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KODIAK: A Successful Seabird Survey Season
Alaska Region, December 9, 2016
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Veronica Padula and Adam Price, the Kodiak marine bird survey team in early June 2016.
Veronica Padula and Adam Price, the Kodiak marine bird survey team in early June 2016. - Photo Credit: USFWS
Laura Kromrey and Tim Knudson surveying marine birds in Uganik Bay on Kodiak Island in late June 2016.
Laura Kromrey and Tim Knudson surveying marine birds in Uganik Bay on Kodiak Island in late June 2016. - Photo Credit: USFWS
The Kodiak marine bird survey team in August 2016 consisted of Tim Knudson, Katie Stoner, and Aimee Van Tatenhove.
The Kodiak marine bird survey team in August 2016 consisted of Tim Knudson, Katie Stoner, and Aimee Van Tatenhove. - Photo Credit: USFWS

Written by Biological Intern Aimee Van Tatenhove

 

Each summer, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR) conducts Nearshore Marine Bird Surveys (NMBS) along the coast of the Kodiak archipelago. Conducted annually since 2011, these surveys monitor seabird populations and distributions throughout the islands and provide invaluable data to refuge biologists. Survey areas in 2016 included the coastline of west Kodiak Island from Viekoda Bay to Gurney Bay, and seabird colonies, such as the Naugolka Point and Gull Light colonies.

Robin Corcoran, refuge ornithologist, led the surveys with help from two to three volunteers and technicians. The surveys were conducted in June and repeated in August. They consisted of 5km near-shore transects conducted 100 meters from shore, 5km long offshore transects conducted in open water in bays or off the coast of Kodiak, and seabird colony surveys. Researchers recorded bird species, number of birds, and the distance of each bird from the survey skiff. Other animals, such as sea otters, harbor seals, foxes, and eagles, were recorded on near-shore transects in addition to seabirds. The remote surveys required the crew to live aboard the 48’ refuge research vessel, the Ursa Major II, captained by Jeff Lewis. While the June research team experienced high winds and rough waves that interrupted the surveys, August brought calmer waters that allowed the crew to complete most of the transects in the study areas.

The combined June and August surveys counted a total of 23,613 birds, and completed a total of 128 transects. The most common species counted on the surveys were black-legged kittiwakes, glaucous-winged gulls, mew gulls, harlequin ducks, tufted puffins, marbled murrelets, common mergansers, and pigeon guillemots. Other notable species included arctic and Aleutian terns, sooty shearwaters, northern fulmars, black oystercatchers, and common murres. Surveyors noted a drastic decrease in the common murre population during June compared to the most recent previous count of the area: only 2 murres sighted in 2016 compared with 628 in 2013. The lower numbers may be due to a large-scale murre die-off in 2015, potentially caused by starvation related to unusually high ocean temperatures. Researchers spotted numerous common murre carcasses from the 2015 die-off during beach combing excursions. Fortunately, common murre numbers seemed closer to normal during the August survey, with 343 in 2016 compared to 429 in 2013. Surveyors also detected a notable decrease in marbled murrelets, with only 218 sightings in June (versus 1241 in June 2013) and 527 in August (versus 1346 in August 2013).

Unusual sightings during the August survey included a long-tailed jaeger,spotted for the first time ever on a Kodiak NMBS, and one Kittlitz’s murrelet, a hatch year individual. Kittlitz’s murrelets are unusual seabirds that nest on rocky slopes around Kodiak Island, and are the subject of another intensive KNWR study. Two volunteers on the June survey and all three volunteers on the August survey were also members of this year’s Kittlitz’s murrelet research crew.

Wildlife sightings were excellent this year. The crew spotted numerous humpback and fin whales, raced Dall’s porpoises in the skiff, played peek-a-boo with harbor seals, and watched Kodiak brown bears amble along the coastline. The August survey crew spotted a few gems including a mountain goat, a salmon shark, and a breaching humpback whale. Large jellyfish blooms were common sightings, as were bald eagles, red foxes, and Sitka black-tailed deer. Sea otters were common as well, and a flotilla of 100+ sea otters was spotted in Terror Bay.

Thanks to everyone who made this survey season possible, especially Robin Corcoran and Jeff Lewis. Special thanks to the other survey technicians: Timothy Knudson, Katie Stoner, Laura Kromrey, Veronica Padula, and Adam Price.


Photos from June and August Marine Bird Surveys on Kodiak Island.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/robin_corcoran/albums/72157669807532423 https://www.flickr.com/photos/robin_corcoran/albums/72157671745612130
Contact Info: Robin Corcoran, 907-487-0229, robin_corcoran@fws.gov
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