Monday, June 24, 2013

May 31, Third Day Fallout, Gilbert Ridge and Alexai,

Massacre Beach and Puk-uk from Gilbert Ridge
The Puk-uk took us to Massacre Beach to bird Gilbert Ridge out to Alexai Point.  This saved miles of biking to get to this point.  I recall that it was about 12 miles to the tip of Alexai Point from Base Camp when I was on Attu before.  It was 4 to 6 miles from Massacre Beach to Alexai Point.  John Puschock alerted me to look for Marbled and Kittlitz's Murrelets on the way to Massacre Beach in the morning.  I was outside looking on the way and saw two dark small acids flying away but did not get good enough looks for a positive identification.

We walked Gilbert Ridge and right away Jess found a male and female Brambling soon after the start.  We followed them for awhile as they flew toward Alexai and up into the cliffs of Gilbert Ridge.  We found more Bramblings during the morning and the rest of the day.  Gray-crowned Rosy-finches showed up on the rocks along Gilbert Ridge just as Jess said they would.  We got excellent close looks at the rosy finches as the feed on the rocks.  See photo. 

Gray-crowned rosy-finch
John pursuing Brambling up Gilbert Ridge
We also found several Siberian Rubythroats, one a female.  Jess saw a bunting up high on the ridge and heard it call.  His description sounded like a Rustic Bunting, which I had first heard on Gambell on Saint Lawrence Island back in 1976 during my first trip to Alaska with Bird Bonanza's.  Jess got a long distant photograph of the bird from below.  It sure looked like a Rustic Bunting.  At some point John Puschock climbed the ridge to try to flush either a Brambling down into view, going well beyond for the group, which was certainly appreciated.  See photo.  As we moved out further out Gilbert Ridge, a very long-tailed wagtail flushed in front of John and the group in front.  John thought is was a Gray Wagtail, based on tail length, much longer tail in proportion to body length than Yellow Wagtail and the two-noted flight call.  Thor saw yellow on the upper parts as it flew.  Gray wagtail has a yellow rump.  It flew back over the group and gave several two-noted flight call notes as it flew over Jess and me.  Jess and I watched it disappear and go down.  Yellow Wagtail has a distinctive and loud "tsweep" single note flight call and is short-tailed relative to the body length.  It was not a White Wagtail, which would have been obvious with the bold gray and white or black and white patterns as we saw this wagtail fly back toward Massacre Beach.  We looked for it and could not find it.  Later in the day and in the week after we had seen Yellow Wagtail several times, it became apparent that it was a Gray Wagtail.  We continued out Gilbert Ridge and saw additional or the same buntings and chased this bunting for a while until most people got a satisfactory look.  My first looks were of a very rusty looking bunting and eventually saw the bird very well sitting on a ledge on the cliff.  Jess got a good photo of the Rustic Bunting at this spot.  See photo. 
Rustic Bunting
We continued further and stopped for lunch at a spot with a ladder, which I jokingly named the Stairway to Heaven.  It had been slow going because there were so many birds to see, chase and get good looks for the whole group.  Little did we realize that it would get even better.  See group photo at lunch.  Gilbert Ridge is a good vantage point for Attu scenery.  See photos at the end of this post.

At lunch I noticed a large loon offshore and called attention to it.  Jess looked at it and called it a Yellow-billed Loon.  I got on the scope but it dove and disappeared before I could see it in the scope.  I did not count it as a new species for the year.  However, now that I am home, I found a photograph that I took of some small alcids along Gilbert Ridge that has an apparent Yellow-throated Loon in it.  I was not aware of this photo while on the trip.  One photo is sharp enough that the profile looks like an identifiable Yellow-billed Loon.  Yellow-billed Loon was seen nearby in Massacre Bay by the one week trip prior to our trip.  I will solicit opinions from our trip leaders and let you know the outcome in later postings.  At some point, Jim Brown, an MD who works with Olaf Danielson, found a another Brambling, which was very cooperative to photos.  See photos.

Brambling by jay
Brambling by Jess

Incidentally, Olaf Danielson runs a business that provides emergency room doctors to hospitals.  I told Olaf that as a nude Big Year birder and an MD, he is an unconventional man in a very conventional business....but that is not news to him.  He apparently revels in that role.  Kudus to Olaf!

After lunch, we continued along Gilbert Ridge toward Alexai.  Jess found a small flycatcher, which was a Dark-sided Flycatcher, a Life Bird for me.  We first thought that it might be a Gray-streaked Flycatcher, but later developments and good photos proved that is was a Dark-sided Flycatcher.  The bird was streaked but the streaking was smudged on the sides giving it a vested look somewhat like an Olive-sided Flycatcher.  The primary extension was long but later when we looked at photos at the end of the day, not too long.  We consulted the National Geographic Guide and Birds of East Asia by Mark Brazil.  There is some lack of clarity between pictures and text, but we got it sorted out.  See my photos of Dark-sided Flycatcher showing a less distinct loral spot and slightly shorter primary extension than the Gray-streaked Flycatcher.   Compare to later photograph.

Dark-sided Flycatcher both by Jay

Common Cuckoo both by Jess
Shortly, John found a bird sitting on the path, which was a Common Cuckoo, another Life Bird for me.  See Jess's photos sitting and in flight which are better than mine.  We continued with the Common Cuckoo to the base of Alexai.   Jess flushed a sandpiper from one of the ponds on Alexai as we headed toward Smew Pond.  While we were debating how to find the sandpiper, John found two Smews on nearby Smew Pond.  Everyone rushed over to see the Smews.   See photos.  Meanwhile Isaac found the sandpiper,

Rock Sandpiper by Jay

Smew by Jay

a Wood Sandpiper in the reeds at the east end of the pond from which Jess first flushed it.   We all carefully walked around the pond to not flush the Wood Sandpiper, a new year bird for me, and
everyone got a look through the scopes available. I saw the light supercillium, the very mottled back and yellow legs, as it feed and walked slowly through the reeds.   Isaac also discovered another Siberian Rubythroat nearby.  After all of this, we sat down for a snack and contacted the Puk-uk, and told them we would be out birding until late.  They would move the Puk-uk to Alexai point, and Jake Schmutzler would 
Smews by Jess
deliver some requested additional sandwiches and more water.  Good man, Jake!   As we sat eating and drinking our snack, a Yellow Wagtail, new bird for the year, flew over giving its "tsweep" single note flight call, and we saw the shorter tail in proportion to the body, yet more evidence that the other wagtail was a Gray Wagtail.  As we walked toward the north beach of Alexai, a Rock Sandpiper on a nest was found.  I got to see the bird doing a distraction display, a new bird for the year.  See photo. 
As we walked east along the low bluff above the beach, Jess yelled curlew, and John looked up and identified a Far Eastern Curlew flying over with an extremely long bill, mostly brown color, heavily streaked below and without the cinnamon colors of Long-billed curlew, which would be extremely rare on Attu anyway.  There was no white on the rump and back, eliminating Eurasian Curlew.  Everyone got good looks at the Far Eastern Curlew, a new bird for the year for me.  After the curlew and after Jake delivered the additional sandwiches and more water, we lost several participants, who needed the rest and retuned to the Puk-uk with Jake on the outrigger.  The rest of us continued out Alexai carefully to look at another pond, where we found a drake and hen Eurasian Wigeon, not a new bird for the year for me but nice to see in breeding plumage.   As some of the group with John continued around the point on the beach, Isaac and Jess reported another flycatcher up on the low bluffs.  We all joined them.  This one proved to be Gray-streaked Flycatcher.  The streaking was more crisp and distinct with no smudging along the sides, the loral spot was more distinct and the primary extension was very long on this flycatcher.  Looking at photos later on the boat and shown in this post, the longer primary extension and crisp streaking and more distinct loral spot makes it a Gray-streaked Flycatcher, a Life Bird for me.  I saw the much longer primary extension on this flycatcher as it sat up near a Brambling. 
Gray-streaked Flycatcher (right), Brambling (left)  by Jess
Did I mention that we also found at least three additional Bramblings at the point, making a total of fourteen for the day?  Isaac got a very good photo of the Gray-streaked Flycatcher (See photo) on his way back to the pickup point for the outrigger ride to the Puk-uk, and found another Siberian Rubythroat for a total of about six for the day.   Our group who walked the beach edge, found a Pacific Golden Plover but it flew before I caught up with the group.  I was taking some photographs.  At the pickup point, I managed to get my butt wet.  I tried to throw my leg over the side of the raft first and fell
Gray-streaked Flycatcher by Isaac
backwards into the shallow water near the beach.  I was still completely encased in my wet suit so no damage done except to my pride and a wet butt.  Eventually, I learned to sit on the edge of the raft and then swing my legs over the side, thanks to a good suggestion from Thor.  I am not as flexible as when I was younger.

Rustic Bunting, Gray Wagtail, Dark-sided Flycatcher, Common Cuckoo, Smew, Wood Sandpiper, Yellow Wagtail, Rock Sandpiper, Far Eastern Curlew, and Gray-streaked Flycatcher bring the year total to 488 with three new Life Birds making my ABA area Life List 803!

Coast Guard Station from Gilbert Ridge


Jay pursuing Gray-crowned Rosy Finch

Lunch on Gilbert Ridge and Ladder to Heaven
Aggatu Island from Alexai Point

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