Observations from the Aleutians

Snowy Owl
Bob Trotter

Check out this Q&A with Bob Trotter, the compiler for the Shemya Island Christmas Bird Count at the end of the Aleutian Island chain.

How many Christmas Bird Counts (CBCs) have you done? Did you start the Shemya count?

"I have done five counts. My first was starting the Gambell CBC [during the 105th year] with only four species. I then moved to Shemya and started the CBC with count 107."

What are some usual birds you found?

"The usual birds are Common Eider, Harlequin Duck, Emperor Goose, Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorant, and if visibility is good enough, several Laysan Albatross on the horizon."

What are the most exciting birds you've found?

"I have found and documented many exciting birds being here year around, but on the CBC I would have to say the Taiga Bean Goose family was the most exciting."

What kind of weather conditions can you expect? What kind of extreme weather conditions have you had to endure to do the CBC?

"Weather conditions vary considerably from year to year. It's most enjoyable when it has been above freezing and the ponds are still open. Anything is possible, but once frozen the inland is barren of waterfowl, so they have either left the island or moved to the near shore waters. Our beach roads are not maintained in the winter, so if snow drifted, it means walking the count. Although it is only a 2x4 mile island, it is a long walk with all the bays. I have only had to do this once. Big surf is always present in the winter, so the actual count is probably a little low for some birds as you miss them when diving or between waves."

What's the best or most memorable CBC experience you've had?

"I enjoy doing the CBC at Shemya because you are capturing the entire island population so it really gives a sense of what is happening with the entire population from year to year. Weather permitting, I try and do a complete island survey just like the CBC every few months. I enter this data on ebird and hopefully it is helpful to discover trends and presence for the farthest west community in North America."

Bob shared the results of his CBC completed December 18, 2011

"The weather was beautiful but not that great for counting near shore birds. Large breaking swells made the water pretty turbulent. I sent a couple of photos to the CBC upload, Snowy Owl and Emperor Goose. Plus a photo of rock sandpiper which shows four of the five near islands, Shemya, Nizki, Alaid, and Attu as the farthest mountains in the background.

Shemya has a population of around 150. I didn't get anyone else to go out with me. The one person I had in mind was out on leave. I had my first CBC Snowy Owl, although they come at various times throughout the year. Visibility was very good so counted 17 Laysan Albatross from the southeast point (Mcdonalds Point)."