A Barrow's Goldeneye swims near the mouth of the Skagway River.

Skagway count is for the birds

Story and Photos by Andrew Cremata

The weather was almost too good for Skagway’s annual Christmas bird count. The unusually calm weather and warm 42 degree temperature made for a nice way to start the day, but by 11 a.m. the warmth brought with it a fog that lay over Skagway and the Taiya Inlet all the way out to Dyea. It was a good thing that all 25 participants got an early start with their binoculars and spotting scopes in hand.
The Christmas Bird Count is sponsored by the National Audubon Society and catalogs winter bird species regionally all over North America. December 17th was Skagway’s day to play in the 106th annual count.
“Bird lady” Elaine Furbish rallied the troops at the Haven Cafe well before sunup where she coordinated 21 Skagwegians and four Whitehorse residents to cover the coastline, roadways, trails and skies for the day’s activities. It was a good thing too, as a late start could have jeopardized viewing conditions in much of the valley and Dyea.
Before the fog rolled in, a group of birders were treated with a close up view of a pair of brown creepers. These elusive birds are perfectly camouflaged to “creep” up the lower portions of trees looking for food, thus making them notoriously difficult to spot. Once they creep up one tree, they will fly to another to continue the search. This particular pair followed these Skagway birders for some time, singing out their high-pitched song. It was a special treat as they were the first, and second, brown creepers the pair had ever spotted.
The most common sighting during the count was marbled murrelets, with a total of 89 spotted. These black and white water birds are still hanging around near the docks here in Skagway, and they can be seen bobbing in and out of the water in their own search for food.
This year there was no official spotting of a Goshawk on any portion of the count. In 2004, one was spotted off the Dyea Road near Long Bay. In that same area, Sydney Shaw and Meg Hahr spotted a large, grey raptor, most likely a Goshawk, sitting with its back to them very near the same area. Because the fog was finding its way into the bay, they moved on without a positive identification of this amazing bird of prey.
Probably the biggest surprise during the count was the spotting of 40 Northern Bobwhite during the week of the count. A member of the quail family, it is indigenous to the southeastern part of the U.S. The bird gets its name from its distinctive voice which, with a little imagination, sounds like it is calling out the name “Bob White.”
Last spring nine of the birds escaped from their Skagway home with Mark Schafer and his family. Apparently the fat little brown and white birds have been busy since then. This marked the first time that the birds were documented in Skagway during the winter months. Before they can be counted as an official species in Skagway, proof of their nesting must be established.
Fortunately, many were already finishing their respective routes when the fog found its way up the Taiya Inlet, making for an interesting ride along the Dyea Road to John and Lorna McDermott’s home for dinner and sharing of the day’s many highlights.

Sydney Shaw and Meg Hahr set up their spotting scope on Dyea Road.

And the numbers are in!

Skagway Christmas Bird Count 2005

Chestnut-backed Chickadee (72)

Dark-eyed Junco - Slate (12)

White-winged Crossbill (4)

Dark-eyed Junco - Oregon (16)

Barrow's Goldeneye (7)

American Robin (6)

Glaucous-winged Gull (45)

Fox Sparrow (1)

Mew Gull (19)

Snow Bunting (2)

Steller's Jay (26)

Spruce Grouse (2)

Golden-crowned Kinglet (22)

Hairy Woodpecker (2)

Black-billed Magpie (34)

Downy Woodpecker (1)

Common Merganser (60)

3-toed Woodpecker (1)

Common Raven (21)

Winter Wren (1)

Bohemian Waxwing (23)

Brown Creeper (7)

Bufflehead (19)

Thayer's Gull (8)

Black-capped Chickadee (19)

Belted Kingfisher (4)

Northwestern Crow (2)

Marbled Murrelet (89)

American Dipper (14)

Gull spp. (1)

Bald Eagle - adult (2)

Red-breasted Merganser (3)

Common Goldeneye (27)

Pacific Loon (1)

CWHerring Gull (11)

Boreal Owl - dead (1)