Juneau Audubon Society Monthly Meeting
Wild Orchids of SE Alaska by
Free & open to the public.
Upcoming JAS Monthly Meetings 2019:
Doug Jones presents Coffee and Birds
NOW Available from Alaska Audubon
Ecological Atlas of Southeast Alaska explores
the geography, wildlife habitat, and human uses of
Juneau Removes Protections for Bald Eagle
Nests -- January 2018
By Gwen Baluss
In January the CBJ Assembly narrowly voted to re-move
extra protections for Bald Eagles that limited development
and disturbance within 350 of active nests and 50 feet of
non-active nests. The reason given was that there was no way
to enforce the rule and no federal biologists available to
find and check on eagle nests. This rule change no doubt
will be a disappointment to those who want to see the local
eagle population continue to thrive, and are concerned that
nests will be disturbed. However, eagles are still protected
by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden
Eagle Protection Act, which prohibits anyone, without a
permit issued by the Secretary of the Interior, from
"taking" bald eagles, including their parts, nests, or eggs.
The CBJ also drafted Best Management Practices, where
developers can voluntarily be better neighbors to eagles.
Some eagles can be quite tolerant to development. Now, it
may be in part up to citizens to keep tabs on known nests,
to ensure that eagles are not being hassled. If you know of
an eagle’s nest that does not already have a yellow eagle
sign at the tree base, it’s a good idea to document its
exact location (such as a GPS point, or a pinpoint on Google
Maps), and the dates that birds are using it, especially
when the young are present. If there is a development
planned nearby, or you are concerned that an eagle or any
raptor has been jeopardized, inform the US Fish and Wildlife
Service 907-780-1160 .
Watchlist Birds in Southeast Alaska Part IV: A Refuge for Hummingbirds?
By Gwen Baluss
We continue to discuss the Audubon "Red" watchlist for Alaska,
updated in 2017. The list uses the best avail-able trend information to
highlight species that are in decline, or especially vulnerable to big
population drops, and for which key parts of the birds’ habitat is
within Alaska. What species is on the cover? The Rufous Humming-bird.
We are lucky to encounter this species frequently during Southeast
Alaska’s short summers. Their arrival is celebrated in April; they are
even the center of birding, arts and other fun events at the Ketchikan
Hummingbird Festival. Usually the first sightings are males, but both
males and females set up shop between mid-April and early May. The males
don’t help at all with the nest or nest-lings and take off by July 1.
Females begin to migrate out in July and are rare-ly seen after August
1. A few young birds may linger in to fall, but they too are mostly gone
by the first week in August. Rufous hummingbirds breed throughout the
Pacific Northwest and Northern Rocky Mountains. They winter in Mexico,
especially in the Sierra Madre mountains. Some also use drier parts of
Mexico or the US Gulf states. Hummingbirds eat a variety of insects and
spiders in addition to nectar and sap from sapsucker wells.
Unfortunately, multiple broad scale bird surveys suggest a potential
decline in the species. Because hummingbirds behave differently than
most songbirds, being more clustered around food sources such as
flowers, the differences detected could be related to different
flowering patterns and not differences in hummingbird populations.
However, different flowering times could mean trouble for these
migratory birds as the climate warms. Other concerns that have come to
light recently include: changes in flower availability due to climate
change or land use change, drying of forests in the northern Rocky
Mountains, fire suppression in the Sierra Madre, systemic pesticide use,
and wide use of hummingbird feeders. Perhaps Alaska will be become more
important as a breeding area, remaining lush and moist as parts of the
Northwestern US be-come drier.
What can we do? Support initiatives that help pollinators. These will
help hummingbirds too. Support limits to use of systemic pesticides (neonicotinoids)
both at home and in Mexico. Plant organically grown flowers. This is the
safest way to enjoy hummingbirds.
Wondering what the best plants are? The new USDA guide Maintaining
and Improving Habitat for Hummingbirds in Alaska compiles information
about hummingbird habitat and food habits: goo.gl/MmXBck
If you decide to keep a feeder, keep in mind that it’s a commitment
to keep the birds safe. Think about any hazards including windows. Avoid
feeders with sharp edges or small downward facing holes (birds can get
startled and catch a bill or feet in these). Clean and scrub all
surfaces of feeders at least twice a week. Mold can kill hummingbirds.
Boil white sugar and water only, no dye or brown- colored sugar.
Watchlist Birds in Southeast Alaska:
A Super Migrant in Decline -
In December, Dr. Nils Warnock, Executive Director for
Audubon Alaska, spoke in Juneau about the latest Audubon
watchlist for Alaska. The list uses the best available trend
information to highlight species that are in decline, or
especially vulnerable to big population drops – and for
which key parts of the birds’ habitat is within Alaska. Last
month, I discussed three red-listed species from this list
that may be found in winter locally: Greater Scaup,
Yellow-billed Loon and Marbled Murrelet.
I continue the discussion this month with a bird that
passes through Southeast AK on its journeys: Lesser
Yellowlegs. This species breeds in bog areas throughout
much of interior AK and boreal Canada. They like to forage
in open, shal-low mud areas such as river mouths and
Lesser Yellowlegs are complete migrants, meaning there is
no overlap between breeding and non-breeding range. And they
cover a lot of distance. Boreal breeding birds may be
heading into South America. Its not known how and if the
birds divide up by sub-population into different continental
routes or flyways. A fascinating presentation about
this, along with interesting results from tagged birds can
The results show that birds from Anchorage went
essentially all over the Americas. For example, one
bird stopped over in New Brunswick and Guyana before
spending most the winter in Argentina. I always
assumed that a Lesser Yellow-legs I saw at Mendenhall
wetlands in August was using the Pacific flyway and heading
for places like the estuaries of Northern California and
Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico, because these are places I
happened to have seen groups of them. If there is a Pacific
coast movement that parallels movement seen along the
Atlantic and through the middle of the continent, it does
not seem to be published yet for individual birds.
A surprising threat has been identified for yellow-legs:
hunting at migratory stopovers. With the exception of snipe
and limited subsistence take, hunting of shorebirds is rare
in North America, thanks to their inclusion in the Migratory
Bird Treaty, and something most birders think of as only a
past, not a current conservation threat. However, these
birds do not enjoy the same protection though out their
entire range. For example, in Barbados, a key strategic
stopover point for exhausted birds traveling towards South
America in the fall, hunting is a long-term tradition.
Luckily, entities like the US FWS and Birdlife International
are working with the hunters in Barbados on species
conservation and voluntary limits. However, the story could
be different in places such as Guyana where apparently all
shore-bird species can be hunted.
What can we do?
Support healthy wetlands and estuaries, where these birds
stop to feed. The Mendenhall Wetlands Important Bird Area
often has concentrations yellowlegs. It is threatened by
continued adjacent urban development, and sewage treatment.
If you see a bunch of these birds report it in eBird.
Hotspots in migration could be important information.
Around Juneau, dogs chasing shorebirds could have an
impact. Yellowlegs have a long, long, ways to go—disrupting
important feed-ing time could affect their schedule, making
them more vulnerable to problems they may face on the way,
such as storms. Encourage those you know to keep the pups
close when around shorebird feeding hotspots.
Support organizations and government groups that study
shorebirds such as: US Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska,
University of Alaska at Anchorage, Alaska Department of Fish
and Game, and Birdlife International.
Report Lesser Yellowlegs in eBird, especially if
wandering out in our many "underbirded" areas of remote
Southeast Alaska. Beginning birders will enjoy this
challenge: separating from Greater Yellowlegs. Be sure to
look closely at the bill length, com-pared to the rest of
State Watchlist Birds in Southeast Alaska: Part I, Winter
By Gwen Baluss
Recently Dr. Nils
Warnock, Executive Director for Audubon Alaska, spoke in
Juneau about the latest Audubon watchlist for Alaska. The
list uses the best available trend information to highlight
species that are in decline, or especially vulnerable to big
population drops, and for which key parts of the birds’
habitat is within Alaska.
This will be the
first article of a series discussing the red-listed
watchlist species that are found locally in Southeast
Alas-ka, and some ideas about what we can do to help these
birds may be found on the Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for
Juneau. Information gained on the CBC is part of the picture
that scientists use to make assumptions about species
declines and changes of ranges. We thank all
volunteers who help with this event.
These ducks often
congregate in our area during spring and fall migration,
in large flocks (of over 800 birds) have been registered on
widespread and serious declines over past decades are not
known. There are many hypotheses; contamination issues
and loss of boreal wetlands as permafrost melts are strong
What can we do?
If you hunt or know hunters, consider passing on taking
scaup. Since it’s difficult for most to quickly
distinguish the greater from the lesser scaup, and there are
also some concerns about both species; avoiding both is a
safe option. Suggest targeting more common species, such as
mallards. Currently the limit in Southeast game unites
is 7 ducks per day (freshwater types, with no more breakdown
by species given). This could give the false
impression that all duck populations are equally abundant in
Alaska. Nationwide, waterfowl species in general are
well managed by a collective of federal and regional
coordinators, and hunters have been a positive force in
habitat conservation. As a result, many duck
populations are doing well. However, local regulations
have not caught up with national conservation pri-orities.
Report large flocks of scaup on eBird. A good summary
of how to tell the two species apart can be found online
here . Greater Scaup are often seen in salt
water. Add this "freshwater" duck to the countless
species that will benefit from any initiative keeping our
lists a global population for this species at only about 24,
Considering its breeding range covers parts of Northern
Alaska, Canada and Russia, it’s a lucky birder who sees
impressively large and indeed yellow-billed bird.
is lucky to have a smatter-ing of observations near most
communities, and is considered part of its normal winter
range. This species is not considered endangered by
the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), but concern has
led to extensive assessment of its threats and information
According to the
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, "Breeding habitat loss
or degradation, reduction of prey base due to overfishing,
incidental mortality in fisheries, subsistence harvest, and
predation are the main potential threats to yellow-billed
The good news for
this species is that it is on the radar of managers in
Alaska. Acording to the USFWS "The Conservation
Agreement (Agreement) for the yellow-billed loon (YBLO)
Gavia adamsii," has been developed as a cooperative effort
among local, state and federal re-source agencies in
northern and western Alaska in order to take measures
necessary for the conservation of the species."
What can we do?
Speak up for the federal and state agencies who employ
trained biologists to responsibly monitor and inform the
public about wildlife manage-ment. Budget cuts and
vilification from the public continue damper the
effectiveness of agencies to do their job.
knowledge of where these birds breed and range by reporting
observations in eBird. In winter it can be quite
difficult to distinguish at a distance from the Common Loon.
In fact, a quick perusal of biding forums on the internet
will yield vigorous discussion and plenty of conjecture by
hopeful watchers. An advanced birding guidebook is helpful
to distinguish the two.
who are taking measures to reduce or eliminate by-catch of
is a hotspot for this species, where we can enjoy by lower
esti-mates, some 100,000 members of this species that is
listed as endangered in the lower 48 states.
states "Threats in Alaska include marine regime shifts that
affect food supply, predation by avian predators, incidental
bycatch in gillnet fisheries, and logging of old growth
What can we do?
Support fisherman who are taking measures to pro-tect
conservation and research for recover of the small bait fish
eaten by murrelets. Consider that Marbled Murrelets in
Southern-most Alaska could be affected by timber sales of
large trees. (Note that murrelets do use other
habitats, such as mossy rocks, farther north).
Maintaining water quality in the Inside Passage will help
See more about
the watchlist (including some yellow-listed birds that may
be vulnerable) here:
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Tips for Safe Bird-feeding
By Gwen Baluss
Feeding birds can be fun and increase our
appreciation and awareness of them. However, it’s vital that
in doing so we avoid creating problems. It’s also important
to note that birds don’t need handouts from us. What they
need most is wild habitat to survive.
When considering feeding, the first question is: is it a
good idea to lure birds in? Unfortunately, if there are
hazards nearby such as a loose cat, a dog that chases birds,
a busy street, lots of windows, an electric fence, or any
kind of pesticide use, etc. the answer is “no”.
If you do decide to feed birds, there are some other things
One is bears. They should be waking up and prowling around,
right about now. Feeders need to be way up where bears can’t
access them. Seeds on the ground should be sprinkled lightly
preferably in a thick bushy area or up on a high porch so
that it would not be efficient for a bear to lick them up.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game recommends taking bird
feeders down during the months that bears are at large.
Squirrels and other small mammals can be slowed down by
sprinkling seeds (or suet) with hot chili pepper powder such
cayenne. Birds are not affected by capsicum, the “hot”
substance in chilies. Squirrels, while annoying, are not
always a threat to birds. It depends on the squirrel.
Studies have shown that some individual red squirrels are
good at nest searching and have a taste for eggs. Others
don’t. I’ve personally seen certain squirrels attempt to
pounce on feeding juncos. All of them can eat a lot of
expensive birdseed in a short time.
Sanitation is important. Feeders need to be cleaned
consistently and frequently to make sure there is never any
spoiled or moldy food, and to reduce the risk of disease
being passed between birds. And watch out for sharp,
dangling or catchy parts. There are lots of do-it-yourself
feeder designs online and elsewhere. Take a close look at
these, as they are not necessarily good designs for birds.
Even some commercially available are dubious. Buying from a
vender that specializes in bird supplies is usually a good
bet. Seed feeders should be emptied at least once a week,
washed with a nontoxic cleaner and dried before putting back
out. Clean suet feeders once a month or whenever suet is
replenished. Personally, I find a wide sprinkling of seeds
in a patch of thick bushes to be a much easier option.
Placement in relation to windows is another consideration.
Feeders should either be right next to a window, or far, as
in more than 40 feet away. The concepts is that if something
spooks a group of feeding birds, these options allow that
either the bird has space to navigate around the window, or
would not have started going fast enough to be hurt if it
does hit. Of course, anything that makes windows more
visible is a good idea too.
Hummingbird feeders should be changed twice a week.
All surfaces should be scrubbed with a brush (you can buy
small bottlebrushes online or try using pipe cleaners for
the small holes). Soak first in vinegar if any mold has
formed. Glass reservoirs can also be sanitized with very hot
water. Avoid feeders with plastic storage reservoirs, and
any surface that are not easy to clean. Feeders with holes
that are on a flat platform should be drilled to make at
least as big as a standard school pencil eraser; smaller
holes on a flat plane can catch birds beaks or legs and
cause serious injury if something startles them.
The best recipe for hummingbird food is one cup of white
sugar to three cups of boiling water. Dyes are not necessary
and may not be safe. Brown, raw or organic sugar contains
iron which can be bad for the birds. Honey is dangerous too,
as it may cause food poisoning.
Not sure you want to deal with cleaning a feeder or buying
seeds? Birds are attracted to alternatives. Native plants,
for example. Willows are one of the best for attracting a
variety of species, but any native tree or shrub will have
its fans. Around here most can either be grown from cuttings
along a roadside, or will just sprout out of an untrammeled
area. And the more you let them grow wild and unkempt the
better. Any kind of shelter, even if it’s just a pile of
boards or junk, sticks, etc. all are good for small Sbirds.
What a great excuse to not clean up the yard! Avoid leaving
out dead-ends like crab pots, loose fibers, or netting, and
especially pipes left upright, that could trap a bird. Old
dead branches, snags and logs may look a little unsightly,
but if you can tolerate them, they are wonderful breeding
grounds for beetles and other tasty invertebrates that
nesting birds love. A simple source of shallow clean water
can bring birds in to bathe, even in our wet environment.
Ornamental plants with fruit or flowers can be excellent for
attracting showy birds like waxwings. But they come with
another serious precaution: buy organically grown stock or
get assurance that the plant has not been treated with
systemic pesticides. These days, a lot of nursery plants are
treated with neonicotinoid pesticides, some of which have
been shown to be toxic or sickening agents to birds. All
parts of treated plants, including nectar, carry the
pesticide. These pesticides are also toxic to bees, flies,
and other insects that local birds might be interested in
Now here’s something you don’t have to worry about: cutting
off the food supply. Wild birds are adaptable. If you go
traveling and nobody can feed the birds, don’t fret too
much. You might miss your birds when you get back because
they’ve moved on, but they will move on. Ephemeral food
sources are a natural reality for every species. You are not
going to change a migratory bird’s pathway. It could be that
on a long-term time scale, food available from humans does
change distributional patterns, but migration is complex and
instinctual, and not going to be influenced either way by a
single food source.
JAS Supporting Bird Research and
by Gwen Baluss
organization JAS has historically been focused on
environmental education and conservation in Southeast
Alaska, with a focus on birds and wildlife. This is
still true, but we also recognize the importance of
monitoring and research, especially of bird population for
both our migratory and resident species. Here are a few ways
Christmas Bird Count
– this is a
long-standing, wide range count that Audubon supports.
The data from the CBC is now being used to see how birds’
winter range, distribution and populations have changed over
time. Comparing this with climate data we can see how some
birds have shifted northwards in the winter.
Other citizen science efforts - we are always encouraging
our members to use eBird so their data can be pooled with
this great emerging database. Specifically, we try to
publicize special count events such as the Great Backyard
Bird Count, and the Global Big day. Even our field trips are
usually entered in to eBird and make for several fairly
consistent springtime “snap shots” of the bird life, with
plenty of skilled observers.
Swallow Nest Boxes – as a group aerial insectivores have
declined. It’s hard to believe, but the once common
Barn Swallow has dwindled to the point that the species is
listed as Threatened in Canada. Tree swallows face
similar feeding challenges to other insectivores. By getting
a population occupying boxes annually near Juneau we can
initiate further studies.
Arctic Tern Monitoring – New this year, JAS in partnership
with US Forest Service plans to sponsor an Intern who will
study and help protect Arctic Terns around Mendenhall Lake.
continental scale bird-banding studies – We donate up to
$500 annually to the Institute for Bird Populations. The IBP
maintains banding stations in both summer and winter
throughout North America as well as Central America and the
Caribbean. This is now a powerful large scale data set that
checks the pulse of many bird species population fluxes,
including some of our migratory songbirds. (For more info
Moose observed at Mendenhall
Glacier Recreation Area
beginning September 13,
Moose in Juneau: sometimes it’s not so crazy to hope
By Gwen Baluss
I’ve hung my rain cap here
in Juneau for most the time since 1998. Something I always
pondered is, where are the moose? It didn’t seem fair that
Gustavus and Petersburg would have them, and Juneau didn’t.
They were up the Taku and Berners Rivers, but wouldn’t
venture in between? I made it a point to bring up my inquiry
in conversations with biologists, naturalists, and hunters.
Sometimes the answer was "lack of habitat". I never bought
this one, as I looked around at plenty of the plants that
the browsers enjoy in other parts of Southeast: willow,
highbush cranberry, even blueberry.
A more persuasive answer was
simply "dispersal rate." According to ADF&G reports, moose
only started appearing in Southeast Alaska in general in the
early twentieth century. The moose simply hadn’t found this
habitat that, on geologic terms, is new and still being
uncovered as glaciers recede. And the fact that other
communities were colonized first had to do with proximity to
a direct river from interior Alaska-- and some luck.
There had been a few
sightings over the years around Juneau though. I even saw
the pellets of a cow that had been reported at, of all
places, Moose Lake. I eagerly awaited the day when more
moose would show up near the Juneau Road system.
Starting in fall 2013, I
noticed tracks and browse around Point Bridget State Park,
apparently of a cow and at least one calf. A Juneau Empire
story reported sightings "out the road" as well that fall.
The following year, I found more tracks and sign. But
despite many hours devoted to sneaking around in the rain,
never saw even a glimpse. Finally, in fall 2015, I had the
incredible luck to see a cow, a grown bull and small bull,
all together near Cowee Creek.
And the excitement builds as
recently there has been solid evidence of a cow and bull in
Mendenhall Valley; also, a cow in the Thunder Mountain bowl
and a young bull at Boy Scout Beach.
Where did these moose come
from? Perhaps some DNA work will tell us in the years to
come. It seems most likely that the animals traveled from
Berners Bay. That population there was introduced in 1958
and 1960 with 17 and 11 animals respectively, stock from the
Mat-su Valleys. But of course, wildlife dispersal is not
always as one would assume.
Moose dispersed into
Southeast Alaska from British Columbia. The Anderson
subspecies (Alces alces andersoni) colonized
different areas in a complex pattern, sometimes established
by only a few "founders", but with potential for mixing with
subsequent incursions of the larger interior Alaska moose
subspecies (Alces alces gigas), especially in the
Haines and Yakutat areas. (An interesting write up about
this can be found here:
What’s going to happen next?
A handful of animals is hardly a population yet, but at
least we have the right elements to spur the imagination.
Juneau will be different if moose become frequent denizens.
I wonder about the human and wildlife interactions. Will
drivers learn to slow down going out the road in the
evenings? Will animals be shot by poachers? How many loose
dogs will be stomped if there is a mom and calf roaming the
Mendenhall Glacier Recreation area?
more eager to see the moose than I, but cringe the community
might love the animals to death: naming them, feeding them,
approaching too close to get photos. ("Romeo" the wolf comes
to mind here). Either way, it’s bound to make our fall walks
around Juneau more exciting for a while.
Photo by G. Baluss (taken with a zoom lens
while hiding, breathless, behind a log).
Moose at Cowee Creek, September 22, 2015.
Eagle Feather Collection
To all volunteers who
collect eagle feathers
under the Juneau Audubon
Society US Fish &
Wildlife Service permit.
JAS has received a new
The permits are
available by e-mail and
paper from Brenda
of our permits are good
for three years.
Contact Brenda at:
ALASKA BIRD CONFERENCE
by Brenda Wright
Alaska Bird Conference
was held in Juneau,
December 9-11, 2014.
There were over 40
scientific papers and 20
posters presented at the
conference drew more
than 100 students,
and researchers from
across the state and the
Pacific coast. Included
in the conference
sessions were climate
movement ecology, and
If you go to the web
you can see the full
program and also get the
special fund raising
event by Juneau Audubon,
Audubon Anchorage, and
ADF&G enabled us to film
the keynote speaker,
Gerrit Vyn, for 360
North. If you would like
to see this presentation
you can enjoy it online
(You may have to wait
for an update on the
site, the presentation
would not open for me).
A special thanks to the
committee: Anne Sutton,
Kelly Nesvacil, Mike
Goldstein, and Brenda
Wright. The scientific
committee reviewed all
the abstract submissions
and made the schedule of
talks, ring leaders were
John Pearce, Julie
Hagelin, Abby Powell,
Debbi Nigro, and Steve
Lewis. And also a
special thank you to the
sponsors for the
donations of time,
money, and effort: US
Forest Service, ADF&G,
Audubon Alaska, North
Pacific Research Board,
Pacific Coast Joint
Unlimited, ABR, Inc.,
Juneau Audubon Society,
and St. Hubert Research
Natural History of
Juneau Trails: A
By Richard Carstensen
gorgeous new book
explores the natural
history of the Juneau
trail system. It
makes a great gift, and
for only a limited time
your purchase will
Discovery Southeast and
Natural History of
Juneau Trails will
be available in stores
in 2014, but is
available now for a
limited time as a
fundraiser directly from
The price is $24.00.
order directly from
Use the code “Audubon”
and profits from your
purchase will be split
between Audubon and
A treat for any outdoor
enthusiast. Buy it
now to support Audubon
and Discovery Southeast!