Long-billed Murrelet Update
On 23 July 2011, while conducting murrelet surveys in Kachemak Bay, Kathy Kuletz, Liz Labunski, and Tamara Zeller of the US Fish and Wildlife Service found and photographed THREE Long-billed Murrelets. The birds were in the same area where Karl Stoltzfus photographed the Kenai Peninsula’s first record of Long-billed Murrelet on 4 June 2011.
Long-billed Murrelets Brachyramphus perdix, Kachemak Bay, 23 July 2011. In addition to the long bill, the dark nape which lacks a white collar, white throat, and white eye-ring separate these birds from the similar Marbled Murrlet B. marmoratus. Karl Stoltzfus also commented that the color of the bird he saw struck him as “charcoal, closer to black than to brown.” Click any photo to enlarge. Photos taken by Liz Labunski.
Long-billed Murrelet is a close relative of Marbled Murrelet and was formerly considered a subspecies of Marbled Murrelet, but was elevated to full species status in 1998. Prior to this summer there were only five confirmed records for Alaska. All of the previous Alaska records involved one day occurrences of single birds.
On 29 July 2011, Karl Stoltzfus of Bay Excursions, Homer, took a group of local birders out to try to relocate the Long-billed Murrelets–or at least one of them! In perfect glassy conditions we spent the morning slowly cruising and scanning the area. We didn’t conduct any sort of formal count, but by the most conservative estimates there were at least 400-500 brachyramphus murrelets near shore between Glacier Spit and Aurora Lagoon in Kachemak Bay. At least 100 of these were Kittlitz’s Murrelets. Our search did not produce a Long-billed Murrelet, but there were likely many more murrelets out there than the birds we were able to study. We also turned up Pigeon Guillemot, Common Murre, three Ancient Murrelets, one Thick-billed Murre (very rare in Kachemak Bay), four Arctic Terns, one Aleutian Tern, and one Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel.
It was a great morning of murrelet study and comparison and probably the best photographic opportunities that I’ve ever had for murrelets. As far as the Long-billed goes, with all the murrelets around and all the food in the water I don’t see any reason why there isn’t at least one still around. I’ll be trying to get back out there again soon and give it another try.