Gambell: SEDGE WARBLER--new for North America
- After what seemed like forever of 20-30 mph NE and N winds here at
Gambell we've had two days of LIGHT NE and N winds (!), and after
getting only a few minor new odds and ends, early this evening we found
what we (and others who have seen the photos) believe to be a SEDGE
WARBLER (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus), the first record for North
America. This species breeds through much of Europe and western Russia,
north to the upper taiga belt, but east only to about 80 degrees East at
best, at about the same longitude as northern India. So this bird was
not on anyone's radar screen as a potential vagrant to North America--at
least I don't think it was! (This species breeds only as far east as
Wood Warbler [Phylloscopus sibilatrix], which has occurred twice in
Alaska, as well as in Japan, but Sedge nests farther to the north than
We have posted several of Gary Rosenberg's photos of the bird on
surfbirds.com, and are interested in feedback from any folks with
experience with the genus, or who have any references that would suggest
that 80 degrees East is not the eastern limit of Sedge's breeding range.
I gather the species winters in sub-Saharan Africa. The bird was tough
to get good looks at, and the sun was going down, so some of the photos
are blurry, but they still do a pretty good job showing what the bird
looked like. (The video I took was brief and does not add anything to
I'll post another e-mail tomorrow with any more news on the bird, plus
the miscellaneous other news from here the last few days. A few
highlights: white Gyrfalcon, 10 Spectacled Eiders, Varied Thrush, about
150 Yellow-billed Loons, etc.
- It is still pre-dawn on 1 October, but I thought I'd add a little more
info on the yesterday's SEDGE WARBLER and add some other miscellaneous
news from the past few days. If there was any confusion due to the
date/time stamp of my earlier posting, the Sedge Warbler was found here
on 30 September (not 1 October) and it was in the Near Boneyard. The
known eastern limit of its breeding range appears to be about the
Yenisey River in Russia, a long way's away. The streaks you can see on
the breast in one of the photos posted on surfbirds.com ("North America
Stop Press" section), as well as the distinct white tertial edges, etc,
are indicative of an immature, but it should also be said that the one
photo makes these streaks seem a bit bolder than they looked in the
field (actually seemed a bit finer and sparser in reality). Gary also
has a beautiful shot of the long-staying Eyebrowed Thrush a couple
photos earlier in the queue on surfbirds.com
Currently--and thankfully--we have a light NW breeze, so maybe we can
eek out one more good bird today before the winds returns N and NE and
pick up again, which is the forecast for much of the rest of the week.
Gary leaves tomorrow, Tuesday. I leave late Weds. Should get home to
Cape May on Friday.
In other recent news, the aforementioned Eyebrowed Thrush was still
present yesterday, as was the last of the 5 Bramblings, and on 29 Sept I
refound the Far Boneyard BULLOCK'S Oriole over a mile to the south,
along the side of the mountain, eating berries. A Varied Thrush on 29
Sep was the second fall record here, ever, but also the second this
fall, and there have been additional Am. Tree and White-cr Sparrows (a
new record seasonal total of 20 of the latter), D-e Junco, we saw the
WHITE Gyrfalcon again, 4 continuing Snowy Owls, tied my late date for
Red-throated Pipit, and the "last" Lappies were on the 29th.
Morning seawatching has been fun, with 10 Spectacled Eiders, Steller's
Eider, a 25-30 September six-day total of 230 Yellow-billed Loons
passing the Point (all alternate adults), a total of 4 Arctic Loons,
late Sabine's Gulls, more Ancient Murrelets, a few lingering Fork-tld
Storm-Petrels, and a large increase in King Eiders.
- I depart Gambell in a couple hours, so this should be my last posting
from here this year (unless some "mega" flies over me while I get on the
The Sedge Warbler here at Gambell on 30 September was not seen the next
day, so a one-day bird. But on 1 October we found a new Little
Bunting--in Old Town--the SEVENTH of this fall here. Excellent photo of
it posted on surfbirds.com. And late this morning--3 October--as I
entered the Far Boneyard, I was greeted by a FLOCK of THREE Little
Buntings!! So that makes TEN! A bit silly, really.....
Also during the last couple days we've had two new, separate individual
Bramblings show up, bringing the current village total back up to three
birds, and the seasonal total to nine. Yesterday I had an adult THAYER'S
Gull, casual in the Bering Sea, and my fourth here in fall over the
years. Looking at large gulls here can be a bit of a pain in early fall
due to some of the sub-adults being in worn, ugly condition, and due to
the presence of a disturbing number of hybrid looking creatures of
This morning's final seawatch had a flock of 17 Spectacled Eiders, a
harbinger of things to come later, as the local residents say that
thousands of Spectacleds pass by every autumn during late October and
November. Still about 50,000 Short-tailed Shearwaters offshore, a couple
each Slaty-backed Gulls and Red-necked Grebes. Also still lingering is
an above-normal-for-October 28 Pacific Golden-Plovers. And there's been
a new, gray-brown Gyrfalcon, single Golden-crowned and Savannah
Sparrows, and the EYEBROWED Thrush is still present and setting some
sort of record for staying such a long time.
Temps are now in the upper 30s, reaching the low 40s some days, and the
mountains over in Russia have snow on them. So time for me to migrate
south as well--except for the fact that I wonder (as I do every year...)
what I'll be missing here over the next couple weeks, especially given
how this year has been going! At least the folks at St Paul and Shemya
will stay on their respective rocks until mid-month.
If anyone is interested in an electronic copy of my Gambell fall report
for this year--once I finish compiling it in November--let me know.
Also, I annually update the large paper I wrote on the fall birdlife at
Gambell and on St Lawrence Island overall, and which was published (with
data through 2004) in "Western Birds" magazine a couple years ago. So,
also during November, I'll update that paper through the 2007 season,
and I am happy to e-mail a copy to anyone who would like it. Just let me
Trees, here I come!
- Greetings everyone,
The spring arrival at Gambell is ME, the first birder to get here for
the "peak" spring season (although it looks a bit wintry around here!).
Got in today (5/23) between bouts of fog, so feel lucky to have gotten
in. While Nome has thawed, with no snow in the lowlands and many of the
ponds partly thawed, and Tree Swallows flying around, here at Gambell I
have stepped back in time a couple weeks or more: snow still covers
about 80 percent of the ground and the marshes and ponds are almost all
still frozen and snow-covered. Temperature in the high 20s and low 30s;
winds were SW yesterday but back to NE today, alas. (There have been
excessive north winds so far this spring throughout much of the Bering
Sea and Aleutians, with a mediocre showing of migrants and rarities to
date at the various islands.)
I walked out to point after arriving this morning and within just a
minute had a pair of Spectacled Eiders fly by, followed soon by
Steller's Eiders and Black Guillemot. A bit surprised to see already a
one-year-old kittiwake pass by with the many flocks of adults, as I
would have thought it wouldn't be in a rush to get here so quickly. Lots
of murres, smaller numbers of the other alcids (except still no Horned
Puffins or Parakeet Auklets in evidence). A couple Long-tailed Jaegers
already around, but only a few shorebirds (bunch of Dunlins, Pacific
Golden- and Semi Plovers), and a good number of Hoary Redpolls (35+).
I'm here for two weeks this spring, the first week mostly on my own, the
second co-leading the annual Gambell Wings tour.
- A few people asked me about sea ice and Ivory Gulls this year.... Well,
an hour ago I had two nice adult Ivory Gulls fly right by up the shore.
The sea-ice here at Gambell this year departed suddenly about two weeks
ago, according to the local residents, but there is still LOTS of shore
ice heaped up along the entire shoreline, some in towering piles, so
hopefully this will last a fair while and will hopefully be somewhat of
an attraction for some additional Ivories this season, even if all the
pack-ice is gone already.
Also saw about 25 Emperor Geese, 6 Steller's Eiders, and 8 Black
Guillemots (a good count). Also a Short-eared Owl hanging around (a
scarce but regular migrant out here). Back in Nome there were good
numbers of "Black" Brant moving up the coast early today and yesterday
evening when I arrived. (I did no birding during my brief time in Nome
other than do a bit of a "seawatch" from town. Also a good number of
scoters moving by, plus a flock of 10 Red-necked Grebes [uncommon]).
- Today (Saturday) there was a male Brambling in the Near Boneyard for
much of the day (in spite of the 15 mph EAST winds), but of more
interest were the numbers of several seabirds, which I seem to have hit
a spike in their out-/through- migration. Today's total of 24 Black
Guillemots is by far the most that I've ever seen in a day here; I am
not sure what the all-time record is. The 22 Yellow-billed Loons was
also a large number (this species trickles by here on many days in
spring, but the large single-day counts come mostly from late Sept.).
Also 350 King Eiders, 500 Long-tailed Ducks, and 100 Vega Gulls (the
latter about double my usual one-day max). Also 6+ Gray Whales feeding
around the Point.
For those of you who have birded Gambell, you might be interested to
hear how "limited" the birding access is at the moment due to all the
current ice and snow. The Near Boneyard and seawatching are fine. But
the Far and Circular Boneyards still have too much snow, the fine marsh
at the northeast corner of the lake is still largely covered in ice and
snow but showing early signs of thawing, "Old Town" ("the boatyard") has
a few drifts up to three feet high, the mountainside is still largely
snow-covered as are parts of the road down the side of the mountain,
there is a bit of open water at the culvert and near the raised white
tank below Troutman Lake, but most everything else south of the lake is
still frozen. I suppose the good news is that whatever shows up will be
even more concentrated in the few thawed places compared to normal, but
it would be nice to see some serious additional thawing very soon!
- It is late morning on 26 Sep and we have light west winds, some snow
falling, and temp of 32 degrees with a wind-chill of 23...This morning
two groups totaling 7 adult Ivory Gulls flew right by near the Point.
One group was actually calling (a lifer audio for me); they give a
cricket-like call somewhat like Aleutian Tern call. So that makes 9
Ivory Gulls so far since I arrived on the 23rd, and all of them adults,
which is odd. Also 7 more Spectacled Eiders today, the four-day total of
Black Guillemots is now over 60, there a up to 20+ Steller's Eiders per
day (including groups of birds on the water in full display), daily
single-digits of Y-b Loons, and two evening flights of Pomarine Jaegers
each with 100+ birds.
There was an influx of shorebirds today, with a Lesser Sand-Plover
appearing in the marsh below the culvert--where the best shorebirding is
currently. Also there is a Red-throated Pipit and a displaying Wilson's
Snipe, the fourth year in a row there's been displaying Wilson's there
(very rare offshore here).
Yesterday there was a "Mostly McKay's" Bunting (male). Rough-legged Hawk
is back again this year, nest-building on the mountainside. Continuing
Short-eared Owl. There has been too much fog on the mountain to be able
to check yet to see if the Dovekies are back. Big increase in alcid
numbers starting yesterday, with the parade of many, many tens of
thousands past the Point now.
- OOPS! Today's date is obviously 26 May, not 26 Sep. I'm just out here
so long each fall that I get easily confused (plus my brain is frozen
after this morning's seawatch).
- Today, MAY 26, continues well, with a Wood Sandpiper in the "northeast
corner marsh" and a fly-by adult Black-headed Gull near Old Town. But
even combined with the morning's 7 Ivory Gulls and the total now of 14
Spectacled Eiders for the day, the Lesser Sand-Plover, etc., actually
the "rarest" bird here today is clearly the BLACK Turnstone, also near
the northeast corner marsh. This species is strictly casual on the
offshore Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, and it is my first-ever here
at Gambell. Otherwise, another dozen Yellow-billed Loons today, 3
Red-necked Grebes (rare but regular), only one Slaty-backed Gull so far
for the four days, another flock of Emperor Geese. In the landbird
department, two Northern Wheatears and 2 Eastern Yellow Wagtails arrived
today, the latter singing.
- May 26 ended with a bang here at Gambell with the evening discovery of a
boldly marked, male DUSKY THRUSH by two birders named Dave and Tom from
San Bernardino CA who had just arrived on the island. They flushed the
bird in awful habitat of open gravel and sparse grass at the bottom end
of the runway (where it must have just recently come in off the ocean),
got some photos of it, and watched it fly across all of frozen Troutman
Lake and up on to the mountainside, where I just happen to be, taking an
evening stroll. After first finding three Bluethroats and a Hermit
Thrush, I finally re-found the Dusky Thrush, and the few of us birders
currently here all got good looks at it (as long as we kept our distance
and used a scope). The bird is very boldly marked. It behaves and calls
remarkably like an American Robin.
Most Alaska records of this species are from the western Aleutians
(where I have seen two in fall at Attu). There is at least one previous
Gambell record, of a spring bird way back in the 1970s, if I remember
correctly. There are also a couple mainland AK records (as well as one
Otherwise, the male Brambling from a couple days ago reappeared this
afternoon--or at least what I am assuming is the same bird did.
The light W to SW to SSW winds we had today are supposed to go SE and
then back N over the next couple days.
- During the past two days (27-28 May) at Gambell, the following were seen
(or not seen):
The Dusky Thrush ended up staying two days, 26-27 May, but was not seen
today. The first White Wagtail of the season arrived today, in town. The
fog/overcast finally lifted enough this morning that we checked the
alcid-covered mountain slope and found 5 or 6 Dovekies in their usual
area. The Black Turnstone is still present today, for day #3. One or two
Lesser Sand-Plovers have been seen very sporadically (like only about
once per day) the past three days. The Brambling continues.
The season's first Arctic Loons (3) passed the point yesterday and
today. Another Red-throated Pipit was seen, a couple more Bluethroats, 5
additional Northern Wheatears. From the North American mainland came a
male SURF Scoter on 27 May, my personal first-ever at Gambell, as well
as a Least Sandpiper (very rare, but one or two each of the past four
springs), and a constantly singing "Sooty" Fox Sparrow that must think
it has found "home." Also a Greater W-f Goose and three more Red-necked
- During the mid-afternoon today (5/29) an immature eagle was seen only
briefly by two CA birders--Tom Benson and Dave Goodward--as it flew up
along the side of the mountain. Tom got one very mediocre photo of the
bird (very good given the brevity of the situation and the fact that it
was flying away), and perhaps someone with more knowledge of eagle ID
might be able to do something with it. But their description of tail
shape (somewhat wedge-shaped and short) and mottling pattern, and of the
pale mottling to the underwing, seems to best fit young White-tailed.
Obviously everyone here hopes the bird will re-appear....(gee, now
that's a profound understatement...) (Last year's adult White-tailed
here was also seen only relatively briefly, though by more people, but
that was largely due to the pea-soup fog present that day--today it is
quite the opposite, with almost limitless visibility).
A calling Common Ringed Plover flew by town yesterday evening (5/28) but
did not put down. An "Asian" Barn Swallow also turned up yesterday
evening and is still present today. Two immature Ivory Gulls have been
feeding along the shore in town late yesterday and today, bringing the
week's total now to 11 birds. There are now 2 White Wagtails around, a
second "Sooty" Fox Sparrow appeared, and a bright Red-necked Stint
landed in town today but stayed less than 10 minutes before
disappearing. The Dovekie count on the mountainside is now up to 8.
- The last several days here at Gambell have seen plentiful sunshine,
crystal clear views of the Russian mountains, light or calm
winds.....all factors that make for beautiful scenery, warmer temps, and
sunburn potential! But also relatively few migrants. Highlights include
a total of four Common Ringed Plovers, including displaying males, 8
Dovekies, 3 White Wagtails, all the selected seabird specialties
including Spectacled and Stellers' Eiders, Arctic and Yellow-billed
Loons, Emperor Geese, Black Guillemots, and still three more Ivory Gulls
(now all immatures) that settled in along the shoreline and perched on
mini-icebergs for a couple days.
A second Red-necked Stint turned up. A new "Asian" Barn Swallow was
found today. Alaska mainland wanderers have included an americanus
(North American) Common Merganser, American Tree Sparrow, "Sooty" Fox
Sparrow, 2 Hermit Thrushes, Bank Swallow, Cackling Goose, hudsonicus
Whimbrel, and 2 Wilson's Snipe.
- On Monday afternoon (6/2) I found a LITTLE BUNTING in Gambell's Far
Boneyard, which is still present this morning (6/3), and enjoyed by all
birders present. This is the FIRST spring record for Alaska and the
U.S., although the species has proven to be a regular visitor in fall,
with 20 found here at Gambell since the late 1990s. Also present at the
same time at the nearby Circular Boneyard was a good-looking male
McKay's Bunting. A third Red-necked Stint turned up, there was a
japonicus-type American Pipit (very rare in spring, regular in small
numbers in fall). Also today (6/3) was a briefly seen small falcon that
was probably a Merlin (casual offshore) and a Varied Thrush (also casual
offshore). Still one Ivory Gull seen today.
From the AK mainland also has come two North American-type Mew Gulls on
6/2, 3 Snow Geese on 6/2 (very rare in spring), an adult male Common
Goldeneye (perhaps the first ever here of that age/sex), still a fair
number of Black Guillemots and Steller's Eiders, but only one more
Spectacled Eider. Also a couple more Bluethroats, Hermit and several
Gray-cheeked Thrushes, Wheatear, continuing White Wagtails.