Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 7 on Attu, Back to Gilbert Ridge, June 4

Yesterday evening after enjoying the Bar-tailed Godwits, we attended the dedication of some new plaques for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Attu.  These were installed along the road to Henderson Marsh, closer to the shore of Massacre Bay, where visitors are more likely to visit them rather than the three mile hike (feels like more) up hill to the original Japanese Memorial dedicated in 1987.  The placement of the original Japanese Memorial was at the request of Japan to be at the exact location of the final defeat of Japanese forces on Attu by US forces. 

Today, June 4, I joined Jess leading Nancy, Bill, Thor, Jill and Doug to Gilbert Ridge.  The Puk-uk moved us to Massacre Beach to start the day. There were four potential birds that had been previously seen for me to add to the year list by going back to this area:   Pacific Loon, Yellow-billed Loon, McKay's Bunting and Emperor Goose.  John stayed around Casco Cove and the runways to see what he could find, but found nothing new and interesting.  Isaac went up the Peaceful river Valley and had five (5) singing Siberian Rubythroats.  Initially in the morning there was excitement on the Puk-uk.  As we pulled in to anchor along Massacre Beach, an adult breeding plumage Black-headed gull flew by and landed at some distance on the far beach.  I kept watching it, and where it landed.  Most people got good distant scope views of the Black-headed Gull, which was not a new bird for me, having seen a winter plumage bird in a mall parking lot in Baltimore, MD, but it was great to see this gull in breeding plumage.  Beautiful bird!  We found noting new on Gilbert  Ridge until Jill walked out ahead of us, close to the spot where the Dark-sided Flycatcher and Common Cuckoo appeared, and saw a shorebird like a Spotted Sandpiper.  We spread out looking and Thor first picked it up again and pointed out where the bird had landed.  I was the fist to spot it perched on a rock, but was surprised at the very brown color thinking that it might be a thrush.  However, Doug correctly pointed out that breeding plumage Common Sandpiper was brown on the back.  I saw the fine streaking on the upper breast in the shape of a thumb print, shaped like a similar mark on winter plumage Spotted Sandpiper.  Common Sandpiper is an Asian species often seen in the spring in the western Aleutians, a new bird for the year for me and a great bird for the trip.  I believe that my first sighting of this species was in Alaska on Gambell in 1976 and the bird was not completely in breeding plumage, thus my confusion on the very brown color in breeding plumage.  If my memory is correct, this is the first time that I have seen this species in breeding plumage in North America.  Everyone congratulated Jill on great spotting. 

A lot of time in the previous days has been devoted to botanizing, photographing flowers in bloom and attempting to identify them.  There was a lot of discussion and pleasant debate about the purple flowers thought to be a primula, primrose family.  Doug Gill, a biologist with botanical expertise, was the primary advocate of this identification being incorrect.  However, others from Alaska, Nancy Moore as well as a Jill and a Wildlife Biologist, who attended the new memorial dedication thought is was a primrose.   I recalled that Nobel Proctor, Biology Professor at U of Connecticut and an expert on the plants of Attu had told me that these purple flower were primula (primrose).  Now that I am home I verified this in my field notes.  Later I will summarize my photos with tentative identifications, because this blooming flowers were part of the beauty of Attu.

While we were waiting at Alexai Beach for the Puk-uk to pick us up, Jess found a Pacific Loon in the bay, another new bird for me for the year.   I got great views in the scope and could see again the differences between Arctic and Pacific Loons.  The first time I experienced this difference was on Adak in 2005. 

Below I include some alcid photos that I obtained during the trips to reposition the Puk-uk over the past few days.  The winter plumage  Kittlitz's Murrelet is very white, with a large-headed and small billed appearance with a dark crown, white face and isolated eye.  The breeding plumage or almost completely in breeding plumage Kittlitz's Murrelets are a golden or tan color with the eye still isolated on the face and with white under-tail coverts.  The second photo of Kittlitz's Murrelet shows the white outer tail feathers, which are usually hard to see.  

Common Sandpiper and Pacific Loon raise my year total to 498.

Tufted Puffin
Horned Puffin
Ancient Murrelet
Kittlitz's Murrelets, in or almost in breeding plumage
Kittlitz's Murrelet, breeding plumage

Kittlitz's Murrelet, winter plumage


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