The past week has seen a few “low-level” vagrants from Asia show up in Alaska and British Columbia. All are Code 3s, but like the Wood Sandpiper and Gray-tailed Tattler in New England recently, their rarity classification is largely due to how common they are in Alaska’s Bering Sea region. Away from there, they are much rarer (though not as rare as the aforementioned shorebirds), though the situation with our first subject is a bit more complex.
First up is a Sky Lark from the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. It was found by Steve Waltz on Oct 18 at the Deep Creek boat launch near Ninilchik, about a 40-mile drive north of Homer. It’s been seen daily through at least Oct 22 (no reports either positive or negative on Oct 23). This is apparently the first record from the Alaskan mainland, but it has also occurred as a vagrant in the Lower 48 and there’s also an introduced population on Vancouver Island, BC.
Vagrants are thought to be of the pekinensis subspecies. There is one definite vagrant away from Alaska: a bird at Point Reyes, CA first found in Dec 1978 and famously identified as a Smith’s Longspur for the first four days of its stay. It returned to the same location for six more winters. There are a few records from coastal BC and one from WA that also may be vagrants, though they could be wanderers from the introduced population, which is of the subspecies arvensis.
photo by Laura Burke
Moving south to British Columbia, Phil Cram, Brian Elder, Mike Mulligan, and Ray Woods, a group of Calgary birders doing a birds and mammals Canada big year, found two Brambling and a Rustic Bunting on Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands), plus a Code 3 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, which was their 500th species for the big year. The Brambling were found next to the Sandspit airport on Moresby Island on Oct 19. The Rustic Bunting was found the following day (Oct 20) at the north end of Graham Island. Interestingly, neither represent first records for Haida Gwaii. In fact, a Brambling was found just under a year ago on Graham Island on Nov 7, 2011. See their blog post for excellent photos of both birds and more.
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