Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's Nome: McKay's Bunting, December 10

Last night I made reservations to fly to Nome and return on the same day using the same strategy that my friend Neil Hayward had used.  I also made reservations to leave Anchorage at 12:50 am to fly through Portland, Oregon to Phoenix, Arizona.  I arrived at the airport early and asked the rental car agent if I could park my car in a rental slot, because I was going to Nome for only the day.  He said yes.  Neil had also done this.  I had packed only essentials, such as my wet coat with hood, face mask, several pairs of extra gloves, extra pairs of warm socks, a new pair of wet pants that I had bought from REI last night and bag of bird seed in my backpack.  I was wearing my long johns, warm socks and coat and boots also bought in Anchorage before my trip to Gambell.  The first flight of the day was at 10:05 am to arrive after a direct flight at 11:40 am.  We boarded on time, and then came the announcement.  The flight is delayed due to some mechanical problems!  Uh oh!  Not again!  But as Neil Hayward texted, "Welcome to Alaska!"  Whatever did I expect?  Our fight was delayed about 20 to 30 minutes.  After resolution of the mechanical problems, out flight was uneventful.  We arrived between 12:00 noon and 12:30 pm and the sunrise was still evident to the south.  See photo.
View from Nome Airport at 12:30 pm
Continuing Nome Sunrise
It was clear and 12F with 20 mph wind, which yields a substantial wind chill.  I called Mr. Kab, still had their card from my visit to Nome in June, and got a short ride of about a mile to Icy View Subdivision on the Teller Road.  I asked to be dropped off at the intersection of Fore and Aft and Round the Clock.  The reaction of the cab driver and his coworker was priceless.  Don't you want to be dropped off at a house?  No, I'll be fine.  I told them I might need a ride back if my cell phone worked after being out in the cold.  And so I was off on my own.  The house with the feeders, No. 706, was a short distance north on Round the Clock, and I could see it easily from the corner.   See photo.
House with Feeder for McKay's Bunting
photo by Neil Hayward
With great anticipation, I walked the short distance to the house.  I could see as I approached that there were no birds at the feeder in front by the short fence.  The only birds in the area were Common Ravens.  It looked like no one was home.  I checked the feeder and ground.  No seed!  Uh oh!  John Habig, my friend from Ohio, wished me luck and hoped that the homeowner was still feeding.  Did the homeowner stop feeding since Neil's visit?  I pulled out my seed bag and scattered several hands full of seed on the ground and waited for a while.  I noticed a pick-up truck idling at the north end of the Round the Clock and walked in that direction.  There was a small herd of Musk Oxen very close to the subdivision, which the driver was watching.  I was so focused on McKay's Bunting that I forgot to take some photos of the herd at close range.  They are amazing animals!  I decided to walk around this small subdivision to look for other feeders or for the McKay's Buntings.  It was cold but I was warm and toasty in my warm clothes.  I did not need the wet pants, because I was walking a lot keeping my legs warm.  The driver of the pickup stopped to ask me if I needed a ride, and asked me why I was there.  I told him my story, and how McKay's Buntings breed on Mathews and Hall Islands and spend the winter on the west coast of Alaska.  Nome was the best place to see them in the winter.  He thought that was cool.  When I described the McKay's Buntings, he recalled that he had seen them by the house with the feeder when he drove by last week.  Good they were still in the area.   We shared our amazement at the Musk Oxen, and how they can survive out in the cold winters.  He told me that it was unusual that Musk Oxen were near town a this time of year.  They usually head for the mountains.  I did not find any other active feeders in the subdivision, and returned to the feeder house, watched for awhile and then walked west away from the house contemplating checking the grassy and tundra areas around the subdivision.   I noticed that a red pickup truck returned to the house with feeders.  Then, I walked down the street to look at the Musk Oxen. 

Then it happened.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of white wings by the house.  I walked as quickly as possible and tried to stay unobtrusive as possible.  I'm not sure what that means to a McKay's Bunting.  I did not want to flush any birds before I could see and photograph them.  A flock of about 12 to 15 buntings were flying around the house and landing on the power lines along the street.  It was 1:30 pm.  Several were investigating the feeder and the seed that I had scattered.  All of them were McKay's Buntings.  From below, they were all white showing a smaller amount of black on the primaries than for Snow Buntings, and a very small amount of black in the middle of the tail when the tail was slightly spread.  In flight from below, they were so beautiful--all white except for the reduced amount of black in the primaries.  Sitting on the ground and on the fence near the feeder, they were all white except for the brownish wash on the head, face and back characteristic of winter plumage male McKay's Buntings and with very little black evident in the wing tips. See photos below. 
McKay's Bunting
First view

McKay's Bunting
Where's my seed?
McKay's Bunting
McKay's Buntings

The McKay's Buntings stayed for only about 10 minutes, and then flew back out into the tundra toward the south from the subdivision.  I walked down the street to  photograph the Musk Oxen.  The herd was gone, only one remained and it seemed to be in a hurry, perhaps to join the herd possibly hidden in a swale out on the tundra.  It looked like a moving haystack out on the tundra.  See photo.
Musk Ox
I still had some seed left, so I rang the door bell of the house with the feeder and met the man and woman who lived there and their young daughter.  I thanked them for feeding the McKay's Buntings and gave them the remaining seed.  They told me that their 11 year old son was supposed to fill the feeder in the morning, but had apparently forgot to do so.  I got excellent advice from Neil Hayward about taking some seed with me.  I told them that a friend (Neil) had visited to see the McKay's Buntings one to two weeks ago, and the man remembered Neil Hayward's visit.  They had also enjoyed watching the Musk Oxen herd.  I left Icy View Subdivision at about 2:00 or 2:30 pm and walked the mile back to Nome.  The wind had decreased, the sun was out but dropping in the sky and it was a beautiful arctic day in Nome.  I was quite warm with the exercise from walking and my warm clothes.  When I was about seven eights of the way back to Nome, the people with the feeder passed me on the Teller Road and offered me a ride back to town.  I thanked them, but I was so close to my destination that I continued walking.  I walked to the harbor to scan for birds, hoping for an Ivory Gull or anything alive, but found only one distant immature large gull flying northwest, probably a Glaucous-winged Gull.  It was about 3:00 to 3:15 pm and the sun was setting.  During the day the sun got just above the distant clouds.  See photo below.
Nome Sunset
Then I walked to nearby Airport Pizza, which came highly recommended by Neil Hayward.  It was excellent as recommended.  I had a bowl of hearty chicken vegetable stew, chicken sandwich and a large hot chocolate.  Excellent.  I called Mr. Kab and returned to the airport.  It was a shared ride with another client; therefore, I got to see downtown Nome and a few Christmas lights strung across the main street, Front Street.  See photo below.
Nome, Front Street
a few Christmas lights
My flight was on time to leave Nome at 8:20 pm, arriving in Anchorage at about 9:45 pm.  In Anchorage, I turned in my rental car, took off some clothes layers and repacked my checked duffle bag and carry-on luggage.  Then I checked in for my flight to Phoenix, Arizona through Portland, Oregon and got a late dinner in the airport.  My flight to Phoenix was a red-eye leaving at 12:50 am with a five hour lay-over in Portland.  I slept fit-fully on the overnight flight to Portland, Oregon, but was wide-awake during the layover in Portland, Oregon.  I arrived in Phoenix between 2:00 and 2:30 pm.  Quite a change from Nome, Alaska to Phoenix, Arizona in such a short time!  By the time I picked up my luggage and rental car, it was about 3:30 pm.  I was tired from the red-eye flight, and needed a good night of sleep.  I stayed in the Phoenix area that night December 11.  I planned to get up very early and head for Bill Williams NWR in northwest Arizona to try for the Nutting's Flycatcher.

McKay's Bunting is new for the year raising the total to 712 + 3 provisional species (White-cheeked Pintail, Common Redstart and Eurasian Sparrowhawk).

I am writing this entry from Spokane, WA.  Time is short and my Big Year is coming to a close.  Today I look for Gray Partridge.                 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Anchorage for a Northern Goshawk, December 9

I arrived at Arctic Valley Road at about 3:30 pm after a very quick turn-around in the Anchorage Airport to pick up a rental car.  It was cloudy and dim, but I was optimistic that a Northern Goshawk would still be actively looking for a late day meal.  Arctic Valley Road was still snow covered as expected as it was on Thursday morning last week when I tried to find a Northern Goshawk before leaving for Adak.  This time the road might have been slightly less slippery, because there was no freezing rain falling.  My strategy was the same as before.  Drive up the road slowly stopping frequently to scan the trees and horizon for a perched or flying Northern Goshawk.  Just as I was approaching the up-hill portion, hey what's that big raptor perched! ...Oh, only a Bald Eagle.  My how my perspective has change in the last 20 to 30 years!  Bald Eagles used to be rare in the lower 48, and it was a special treat to see so many in Alaska.  Dave Sonnenborn, John Puschock, Bill Sain and Scott Sheutte had seen a Northern Goshawk perched along this road in the afternoon while returning from a drive up to the ski area at the top to look for ptarmigan.  I drove to the second pull off on the right, where I stopped to scan.  I was not confident that I could negotiate this road further up-hill with this rental vehicle.  In addition, I remembered from my visit in October that shortly above this pull-off, the spruce ended and only willows and other low bushes remained.  Northern Goshawk is a forest bird and more likely in the spruce covered areas.  I scanned watched and listened.  I also tried playing a few Northern Goshawk calls, which seemed to have no effect.  I drove slowly back down and parked for a while at the golf course now covered with snow and continued scanning.  Dave told me that he has seen Northern Goshawk in the flat part of this road near the golf course.  I drove to the entrance of Arctic Valley Road, turned around and drove slowly backup to the second pull off on the right.   This would likely be my last try, because it would soon be too dark.  I spent time scanning at the second pull-off and played Northern Goshawk calls again, not because I thought it would work, more out of desperation and frustration.  Slowly and with resignation, I started back down the hill driving slowly for safety and to scan the trees along the road.  As the factory on the right at the base of the hill came in view,  Hey what's that largish elongated bird sitting on the sloping spruce trunk!  Northern Goshawk!  Yes!  I saw the white supercilium, the gray barred breast, the banded tail and the white fluffy feathers near and in the under-tail coverts of an adult.  I got my camera on it, and in the dim light managed a few photos.  It was hard to get a good photo, due to the low light.  See below.
Northern Goshawk
large bulky accipiter, longish banded tail
barred breast and white supercilium just barely visible
Soon after I took the photos, the Northern Goshawk left this perch and sailed strongly and silently across the road downhill from my position and into the spruce trees on the right side of the road.  The size and bulk of this Northern Goshawk removes any lingering doubts that the possible Eurasian Sparrowhawk on Adak was a Northern Goshawk.  This Northern Goshawk could have been easily confused with a large buteo like a Red-tailed Hawk, except for attention to the details of the shape of this bird.

I texted Dave Sonnenborn at 5:53 pm to tell him of my success.  Dave was instrumental in my getting this bird.  He gave me the locations to look.  Dave called me to congratulate me, and I thanked him again for all his help this year in Alaska.

I headed to my hotel for the night and to make plans to go to Nome tomorrow to try for McKay's Bunting.

Northern Goshawk is new for the year and raises the total to 711 + 3 provisional.      

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Quick Update: Post Alaska and in Arizona and New Mexico

This will be brief.  I found and photographed Northern Goshawk (#711) on Arctic Valley Road in Anchorage after arrival on December 9.  Then saw and photographed McKay's Bunting (#712) in Nome on December 10.  Arrived in Phoenix, AZ in the afternoon of December 11.  Saw and photographed Nutting's Flycatcher (#713) on December 12 at Bill Williams NWR.  Saw Red-breasted Sapsucker (#714) in Madera Canyon on December 13.  Heard Montezuma Quail (#715) and Elegant Trogon (#716), both in Madera Canyon, saw and photographed Rufous-capped Warbler (#717) and heard Black-chinned Sparrow (#718) in Florida Canyon on December 14.  Saw Hammond's Flycatcher on December 21 (#719) in Madera Canyon on December 15.  Saw and photographed Baird's Sparrow (#720) in San Rafael Grasslands on December 16.  Saw and photographed Mexican Chickadee (#721) in Rustler Park and saw Juniper Titmouse (#722) in Paradise on December 17.  Saw and photographed Ruddy-ground Dove (#723) at Whitewater Draw on December 18.  Saw and photographed Pinyon Jay (#724) near Flagstaff on December 19.  Added White-cheeked Pintail (#725) on December 20 due to verification from Bill Pranty that it was accepted in Florida.  Saw and photographed Black Rosy-Finch (#726) and Brown-capped Rosy-Finch (#727) at Sandia Crest and saw and heard Chestnut-collared Longspur (#728) just north of Sevilleta NWR Grasslands south of Albuquerque, NM on December 20.  Saw, heard and photographed Gray Vireo (#729) on Elephant Pass Trail, South Mountain near Phoenix and saw, heard and photographed (poorly) Gilded Flicker (#730) at Saguaro NP. 

I am now in Tucson, Arizona and will add more details later.


Last Days on Adak, Saturday, December 8 through Sunday, December!

With the Whooper Swan under our collective belts, Saturday morning we headed for the sea watch to try again for Whiskered Auklet.  Neil Hayward needs this bird for his Big Year and Bill Sain needs it for a lifer.  On the way to the sea watch near town, we stopped for a look at the feeder on the old Naval Air Station Administration building.  The Gray-crowned Rosy Finches have found the feeder as well as at least one of the huge Song Sparrows (Aleutian race) and a Snow Bunting or two.  On our way to and from the feeder, we see another flock of Rock Ptarmigans in town.  I think back to my spring trip to Attu with John Puschock, where we worked hard to find Rock Ptarmigan, and finally found one from a distance through telescopes up on the mountain by the old Attour lower base on our last full day there.  Here in Adak, Rock Ptarmigans are as common as barnyard chickens in the rural areas of the lower 48.  We headed for a nearby spot to scan for Whiskered Auklets on Kuluk Bay.  As usual on Adak, it was windy.  John parked the vehicle at an angle to provide some cover for us from the wind.  Soon, John found a Whiskered Auklet, and got Neil over to look at the bird in his scope.  And then Bill Sain got his chance to look also.  Yesterday, I had difficulty finding the birds that were being seen from high up on the sea cliffs north of town.  Fortunately, there was a small flock of White-winged Scoters out from us that provided a reference point to find the Whiskered Auklet.  I eventually got on the bird in my telescope.  I did not look in John's telescope, because I had seen and photographed Whiskered Auklets from the boat on the Attu Trip.  On that trip we had seen hundreds, probably thousands, of Whiskered Auklets and at close range.  Therefore, I was not going to get in the way of Neil getting his bird and Bill Sain getting his lifer.  My telescope was difficult to share, because, the foot had got broken off in an auto accident, and I did not have time to get the telescope fixed before my Big Year.  I have been using it hand held on my tripod all year.  It works pretty well at lower power (20X) but it is tough when higher power is needed or in the wind.  I got good enough views of the Whiskered Auklet to be sure of the identification but did not see it when the group got the best views after it flew in closer and dove giving good views of the white on the lower belly and vent, the distinguishing field mark to separate it from Crested Auklet.  My hands were cold, a first for me on Adak, and I was sitting in the car to get out of the wind and warm them, when the Whiskered Auklet provided the best views.  Fortunately, I did not need that better view to add this bird for the year.  There were high fives all around.  It was good to see the Neil's relief in getting this bird, given the disappointment of yesterday's sea watch.  Looking for Whiskered Auklet from land here at Adak can be really tough.  I know, because I tried in 2005, and failed, never getting a satisfactory look.

With the Whiskered Auklet under our belts, we planned to try for other rarities that might be on the island, such as the previously mentioned Smew and Falcated Duck as well as Spot-billed Duck.  A Smew had been shot by a hunter before we arrived, and Neil and Bill were hoping for another to show up.  John and I saw two Smew on Attu this year.  Spot-billed Duck has appeared on Adak in the past.  Also, we were hoping that the new feeder at the administration building, freshly scattered seed at several trees in Adak, and the fresh seed at the feeding trays in Adak Memorial Forest would attract some new birds like Hawfinch or Bullfinch.  Consequently we planned to visit all the ponds and feeding locations.  First, John suggested that we check the nearby jetty, where we found nearby Crested Auklet as well as two Pigeon Guillemots in winter plumage.  See photo of Crested Auklet below.
Crested Auklet
John also wanted to try for better photos of the Whooper Swans.  Consequently we went to Haven Lake again but this time approached the lake from the south end.  The Whooper Swans were still there.  See photo.
Whooper Swan, adult with two cygnets
Our stay on Adak was not without issues.  The toilets in the house got plugged almost immediately upon our arrival.  John Puschock and I had used the toilets, and unfortunately Neil Hayward was next, and the toilets would no longer drain.  It also affected the shower.  We were without shower and toilets in the house for our stay.  I suspect a partial blockage in the main drain line, such that the pipe can fill up and then drain slowly.  I had a similar problem in my house that required replacement of the sewer lateral outside the house.  We tried to unplug the toilet with a plunger but made it worse, because it backed up into the shower.  This house had similar problems before; therefore, we were not the cause.  We were able to use an outside toilet at the Mexican Restaurant, which required driving there, taking a flashlight and parking the car by the window with headlights on to be able to see while inside.  This outside toilet was part of the building, but separated from the building by a hallway and not locked.  When we told the restaurant owner of our plight on our first night there for dinner, he told us that we could use this toilet.

On Saturday afternoon, John needed to stop by the house briefly.  We found that the manager of the house had visited and tried chemical drain cleaner, but had not unblocked the drain line.  On our way back out, I got this photo of a Rock Ptarmigan sitting on a house roof, not exactly a partridge in a pear tree.  See photo below.
Rock Ptarmigan
Partridge on an Adak Roof
Almost immediately after I got the photo, John accelerated the car, having seen something flying at the feeder by the administration building, surprising everyone.   Above the ensuing commotion of everyone asking at once what's going on, what, where, etc., I heard John say/shout "Accipiter, shouldn't be one here!"  We flew down the road to the building.  On the way, John told everyone with a camera to get them ready.  John had seen the hawk fly out from the vicinity of the tree with the feeder and fly around the corner.  We parked and got out cameras and binoculars ready.  As we approached the corner, the hawk took off.  As it flew up against the bright sky, I could see barring on the breast of an apparent accipiter, rounded wings and long tail, that was rather large and long-tailed.  the back-lighting was such that the barring on the under-parts looked grayish, but later looked more brown.  The accipiter was carrying what appeared to be a Rosy-Finch, and flew away alternately flapping and gliding disappearing behind a distant building and did not reappear on the other side.  It was a very long tailed accipiter, appearing to be bigger than a Sharp-shipped Hawk but perhaps not as bulky as a Cooper's Hawk, and John thought that it could be one of the species of Sparrowhawk.  John, Neil and I, walked to the building and carefully walked around the side.  Suddenly, I saw the accipiter take off from the ground and shouted "It's flying!", and was still carrying its prey, showing its gray upper parts, back, wings and a gray long tail with darker (black?) bands.   The accipiter flew off in the distance and disappeared from our view obscured by the building.  We hurried, John ran, back around the building to try for distant views and possibly photos, but the accipiter had completely vanished.  Meanwhile, Bill had driven the car from the feeder tree by the administration building to our location.  We walked around searching the area without any success in finding the bird until John shouted "Here it comes!".  The accipiter was flying from the vicinity of a bluff and flew almost right over us but quite high.  I took a lot of photographs, none very good, and managed only profile shots due to the extreme back-lighting from the sky.  The accipiter then circled and soared away toward the south and disappeared in the vicinity of the quarry next to Lake Leone.  We searched for but did not find the accipiter again this day, and finally had a chance to catch our collective breaths after an exciting hour or so provided by this accipiter.  Neil reminded us several times that bringing the feeder and seed worked.  In other words, we chummed in an accipiter!

We kept checking until dark, thinking that we would find the roosting spot for this accipiter.  It was thought that it might roost in the feeder tree or in another tree within the abandoned houses of Adak where we had also spread seed.  We checked that tree also, but could not find the bird again.  When it was too dark, we headed back to the house to download photos and try to lock down the identification of this accipiter.  John's photos are better than mine.  He took them in raw mode while I have been using jpeg mode.  Consequently, he had more latitude in Adobe Photoshop to bring out the features of the accipiter under back-lighting conditions.  John contacted Isaac Helmericks, Scott Schuette and Dave Sonnenborn to help on looking up identification of the different species of Sparrowhawk possible, maybe Levant's, likely Chinese, Japanese and Eurasian.  Neil Hayward had a good European Field Guide with him which helped.  Below are two of John's photos and a few of mine.
Accipiter with prey, apparent Rosy-Finch
Note bulge in secondaries
John Puschock photos

Accipiter in profile, 5 to 6 "fingers" in primaries
Accipiter in profile
note swollen hips (wider than tail) 
Additional photos can be found at Zugunruhe Birding Tours at this link  Since these observations and photos, I looked on the internet for help on identification.  Levant's Sparrow Hawk and Chinese Sparrowhawk usually show only four "fingers" in the primaries, and Japanese Sparrowhawk shows four to five, but our accipiter shows five to six.  Eurasian Sparrowhawk shows five to six "fingers."  See my first profile photo and John Puschock's second photo, both above.  Chinese Sparrowhawk adults have thick black primary tips, not evident in John's photos, which also suggest an adult due to apparent brownish barring. Japanese Sparrowhawks often show body rocking from side to side during rapid wing action to accelerate.  Eurasian Sparrowhawk flies with several rapid wing beats followed by glide without obvious body rocking.  Eurasian Sparrowhawk often shows an obvious bulge in the secondaries and swollen hips (apparently the expansion of the body where the tail meets the back edge of the wing where the legs are attached to the body).  Our accipiter showed strong steady flight with no body rocking during flaps to accelerate even while carrying its prey, suggesting that it was not a Japanese Sparrowhawk.  Our accipiter shows an obvious bulge in the secondaries and shows the swollen hips, if I am understanding that term correctly.  I think that the above features for our accipiter are consistent with Eurasian Sparrowhawk.  However, I am not expert.  Hopefully, other experts agree.  The above information about identification was found on

Sunday, our last day on Adak, we searched for the Sparrowhawk, visited the many ponds and lakes on Adak looking for rare waterfowl and visited the feeder locations.  We checked the jetty again, this time finding two Crested Auklets and some nearby Black Scoters.  The drake Black Scoters were beautiful.  In Ohio, I do not see drake Black Scoter, very often.  They are more common in the winter on the eastern seacoast in the lower 48 but not in Ohio, for me, at least.  See photos below.
Black Scoters,
female with white face, drake with orange knob on bill
Black Scoter, female and male
Rock Ptarmigans continued to be everywhere and a few were very cooperative.  See photo below.
Rock Ptarmigan, male with dark eye-line
We checked the feeder trees and found lots of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches.  See photo below taken at the old administration building.  (Isaac Sanchez, where are you!  My friend Isaac still needs a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch for his photo Big Year, as I write this post.)
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
eating seed at administration building
While we were checking some trees near the elementary school, I found the Whooper Swans flying over, completing a sighting for three straight days on Adak.  See photo below.    
Whooper Swans, flying
Later we found the swans on Haven Lake.  The scenery on Adak is amazing.  Below is a photo of snow covered Mount Moffett, 3,924 feet elevation, the highest peak on Adak Island. 
Mount Moffett
There are remnants of life on the Navy Base with many deteriorating buildings.  See photo below of a building which was apparently part of the recreation center along Andrew Lake. 
Deteriorating Building, part of recreation complex along Andrew Lake
Buildings are also falling apart in the city of Adak.  It appears that when the windows get broken on the windward side, the next strong storms blow out the walls on the leeward side.  That is my theory.  See photos below.
Blown out building
Abandoned McDonald's
No long lines here!
Close to or shortly after noon, Neil, John and Bill started getting alerts about our scheduled departure flight at 5:15 pm on Sunday.  There were mechanical problems with the plane leaving from Anchorage, and our departure was being delayed.  These continued throughout the afternoon, raising our suspense levels about whether or not we would get off of Adak.  There are two flights to Adak and back to Anchorage on Thursday and Sunday.  If our flight was cancelled, we would need to stay until Thursday without toilet facilities and showers.   Meanwhile, we continued searching for the Sparrowhawk.  At the tree within the city where we had scattered seeds, Neil shouted, "Hey, what's that with the white rump?".  He was hoping that it was a Bullfinch, but it was only a Brambling, a very good bird for this time of year in Adak.  Both Neil and I had seen Brambling before in British Colombia, and I saw many more on Attu.  Not a new bird for the year, but a good one nonetheless. 
Brambling in a spruce tree
Soon after finding the Brambling, John and Neil shouted "Hawk!" as the Sparrowhawk shot out from behind a nearby building and disappeared behind buildings to the right.  John, Neil and Bill got good looks at the brownish barring on the under-parts.  I missed this sighting, because I was checking photos on my camera.  Bill and I got out to search the area and John and Neil drove around looking for the hawk.  However, it was not to be.  That was to be our last sighting of the hawk.  Soon the alerts stated that the flight was cancelled. John had predicted this, but he had never been stranded on Adak.  John drove us to the airport to find out the expected bad news.  This time we were lucky.  The flight was rescheduled for tomorrow, Monday, morning at about 9:30 am.  John, Neil and Bill had connecting flights that needed to be changed.  I was planning on a search for Northern Goshawk in Anchorage and then head to Nome to try for McKay's Bunting.  I had not made connecting flight reservations.  We were very lucky to be there when there were a lot of hunters on the island trying for caribou.  There were apparently more hunters trying to get to Adak and quite a few who were ready to leave.  We headed back to the house thankful for the rescheduled flight, and then out to find dinner.  The Mexican Restaurant was closed on Sunday, which we found out on arrival.  We headed to the ASBAG (Alaska Sports Bar and Grill), the only other restaurant in town, for hopefully, our last dinner on Adak, for this visit.  After dinner, we returned to the house to relax and prepare for our rescheduled departure.
Jay, studying Adak History--Really?
Actually, relaxing.  No, sleeping again!
photo by Neil Hayward
We were instructed to drop off our checked bags early next morning and get our boarding passes.  Our plans were to pack our bags either Sunday night or very early Monday morning, check for the Sparrowhawk at the two nearby locations and head for the airport.  I recall that there was another alert about a delay until about 10:30 am.  That alert caused a few heart palpitations!  We checked the feeder location and the tree in the abandoned section of the city, but did not find the Sparrowhawk.  John scattered most of the remaining seed at these locations, leaving some in a bag for me to take along to Nome in my search for McKay's Bunting.
Finally, we were on the plane and leaving Adak.  I felt relief but also some sadness for the end of a really great trip with John again after Attu, with Neil again and Bill.  I got to see some great birds, and had a lot of fun and a great time with good people, great birding companions.
Last view of Adak from plane
Neil and Jay plotting
Neil drawing map of feeder location in Nome
Photo by Bill Sain
We arrived in Anchorage at about 2:30 pm.  We said our goodbyes to each other, for this time, at least.  It is likely that we will meet again on the birding trails.  I quickly rented a car and headed out to Arctic Valley Road to try for Northern Goshawk with the remaining light.  More later.
Adak provided Whooper Swan, new for the year, an excellent bird.  The Eurasian Sparrowhawk is a new provisional.  As stated in the previous post for Adak, the total is now 710 with 3 provisional (Common Redstart, White-cheeked Pintail, and now Eurasian Sparrowhawk).

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Whooping it Up on Adak, Thursday, December 6 through Friday, December 7, 2013

Correction to previous post about Dusky Thrush.  My apologies to Aaron Lang and Aaron Bowman for confusing them and their names.  It was Aaron Bowman, not Aaron Lang who showed up to enjoy the Dusky Thrush in Anchorage.  Thanks to John Puschock for noting the error.  My excuse?  Too many Aaron's in the fire for me recently!  :>)  :>)

Bill Sain is also a pundant.  “Whooping it up on Adak” is his contribution to my blog.  Thanks, Bill for a great line.  Looks like Neil Hayward used it too!  The weather was quite clear to partly cloudy, which is unusual, as we approached Adak on Thursday December 6.   On my previous two visits to Adak, it was quite cloudy. This time we had great visibility of the islands and volcanic mountains as we approached Adak.  After our arrival, when everyone had their bags, we packed up the rental vehicle and went birding immediately.  John took us to likely spots where we could potentially spot the Whooper Swans.  Many of the other passengers on the flight were hunters seeking caribou meat.  John wanted to get to some lakes before the hunters spread out in the morning.  Sometimes the hunters take more than the sought caribou.  We went south and checked Lake Mitt, where the swans had been previously seen, Lake Leone, next to a quarry, and Finger Bay.  On our way there, Bill Sain added one life bird, Rock Ptarmigan, and some new birds for the year, which was his reason for coming to Adak.  After some serious problems with his eye requiring surgery earlier this year, Bill was trying to finish up on his goal this year of breaking his previous yearly total record of about 403.    Rock Ptarmigan are very common on Adak.  We saw a first flock of about 20 and then multiple flocks up on the hillsides.  See photos below. 
Rock Ptarmigan,
flock of about 20, Bill Sain's Lifer
Rock Ptarmigan,
distant flock of about 30+
John walked very rapidly up to distant Lake Betty to check for the Whooper Swans and other waterfowl.  Neil and I tagged along but met John on his way back down.  Bill was not wearing waterproof boots; therefore, he stayed behind to look for other birds. 
Back to the car after Betty Lake, on to Smew Ponds before dark
Bill Sain photo
Then just before sunset, we checked Smew Ponds next to the airport runway.  We did not find the Whooper Swans or Smew, but it was exciting, filled with expectations. 

We went to the house where we would be staying.  It was the previous home of Isaac Helmericks, one of the guides for the Attu trip in May.  
Adak home away from home
Bill Sain photo
Unfortunately, we did not have the correct combination for the door, but John solved that by getting the owner’s telephone number from the people next door and calling the owner.  Having solved that problem and unloaded our bags and equipment from the car, we headed to a local Mexican restaurant (Seems out of place in Adak!) for dinner and then back to the house for sleep.
Quatro Amigos. John (with food), Neil, Jay and Bill but not in Mexico!
Photo from Neil by restaurant owner.
Friday, December 6, after breakfast at the house, we started at about 9:30 am when it was light enough to see birds.  On the way out, John and Neil set up a feeder at the old Naval Air Station Administration Building in a pine tree next to the building and scattered seed on the ground and entry road.  We hoped that a Eurasian rarity would visit this feeding station. 
Feeder station pine tree
Neil Hayward photo
In Anchorage, Neil had bought some bird seed, a suet feeder and suet cake and a hanging feeder.  It would be no fooling around for Neil with coffee to chum in birds on this trip--this was the real deal!  Sorry Neil, I couldn't resist!  John took us to many small lakes and ponds to look for the Whooper Swans.  It was a good thing that John was there to show us around.  I had been to Adak before but had not seen many of these ponds.  At about 11:30 am as we approached Haven Lake, John yelled “SWANS!”  John had seen the swans flying a short distance as they flushed at our approach.  We got great looks at the one adult and two immature Whooper Swans and could easily see the large yellow patches narrowing to a point closer to the bill tip on the adult and the light gray patch with the same shape on the bills of the immature swans.  See  photos. 
Whooper Swan
adult with large yellow pointed patch on bill,
two cygnets with gray similar shaped patches on bills
Whooper Swan, adult with two cygnets

Whooper Swan, adult with two cygnets and Eurasian Wigeon
Whooper Swans with male and female Eurasian Wigeons

Whooper Swan, adult with two cygnets
Whooper Swans with Mallards
We all celebrated this Life Bird for everyone but me.  I celebrated a great new bird for me and for Neil for the year, the lifers for John, Neil and Bill and the fact that this Whooper Swan record erases any potential doubts (I have none.) about the Whooper Swan that I saw in 2004 with Dan Sanders, Doreen Linzelle and Becky Hatfield (passed on) in Yellowstone NP.  After the Whoopers in Adak, to celebrate, we took lots of photos.
Haven Lake
The Scene of Whooping It Up
There They Are!
John, Bill and Jay
Photo by Neil Hayward

Three Happy Birders
John, Jay and Neil
Photo by Bill Sain on Neil's phone
Three happy Birders
John and Bill pointing toward the lake and swans, and Jay,
That's John's Thumb!
Photo by Neil Hayward
Neil and Jay--Whooping It Up
Bill Sain Photo
Happy Big Year Birders
Jay and Neil
We left Haven Lake and headed for Adak National Forest, at least that is how I remember it and the order in which my photos were taken on my Droid Razr.  Adak National Forest is so big that one enters and leaves at the same time--probably not more than about three big pine trees.   There is a pet cemetery to the left and in back of the forest with smaller pine trees.
Adak National Forrest
Neil chumming bird seed for Hawfinch and Bullfinch, Bill bottom right, John middle right

Jay getting ready to enter Adak National Forrest
Photo by Bill Sain
These trees were apparently planted by army or navy servicemen, likely more recently by Navy servicemen, who were home sick for trees and Christmas trees.  The Adak site was first developed by the Army Air Force and in preparation for the Battle of Attu with Japan in World War II.  After the war, the navy took over the site, which was closed in 1997.  We found Christmas lights still strung on at least one of these trees.  Neil filled a tray feeder with bird seed at Adak National Forrest.  Then we went around the corner to the north where there was another stand of conifer trees, mostly pine, and filled another tray feeder with bird seed.  There was a flock of Gray-crowned Rosy Finches in the second stand.  The Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches on Adak are larger than the mainland Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches.  I do not recall seeing any birds in Adak National Forest.
Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
conifer stand near Adak National Forest
We continued to look at lakes including large Lake Andrews and Clam Lagoon.  We were looking for Smew for Neil for his Big Year list and for Bill for his Life List as well as other rare waterfowl, like Garganey and Falcated Duck for my and Neil's Big Year list and for Bill as lifers.  I had seen two Smew on Attu in May-June of this year with John's Zugunruhe Birding Tours trip, but it was fun to look again for this bird.   We also had a short sea-watch to look for Whiskered Auklet, which Neil still needed for his Big Year and Bill needed for a life bird.  The nearby cliffs were quite high, and the birds were quite distant.  We sat down below the crest to get out of the wind to scan for alcids and other seabirds.  See photo.
Jay Scanning at Cliff Sea Watch
Photo by Bill Sain
 It was difficult to see the birds well for identification from this high perch by the sea, because we were looking down on the birds, which made it difficult to see the color of the under-parts, often a critical part of identification of alcids and other seabirds.  It was also later in the day in the afternoon.  There were at least two large flocks of Black Scoters in tight "balls."  At least one Red-necked Grebe was found in one of these flocks.  It was disappointing that we were not successful in finding a Whiskered Auklet.  I had the same experience at Adak in 2005 in my previous visit.  I mentioned that our group in 2005 had better success with sea watches first thing in the morning and down near Adak and at a lower elevation.  John said that we would do an early morning sea watch tomorrow at a better location.  We continued birding along the coast and around Clam Lagoon and found a lot of interest.  See photos below.

Emperor Geese, on island just off the coast
first found as a flying flock

Emperor Geese, family flock in Clam Lagoon
two adults with two immature birds with dark on face

Emperor Geese, adult on right
two immature birds on left
These views and photos of Emperor Geese are the best views I have ever had.  They are such beautiful geese.  There were 30-50 Emperor Geese in Clam Lagoon.  A lot of beauty!
Harlequin Ducks and Pelagic Cormorants
Clam Lagoon
Sea Otter, Clam Lagoon

Sanderlings, Rock Sandpipers (dark birds) and one Dunlin,
Clam Lagoon
Adak viewed from hills and cliffs to north
We celebrated our good fortune of seeing the Whooper Swans by having dinner at the ASBAG, Alaskan Sports Bar and Grill, the second place in town to have dinner.  See photo below.

Whooper Swan is new for the year raising the total to 710 + 2.