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Open Mic: U.S. Navy’s Northern Edge 17– Negative influence on avian species?

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At the Mic: Kate McLaughlin

Sighting Arctic Terns is a sure sign that spring has arrived in the North Gulf of Alaska. The graceful floating flight of the snow-colored birds, in contrast with their sharp toned “kee-err” call, makes their presence obvious among the flocks of Glaucous-winged Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes congregating over shoals of forage fish. The fish in turn are feeding on the spring plankton bloom growing in the swift nutrient rich glacier fed currents of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA). The birds have been moving northwestward up the Pacific Flyway following the greening spring on land and in the ocean. Schools of salmon, cod and herring are following the plankton bloom and bait fish. Whales, trailed by new calves born in warmer southern waters, follow in the fishes’ wake.

This remote area is home to an immense amount of avian life. In fact, 87% of all seabirds in the US nest along the coastline of the GOA. In numbers, that is equal to fifty million birds of 26 different species of seabirds. Pelagic mid-water and deep diving species forage over large areas, and to depths of 200m, utilizing the resources brought by upwelling from the Pacific shelf and the turbulent Alaska current.

The shorebird migration in early May on the Copper River Delta is one of the most important staging areas on the Pacific Flyway.  In celebration of this annual event the small fishing town of Cordova holds the Copper River Shorebird Festival. In its 27th year, from May 5 – 7th, the festival draws bird lovers from all over the world. The Alaskan communities of Yakutat, Kenai and Homer are welcoming the birds back with festivals of their own.

In the GOA, on Middleton Island, 42 miles offshore from Montague Island, the largest barrier island in Prince William Sound, kittiwake and Glaucous-winged Gull colonies are already busy nesting by May. The former military radar site now accommodates the largest nesting colony of Black-legged Kittiwakes in Alaska.

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