2017 Seabird Report Card

The Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge has prepared a “report card” on seabird breeding success in 2017:

 

Additional observations were provided by John Piatt, Karl Stoltzfus, and Victoria Winne:

(From John Piatt, 10-17-17)
Preliminary results. The usual caveat applies: Results may change a little with more complete analysis. 
 
1) USGS studied two colonies (Gull and Chisik/Duck islands) in Cook Inlet, and two species: Common Murre and Black-legged Kittiwake  
2) Things started out looking better this summer. Counts of both species were up. Things started out looking better this summer, and more nests were initiated than last year (which was a total failure). 
3) At Chisik Island, west side of Cook Inlet, kittiwakes abandoned nests early, and appeared to produce zero chicks. In contrast to last year, murres started off attending nests, and early on we saw at least 11 nests with eggs in one location. However, by mid-August all murres had abandoned breeding efforts, and appeared to produce zero chicks. This suggests much reduced food availability again in 2017. 
4) At Gull Island, east side of Cook Inlet, things were somewhat better, but not back to normal. About 22% of kittiwake pairs produced a chick this year, compared to 1% in 2016, and 46% on average in the 1990s. We don’t have final estimate for murres yet, but many eggs and several chicks were observed this year, compared to few eggs (all predated by GWGU) and zero chicks last year.  This suggests reduced food availability in 2017 but not as bad as in 2016.
5) At both colonies, the timing of breeding was quite a bit later than usual, and breeding was much less synchronized than usual. These are also indicators of changing and/or reduced food supplies. 
 
From Karl Stolzfus (10-20-17)
I did see a fair number of chicks on both Gull Island and 60′ Rock. I am not sure how many made it into the water but I did count about 50 murres with a chick on one trip that I had to Bear Cove so at least some made it. I think it has been about 3 years since they had any sort of nesting success in Kachemak Bay and the first time in about 30 years that murres attempted to nest on 60′ Rock. 
 
From Victoria Winne (10-18-17)
The birds seemed to do very well this year, with far less to almost no harassing by eagles, especially in mid-season. It was interesting to note a ‘new’ and dense grouping of murres on 60ft.
Most of the other species had left by the first week in September, with the murres remaining, still feeding their young – evident by the number still on the main murre rock, and birds with fish in their mouths.
Unfortunately, that is when our season pretty much finishes, with just sporadic visits to G.Island, and it was distressing to see eagles returning right about then. It is impossible to say whether the eagles managed to spook them off right at the end, thus exposing the almost fledged chicks to predation.
I did witness one lone eagle a few weeks earlier spooking all the kittiwakes, and watched in admiration as the murres tenaciously held their ground, so hold out hope that they managed to hold on.