It’s been an exceptional winter for Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches in Sitka.
Since the first report of 9 birds by Karen J. in late December on the Christmas bird count, there have been regular sightings along the roadside beyond Whale Park.
The birds are moving between the cliffs on the upland side of the road, the gravel patches along either side of the road, and the riprap embankment leading down to the water. They are not always in the area, but it’s not clear where else they may be spending time.
Reported numbers since the initial report vary, but have been as high as 40 birds. The birds are in constant motion and do not always stay as a single large flock, so it can be difficult to get an accurate count (my personal high count is the 35 I was able to get in a single photo).
Of particular interest to me were at least a couple of the interior subspecies (tephrocotis), which have brown cheeks, rather than the full gray hood of the coastal subspecies (littoralis).
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches nest at high elevations around Sitka, and I have seen flocks of 20-30 or more on Bear Mountain the fall, but prior to this winter, I am aware of only a handful of sea level reports from Sitka.
Marge Ward told me about seeing one on Alice Island, and two out along the road to Herring Cove, both sightings in the winter. Marge and Marlys Tedin’s records show a December record from the mid-1980s, a January report from the mid-1990s, and a March sighting from the late 1990s. There is also an August report from 1999 which may have been from Harbor Mountain.
Since I started paying attention in the early 2000s, I’m aware of two reports, one on the 2013 Christmas Bird Count at Herring Cove, and another winter sighting in the Verstovia Street neighborhoods (but I don’t remember the year).
Elsewhere in Southeast Alaska, this species is expected to nest at higher elevations, but at low elevations is most often found in winter or early spring on the northern mainland, but even there is not seen annually. (See the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch entry in the winter 2012-2013 sub-regional summary for more.)