Getting to Know the Birds 1998-2024

As of November 2020 December 2021 November 2022 December 2023 April 2024, I have observed 227 235 255 257 258 bird species in Alaska, 241 of which have been observed around Sitka. Species not seen in Sitka I’ve indicated with italics and a note about the location.

Over the years as my list has grown, so have my connections with other bird enthusiasts. What started out as a personal project largely disconnected from others has become ever more entwined with a community of people, both local to Sitka, as well as in other towns around Alaska and beyond. It feels important to highlight the collaborative nature of this pursuit. Although I’m sure I missed some, in an effort to, I have tried to bold each first sighting that was due to someone else reporting or pointing out a bird to me which I might not otherwise have seen at the time.

With the exception of Leach’s Storm-petrel (which took me 6 years to photograph after my first sighting – after the first version of this page was published), the list is ordered by the date of first identifiable photograph of a bird, with links going to the iNaturalist observation made with a photo from that day. In a few cases (where noted), I had sight or sound observations and/or photos of tracks well before I was able to get photos.

Pre-birder Early Years – 1998 through mid-2003:

"I am not sure what kind of bird this is, but it looks like it is gathering material for its nest in this picture taken in a muskeg near Indian River Trail on 9 June 1998

This was a caption I wrote to accompany a picture of a Dark-eyed Junco on the first iteration of my website. This photo is the earliest documentation I’m including for any species on my list.

During the years before my first DSLR with a telephoto lens, my photos were typically of distant (or in one case stunned) birds. They are generally not quality photos, but I could still identify the birds. My efforts picked up when I moved back to Sitka full time in Summer 2002. By 2003 was getting more serious about taking pictures of what I was seeing. Early that year on I worked on extracting a list of species I might expect to see. I significantly underestimated the number of species that spend time here.

  1. 1998-06-09: Dark-eyed Junco (from scanned film)
  2. 2001-05-25: Bald Eagle
  3. 2001-05-28: Red-breasted Sapsucker
  4. 2003-02-06: Common Merganser
  5. 2003-03-14: Great Blue Heron
  6. 2003-03-21: Song Sparrow
  7. 2003-04-12: Glaucous-winged Gull
  8. 2003-04-17: Belted Kingfisher
  9. 2003-05-08: Western Sandpiper
  10. 2003-05-17: American Crow (prior observation of tracks: 2003-04-17)
  11. 2003-06-08: Pacific Wren (prior observation of tracks: 2003-03-15)
  12. 2003-06-25: Swainson’s Thrush

Solo Birding – Fall 2003 through early May 2005:

In the fall of 2003, I purchased a Canon digital rebel with a 100-300mm lens. As I regularly carried this setup and it’s 480 mm (equivalent) reach, I started to photograph the birds I was seeing. It often took some effort and help to figure out what they were. Almost everything was new to me, and I had little sense of what was unusual. I did find a handful of rare (for Sitka) birds among the mostly common species I noticed and photographed. Photos of this time were improving, but still tended to be of distant birds.

In the beginning of this period I knew just a couple of other folks who were interested in birds and had more experience than me. By 2005 I had joined a regional birding email list (Eaglechat), but was only just beginning to become connected in with the local community of birders and bird enthusiasts. I participated in my first Christmas Bird Count in December 2004, and slowly started the process of becoming integrated into the network of folks sharing sightings.

  1. 2003-10-08: Black Turnstone
  2. 2003-10-27: Harlequin Duck
  3. 2003-10-27: Rock Sandpiper
  4. 2003-10-27: Surfbird
  5. 2003-11-04: Mallard
  6. 2003-11-06: Yellow-rumped Warbler
  7. 2003-11-27: American Dipper
  8. 2003-12-06: Barrow’s Goldeneye
  9. 2003-12-06: Double-crested Cormorant
  10. 2003-12-27: Willow Ptarmigan (prior observation of tracks: 2003-11-15)
  11. 2004-01-06: American Coot
  12. 2004-01-11: Common Murre
  13. 2004-01-19: Chestnut-backed Chickadee
  14. 2004-02-13: Common Raven (several prior observations of tracks, as early as 2002-03-17)
  15. 2004-03-07: Mew Gull
  16. 2004-03-19: Pine Siskin
  17. 2004-03-30: Iceland Gull
  18. 2004-04-09: Ring-necked Duck
  19. 2004-04-09: Hairy Woodpecker
  20. 2004-04-10: Golden-crowned Sparrow
  21. 2004-04-10: Fox Sparrow
  22. 2004-04-13: Rufous Hummingbird
  23. 2004-04-18: Brant
  24. 2004-04-28: American Robin
  25. 2004-04-28: Savannah Sparrow
  26. 2004-04-29: Short-billed Dowitcher
  27. 2004-04-29: Dunlin
  28. 2004-05-01: Northern Pintail
  29. 2004-05-01: Semipalmated Plover
  30. 2004-05-01: Black-bellied Plover
  31. 2004-05-02: Marbled Godwit
  32. 2004-05-06: Northern Shoveler
  33. 2004-05-08: Canada Goose
  34. 2004-05-15: Hermit Thrush
  35. 2004-05-22: Pectoral Sandpiper
  36. 2004-07-07: Lincoln’s Sparrow
  37. 2004-07-09: Bonaparte’s Gull (Pointed out to me by KL)
  38. 2004-07-11: Wilson’s Warbler
  39. 2004-07-14: Ruby-crowned Kinglet
  40. 2004-07-18: Townsend’s Warbler
  41. 2004-08-06: Varied Thrush
  42. 2004-08-10: Spotted Sandpiper
  43. 2004-08-24: Brown-headed Cowbird
  44. 2004-09-09: Yellow Warbler
  45. 2004-09-25: Red-breasted Nuthatch
  46. 2004-09-25: Steller’s Jay
  47. 2004-10-03: Northern Flicker
  48. 2004-10-27: Bufflehead
  49. 2004-10-27: Hooded Merganser
  50. 2004-12-04: Mourning Dove
  51. 2004-12-14: Common Goldeneye
  52. 2004-12-14: Common Loon
  53. 2004-12-20: Pine Grosbeak
  54. 2004-12-23: Long-tailed Duck
  55. 2004-12-23: Red-breasted Merganser
  56. 2005-01-09: Rusty Blackbird
  57. 2005-04-02: Herring Gull
  58. 2005-04-10: Red Crossbill
  59. 2005-04-20: Greater Scaup
  60. 2005-04-29: Baird’s Sandpiper
  61. 2005-04-29: Greater Yellowlegs
  62. 2005-04-29: Least Sandpiper
  63. 2005-05-02: Lesser Scaup
  64. 2005-05-02: Greater White-fronted Goose
  65. 2005-05-04: Orange-crowned Warbler
  66. 2005-05-05: Golden-crowned Kinglet
  67. 2005-05-05: Green-winged Teal
  68. 2005-05-05: Hudsonian Godwit
  69. 2005-05-05: Pacific Golden-Plover
  70. 2005-05-05: American Wigeon

Finding Birding Connections – May 2005 through October 2006:

The Red Knot I photographed on May 6th, 2005 was the first bird I found as a result of connections I had made because of birds. On the prior day I had found a couple of species I thought might be unusual (Hudsonian Godwit and Pacific Golden-Plover). I called Marge Ward and Marlys Tedin (who I had met at the prior Christmas Bird Count). Marge told me they had seen those as well as Red Knots, so I went back the next day in hopes of finding one.

During the pre-count meeting for the 2006 Christmas Bird Count, I jump-started the Sitka Birds e-mail list by collecting addresses from interested participants. This really increased the level of communication about birds being seen around town, and helped me find and identify more birds than I had been able to on my own.

  1. 2005-05-06: Red Knot (Found by MW and MT)
  2. 2005-05-24: Tree Swallow
  3. 2005-06-11: Downy Woodpecker
  4. 2005-08-10: Red-winged Blackbird
  5. 2005-09-26: Sharp-shinned Hawk
  6. 2005-10-30: Red-necked Grebe
  7. 2005-10-30: Pelagic Cormorant
  8. 2005-11-01: Surf Scoter
  9. 2005-11-01: Black Scoter
  10. 2005-11-28: Trumpeter Swan
  11. 2005-11-28: Cackling Goose
  12. 2005-12-11: Canvasback
  13. 2005-12-16: Brown Creeper
  14. 2005-12-17: White-winged Crossbill
  15. 2005-12-19: Black Oystercatcher
  16. 2005-12-19: Horned Grebe
  17. 2006-01-02: Bohemian Waxwing
  18. 2006-01-12: Rhinoceros Auklet
  19. 2006-01-14: White-crowned Sparrow
  20. 2006-01-14: Slaty-backed Gull
  21. 2006-01-15: Glaucous Gull
  22. 2006-01-23: Northern Shrike
  23. 2006-01-31: American Pipit
  24. 2006-02-24: Rock Pigeon (not included on state checklist)
  25. 2006-03-02: European Starling
  26. 2006-03-11: Marbled Murrelet
  27. 2006-03-18: Wilson’s Snipe (first live bird; dead bird observered 2004-04-19)
  28. 2006-04-07: Killdeer
  29. 2006-04-11: Black-legged Kittiwake
  30. 2006-04-18: Pigeon Guillemot
  31. 2006-04-24: Northern Harrier
  32. 2006-04-29: Whimbrel
  33. 2006-05-11: Ruddy Turnstone
  34. 2006-05-19: Pacific-slope Flycatcher
  35. 2006-05-21: Red-tailed Hawk
  36. 2006-05-29: Long-billed Dowitcher
  37. 2006-06-28: Peregrine Falcon
  38. 2006-07-14: Tufted Puffin
  39. 2006-07-28: Red-necked Phalarope
  40. 2006-07-31: Lesser Yellowlegs
  41. 2006-08-26: Wandering Tattler
  42. 2006-09-03: Horned Puffin
  43. 2006-09-26: Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel
  44. 2006-10-22: Snow Goose
  45. 2006-10-27: Red-throated Loon
  46. 2006-10-29: Thick-billed Murre
  47. 2006-10-31: Pacific Loon

First Vagrants, Developing a Reputation – November 2006 through December 2011:

Although I had found birds considered rare for Alaska previously, the Nashville Warbler marked my first Very Rare/Casual or Accidental bird for the state. It was also during this period when I started to develop a much better sense for the patterns of occurrence, and what was unusual.

I worked for Allen Marine as a naturalist during summer 2006, and began to strengthen my knowledge of birds on the water.

I was starting to become known as a ‘bird guy’ with knowledge of the local bids, but it was a slow process of becoming comfortable being considered any sort of ‘expert’, and looking back, I was right to be conservative. In November 2006, I wrote a post reflecting on my first three years of more serious birding. At the time I thought I might be able to get to 180 species total, with an outside shot at 200. I could hardly have anticipated that 15 years later I would manage to see 180 in Sitka (and photograph almost all of them) in a single year.

Despite my own misgivings, I was asked to talk about birds on a WhaleFest fundraising cruise as early as 2006, however I deferred and suggested Marge and Tedin be asked. Starting in March 2007 I participated as the bird person for each WhaleFest cruise that ran, and began doing pre-CBC slide shows in December of that year). Of course in the long run, showing up in the community this way along with the mentoring of Marge Ward and Marlys Tedin helped accelerate the growth of my knowledge and understanding of Sitka birds.

  1. 2006-11-06: Nashville Warbler
  2. 2006-11-12: Lapland Longspur (Found by JC)
  3. 2006-11-17: Western Screech-Owl (Captured as part of a wildlife study; previously heard)
  4. 2006-11-21: Snowy Owl (Found by JS and JS, reported by JC)
  5. 2006-11-23: Common Redpoll (Found by JC)
  6. 2007-02-19: White-winged Scoter
  7. 2007-04-16: California Gull
  8. 2007-04-20: Eurasian Wigeon
  9. 2007-04-27: Northern Goshawk
  10. 2007-05-08: Gadwall
  11. 2007-05-19: Caspian Tern
  12. 2007-05-22: Blue-winged Teal
  13. 2007-07-28: Semipalmated Sandpiper
  14. 2007-08-01: Merlin
  15. 2007-08-18: Sandhill Crane
  16. 2007-08-20: Ring-billed Gull
  17. 2007-09-03: Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
  18. 2007-10-14: Black-headed Grosbeak
  19. 2007-10-19: American Tree Sparrow
  20. 2007-10-23: Pied-billed Grebe
  21. 2007-11-09: White-throated Sparrow
  22. 2008-01-26: Anna’s Hummingbird (Found by PS and MK)
  23. 2008-02-16: Western Grebe
  24. 2008-03-14: Western Gull
  25. 2008-05-02: Sanderling
  26. 2008-07-26: Cedar Waxwing
  27. 2008-09-06: Rock Ptarmigan
  28. 2008-09-28: Western Wood-Pewee (Found by VV)
  29. 2008-09-29: Olive-sided Flycatcher (Found by VV and JC)
  30. 2008-10-18: Chipping Sparrow
  31. 2008-12-04: Yellow-billed Loon
  32. 2009-05-16: Eurasian Collared-Dove (Found by MW)
  33. 2010-02-22: Tundra Swan
  34. 2010-04-24: Sooty Grouse (photo of released bird; previously had heard calls multiple times)
  35. 2010-09-19: Sooty Shearwater
  36. 2010-11-17: Ruddy Duck (Found by MW)
  37. 2011-04-17: Horned Lark
  38. 2011-05-22: Cliff Swallow
  39. 2011-05-25: Ancient Murrelet
  40. 2011-06-11: American Three-toed Woodpecker (Yakobi Island)
  41. 2011-11-20: Townsend’s Solitaire (Found by EP)

Pushing for 200 and Strengthening Network – 2012 through 2015:

In 2012 I made an effort to document 1000 species in the year. I wasn’t quite successful, but the effort got me out a lot, and I had my highest bird species count ever at 161, not far off my total species count prior to 2012.

During this period, I documented the final remaining fairly common (in Sitka) species (Barn Swallow), but otherwise it was a mix of rare but regularly occurring species, and true vagrants. This was also the time when an ever increasing number of new-to-me species were being first found and reported by others. The investment in connecting with others and contributing to a culture of sharing sightings, meant that I saw many species I would not likely have found otherwise.

As 2015 was drawing to a close, I made an extra effort to get to species #200 (based on the Alaska Checklist) required to join the Alaska 200 Club. With just a week to go, while out looking for a Snow Bunting reported near the airport, I found a Northern Saw-whet Owl for #200 (a few species I had not yet photographed, and so they appear later on this list).

  1. 2012-04-22: Brandt’s Cormorant
  2. 2012-05-17: American Golden-Plover
  3. 2012-05-18: Barn Swallow
  4. 2012-06-18: Redhead
  5. 2012-06-19: Bank Swallow
  6. 2012-08-15: Solitary Sandpiper
  7. 2012-11-09: Northern Pygmy-Owl
  8. 2012-11-16: Swamp Sparrow (found by NH)
  9. 2013-04-08: American Kestrel (Found by PN)
  10. 2013-05-29: Common Yellowthroat
  11. 2013-06-29: Alder Flycatcher (West Chichagof; later documented in Sitka)
  12. 2013-10-04: Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Found by LM)
  13. 2013-10-16: Wood Duck (Found by LP)
  14. 2014-09-28: Northern Mockingbird (Found by LE and MK)
  15. 2014-10-26: Cassin’s Auklet
  16. 2014-11-04: Red Phalarope
  17. 2014-11-04: Sabine’s Gull
  18. 2014-11-09: Tennessee Warbler
  19. 2014-12-08: Mountain Bluebird (Found by KJ)
  20. 2015-04-15: Palm Warbler (Found by CG)
  21. 2015-05-12: Franklin’s Gull (Found by JD; via Facebook)
  22. 2015-06-01: Parasitic Jaeger
  23. 2015-06-10: Common Cuckoo (Found by EP and CP)
  24. 2015-10-15: Leach’s Storm-Petrel (seen, but not photographed until 2021)
  25. 2015-10-30: Northern Waterthrush (Found by RG)
  26. 2015-11-28: Brambling (Found by EP)
  27. 2015-12-24: Northern Saw-whet Owl

Rounding up the Stragglers; Quest for Vagrants – 2016 through 2020:

By the time made it to 200 species (a number I considered unlikely back in 2006), I had only a couple of species at least semi-regularly occurring in Sitka that I had not seen (and a couple more that I hadn’t yet documented).

The bird that had felt most like a nemesis to me over the years was the Western Tanager. One had been reported at least 4 times (first back in May 2007), and each time I had gone to look and did not find it. Finally, in September 2017, R. Carpenter found one along Lincoln Street that stuck around long enough for me to get a look at. (I subsequently saw one on my own in 2019).

Coming into 2020, Snow Bunting was the only remaining non-pelagic regularly occurring species I had not seen. Several sightings were reported by different folks starting in late 2019, but despite a fair amount of time looking, it wasn’t until April that I finally managed to get a look at a Snow Bunting.

Overall this period has been dominated by very rare migrants and true vagrants, most of which were first found and reported by others. This is partly due to a shift in my own activities, with not as much time out looking for birds in recent years, but it’s more due to the increased number of folks who are getting out regularly and sharing their sightings.

  1. 2016-05-23: Vaux’s Swift (Pointed out by CG)
  2. 2016-06-15: Red-necked Stint (Taylor Bay)
  3. 2016-10-19: Tropical Kingbird (Found by BT)
  4. 2016-11-02: Cape May Warbler
  5. 2016-11-20: Short-eared Owl (Reported by KJ and/or CS)
  6. 2016-12-14: Spotted Towhee (Found by HP)
  7. 2017-03-10: Virginia Rail (Found by SW)
  8. 2017-05-02: Violet-green Swallow (Found by PN)
  9. 2017-09-18: Western Tanager (Found by RC)
  10. 2017-11-18: Purple Finch (Found by RG)
  11. 2017-12-01: Dusky Thrush
  12. 2018-05-20: Great Horned Owl (Reported by JC)
  13. 2018-06-09: Cinnamon Teal
  14. 2018-06-16: Golden Eagle (Found by EP and CP)
  15. 2018-08-09: Lark Sparrow (Found by AT)
  16. 2018-09-05: Common Nighthawk (Found by PN)
  17. 2018-10-21: MacGillivray’s Warbler
  18. 2018-10-31: Black-throated Gray Warbler (Found by DK)
  19. 2018-10-31: Magnolia Warbler
  20. 2018-11-02: Brown Booby (Found by MJ, reported by KJ)
  21. 2018-11-04: Rustic Bunting (Found by EP and CP)
  22. 2019-04-30: Osprey (Pointed out by CG; prior sight record)
  23. 2019-05-06: Northern Rough-winged Swallow (Found by CG)
  24. 2019-05-27: Arctic Tern (Tracy Arm; prior sight record from Juneau, observed in Sitka May 2023)
  25. 2019-10-11: Rough-legged Hawk (Found by CG)
  26. 2019-11-29: Black-billed Magpie (Found by LM; prior sight records, including one from childhood)
  27. 2020-04-13: Snow Bunting (Reported by Several)
  28. 2020-05-06: Brewer’s Blackbird
  29. 2020-05-17: Warbling Vireo (Found by CG; prior audio recording)
  30. 2020-10-07: Western Kingbird (Found by LP)

Venturing Further Afield; Continuing Quest for Vagrants – 2021 to present:

In 2021 I was able to arrange my first successful pelagic trip and picked up three of the dozen or so species I could expect to eventually see with repeated trips offshore.

May 2022 was the first time I worked at seeing new birds on a trip outside Southeast Alaska. Along the way I picked up a handful of new species in Anchorage and another 11 in Adak. Of those, only a few are ones I might eventually find around Sitka. November 2023 saw one of those Adak birds show up in Sitka. I was not really happy with my Arctic Loon observations in Adak, so happily crossed that off the list to be replaced with my Sitka sighting.

  1. 2021-06-30: Yellow-headed Blackbird (Found by JC)
  2. 2021-07-31: Northern Fulmar
  3. 2021-07-31: Black-footed Albatross
  4. 2021-07-31: Pomarine Jaeger
  5. 2021-08-11: Lesser Black-backed Gull
  6. 2021-09-09: Gray Catbird (Found by BD)
  7. 2021-09-14: Ruff (Found by AT)
  8. 2021-09-14: Short-tailed Shearwater (Seen/photographed previously, but misidentified at the time)
  9. 2022-05-14: Bar-tailed Godwit
  10. 2022-05-17: Black-capped Chickadee (Anchorage) (with help from DS)
  11. 2022-05-17: Boreal Chickadee (Anchorage) (with help from DS)
  12. 2022-05-17: Spruce Grouse (Anchorage) (with help from DS)
  13. 2022-05-17: Black-backed Woodpecker (Anchorage) (with help from DS)
  14. 2022-05-17: Canada Jay (Anchorage) (with help from DS)
  15. 2022-05-18: Black Guillemot (Adak) (Noted by CG)
  16. 2022-05-18: White Wagtail (Adak)
  17. 2022-05-19: Common Snipe (Adak)
  18. 2022-05-19: Common Eider (Adak)
  19. 2022-05-19: Aleutian Tern (Adak)
  20. 2022-05-19: Red-faced Cormorant (Adak)
    2022-05-19: Arctic Loon (Adak)
  21. 2022-05-21: Laysan Albatross (Adak)
  22. 2022-05-21: Kittlitz’s Murrelet (Adak)
  23. 2022-05-24: Black-tailed Godwit (Adak)
    2022-05-24: Tufted Duck (Adak) ([re]Found by JA and ST)
  24. 2022-08-24: Heerman’s Gull (First found by visiting birder, refound later by DK)
  25. 2022-10-20: Black-and-white Warbler
  26. 2022-11-02: Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (Found by JF)
  27. 2023-08-21: Say’s Phoebe (found with CG)
  28. 2023-09-21: Cassin’s Finch (Found by VV)
  29. 2023-11-27: Arctic Loon (previously observed poorly in Adak, re-adding as a Sitka Species)
  30. 2024-02-07: Hoary Redpoll
  31. 2024-04-04: Tufted Duck (previously observed in Adak, but re-adding as a Sitka species)