Friday, June 21, 2013

To Alaska and Adak and On the Way to Attu: May 25 and May 26

I flew to Anchorage, Alaska on Saturday, May 25, from Dayton Ohio via Minneapolis, MN without a hitch and arrived in Anchorage.  Then the hitches started.  My hotel reservation did not register with the Super 8 in Anchorage.  I spent several hours discovering that none of my hotel reservations were available with the Super 8 for my whole trip including Saturday night May 25 before my flight to Adak, my return to Anchorage from Adak on May 9, for May 10, 11, and 12 in Anchorage and for the night of June 15 after my return from Nome to Anchorage for my return flight to Ohio.  The Super 8 desk clerk was very helpful and provided a room for Saturday night, May 25 and made reservations for the rest of my planned stay until I got everything sorted out with Travelocity.  Finally, I cancelled all reservations for hotels that I had made through Travelocity and kept the reservations with Super 8 that the desk clerk had made.

On Sunday morning, May 26, I discovered that I left at home my cable to down-load pictures from my camera.  I was able to get a replacement at Wal-Mart in Anchorage and a device to down load pictures directly from a card before departing to the airport, thanks to the help of the desk personnel and the van driver at the Super 8.
At the airport, our flight to Adak was delayed almost 1.5 hours from a scheduled departure at 2:50 pm until the actual departure at about 4:30 pm.  In the airport, I met Isaac Helmericks, one of our leaders for the Attu trip.  I also met three other people on the tour but at that point I did not know

their names.  The view of the snow capped mountains from the Anchorage Airport is spectacular, when one from the lower 48 sees it for the first time!  See photo.  On the way to Adak to meet John Puschock our tour leader we passed two smoking volcanos, the dark, ash covered one of which was Pavloff Volcano.  The snow covered mountains on the way to Adak
were spectacular.  See photos. We arrived in Adak 1.5 hours later than scheduled; therefore, our departure on the  Puk-uk was delayed by at least that amount of time.  I met John Janowski, a birder from Delaware, whom I knew from having lived in Delaware and had met this year in Carlisle near Boston on the Fieldfare chase.  John was on the one week pelagic trip out to Attu and back with about 1.5 days on the island, which was scheduled prior to our trip.  The birders took advantage of a special deal with a Japanese film company that was making a film about Attu for the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Attu in WWII.  In the Adak Airport, John introduced me to my roommate on the Puk-uk, Doug Gill.  We got our luggage and moved it to the vehicles to take it to the dock.   While we waited for everyone to arrive at the dock, we started birding and found Harlequin Ducks and Pelagic Cormorants in the harbor.  The docks at Adak are very high and I could hardly see the boat, the Puk-uk.  Then I discovered that there was a twenty foot drop to the deck and a simple ladder for descent.  That was quite an adventure with guidance from others who had previously negotiated this climb down.  I made it, thankfully, but went over the side of the dock to place my first foot on the ladder VERY carefully and proceeded to go down the ladder also VERY carefully.
When everyone was on board we got our room assignments and deposited our gear in our state rooms.  We were introduced to our birding leaders and the captain Bill Choate, the cook Nicole Arevalo and Jake Schmutzler.  The birding leader that I had not met was Jess Findlay from British Colombia.  The first thing was for everyone to practice getting into a survival suits, led Captain Billy Choate--quite an adventure.  Everyone was required to do it at least once and everyone did it.  Then we got instructions about our schedule.  Showers should be infrequently as possible and navy type showers.  Get wet.  Turn off the water.  Soap up. then rinse.  Then, we ate dinner.    It was a good meal.  I was hungry even though I had eaten on the plane to Adak as instructed by John Puschock.  During dinner, we headed out of the harbor and west toward Attu.  By then everyone had donned their patches or taken their medication for sea sickness.  However, at least four of the participants were incapacitated even though they had taken medication for the first two days due to the rough conditions in the eastern end of the Aleutians.  I stayed in the back of the boat, as is my usual practice on pelagic trips, at least until I get my sea legs, and outside as much as possible in the fresh air.  Fresh air helps me control sea sickness.

Birding started immediately, adding new birds for the year right away.   I quickly added Horned Puffin taking off from the water, identified by the large white face patch and the white belly, number 457, a fly-by Tufted Puffin with its all black body and smaller white face patch, number 458, and a Cassin’s Auklet, first seen by Isaac Helmericks and identified by the grayish color, light colored belly and football shape while flying—they look like flying footballs, number 459.  Later we as we approached the Little Taniga Strait, small, dark alcids started showing up in large flocks.  They were Whiskered Auklets, but the light conditions were so dim with the clouds and lots of boat movement that I could not see the details really well.  I could tell they were Whiskered Auklets, because they were all dark except for some white near and on the under-tail coverts, very small with very rapid whirring wing beats and quite nervous never settling down for long keeping on the move.  The other very small alcid is Least Auklet which had more white below and a white throat patch and has some white above.   Occasionally, at close range I could see the crest at the front of the head but I could not see the white whiskers.  There were large flocks of the Whiskered Auklets in the strait as we continued until it got too dark to see them well.  Whiskered Auklet is a Life Bird for me, number 798 for the ABA area, and bird number 460 for my Big Year.
We repaired to our compact but comfortable state rooms for the night.  I won the lottery with Doug Gill, as he suggested, and got the lower bunk, because I am 70 and he was only 69.
Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Cassin’s Auklet and Whiskered Auklet make the total 460.


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