Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 8 on Attu, June 5, The Chase is on!

Yesterday evening when all leaders and groups were back onboard the Puk-uk, we heard that Captain Choate took a hike up Engineer Hill toward the Japanese Memorial.  He has taken hikes and bike rides at Attu during the day as part of his program to stay in shape.  He saw a bird that was larger than a swallow, determined by the leaders to be a swift from the captain's description.  A swift on Attu is a rarity.  The plan for the next day was to get our bikes at the old Attour Base and go to Engineer Hill as a group to look for a swift.  At the location where the captain saw the bird, there are remnants of US barracks with chimneys still standing and lots of upright poles to provide roosting sites for a swift.  After the swift search, not necessarily a swift one, Isaac Helmericks planned to go to the Japanese Memorial, because he had never been there.  John Puschock and the folks who already had been to the Japanese Memorial would go to nearby Henderson Marsh for another snipe hunt after the swift search.

It was a gorgeous day for Attu, very clear, so that we could see the top of Weston Mountain.  It reminded me of a similar day in 1989, when Bill Muller and I climbed to the top of Weston Mountain, where we found Rock Ptarmigan.   Our current group had not yet seen a Rock Ptarmigan but John Puschock had heard one up near the Japanese Memorial, and there may have been one seen but only by a leader (Isaac?) on another day.  As we gathered our bikes at the base, I was telling the story about my climb to the top of Weston Mountain with Bill Muller, and may have mentioned that with the high visibility, it would be a good morning to find Rock Ptarmigan.  Suddenly, Isaac found two flying up Weston Mountain and saw one land on a ridge.  He got a scope on it, and I was the first in line to see it.  Unfortunately, it ran down the ridge and flew up and over the ridge and disappeared.  But John and Isaac saw one fly back down to a new roost and got the scopes on it so everyone in the group got to see it.  Great start for the day!  In retrospect, I should have told more stories about birds seen in my previous two visits to Attu.  Perhaps, this would have encouraged birds to appear this time like the ptarmigan...not really, just joking.  Rock Ptarmigan is a new bird for the year for me.

Jess decided to climb Weston Mountain alone.  The rest of the group with John and Isaac started the long bike ride (about 6 miles) to and up Engineer Hill to the area where the swift had been seen.  I was undecided if I would try to get to the Japanese Memorial.  The people who did it with John said that it was really tough.  By the end of the first week at Attu, I had regained some conditioning that I had lost due to lack of time to exercise during my Big Year.  After we failed to find the swift, I decided to follow Isaac up to the Japanese Memorial.  I had done it in 1989, but that was 24 years ago, when I was younger and in better shape from playing years of soccer, later running and playing handball several times a week as well as a series of light weight lifting and other exercises.  I had maintained the light weight lifting and exercises until this year, when I did not have enough time to continue and do a Big Year.

It was very hard physically for me to get up Engineer Hill. I had to push the bike up most of the steep part, but I made it.  See photos that Isaac took of me next to the memorial. 

Yes, It's Really Me!
Jay at Memorial

A real victory for an old fart.  It is about three miles from the coast up to the memorial with an elevation change of about 640 ft. (according to john Puschock's GPS, second hand information).  The scenery was gorgeous with snow on the mountains.  After Isaac and I were there for a while, Jim Brown joined us.  We ate lunch by the memorial.  The bike ride back was wonderful, mostly coasting.  There was a short coast down from near the memorial, then a short ride and walking bike push to the crest followed by a long coast down to sea level.  Isaac, Jim and I stopped by Henderson Marsh but most of the participants had scattered, except for John whose bike was still by the bridge.  They had not found a Common Snipe.  Isaac, Jim and I rode to a spot near the pier where we had seen Arctic Loon.  Isaac first and then I scanned the bay for a while.   I was still looking for Yellow-billed Loon, but found only a Red-throated and two Common Loons and two Red-faced Cormorants.  We had snacks and took naps in the warm sunshine.  We biked back toward base past the warehouse and along the coastal route to the north end of the runway.  We were to be picked up at the south end of the runway, but there was a change in plans due to the wind.  Therefore, we returned the bikes to old Attour Base to take them back to the Puk-uk.  No more biking after this.  Before I reached old Attour Base, Isaac told me that Jess reported on the radio that he saw a swift while descending Weston Mountain, got photos and then the bird headed toward South Beach.  Jess originally thought it was a Fork-tailed Swift.   However, his pictures were good enough to indicate a White-throated Needletail, a much rarer species, due to the white throat and white/light colored back.  We scanned the area for a while hoping for a miracle.  None occurred.  Jess had seen about six Rock Ptarmigans on Weston Mountain.

All the bikes were transferred by outrigger to the Puk-uk.   After much discussion, the final decision was to look for the swift along Weston Mountain tomorrow morning and then take the Puk-uk to Alexai and walk Alexai Point before leaving for Adak.

Rock Ptarmigan is number 499 for the year.

See scenery photos below.
The Last Stretch to the Memorial

Finally Made It There
Looking Toward Chichagof Harbor, Hidden Behind Mountains, from Memorial
Mountains all Around from Memorial
Back Down, River from Bridge at Henderson Marsh





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