The feature article in the latest issue of Western Birds, “Further Information on the Avifauna of St. Matthew and Hall Islands, Bering Sea, Alaska” is an update to the bird list of the remote Bering Sea island group, St. Matthew and Hall Islands, written by myself and a great group of folks from USGS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Alaska Museum, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Even more, the cover for this issue features an ‘umbrina’ Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (Leucosticte tephrocotis umbrina) painted by myself, which might be the first time an illustration has been featured on the cover. It is certainly an honor.
To see the full list of notable findings during our month long stay on this incredible and remote Bering Sea island, click below and read the open access paper.
I also worked with my coauthors to publish a supplement that details a full, annotated bird list for our month long stay on the island. To see the full list of species we catalogued, click on the photo below.
I am privileged to share the logo that I created for the American Ornithological Society’s 2019 conference. The logo features three Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica baueri), a flagship bird for Alaska and a focal species for some of Alaska’s most influential ornithologists.
I worked closely with the conference planning chair, Colleen Handel of the USGS Alaska Science Center. We created a logo that ties in closely with the theme of the meeting – Birds on the Edge: Dynamic Boundaries. Colleen is part of a team of researchers headed by her husband, Robert E. Gill (also of USGS), that are responsible for discovering the incredible, sometimes 9 day non-stop flight of Alaska’s Bar-tailed Godwits as they return to Alaska from their wintering grounds in southeast Australia and New Zealand (see Gill et al. 2008). As such, one can see why the species is a great choice to celebrate the AOS meeting being held in Anchorage.
Above is a short video that I produced to supplement a paper I, along with colleagues at US Fish and Wildlife Service and USGS, just published in the journal Marine Ornithology. The video shows behaviors that we describe in the paper, and will hopefully help the reader visualize what we experienced ourselves.
The Bering Sea region is changing in many ways, but among the most sobering are the mass die-off events that are impacting the regions birdlife. These die-offs continue into this year. Since we put together this publication of the observations that I and colleagues made in 2016 and 2017, the trend has continued and is likely to continue into the future. Furthermore, on my most recent trip to the region I documented further evidence of the ongoing change that is occurring across the bering sea ecosystem. There is and will continue to be more to report.
Some of the change, such as the evidence of starving and ill affected storm-petrels that are the subject of our publication, is sobering and concerning. It hits hard on the hearts of those of us who so passionately pay attention to bird life across the globe. We care deeply about the well being of these creatures that fascinate us so much.
Some of the change, such as some of my most recent observations in the region, are exciting and stoke curiosity, as the birdlife of the region responds to the impacts of ecosystem disruption.
Ultimately, there will be winners and losers as life navigates anthropogenic driven change throughout the world. Mass die-off events will become the norm for some species, until their populations can no longer sustain such losses and they are eventually lost to our world. Others will adapt in ways we cannot yet imagine. Such adaptations will undoubtedly open our minds to processes and function in ecosystems that we are yet to understand.
Yes, climate change is a problem. It is a problem that still is not unanimously recognized. It will change our world, our way of life, and probably not for the better. But, as we experience the change, we can document what is happening for the future inhabitants of our perturbed ecosystems. We can make record of the oddities, the aberrations, so that we leave a paper trail of first observations that will help us understand when things started, and how they developed. Hopefully, as these records build the evidence of change will become insurmountable to the point that the overwhelming majority of our society cannot and will not deny that the world is impacted by our daily choices and we ourselves need to change. And when we do, hopefully it will not be too late.
This is why I want to publish notes such as this, to make a record that will add to the evidence of an increasingly disrupted world. More to come…
You can find the paper detailing our observations of odd foraging behaviors here:
I captured too many images from my recent experience with Fork-tailed Storm Petrels (Oceanodrama furcata) along the Bristol Bay coast of the Alaska Peninsula. Given that our observations warrant a full report in a journal, I’ll maintain some brevity for now. However, I think it is helpful in the interim to share supplementary video and images that set the stage for the publication. The rest will come out with the article sometime in the coming year.
Stuart Fetty walks towards a resting Fork-tailed Storm Petrel as the tide rises.
We had a few days where the birds lent themselves to close proximity photography. They were all around us, and didn’t seem to understand or comprehend the concept of a terrestrial predator. In one instance, we walked as close as a meter or so to a bird sitting on the water with no response. Whether this was an ill or a healthy bird resting, I can’t be sure. We do however have some indication that these birds were healthy, but these are details that will be discussed in publication.
Fork-tailed Storm Petrel kiting in an onshore wind. Note the fish carcass in the foreground, an attractant for the birds to this location.
The past six months have been full of unique encounters with bird life in Alaska, and have produced a nice list of potential publications that I’ll be working on throughout the winter. I’ve taken a lot of satisfaction in working in a place where the birdlife is still relatively understudied, a place where paying attention, taking good notes, and diligent photography all support the opportunity to add to our basal knowledge of natural history of the less understood species of North America.