The outbound (yes, leaving Alaska for points south) migration of shorebirds began in June. I decided this year to monitoring their departure at Anchor Point Beach/Anchor River. This is the beach I help monitor during the Kachemak Bay Birders’ (KBB) Spring Shorebird Monitoring project, as well as for COASST (survey for dead birds on the beach).
My outbound monitoring protocol followed the KBB Spring Shorebird Monitoring project. Every five days, starting on June 20, I went to Anchor Point when the tide was around 15.0 feet or high tide, whichever is lower, and looked for shorebird species during a two hour period. I recorded the number of each shorebird species observed (along with other bird sightings) and reported it in eBird (ISS portal). Here is what I observed during my monitoring sessions:
Session One – June 20
I began monitoring at 6:00 pm. There was heavy use of the beach and nearby Anchor River, primarily fisherman (sorry fishers or fisher people just sounds weird, and most of the people fishing were men). People (and dogs) were camping, fishing, boating, four-wheeling (including flushing the birds- grrrr), driving, and walking on the beach and the adjacent lands between the ocean and the river.
A large flock of about 40 Black Turnstones and Surfbirds were seen on the beach near the boat launch area. Smaller groups of Black Turnstones were spotted along the beach, as we walked towards the mouth of the River. The Greater Yellowlegs were found along the river, despite the heavy fishing use.
We had walked to the mouth of the river and were heading back along the beach when we flushed a Whimbrel. We watched the bird head out across Cook Inlet. While watching the bird, I noticed a large flock of shorebirds heading towards us. The Whimbrel we flushed joined this flock, which turned out to be about 50 Whimbrels, and they landed near the mouth of the River. This was a pleasant surprise. I don’t recall seeing such a large flock of Whimbrels this early during the outbound (fall) migration.
Total shorebird species observed: Black Turnstone (54), Surfbird (4), Whimbrel (51), and Greater Yellowleg (14).
Session Two – June 25
This session began at 8:00 am. The beach had a much different ‘people presence’ than the previous session with much less disturbance since the Anchor River was closed to fishing.
The day was overcast, with a light wind and rain. I walked out towards the mouth of the Anchor River, along the river while occasionally checking the beach. I thought I might be skunked until Jack pointed out two Greater Yellowlegs that had flown to the riverbank in an area I had just passed. I went back and viewed these two birds.
Near the end of the walk, I spotted several Whimbrels on the beach. I was hoping to get photographs of the birds, but a woman and her dog decided otherwise.
Total shorebird species observed: Whimbrel (6) and Greater Yellowleg (4).
Session Three – June 30
High tide was 14.8 at 12:00 pm (noon). The Anchor River was closed to fishing, and it was a weekday so the beach and the Anchor River were relatively quiet. A nice day to look for shorebirds. I arrived to mostly cloudy skies, with little wind (yeah I know weird right – it always seems to be windy here).
I first encountered shorebirds – 10 Greater Yellowleg – at the main fishing area along the river. Here there are sand and gravel bars in the river used by birds, including shorebirds. The shorebirds forage and roost along the river banks in this area.
From there I walked along the river, occasionally checking out the beach for shorebirds. When I was closer to the mouth of the Anchor River I heard the peep of a Spotted Sandpiper. I spotted (pun intended) the sandpiper feeding along the river’s bank. Birds always seem to be on the opposite shore of where I am, making photographing the bird difficult (I know, poor me). In fact, I didn’t get any photographs of shorebirds this monitoring session. I have to admit I felt cheated.
I didn’t see any other shorebirds along the river as I walked to the mouth of the river. From there I turned around to walk back to the boat launch parking lot. I primarily walked the beach, but didn’t spot any shorebirds. Surprisingly, there were few birds in Cook Inlet either – only eight Harlequin Ducks (mostly males), two Common Loons, and two birds too far away to ID. There were, of course, the requisite gulls – Mew, Glaucous-winged, and Herring on the beach, on the river, and on the inlet waters.
Near the end of my walk, I decided to check out the river again and spotted, in addition to the same (I presume) 10 Greater Yellowleg, six Least Sandpiper. The Least Sandpiper, with their distinctive yellow legs, were feeding among the Yellowleg.
Total shorebird species observed: Greater Yellowleg (10), Least Sandpiper (6), and Spotted Sandpiper (1).
Session Four – July 5
I started my monitoring session at 6:00 pm under overcast skies, temperatures in the low 60s, and little or no wind. The rain even held off until the very end. What immediately struck me was the amount of kelp on the beaches – quite thick. There were also many more gulls present than seen in previous monitoring sessions. The number of Black-legged Kittiwakes had increased substantially. I estimate there were over 100 kittiwakes roosting on the beach. Among the gulls were two (2) Bonaparte’s Gulls – a juvenile and an adult. The best find was a large mixed flock of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds. I estimated the flock to be at least 300 birds, with about an even number of turnstones and surfbirds. These shorebirds were roosting near and with the gulls.
This mixed flock was more than 2/3rd down the beach near the river mouth. Unfortunately my presence on the beach (I was also doing my COASST survey – searching the beach for dead birds) resulted in the flushing of these birds.
On the way back, I walked along the Anchor River, spotting several large groups of Greater Yellowleg. One group had 14 yellowleg, while the other group had 10. While watching the latter group of yellowleg, I saw two birds flying down river and landing on the river bank opposite of me. The birds turned out to the Short-billed Dowitcher. I continued along the river and was running out of time (I only monitor during a two hour window) and Jack spotted several large birds flying down the beach. I then went to the beach and counted 48 Whimbrel on the beach near the boat launch parking lot. The birds were foraging along the surf line.
Total shorebird species observed: Greater Yellowleg (30), Surfbird (150~), Black Turnstone (150~), Short-billed Dowitcher (2) and Whimbrel (48).
Session Five – July 10
Today session began at 7:00 am, under mostly cloudy skies, light winds. The weather did get nicer towards the end of the monitoring session.
Near the mouth of the Anchor River, along the beach, I spotted a long string of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds roosting at the surf line. I took a video, which seemed to go on forever. There were so many birds. I estimate over 500 in the mixed flock.
The Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and Least Sandpiper were spotted along the banks of the Anchor River. This is a preferred foraging spot for yellowlegs.
Total shorebird species observed: Black Turnstone (250+), Surfbird (150+), Lesser Yellowleg (1), Greater Yellowleg (19), and Least Sandpiper (3).
Session Six -July 15
Much quieter today, bird-wise, along the beach. Only observed five Black Turnstone on the beach; spotted them when the gulls were flushed. They like the protection afforded by the gulls.
The Anchor River gravel bars and banks rewarded me with Greater Yellowleg, Lesser Yellowleg, Pectoral Sandpiper, and Spotted Sandpipers.
Total shorebird species observed: Black Turnstone (5), Greater Yellowleg (13), Spotted Sandpiper (2), Pectoral Sandpiper (1), and Lesser Yellowleg (1).
Session Seven – July 20
The skies were overcast and there was a slight wind at my 6:00 pm start time. Surprisingly the beach was rocky near high tide, which is in sharp contrast to the state of the beach since February (or maybe even longer, but not having seen the beach between July 2015 and February 2016, I have no basis to say one way or the other), and since.
I started out walking the beach. I was encouraged to see a large flock (~ 50 birds or so) of shorebirds flying along the shoreline. However, it wasn’t until I reached the end of the beach at the mouth of the Anchor River that I observed this large flock of birds – 50 or so Black Turnstones and Surfbirds roosting and foraging on the beach.
On the walk down the beach, we did see an Arctic Tern fly-by, as well as three Bonaparte’s Gulls (one adult, and two immature). The Bonaparte’s were with a mixed flock of Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes.
Once we reached the river mouth and turned back, I began scanning the river banks for Greater Yellowleg. And, right on cue, near the river mouth I saw eight yellowleg sp. Two looked like Greater Yellowleg, but there were six smaller yellowleg. I suspect these were hatch year birds, rather than Lesser Yellowleg. Two of them even flew across the river and landed on the beach near where we were standing. These two birds did not experience the same wariness as the adult Greater Yellowleg.
Also along the river bank was a single Black Turnstone and a single Ruddy Turnstone. These two birds flushed and joined the large mixed flock of Black Turnstones and Surfbirds. The number of Surbirds – only three – was significantly less than then the number seen in prior walks along the beach .
As we walked along the Anchor River in search of more shorebirds, we spotted several groups of yellowlegs roosting and foraging along the river bank. In total we saw what looked like three different families of Greater Yellowleg. Also along the river banks were several peeps: Semi-palmated and Western Sandpiper, plus Spotted Sandpiper and a dowitcher sp.
Not a bad birding day (and monitoring, of course). Surprisingly, I did not see any Bald Eagles and only heard one. Maybe they are more active in the day when the fishing boats are out and dumping their fish waste overboard???
Total shorebird species observed: Spotted Sandpiper (3), Greater Yellowleg (37), Surfbird (3), Black Turnstone (50~), Ruddy Turnstone (1), yellowlegs sp. (2), Western Sandpiper (1), Semi-palmated Sandpiper (2), and dowitcher sp (1).
Session Eight – July 25
This session began at 9:00 am with a light rain, overcast skies (obviously), and light winds. I began my march up the beach and saw several small flocks of Black Turnstone flying both north and south. No flock was larger than 20. By the time I reached the mouth of the river, I spotted a mixed flock of Black Turnstones (~30), Surfbirds (2), and Greater Yellowleg (3) foraging among the seaweed washed up on the beach.
On the beach across the river mouth, I did observe a hatch year Bonaparte’s Gull. I had hoped to get a photo, but no such luck. The bird flushed before I could get closer for a decent shot. Seeing as I wasn’t going to get a shot of that bird, I proceeded to head back to the parking lot, this time along the river rather than the beach. A lot of kelp had washed up on the banks of the Anchor River and Greater Yellowleg like to forage in the kelp. Luckily I had my spotting scope because at times the birds hid very well and were difficult to spot even with binoculars. In one location, I counted up to 19 Greater Yellowleg. In total, there were 35 Greater Yellowleg along the banks of the river.
I also observed four hatch year Surfbirds foraging and roosting on the upper bank of the Anchor River. Hatch year birds don’t flush as easily as their parents.
Later I observed five Spotted Sandpipers. The birds were hatch year birds as well or had already molted out of their breeding plumage.
Near the end of my walk, I did spot two Semi-palmated Sandpipers feeding along the banks of the Anchor River. Nearby was a Greater Yellowleg feeding and being harassed by a Mew Gull. I guess whatever the yellowleg found to eat, the gull wanted.
Also of note on this walk was a large (30+) flock of Arctic Terns flying near the beach. I kept thinking they were going to land, but they did not. I have never seen such a large flock of Arctic Terns at one time before. They have such long delicate wings.
Total shorebird species observed: Black Turnstone (50~), Semi-palmated sandpiper (2), Surfbird (2), Spotted Sandpiper (5), Greater Yellowleg (38), and unidentifiable peeps (5).
Session Nine – July 30
I’m not sure if it was the wind or timing (Jack’s favorite saying is “Timing is Everything”), but we saw few shorebirds on this monitoring session, which began at 1:30 pm. The weather wasn’t bad except for the wind – strong and from the south. I walked up the beach and didn’t see or hear a single shorebird until almost reaching the mouth of the Anchor River. On the beach near the river mouth, I finally saw a single Semi-palmated Plover. Cute little bird.
After reaching the mouth of the river I turned around and headed back to the boat launch parking lot walking along the Anchor River. I did not see any yellowleg species until I had reached the second fishing area (second from the boat launch parking lot). Finally! A Greater Yellowleg. I was getting worried. Maybe they were all hunkered down in the grasses, rushes, and sedges along the river. In total I saw 8 Greater Yellowleg. A far cry from the number seen in previous monitoring sessions. Also observed was a single peep. Sorry, but I’m not good with shorebird calls, nor can I identify the small ones in flight. I guess I need to practice.
Not only were there few shorebirds, but except for gulls (especially Black-legged Kittiwakes), there weren’t many birds out flying, foraging, or singing. I am hopeful that during the next session there will be more shorebirds to observe and better weather (less wind).
Total shorebird species observed: Semi-palmated Plover (1), Greater Yellowleg (8), and peep sp. (1)
Session Ten – August 4
Today was wet, wet, wet, but that didn’t stop the birds from roosting and foraging along the beach or the banks of the Anchor River. I went with a friend (Carla) and an acquaintance (Joe) from Akron Ohio. Joe is doing what he calls an “amateur big year”. He started May 1st and already had over 300 species. Not bad for doing this big year part-time. Joe is doing the big year to raise funds for brain cancer research. His son died from the same type of cancer that killed Beau Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s son. I wish him the best in his endeavors of raising money and seeing a lot of great birds.
Starting at 6:30 pm, and under cloudy and wet skies, we did observe five identifiable species of shorebirds: Rock Sandpiper (along the beach), Greater Yellowleg (along the river banks), Spotted Sandpiper (river banks), a dowitcher sp. (river banks), and Black Turnstone (beach). We also saw a small flock of peeps. However, none of us could identify them other than to say WESA/LESA/SESA (aka – Western Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, and Semi-palmated Sandpiper).
The ducks were back too. We had Mallards, Pintails, Widgeons, Teals, Goldeneye, and Harlequins. The pond near the boat launch parking lot was very active.
All in all, despite the drizzle, we had a good time and Joe was able to add 3 new birds to his Big Year List. Go Joe!!!
Total shorebird species observed: Rock Sandpiper (5), Greater Yellowlegs (25~), Spotted Sandpiper (3), Black Turnstone (20~), dowitcher sp. (1), and peep sp. (9).
Session Eleven – 9 August
I started monitoring around 7:15 am. It was mostly cloudy, winds (5-10 mph), but no rain. Woohoo!!! I didn’t get far before I flushed a Whimbrel. Would love to see more of them. Ha, I just want to see more of any shorebird.
I walked the beach out to the mouth of the river. I saw several Greater Yellowleg, but only in flight. Heard their call to – tu tu tu, tu tu tu. At the mouth of the Anchor River I started seeing more yellowlegs. The birds were busy flying to and fro (always wanted to say that). On the return leg, I walked along the Anchor River in search of shorebirds. A few yellowlegs here, a few spotted sandpipers there. It wasn’t until I got to a small wetland area (although not sure it can technically be called a wetland as it doesn’t meet the vegetation criteria for a wetland, but that is beside the point), and boy was it busy – Greater Yellowleg, Wilson’s Snipe, Least Sandpiper, and Semi-palmated Plover. Quite a nice showing, I must say.
The Black Turnstones were spotted flying as I reached the boat launch parking lot.
Total shorebird species observed: Whimbrel (1), Greater Yellowleg (36), Spotted Sandpiper (4), Semi-palmated Plover (1), Wilson’s Snipe (3), Least Sandpiper (3), Black Turnstone (5), and peep sp (1).
Session Twelve – 14 August
I began this monitoring session at 1:15 pm, with overcast skies. Later in the walk, there was a light rain with a threat of heavier rain to follow. The skies were quite dark north of Anchor River with a northerly wind blowing the clouds my way.
Very few shorebirds out. The river was high due to previous days of heavy rains, so not much of the bank was exposed, nor several of the gravel bars used by shorebirds to forage. The beaches were quiet, except for a couple of Ravens and lots of gulls.
Total shorebirds species observed: Greater Yellowleg (10) and Wilson’s Snipe (1).
Session Thirteen – 19 August
I began monitoring at 4:00 pm, under mostly sunny skies, and only a slight wind – perfect monitoring conditions, but perfect conditions for migrating shorebirds?
Along the beach I spotted a single Rock Sandpiper, and then later a single Sanderling. The sandpiper was flushed from the wrack line, while the Sanderling was foraging along the surf line near gulls. I flushed another peep, which I think was also a Sanderling, based on its coloring. Near the mouth of the Anchor River, on the beach side, I observed a single Black Turnstone foraging along the surf line. Lots of single birds along the beach. Well “lots” if you consider four birds a lot. Considering I haven’t seen many shorebirds on the beach side, I consider four birds to be a lot.
Not much happening at first near the mouth of the Anchor River, but then three Spotted Sandpipers flew in, with two on my side of the river and another on the opposite river bank. As I watched them and tried to get decent photographs, four more Spotted Sandpipers flew in, joining the single sandpiper on the opposite bank of the river.
Further along the river bank I encountered more Greater Yellowleg and Spotted Sandpipers. I’ve never seen this many Spotted Sandpipers on the beach at one time. What a treat.
People were fishing along the Anchor River, otherwise I suspect there would have been more shorebirds present.
Total shorebird species observed: Rock Sandpiper (1), Sanderling (1), Black Turnstone (1), Spotted Sandpiper (10), Greater Yellowleg (16), and peep sp. (1).
Session Fourteen – 24 August
Quiet today. I began at 8:20 am under overcast skies and a light wind. I walked the beach and turned around at the mouth. It wasn’t until I reached the small wetland area (mostly mud) before I saw any shorebirds. Here I observed foraging Greater Yellowleg. I didn’t see any shorebirds again until I reached the first parking lot used by fisherman, just north of the boat launch parking lot. Here I observed Greater Yellowleg and Wilson’s Snipe. These snipe are most likely the same snipe observed several sessions ago.
I did have a little excitement when a Merlin chased a flock of American Pipits. He didn’t find breakfast there, so he decided to chase a Peregrine Falcon instead. I guess the Merlin didn’t like the competition. The Peregrine Falcon landed on a stump on the bluff across the Anchor River, while the Merlin continued on along the bluff. I was glad to have the opportunity to spend a few minutes watching this magnificent falcon.
Total shorebird species observed: Greater Yellowleg (7) and Wilson’s Snipe (3).
Session Fifteen – 28 August
Today I am monitoring a day earlier because my originally scheduled monitoring session would coincide with the first Kachemak Bay Birder’s meeting of the year. Since I am essentially doing this on my own, not as part of an organized group, I guess I can take some leeway in my schedule.
This session began at 2:00 pm, under sunny, warm (70s), and windy conditions. Close to the boat launch parking area I observed a mixed flock of four birds: Ruddy Turnstone, (non-breeding plumage), Rock Sandpiper, and Black Turnstone. The beach was busy with people and their dogs walking near the surf line and flushing birds. I did not observe any other shorebirds along the beach.
Near the river mouth, there were four people fishing from the beach. This is generally a good area for shorebirds, but with all this activity and a lack of adequate habitat, no shorebirds.
I didn’t see any shorebirds again until I reached the small wetland area just north of the second parking area located along the river. This wetland proved to be a gold mine (at least to my way of thinking) with Wilson’s Snipe (I LOVE snipe), Western Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, and Greater Yellowleg. After checking out the birds at the wetland, I then continued my journey along the river and back to the boat launch parking lot. Walking along the river, I did see more several Greater Yellowleg headed towards the wetland area, but no shorebirds along the river banks.
Total shorebird species observed: Ruddy Turnstone (2), Black Turnstone (1), Rock Sandpiper (1), Greater Yellowleg (8), Wilson’s Snipe (3), Western Sandpiper (3), and Semi-palmated Sandpiper (1).
Here are a few observations from my time spent monitoring outbound shorebird migration at Anchor Point.
I was surprised not to see any Black-bellied or Pacific Golden Plovers. I normally see these two bird species when I’ve birding this beach in the past. It could be timing ,or not. I don’t know. I will go out a few times in September to see if any of these birds arrive during that time period. I have heard reports of American and Golden Pacific Plovers on the Homer Spit.
I think there were less birds spotted because of the loss of rocky substrate habitat along the beacch. When I returned from Africa and resumed my COASST monitoring of this beach, I noticed the beach had much more sand than in the previous years. The areas where birds have forage in previous years (rocky substrate) was now covered in sand.
I hope next year the birds’ habitat returns. I miss seeing all the great shorebirds on the beach at Anchor Point. Speaking of habitat, here are a couple photos showing the monofilament line I collected throughout the monitoring period (June-August). Wow!!!
This monofilament line is truly dangerous to birds. I once had to rescue an immature gull that was entangled in fishing line and could fly. The bird very graciously (that means no pecking) allowed me to remove the fishing line and it flew off. But that is only one success story.
Here is a summary of the birds observed during each monitoring session:
I’ve decided next year I will bird this area, but I do not plan to resume shorebird monitoring using the KBB Spring Shorebird Monitoring protocol of every five days. I conducted 15 monitoring sessions over a 2.5 month period. With a monitoring session every five days, I don’t have time to get out and enjoy other parts of our great state – Alaska. And I promise if I do monitor again, I will send out a post after each session rather than writing one long blog post about the entire session.
I hope to see you on the beaches at Anchor Point.