Sea birds touch down in Interior

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2004

FAIRBANKS (AP) Least auklets, sea birds that normally live in the Bering Sea, were spotted in two Interior villages.

''Right away I noticed it had webbed feet,'' said Michelle Amundson, who saw one of the small, black-and-white birds sitting in the snow in the Koyukuk River village of Hughes, 200 miles northwest of Fairbanks. Another of the birds was seen in Birch Creek, a small village 100 miles northeast of Fairbanks.

The birds were found stranded in the villages on the same day three weeks ago following a storm that battered Western Alaska. It's the first record of a least auklet being reported inland in Alaska, according to Dan Gibson, ornithology collections manager at the University of Alaska Museum of the North.

John Wright, a biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks, spoke with the people who found the birds and coordinated their transport to Fairbanks. The birds were found alive but both died within 24 hours, he said.

Hughes is about 200 miles inland and Birch Creek is about 500 miles from the coast. Experts speculate that the birds were blown inland by the storm, the worst to hit the Bering Sea coast in more than 30 years. The storm, which produced winds upward of 100 mph in some villages, lasted three days and flooded towns along the coast.

''They probably got disoriented and flew up river valleys,'' said Wright.

Inland appearances by sea birds in Alaska are rare, said Gibson. ''The only sea bird we have inland reports on are black guillemots,'' he said.

There were also several least auklets reported in villages along the coast following the storm, according to biologist Peter Bente with the Department of Fish and Game in Nome. The birds were spotted in flight or on the ground in Nome, Ambler, Kotzebue, Deering and near Teller.

Five birds were caught and released in Nome and Kotzebue, Bente said.

''The elders in Kotzebue said they'd never seen this bird before,'' he said.

The birds normally reside on the high seas of the North Pacific, more than 100 miles from the coast, said Gibson.

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