FAIRBANKS - Waterfowl diversity seems to have reached its peak this week, while songbirds are starting to make their way into the Tanana Valley. Although it seems like songbird migration is behind schedule this year, it’s really not. The previous two springs had us spoiled with the combination of warm temperatures and little to no snow cover. Regardless, the good news is forests are starting to become alive with the sound of songbirds. Now is a great time to get out those bird CDs (or your iPod) and start re-learning songs and calls before the big waves of birds hit.
Both Canada geese and greater white-fronted geese can still be found at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, although their numbers have declined and many have moved on to their breeding grounds. Flocks of migrating trumpeter and tundra swans, as well as sandhill cranes are still being seen regularly. Many duck species are being seen, including: mallard, northern pintail, American wigeon and American green-winged teal. The seasonal pond by ABO’s banding station at Creamer’s Field is a good place to spot both common and Barrow’s goldeneye, as well as bufflehead and canvasback. Other exciting waterbird news is the first arrivals of horned grebes into town — at least four were counted Wednesday on the seasonal pond by the banding station. Gulls are growing in number — more and more mew and herring gulls are being seen about town.
On the raptor front, a first report of a northern harrier near the Cripple Creek/Kallenberg area came in Tuesday. American kestrels have begun nesting.
Not a lot of shorebirds have been reported in the Fairbanks area this past week. A few lesser yellowlegs have been heard on the refuge and nearby wetlands this past week. The lesser yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) is a slender, long-legged shorebird that readily shows off the brightly colored legs that give it its name. These shorebirds are long-distance migrants — they travel from areas as far away as South America to Alaska and other parts of the boreal forest to breed. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, both the male and female lesser yellowlegs provide parental care to the young, but the female leaves the breeding area before the chicks can fly, thus leaving the male to defend the young until fledging.
First sightings of American robin, yellow-rumped (Myrtle) warbler, and violet-green swallow occurred this past week. The swallows arrived on Creamer’s Refuge just in time for Migratory Bird Day festivities held Saturday. In addition, folks have been hearing the bubbly song of the ruby-crowned kinglet in various places throughout the Fairbanks area — a sure sign that spring is arriving. Varied thrush and dark-eyed junco songs are filling the forests as well.
A beautiful male golden-crowned sparrow was caught Monday at ABO’s banding station. It was the first migrant in the nets this year. This species looks a lot like its cousin the white-crowned sparrow, the exception being a bright yellow patch surrounded by black stripes on its head, which gives it its name. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, around the turn of the twentieth century, miners of the Klondike and elsewhere in the Yukon Territory, British Columbia, and Alaska knew the golden-crowned sparrow as “Weary Willie” because it was forever singing, “I’m so tired!” Others called it the “No Gold Here” bird and disliked it because it repeatedly sang this unpleasant, but often correct, phrase.
Other new arrivals for songbirds this week include: tree swallows at Creamer’s Refuge — a pair was already checking out the boxes on Wednesday. An American tree sparrow was heard singing Wednesday morning on Chena Ridge. Hammond’s flycatchers also were heard calling on Moose Mountain. Rusty blackbirds are becoming more vocal in the area. A first-of-the-year northern flicker was heard calling at ABO’s banding station Wednesday.
This upcoming week, more warbler and sparrow species should be arriving into town, including orange-crowned and Wilson’s warblers, as well as Savannah and fox sparrows. The thrushes should be here, too. Keep your ears open for their lovely songs.
The front ponds at Fairbanks International Airport are still mostly ice-covered, but northern pintails were found there this past week. The sloughs behind the airport aren’t open; a merlin and a flock of 15 swans flew overhead. A black-billed magpie was seen here as well.
Smith Lake off Sheep Creek Road is still mostly ice-covered, but a few birds have taken advantage of areas of open water. An adult bald eagle was seen flying over the nearby Potato Field, with a common raven hot on its heels Tuesday. On the same day, a Harlan’s (dark red-tailed) hawk was seen near the T-Field. A mallard pair is nest-building near the lake.
Please contribute to these reports by calling or writing in your bird sightings to the Alaska Bird Observatory (451-7159 or www.alaskabird.org) or the Arctic Audubon Society Birding hotline (451-9213). Thanks to all who contributed their sightings to this report.
Sue Guers is a research biologist at the Alaska Bird Observatory in Fairbanks who graciously compiles the birding report each week for the News-Miner outdoors section during spring migration. Contact her at 451-7159 or email@example.com.