January 27, 2011 |

Fish run pushes up gull numbers in annual Audubon count

Numbers of gulls nearly tripled to 1,425 during the annual Audubon bird count, possibly due to a run of fish in Chilkat Inlet.

"Several thousand were seen feeding just south of Pyramid Island," said biologist Tim Shields.

A group of "hardcore birders" braved the cold Dec. 18 for the count that tallied 3,657 birds from about 30 species. Last year, 3,285 birds of 47 species were spotted.

The drop in total species was probably due to windy conditions suppressing the activity of smaller forest-dwelling species, Shields said.

Counts were taken in two, 15-mile diameter circles, one centered on the Haines townsite and the other at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Participation dropped to 38 birders from 48 birders in 2009, but Shields said that likely did not affect the species count.

The Bohemian waxwing count was 132, an all-time high. "We had this flock of Bohemian waxwings hanging around the downtown area," said resident Pam Randles. "That is unusual. We get them every so often, but they’re not predictable… They’re lovely, beautiful birds."

Waxwing numbers vary year to year with the presence of food sources, Shields said. But only one was seen last year.

"Exactly why the numbers change or why the Bohemian waxwings, for example, are here this year and they weren’t here last year, we don’t have the scientific backing to know that, but we turn it into Audubon, and then Audubon can do the researching if they think it’s worthy of that," Randles said.

Species of gulls counted included herring (630), glaucous-winged (565) and mew (230). The gull total was up from 517 in December 2009.

A count of 77 trumpeter swans in the highway count was an all-time high. The count reflects the growing winter population of this formerly endangered species in the upper valley, Shields said.

At the eagle preserve, 173 eagles were counted; 19 were counted in town. The 2009 bald eagle numbers were 423 in the preserve and 125 at the townsite.

The Barrow’s goldeneye again was common, with a count of 448, down from the 500 total that made it the most identified species in the 2009 count. .

Randles said the bird count helps measure trends."Everybody has their excuses for getting outside, and it’s fun and good to get out, and it contributes quite a bit to our understanding, particularly of migratory birds and also of greater bird population changes."

"With climate change issues being at the forefront these days, having this long sequence of data helps to figure out whether these changes are real or not," Randles said.