Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Gulls top bird count


The glaucous-winged gull, a bird that ranges the coastline of Alaska to Washington state feeding on fish, mussels, scraps and carrion, was the species most spotted during the annual Audubon bird count, held Dec. 22 around Haines.

Forty residents who participated in the count saw a total of 1,945 of the grey and white gulls. Haines organizers recently finished tallying results.

Tim Shields, who compiled count sheets, said a “food fish event” may have gathered the gulls, concentrating them and making them easier to count. Hundreds of gulls can be seen hovering over the upper Chilkat Inlet during high winds in winter months, apparently feeding.

Cold, windy weather dominated count day, Shields said.

Other species found in abundance included Barrow’s goldeneye (1,137), surf scoters (556), mew gulls (280), and white-winged crossbills (225). There were 336 bald eagles seen, including 264 up the highway and 72 in town.

The count is conducted in two areas, one centered in town, the other at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve’s eagle “council grounds.”

Up the highway, numbers of Stellar’s jays were down (1) but pine grosbeaks were up (9), said resident Mario Benassi.

Benassi is a naturalist, wildlife videographer and six-year veteran of the local bird count. He said the count was the first during which he’s counted many grosbeaks.

Blood-red piles of snow around Mosquito Lake were a telling clue about the numbers of grosbeaks, he said. “They got all the highbush cranberries up here and turned all the snow red. I saw piles of berries.”

The reason for the red is the birds spit out the cranberry flesh, eating the seed inside, he said. Forest dwellers, pine grosbeaks are named for their large, nut-cracking beak, Benassi said. They have distinctive white, wing bars.

Conspicuous by their absence during the count were Stellar’s jays, Benassi said. “A lot of people are saying, ‘Where are the jays?’ They’re just not around.”

Benassi said the count also confirmed his suspicion that immature goshawks are getting harder to find. “It was an interesting year for birds,” Benassi said. “Every year is different.”

Thirty-three species were spotted in town. Totals include chestnut-backed chickadee (165), herring gull (118), bufflehead (81), common raven (77), pine siskin (55), dark-eyed junco (49), common merganser (43), common redpoll (34), common goldeneye (33), red crossbill (30), black-billed magpie (28), ringneck duck (20), red-breasted nuthatch (18), pine grosbeak (18), red-breasted merganser (16), Bohemian waxwing (14), Northwestern crow (10) and Stellar’s jay (6).

There were two dippers counted and only one each of the following: tree sparrow, song sparrow, fox sparrow, greater scaup, hairy woodpecker, murrulet, and northern, three-toed woodpecker.

Birds seen up the highway besides grosbeaks, jays and eagles included: common redpoll (107), pine siskin (59), common raven (43), chestnut-backed chickadee (27), black-billed magpie (22), trumpeter swan (18), white-winged crossbill (13), common merganser (13), dark-eyed junco (5), black-capped chickadee (4), dipper (3) hoary redpoll (2) and mallard (1).