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.

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