birding Alaska
Feb 9 2016

TOUR OPENINGS: Gray-headed Chickadee Search!

Gray-headed Chickadee in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Photo Aaron Lang.

A Gray-headed Chickadee delivers food to a nest full of hungry chicks. Photo Aaron Lang.

An incredible opportunity awaits! In June I’ll be leading a group of birders into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on an eight day raft trip. On this trip we’ll be searching for one of North America’s least known birds, the Gray-headed Chickadee. It’s an incredible adventure in one of America’s greatest wilderness areas. Normally this trip is full well over a year in advance, however, there is still space available for our June 2016 trip. Anyone interested in joining me can email me or check Wilderness Birding Adventures.


Oct 26 2014

Red-breasted Sapsucker in Homer

It has been a while since I’ve posted here. Life has sped up a bit, and while I’m out birding as much as I can I find a bit less time to post about it. I thought this beautiful Red-breasted Sapsucker would be a fine return to the blog.


Red-breasted Sapsucker Sphyrapicus ruber, Mossy’s Seaside Farm, Homer, 25 October 2014.

Mossy’s incredible acreage again produces a great bird. There are just a couple other records for Kachemak Bay of this fall wanderer. There are a couple for Seward as well, including one from about a week ago. On Kodiak Island, the species is nearly annual in the fall where two have been found this year already.

‘Tis the season for rare birds on the Kenai…what’s next?





Dec 16 2013

RUSTIC BUNTING in Homer: Second Record for the Kenai



Rustic Bunting, Emberiza rustica, Homer, 16 December 2013.

A great fall for rarities on the Kenai has turned into a great winter for rarities! This fantastic bird has been seen daily at Tamara Reiser’s feeder in Homer since 11 December. It’s been associating with a flock of Juncos and coming to the feeder throughout the day. It is the second record for the Kenai Peninsula and one of only 5 or 6 away from the islands of the Bering Sea. The first record for the Kenai was a bird that attended a feeder from 21 March-14 April 1985. Click here for an account of that first record, published in the Murrelet.

Nov 4 2013

Another New Bird for the Kenai: TENNESSEE WARBLER!

I spent the day at home today to catch up on neglected work around the yard. I would have rather been birding, but considering how the day turned out I’ll never complain about working in the yard again!

TEWA_110313 TEWA2_110313_web TEWA3_110313_web

Tennessee Warbler Oreothlypis peregrina, Homer, 3 November 2013.

At about 1:45 PM I heard a call that I didn’t recognize. I tracked it down and it proved to be this TENNESSEE WARBLER! It was in a chickadee flock and was chumming around with a Wilson’s Warbler–a two warbler day in November! It took some work to get these photos but the bird eventually pished in for a closer look and I snapped these shots. This is the first record of Tennessee Warbler for the Kenai Peninsula, and one of the latest records for the state!


White-throated Sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis, Homer, 3 November 2013.

While trying to relocate the bird after it slipped away I found this WHITE-THROATED SPARROW, another new yard bird for the property (#85). This rarity on the Kenai has become an annual occurrence in Homer in the last five or six years. This is the first of the fall.


Oct 29 2013

New for the Kenai: Warbling Vireo and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Seward!

Seward strikes again, and again! Two new species have been documented on the Kenai Peninsula this month–both from Seward.


Yell0w-bellied Sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius, Lowell Point, Seward, 27 October 2013.

On 19 October 2013, Scott Schuette and Doug Gochfeld found this Yell0w-bellied Sapsucker at Lowell Point. It was still present as of October 27th when I got this photo. While Red-breasted Sapsucker is casual in fall on the Kenai, this is the first record of Yell0w-bellied for the Kenai!




Warbling Vireo Vireo gilvus, Clear Creek, Seward, 27 October 2013.

Robin Collman spotted an unusual bird in the flooded alders of Clear Creek on October 27th. Very luckily I happened to be driving by at the exact moment he was trying to photograph and identify this bird. It proved to be a Warbling Vireo, the first record from the Kenai! There is one previous sight report from Hope on July 9th, 2006 of this species, but no photos were captured and the bird was not relocated.

Oct 25 2013

Cedar Waxwing and Anna’s Hummingbirds in Homer

Anna’s Hummingbird and Cedar Waxwing are two species proving to be annual each fall/winter in Homer.

CEWA_101513_web Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum, Seaside Farm, Homer, 25 October 2013.

Except for the fall/winter of 2008-09, Cedar Waxwings have been reported annually in Homer and elsewhere on the Kenai since their first appearance during the fall of 2004. This lone adult was patiently waiting for these mountain ash berries to ripen at Mossy’s Seaside Farm.


Anna’s Hummingbird Calypte anna, Homer, 17 October 2013.

Anna’s first made an appearance in Homer during the fall of 1998, but since at least 2008 the species has been recorded each fall, often multiple birds. There are currently no fewer than 4, and possibly up to 7 (!) Anna’s Hummingbirds in Homer! This is one of at least two coming in to a feeder in the Baycrest Area.

Aug 26 2013


Exciting news from the open ocean! I just returned from leading a pelagic trip on the M/V Kennicott with Wilderness Birding Adventures. The goal of the trip is to get off-shore and look for tubenoses, alcids, and migrating waterbirds. True pelagic opportunities in Alaska are difficult to find and this trip offers a comfortable and reliable way to get off-shore. Birds like Buller’s Shearwater, Pink-footed Shearwater, Black-footed Albatross and Cassin’s Auklet are regular in Alaskan waters (the last two are common!); however, because there are so few pelagic opportunities, they remain among some of the most difficult birds to see in Alaska. Without a doubt, the highlight of this year’s trip was a very cooperative FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATER about 25 miles WSW of Icy Bay.

Flesh-footed Shearwater was first reported in Alaskan waters on 21 July 1968 off of Ocean Cape, near Yakutat (Kessel and Gibson 1978). Since then there have been several reports over the years, but none have been substantiated by photo or specimen so the species has officially remained on Alaska’s Unsubstantiated List. If accepted, the Flesh-footed Shearwater becomes the 500th species on the official Alaska list! For the official Alaska Checklist and the Unsubstantiated List click here.


FFSH_2_082113_MVaughn FFSH_3_082113_MVaughn  FFSH_082113_MVaughn

Flesh-footed Shearwater Puffinis careipes, Gulf of Alaska, 21 August 2013. Photo by M. Vaughn. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Other highlights on the 21st included 11 Buller’s Shearwaters, 8 Pink-footed Shearwaters (both ‘rare’ in Alaska), 50 Black-footed Albatross, 250 Northern Fulmars, 200 Sooty Shearwaters, 15 Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, 4 Sabine’s Gulls, 35 Pomerine and 25 Parasitic Jaegers, 12 Arctic Terns, 40 Rhinocerous Auklets, 1 Cassin’s Auklet, 5 Tufted Puffins, 75 Marbled Murrelets, and 50 Common Murres.

In 2012, our August pelagic on the same route tallied 9 Pink-footed Shearwaters, 1 Buller’s Shearwaters and a MANX SHEARWATER. It will be interesting to see if these waters will continue to produce in future years.

  • Kessel, B., and Gibson, D. D. 1978. Status and distribution of Alaska birds. Studies Avian Biol. 1.

Aug 13 2013

Common Birds

It’s my favorite time of year in Alaska–fall migration. On the Kenai Peninsula, August through November are exciting months: shorebirds are flocking up along the coast and passerines are gathering in mixed flocks in the elderberries and alders–anything could happen! Here are two shots of the most common passerines in these mixed flocks. While I enjoy looking for rarities, I never tire of watching common birds.


Orange-crowned Warbler Oreothlypis celata lutescens, Homer, 4 August 2013.


 Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca sinuosa, Homer, 3 August 2013.