with an ac - tive local birding community spearheaded by regional editor Cameron Eckert and one has a surprisingly productive region—despite what at frst glance would seem like unremarkable geography, relative habitat homogeneity, and few observers. Even well inland here, Pacifc Golden-Plovers are essentially annual in spring (but are perhaps surprisingly infrequent in fall, including one in 2014), whereas in fall, Sharp- tailed Sandpipers are annual. Asian stays over the years have included several records of bean- geese and Whooper Swans, Oriental Turtle- Dove, an amazing Fork-tailed Swift (following the passage of a strong low that crossed the Bering from Asia), Dusky Thrush, several Red- throated Pipits, and a number of Bramblings. Up along the Yukon's Arctic Coast, Herschel Island—very rarely visited by birders—has produced, over the years, Whooper Swan, sev - eral Common Ringed Plovers, Red-necked Stint, Wood Sandpiper, three Eurasian Barn Swal - lows, and a McKay's Bunting. And in the nearby Northwest Territories section of the Beaufort Sea, a Gray Wagtail came aboard a research ves - sel in September 2009—likely a reverse-migrant continuing to head northeastward. We wonder what species might be turning up in late spring and autumn at a myriad of Arctic towns and villages such as at Inuvik, Churchill, Arviat, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Resolute, and Iqa - luit, as well as settlements along the eastward- facing Labrador coast, from Nain to Hopedale to Emily Harbour. (Late spring and early sum - mer in the Arctic does receive some modicum of coverage given it is the beginning of the birder visitation and research season; and indeed, in late May 2014 there was a Townsend's Warbler at Cambridge Bay and a Purple Finch at Rankin Inlet. But very, very few observers are present there during the fall.) In northern Alaska, recent early October visits to Barrow to observe the Ross's Gull migration have turned up a number of strays, including American Kestrel, Harris's Sparrow, and two different Great Black-backed Gulls. One can only imagine what the effect of having a resident, local, "hardcore" birder in such an outpost might be. Getting their Due: Dutch Harbor to Haida Gwaii and Neah Bay For decades, the western Aleutian islands of Attu, Shemya, and Buldir have received varying levels of coverage. In the central Aleutians, Adak tions with light and variable winds—including southwesterlies—have produced few migrants or vagrants. Indeed, as Alaska's Thede Tobish writes, the storm systems of autumn 2014 were not much to write home about: "A strong North Pacifc high-pressure block and fewer storms overall resulted in the few notable systems moving and dissipating into the eastern Bering Sea and southwestern Mainland." There are, of course, factors other than the local weather at work that may shape a given week's, month's, or season's migration. In addition to factors such as observer skill (and luck!), these include: • the timing and success of the nesting season (which can vary greatly from year to year, es - pecially in the Arctic); • whether local wind and precipitation condi - tions span a large or relatively small area; and • the origin, track, size, and strength of weather systems and how these variables interact with actively migrating birds and thus impact their entrainment. Unsung Heroes: Middleton Island and The Yukon While the Aleutians and Bering Sea islands of- ten receive much of the outside birder atten- tion, Middleton Island—in the northern Gulf of Alaska, southeast of Anchorage—and the vast interior of northwestern Canada at Whitehorse, Yukon are little known outside their respec - tive local birding communities. Middleton has long been suspected of being a potential gold - mine for vagrants occurring in Alaska, but dif- fcult logistics and special permission needed to visit have precluded most observers from going there. But occasional multi-day visits have taken place since the 1980s and produced such state frsts as Great Crested Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, and Prairie Warbler. Just as the recent ap - pearances of a good number of far-fung North American vagrants on the Bering Sea islands have been a major surprise, so have the regular appearances of Asian strays to Middleton Island. Past records there include those of Gray-tailed Tattler, Fork-tailed Swift, Stonechat, and Dusky Warbler. A more detailed survey and band - ing study carried out during the fall seasons of 2012, 2013, and 2014 culminated in a mind- boggling fnal season, beyond the discovery of the previously mentioned Wood Warbler. The 2014 list of vagrant highlights, from both Asia and North America, is a true "East meets West": Eared Grebe, Gray-tailed Tattler, Fork-tailed Swift, Yellow-bellied and Least Flycatchers, two Dusky Flycatchers, Yellow-browed Warbler (Figure 9), Mountain Bluebird, Gray Catbird (Figure 10), Northern Mockingbird, Olive- backed Pipit, Nashville Warbler, Rustic Bunting, and Purple Finch. know which weather conditions are most likely to produce fallouts of regular migrants and an increased likelihood in the arrival of vagrants— and in the speed with which we share all this information. But some rarities turn up in just about any weather. A fair number of Old World species in western Alaska have been discovered on days with or immediately following easterly or southeasterly winds. Several Asian passer - ines have been found in fall under such condi- tions—concurrent with major fallouts of North American passerines (e.g., 4 September 2014 at Gambell). A few Asian strays have even been discovered during or following storms with stronger northeasterly winds and rain or sleet. And some North American vagrants have turned up on days with westerly or northerly winds. Sometimes seemingly "ideal" overcast condi - Figure 10. Given the extent of willow and berry bush thickets on the west blufs of Middleton Island, it was amazing that observers were able to capture this image of that site's frst Gray Catbird on 14 September 2014. This individual, judged to be an adult, represents the state's sixth ever in fall. Photograph by Lucas H. DeCicco. Figure 11. On Haida Gwaii, this Eastern Yellow Wagtail was pho- tographed 29 September 2014. Photograph by James Bradley.

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