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Aleutians Christmas Bird Count: World's entire flock of emperor geese stop by

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman
A Mallard duck at Potter Marsh on Friday, May 4, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
An Arctic Tern at Potter Marsh on Friday, May 4, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
American wigeons at Potter Marsh on Friday, May 4, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Canada Geese at Potter Marsh on Tuesday, May 2, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
A mew gull at Potter Marsh on Tuesday, May 2, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Red-necked Grebes at Potter Marsh on Tuesday, May 2, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
A northern harrier at Potter Marsh on Tuesday, May 2, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Mew Gulls at Potter Marsh on Tuesday, May 2, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo
Canada Geese at Potter Marsh on Tuesday, May 2, 2012.
Loren Holmes photo

UNALASKA -- The annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count is set for Dec. 29, and even the not-so-outdoorsy types can record eagles and ravens and finches and more, according to Unalaska coordinator Suzi Golodoff.

“Sometimes I ‘car bird’,” she told prospective birders at a slide show on local birds. “I just crank up the heat and roll down the window.”

Most people will want to get out of their cars, and she advised dressing in layers to keep warm. Whether in or out, she advised bringing a good pair of binoculars for better viewing. Another option for counting birds without hiking is to count them at bird feeders, she said.

The towering piles of crab pots are a good place to see birds, especially species that don’t normally live in Unalaska. They are sometimes blown in from afar by storm winds. Since they don’t know their way around, they look for an obvious source of shelter and the pot yards are highly visible, she said.

Crab pots aren’t the only fishing industry attraction for birds, she noted, saying that thousands have been seen around the outfall lines where ground-up seafood waste is discharged from processing plants, citing the Dutch Harbor Spit as a good example.

Unalaska is seeing its usual big influx of emperor geese swimming around in local bays, attracted by open water since their summer northern habitat freezes up around the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

“The world’s entire population comes to the Aleutians,” she said, and now numbers between 50,000 and 60,000 geese.

Golodoff spends a lot of time photographing birds, and has a great variety of shots to choose from. One photo showed all three local types of cormorants. One favorite photo that impressed the library audience showed an eagle flying away clutching an  unfortunate duck in its claws along the Front Beach in Unalaska.

She described the common raven as “highly intelligent, always up to something.” The two local mergansers, red breasted and common, are both called sawbills, since their serrated bills add to their reputation as very good fishermen. A duck formerly known as an old squaw is now called a long tailed duck.

For hunting purposes, some are meatier than others, and the green winged teal is an economy meal, called the “cup of soup duck” by people in Kotzebue where Golodoff once traveled for a birding event.

The Aleutians census is part of a statewide effort under way by the Audubon from Dec. 14-Jan. 5. It's the 113th Christmas Bird Count organized by the Audubon Society; learn much more here.

This article was originally published in The Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman and is reprinted here with permission. Jim Paulin can be reached at paulinjim(at)yahoo.com.