Sunday, June 23, 2013

Last Days to Attu and First Day on Attu, May 28 to May 29, 2013

Thick-billed Murre
Pillar Rock
Early in the morning on May 28, those of us in the back of the boat started seeing more Thick-billed Murres and cormorants flying by the boat; therefore, we expected that we were near land.  We were headed toward Pillar Rock or Stack northwest of Kiska.  I moved to the front of the boat after getting photos of the flying Thick-billed Murres.  I saw a cormorant that looked like it had a thicker neck, larger head and thicker bill than the Pelagic Cormorants seen previously.  I called it a Red-face Cormorant.  Jess Findlay, confirmed that it was indeed a Red-faced Cormorant, a new bird for the year.  At Pillar Rock, there were more cormorants, both Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants, at which we got good looks, as well as Thick-billed and
Birds on Pillar Rock

Common Murre, breeding
Common Murres.  See photos of Common Murres on the water in non-breeding and breeding plumage, a new bird for the year.  See also distant and close-up photos of Pillar Rock covered with murres.  The cormorants were on the lower parts of the rock.  During this day, I got to see several Parakeet Auklets fly across the bow, another new bird for the year.  They are
Common Murre, non-breeding
intermediate sized alcids, about the size of Crested Auklets, but with black heads and completely white breasts and bellies.  Parakeet Auklets are relatively uncommon on this trip but can be seen if one pays attention and keeps looking for them.  A few were seen under similar circumstances earlier during the trip to Attu, but I missed them because I was in the back of the boat.  I also saw a Parasitic Jaeger at the front of the boat, a new bird for the year.  Previously, I had missed Parasitic and Pomarine Jaegers seen earlier on the trip, because I was in the back of the boat.  I included the photo of the Short-tailed Shearwater from yesterday that shows the gray in the
under-wings rather than white as in Sooty Shearwater and the relatively thin bill and steep forehead and more rounded head relative to Sooty Shearwater.  The main excitement for May 28 was another Short-tailed Albatross, this one an adult bird that cooperated and come into the back of the boat, flying around several times, apparently attracted to the oil slick that John Puschock started.  The Laysan Albatrosses had been building up until there were at least 10 or more close to the boat, probably prompting the Short-tailed Albatross to investigate the goings on.  See photos.  That caused great excitement on the boat.  What a great bird to see!  At the same time, a Vega (Herring) Gull, not a new bird, landed near the stern showing its black wing tips to distinguish it from the more common Glaucous-winged Gulls.  As we continued west toward Attu, the ocean became calmer and our seasick co-participants came

Short-tailed Shearwater
to life.  It was great to see them active and at all meals and looking for birds.  We continued to see all the alcids previously seen and reported in addition to a few more Mottled Petrels.  Little did we know what was in store for us tomorrow?   At least one Leach’s Storm-petrel was seen on May 28, but I missed it.  Isaac Helmericks found it or them at the front of the boat.     All meals continued to be excellent, and varied.  Excellent job by Nicole, and I was not the only one who sang her praises as a cook.  I dropped off to sleep quickly once my head hit the pillow according to my room-mate Doug Gill. 

On our last day to Attu, May 29, I made sure that I spent time in the wheelhouse in the front of the boat to look for Leach’s Storm-petrel and maybe another Pomarine Jaeger.  I got to see a Leach’s Storm- petrel, with its white rump and night-hawk-like flight.   My roommate, Doug Gill, tried to raze me by stating that I could not count it unless I saw the white rump to distinguish it from Bulwer’s Petrel.  I didn’t know him very well yet and responded with a hearty “bull ____.”   Later, I made amends and Doug apologized saying he was only joking.  I pointed out that Bulwer’s Petrel not only has no white rump but its flight is very unlike that of a Leach’s Storm-petrel.  The flight of a Bulwer’s Petrel is similar to that of Band-rumped Storm-petrel, interspersed with gliding. 

Thus, Bulwer’s could be eliminated by flight style on the Leach’s Storm-petrel seen.  That seemed to settle any concerns, if they were real, …… and they were not.
Short-tailed Albatross, above; Laysan Albatross, below

Soon we were seeing many Mottled Petrels flying by close to the boat going past us in the front and zooming by visible from the back.  We saw birds at close range, where one could see all the field marks even without binoculars on occasion.  I went below and got my camera, but it was a waste of time.  Mottled Petrels are so fast that it is really difficult to get photos.  However, Jess Findlay has the technique down very well.  See his photos a bottom.  Great job, Jess!  The Mottled Petrel show continued until very close to Attu.  The leaders estimated that about 300 Mottled Petrels had passed us on this last day to Attu.  The birds continued so close to Attu that they could probably have been seen with a telescope from the shore on Attu.

We docked in Casco Cove, arriving at about 2 pm.  We packed our gear to go get our bicycles in the old Lorain Station, the old Attour headquarters building, to go birding before dinner.  We took the outrigger to the shore under the expert operation of Jake Schmutzler, the mate for the trip.  I should have packed more carefully and packed everything that I took with me in zip lock bags.  I came prepared but did not take the time for this short trip.  It started to rain harder while we were on shore; therefore, some things got wet that did not need to get wet.  This was a try-out trip for me.  I decided to carry my telescope and new carbon fiber tripod as well as my camera.  However, this extra equipment was too much and unbalanced me on my bicycle.  Dismounting and starting up was an issue.  I fell off my bicycle several times and loudly expressed my frustration, blaming the bicycle, of course.  Later and during a good night’s sleep, I gradually realized that I could not carry all that stuff.  The rest of the trip I carried only binoculars, lunch, drinks, extra clothing as needed and my camera in a dry bag provided by the tour, all packed in my back-pack.  This worked much better and I had fewer falls.  Eventually I got more adept at bike riding.  No wonder I had problems.  I have not ridden a bike  for at least 20 years!  We found
Common Eiders and other breeding birds on the island as well as Snowy Owl.  There was nothing new for the year for me but still interesting to be back on Attu again.  My name was still on the wall of the Peterson Suite in the old Lorain Station/Attour Headquarters from my visit in 1988!  More about that in future posts.

Red-faced Cormorant, Common Murre, Parakeet Auklet, Parasitic Jaeger, and Leach’s Storm-petrel made the total 476. 


Mottled Petrel Group, Jess's Photo
Mottled Petrel, Jess's Photo
Vega (Herring) Gull

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