Birds of Chignik Lake: Semipalmated Plover

semipalmated plover alaska

Semipalmated Plover, male in his striking breeding plumage. The partial webbing between this bird’s toes is visible; it is this partial webbing from which the term “semipalmated” is derived. Denali Highway, Alaska

As I may have mentioned elsewhere, finally obtaining a small boat here on the Chignik opened up new worlds in terms of wildlife viewing in general, birding in particular, fishing and all around exploring. As to the birding, with the greater range the scow provided we immediately began cataloguing species new to us in the drainage, The little Semipalmated Plover, already a favorite from other birding ventures, was among the first of these new-to-us Chignik species.

semipalmated plover juvenile chignik river

Semipalmated Plover juveniles, Chignik River, July 24, 2020. These plovers typically occurred on river gravel bars and shorelines in mixed flocks of Western and Least Sandpipers

As we didn’t acquire our scow until July, there is still documentation to be done. The Semipalmateds we encountered appeared to all be juveniles. According to Herbert K. Job, writing in Birds of America*, this isn’t unusual. He reported flocks of nothing but young birds migrating into the Atlantic seaboard in September, a month or so after adults had arrived from their northern breeding grounds. At any rate, we took lots of photos, searched through them carefully on the large screen of our computer, and found no adults. This coming spring, we will begin early searching the various shorelines, river bars and rocky islands for signs of adult birds and breeding.

semipalmated plover nest denali highway alaska

If you didn’t know they were there, you’d probably miss them, but even when you feel certain a nest may be nearby, the eggs can be quite difficult to locate. The nest itself is a barely discernible depression lined with twigs and leaves. The precocial young will leave the nest upon hatching and although the parents will stay close, the little ones will find their own food. There may be nothing in the avian world quite so cute as the scurrying ping-pong ball of fluff a young shore peep resembles. Approximately four weeks after hatching, they’ll be able to fly. (Denali Highway, Alaska)

Semipalmated Plover Range Map: with permission from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of the World

Semipalmated plover Charadrius semipalmatus
Order: Charadriiformes
CharadriusLatin derived from Greek kharadrios for a bird found in river valleys
semipalmatusLatin – semi = half + palmatus = palm – referring to this species’ partly webbed feet

Status at Chignik Lake: Occasional to Common in Summer; Status in Spring uncertain; Absent in Fall and Winter

David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63Occasional

Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010:
Uncommon in Spring, Summer & Fall; Not Reported in Winter

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Bird List: Present

able of Contents and Complete List of Birds of Chignik Lake

© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.

For a list of reference materials used in this project, see: Birds of Chignik Lake

Birds of Chignik: Double-crested Cormorant

Chignik Double-crested cormorant

Next to Pelagic Cormorants (left), at first glance Double-cresteds are bulkier birds. The yellow lores and throat are diagnostic. As is also the case with Red-faced Cormorants, the coloration is due to bare skin, not plumage. Note, too, the Double-crested’s heavy, hooked bill.

From a distance, the Chignik’s three species of cormorants, like most cormorants worldwide, look pretty much the same: a gangly cross between a loon and a goose dressed in drab, brown-black plumage. But if you’re lucky enough to get near to a cormorant, you might find that they are actually quite striking.

Like our other cormorants, Double-cresteds are primarily piscivorous. They are far and away the most wide-spread and common of North America’s cormorants, and unlike our other species, Double-cresteds frequently nest in trees. This could account for the fact that they are more frequently seen in fresh water than Red-faced or Pelagic cormorants, though they are still at home on ocean waters.

“Mike” Michael L. Baird’s photograph captures the double crest of this Double-crested Cormorant in breeding plumage. CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1995289

In non-breeding plumage, look for the yellow-orange skin around the Double-crested’s face. Photograph  © Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79611808

From a distance, this Japanese Cormorant looked as black and nondescript as any cormorant, but a closer look revealed a pallet of subtle hues..

Double-crested Cormorant Range Map: with permission from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of the World

Double Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus
Order: Suliformes
PhalacrocoraxLatinized Ancient Greek = cormorant (from “bald” and “crow/raven”)
auritusLatin = eared (for its breeding plumage crests)

Status at Chignik Lake: Not observed in the freshwater drainage, but common in nearby coastal waters

David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63Not observed

Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010:
Common in Summer; Uncommon in Spring & Fall; Rare in Winter

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Bird List: Present

Table of Contents for the Complete List of Birds of Chignik Lake

© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.

Birds of Chignik: Red-faced Cormorant

Chignik red-faced cormorant

After a morning’s feeding, Red-faced Cormorants rest at a favorite roost near the outlet of Chignik Lagoon. 

Red-faced Cormorants are abundant in the sea near the villages of Chignik and Chignik Lagoon, and according to biologists their numbers appear to be increasing. They often roost and feed in mixed flocks alongside Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants. Like other cormorants, they are primarily fish eaters, though they occasionally take crabs, shrimp and other marine invertebrates.

This beautifully colored Red-faced Cormorant was photographed by Lisa Hupp, USFWS, courtesy Wikipedia. The red face is actually bare skin which loses some of its color when the bird is not in breeding plumage.

Red-faced Cormorant Range Map: By Netzach, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45316418

Red-faced Cormorant Phalacrocorax urile
Order: Suliformes
Phalacrocorax: Latinized Ancient Greek = cormorant
urile: ?

Status at Chignik Lake: Not observed in the freshwater drainage, but common in nearby coastal waters

David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63Not observed (This is a marine species.)

Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010:
Common in Summer; Uncommon in Spring & Fall; Rare in Winter

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Bird List: Present

Table of Contents for the Complete List of Birds of Chignik Lake

© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.