Spring heralds the arrival of migratory and breeding birds to the Homer area.  And this year, the birds seem to be arriving earlier than usual.

In March, while conducting my COASST (Coastal Observation And Seabird Survey Team) monitoring (we search the beaches for dead birds) at Mariner Park, this Northwestern Crow was checking us out.  While not a migratory bird (this bird resides here year-round), they are beloved by me just the same.    Unfortunately some of our crows have been experiencing beak deformities.  I recently spotted a Northwestern Crow in the Safeway parking lot with a severe beak deformity.


Northwestern Crow

If you spot any birds with beak deformities, report your findings to the U.S. Geological Survey, Alaska Science Center by completing a Beak Deformity and Banded Bird Observation Report at: http://alaska.usgs.gov/science/biology/landbirds/beak_deformity/observerreport.php

Our nesting pair of Sandhill Cranes arrived on April 17, 2016.  Wow!!! That is almost two weeks earlier than normal.  So, we quickly got the corn out, so the birds, after such a long flight ‘home’, could have something to eat; and we got our neighbor to restrain his dog (Chaz or Lugnut as I like to call him) because Chaz LOVES to chase birds – regardless of their size.  We can’t have that.


Sandhill Crane at the top of our driveway. This crane and its mate were making a kind of purring sound. I’ve never heard them make that sound before.


Sandhill Crane – up close

Walking near our home our neighbor’s dog flushed a Wilson’s Snipe (April 13), another early bird.  Snipe in our neck of the woods (okay we don’t have that many trees) generally appear around the first week in May.  Again, the birds are 2-3 weeks early.

When I get up in the middle of the night to let our dog outside, I can hear the snipes winnowing.  Winnowing, for those who are not familiar with the term with regards to birds, is the sounds made by its tail feathers during an impressive aerial display. 

While walking near the Islands and Ocean Visitor center I heard a Pacific Wren – a first for me on this side of Kachemak Bay.  There were also Black-capped Chickadees and a Red-breasted Nuthatch-both busy working the trees.


Black-capped Chickaee

With spring, also comes the Kachemak Bay Birders’ Shorebird Monitoring.  I, once again, will be monitoring the Anchor Point beach, along with up to six other monitors.  This 1.3 mile stretch of beach gets a lot of different shorebird species.  Last year, at one monitoring session, we had nine different shorebird species.  While we generally don’t get high numbers of each species, we do get variety.  Plus the walk is nice.  Early birds (during sessions 1 and 2) have included the Greater Yellowleg and Black-bellied Plover (aka Grey Plover in Europe).


Greater Yellowleg


Black-bellied Plover

Of course we did see a number of other birds, besides shorebirds,  at Anchor Point.  The late afternoon monitoring session on April 21st was glorious.  Some wind, but warm temperatures (well warm for this time of year) and sunny skies.


Ponds at Anchor Point SRS


Love the shape of this stump.  Also note the sandy beach.  This could affect feeding habitat and what shorebird species we observe this year.


Michael Craig checking out the ponds for shorebirds; well checking out the pond for all birds


Jim Herbert and Kristin Cook monitoring for shorebirds


Greater White-fronted Geese in flight


Harlequin Duck drake on the Anchor River


Glaucous Gull – an uncommon visitor to our area


Cindy Graham


Immature Bald Eagle

I recently attended a three day Partners-in-Flight Western Working Group meeting held in Homer.  The meeting was attended by representatives from across the western states  – at both the federal and state level, as well as not-for-profit organizations.  Following the meeting many of the participants took a 3-hour cruise with Karl Stolzfus (Bay Excursions).  I wasn’t sure what the weather was going to be like so I donned a seasickness prevention patch.  ‘Dang’, or rather ‘Yeah’, I didn’t need it.   Kachemak Bay was relatively calm and we had some excellent birding.  Everyone expressed what a great time they had on the bay.


Black Oystercatcher


Fascinating rock formation


Black-legged Kittiwake near Gull Island


Raft of Common Murre near Gull Island- this photos only shows a portion of the raft


Common Murre – there were a lot around Gull Island

Karl thought, because of the recent die-off, there were only half the number of Common Murre present on the Bay, but our visitors were still amazed at how many were there.  The Black-legged Kittiwake had returned to the island to nest under the watchful (not a positive term in this case) eye of at least 9 Bald Eagles, many of them immature.   Bald Eagle matures (get their white heads and tail feathers) at around 5 years of age.

We also saw several small flocks of Surfbirds (a shorebird that likes rocky substrate).  And among one flock of Surfbirds were two Rock Sandpipers.  The Rock Sandpiper winters in Kachemak Bay.

On 25 April 2016, we had a male Pine Grosbeak visiting our feeder, although we haven’t put out food at the feeder in some time.  We haven’t seen many grosbeaks since our return to Homer in mid-February.  The primary bird at our winter feeder was the Common Redpoll.


Pine Grosbeak Male

On April 26th, we conducted our third Shorebird Monitoring session.  The number of shorebirds present increased substantially from the previous session five days earlier.  We had 13 Greater Yellowleg, 1 Lesser Yellowleg, 9 Black-bellied Plover, and one (1) Dunlin (in full breeding plumage).


We flushed three Black-bellied Plovers that were roosting on the rocky portion of the beach.  Michael almost stepped on them.


These three Black-bellied Plover were roosting near the mouth of the Anchor River


One of the Black-bellied Plover near the mouth of the Anchor River

Our next monitoring session is May 1st, and it will be interesting to see what species we will spot and in what numbers.  The shorebird migration has begun.

Spring birding in Alaska is always a treat.