Monday, June 24, 2013

Day 4 on Attu, June 1

John Puschock woke me at about 5:00 or 5:30 am to see a Slaty-backed gull on Casco Cove toward Murder Point.  He had the scope set up.  I saw the uniform dark gray/blackish back and wings to the wing tips.  It was uniformly darker on the mantle and wings than the Glaucous-winged Gulls.  Slaty-backed Gull is a new bird for the year.  A Slaty-backed Gull had been seen early in the morning on Casco Cove during the previous one week trip to Attu.  John alerted others in the boat, but by the time he returned, the Slaty-backed Gull had started flying around and disappeared, I thought to the other side of Murder Point.  When the rest of the gulls, mostly Glaucous-winged started to fly away, John picked up a Vega Gull and thought that he had been mistaken, but I assured him that the Slaty-backed had already disappeared; therefore, both Slaty-backed and Vega Gulls were present that morning.  It was helpful to have looked carefully at the Vega Gull that joined us briefly in the oil slick on the way to Attu, when the adult Short-tailed Albatross showed up, as discussed previously.   Vega Gull has distinctly black wing tips and gray wings that are not as dark as the wings of Slaty-backed Gull.  Soon thereafter, two Kittlitz's Murrelets appeared almost in the same location as the gulls, another new bird for the year.  Almost everyone got good looks in the scope of these large-headed, small billed and small murrelets that at this time of year are still very white.  Marbled Murrelets have a different head shape and are less white.  After breakfast, we went ashore, got our bikes and headed to Murder Point and South Beach.  We intended to try for Rock Ptarmigan at Blue Robin Canyon off of South Beach near Pseudo Krasne Point.  We picked up our bikes, and headed to Murder Point.  At Murder Point, Isaac found some Marbled and Ancient Murrelets, but I could  never get on them.  Jess found saw a relatively close Red-faced Cormorant.  See photo.
Red-faced Cormorant
At South Beach, Isaac Helmericks found Marbled Murrelets and additional Kittlitz's Murrelets in the bay for a good comparison.   Marbled Murrelets have longer bills and flatter, narrower heads than Kittlitz's Murrelets.  In addition, these Marbled Murrelets were very brown almost in breeding plumage.  Later Isaac also found a large flock of Ancient Murrelets.  Both Marbled and Ancient Murrelets are new year birds.  We had lunch on the old road along South Beach now almost gone and overgrown .

Isaac hiked up Blue Robin Canyon to look for Rock Ptarmigan, but did not find any.  There would be a continuing search for Rock Ptarmigan throughout the trip.  When we arrived back at the old Attour Base, a number of people went back to the boat, but Thor and I and a few others joined John Puschock and Isaac Helmericks to bird along Casco Cove and the runways before dinner.  Near the end of the east west runway and the mouth of the Peaceful River, we started hearing calls overhead that were Aleutian Terns.   There was a flock of about 12, and several came low enough out of the mist and clouds that we saw the white forehead, the gray under-parts on the body and the black secondary bar on the under-wings.   The calls are reminiscent of House Sparrows chirping.  Then Isaac picked up two Pacific Golden-plovers flying over the runway.  We saw the incomplete black under-parts with white under-tail coverts and heard the call that is different than American Golden-plover.  We heard other terns calling, that John and Isaac thought were Arctic terns, but the possibility for Common Tern (longipennis), the Asiatic race, made them less sure.  However, now that I am back from Anchorage and have heard Arctic Terns recently, I believe that we heard Arctic Terns.  However, I waited to count Arctic Tern until I saw and heard them in Anchorage.

Slaty-backed Gull, Kittlitz's Murrelet, Marbled Murrelet, Ancient Murrelet, Aleutian Tern and Pacific Golden-plover raise the Big year total to 494.          

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