Sunday, June 30, 2013

Update to List, June 29

A birding friend, John Habig called me to ask about species that seemed to be missing from my list.  The major miss is Ring-billed Gull.  My first documented Ring-billed Gull was back in January 13 at South Beach at East Fork State Park.  I have seen quite a few since than in Milwaukee,  WI, in New Jersey, Delaware, Long Island, NY, Caesar Creek and Cowan Lake State Park, OH  and Chincoteague NWR in Virginia, but just neglected to record it.  Not sure why I did not include it--just an oversight.

Thanks, John, really appreciate it!  That's why it is a good idea to make the list available, which was excellent advice from Bob Ake.  Thanks, Bob. 

John also asked me about Ring-necked Pheasant, but I do no believe that I have had a Ring-necked Pheasant this year......yet.  This will be an easy one to find on the way elsewhere.

While I was updating the list, I corrected whip-poor-will to Eastern Whip-poor-will.

Ring-billed Gull raises the total to 522 and will be added to the list on January 13.        

Friday, June 28, 2013

Back in Ohio, June 17 - 21

I arrived in Dayton on June 16 from Anchorage, Alaska with enough daylight left to try some birding.  I received information on this blog about the location of Grasshopper Sparrows, a bird I still need for the year, near Dayton at the Greater Miami Mitigation Bank seen during the first week of May on the Bird-a-thon.  While I had access to the internet on my way back from Alaska, I tried to find this location.  However, it was difficult to impossible, except to note internet articles and notes under photos on Flickr that it was near Sycamore State Park and is closed to the public until a dedication ceremony on June 29, 2012.  Because Sycamore State Park was close to the Dayton Airport, I went there hoping to find suitable habitat or a map of the state park showing where the mitigation bank is located.  I did not succeed in finding the mitigation bank or the Grasshopper Sparrows.  More recently, I did a more thorough internet search and found an address for the location on Little Richmond Road.  I think that I was there but I'm not sure.  While I have been at home I got acquainted with using eBird to find reports and also looked in eBird.  However, there are no reports for Grasshopper Sparrow during May and June of this year at this location.  Such is the life of a year lister trying to find birds. 

I did find Grasshopper Sparrow at Campbell Lakes in the southwest corner of Ohio, by using a recent report on Cincinnati  It was easy.  I found a chipping Grasshopper Sparrow apparently defending nesting territory shortly after arriving on the evening of June 17.

On the evening of June 18, I drove to Shawnee State Forest in southeast Ohio to listen for Whip-poor-wills.  Between 9:41 and 9:44 pm off the right side of the parking lot at the lodge, a Whip-poor-will started calling its name/singing repeatedly as they do, and continued until I left.  I heard another Whip-poor-will also singing at the parking lot at the corner of the entry road to the lodge and Route 125 just before I left the area.

Grasshopper Sparrow and Whip-poor-will raise the year total to 521.  Now I need to get moving on getting breeding species that I missed during migration.  I'll be very busy.  I have had to recover from a very exhausting trip to Alaska. 


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Nome, June 13 -15

The 4:00 am airport shuttle van to the Anchorage Airport was packed, because four or five people could not get to Kodiak the previous day and had to try again on the early flight.  This included all of their luggage.  After successfully getting to the Anchorage Airport for my 6:00 am flight, I arrived in Nome shortly after 9:00 am.  I got to the Aurora Inn and got my rental vehicle, a Toyota pickup truck.  Room check in was not until 1:00 pm.  I stopped at the Subway and got a breakfast sandwich and juice, because with little sleep the night before in Anchorage, I did not have enough time to pick up breakfast in morning at the Anchorage Airport.  I picked up a sub and drink for lunch and maybe dinner in the field.  Then, I stopped at the Nome Visitor Center to look at the birds reported so far, and recorded the locations for Bluethroat, White-tailed Wagtail and Red Phalarope.  Then I headed out to search for Arctic Warbler.  Arctic Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Long-tailed Jaeger, Bristle-thighed Curlew and Willow Ptarmigan were definite target birds for this visit.  Anything else, like Bluethroat and White Wagtail would be gravy based on my previous experience in Nome.  On the way out to mile marker (MM) 11, the most reliable location for Arctic Warbler, on the Kougarok Road, I found Gray-cheeked Thrush, number 512, which would prove to be one of the most common birds seen and heard during my stay.  I found Arctic Warbler, number 513, at MM 11, hearing the loud toneless buzzy song before I actually saw one at close range.  Then I continued out the Kougarok Road to MM 22 to listen and look for Bluethroat and also checked the Salmon Lake campground area, at both of which Bluethroat had been reported recently.  I also stopped on the way to investigate singing as I drove with the windows down.  It was a warm 60 degrees and sunny on this first day in Nome, quite unusual.  At almost every stop I heard Arctic Warblers, but had no luck with Bluethroat.  I found a Yellow Wagtail at Salmon Lake and a Parasitic Jaeger, none of these are new for the year.  I met Rick Cimino of Yellowbilled Tours with clients.  They had tried for Bristle-thighed Curlew, but without success.  I offered that it took me two tries to get Bristle-thighed Curlew at MM 72 on the Kougarok Road for my Life Bird in 2005.  Rick and his clients were still looking for Bluethroat and Wandering Tattler, but I was no help on that.  Rick thought that the Bluethroats were no longer up displaying and singing.   At the end of my trip to Nome, I found out that he was right about the Bluethroats.  Otherwise birding was good with lots of singing Wilson's Warblers (a few seen well), as expected, and Orange-crowned Warblers, Northern Waterthrush, Fox Sparrow and Gray-cheeked Thrush were everywhere.  I returned to the Aurora Inn in Nome early, about 5:30 pm, checked in and took a nap, because I had very little sleep the night before in Anchorage and on the plane to Nome.  I needed the rest, because tomorrow morning would be my main try for Bristle-thighed Curlew, and I needed to leave early to get to MM 72 on the Kougarok Road early by 8:00 am and at least before 9:00 am, as recommended by the guide book and previous experience in 2005.  Before falling asleep, I ate the second of two six inch Subway subs and a bag of chips for dinner.  Just before 11:00 pm, I woke up and went out to refill the gas tank on the rental pickup truck and to pick up breakfast and something for lunch at the Bonanza Express Quick Stop gas station.  Breakfast would be milk and cereal, orange juice, my vitamins and a cold breakfast sandwich to be stored in the refrigerator and to be heated up in the microwave in my hotel room in the morning.  Almost all other businesses in Nome are closed between 11:00 pm and 7:00 am, but the gas stations are open until 2:00 am.  I needed to get up by about 5:00 am, eat breakfast and be on my way out the Kougarok Road by 5:30 am the next morning. 
Willow Ptarmigan

American Golden-plover
Varied Thrush
The next day, June 14, I was on my way to MM 72 at abut 5:30 am, and drove directly to MM 72 except for stops for four (4) different Willow Ptarmigans along the way, number 514 for the year.  I also saw a Varied Thrush and an American Golden Plover along the road.  See photos above.  I arrived at MM 72 or 73 between 8:30 and 8:45 am, the only human in this isolated area.  I packed water and a few snacks in my backpack, took binoculars and camera and started the long half mile, 30 minute hike to the top of the hill where the curlews can be found and across from Coffee Dome, watching carefully where I placed my feet due to difficult footing.  See next photos of the hill from the road at a distance, looking directly up the hill from the road and the Coffee Dome on the other side of the road.  Vegetation clumps grow on tussocks, and it is easy to sprain an ankle or break a leg on the tundra without due care in walking.  All that walking and biking on Attu and physical conditioning paid dividends in getting up this hill.  It's a tough hike.   As I got up on the top at a flat spot, I saw some Long-tailed Jaegers flying around to the left/south, number 515 for the year, and heard a Bristle-thighed Curlew calling also to the left,  giving the call that ends in a wolf whistle with some mellow notes preceding the ending.  I soon found four Wimbrel, confirmed by seeing the brown tails and rump in flight and the "ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti-ti" calls, quite different from the Bristle-thighed Curlew.  I also heard but could not find the Bristle-thighed Curlews.  I walked further southwest toward the curlew calls, when I noticed three other people approaching from the northeast.  The three, two men and one woman, were from Sweden, and as they approached, the Bristle-thighed Curlew calls got louder and seemed to be over my head.  As we meet and greeted each other, they asked if I had seen the curlews and then pointed out a Bristle-thighed Curlew flying low over the hill toward the northeast.  I got on this bird but heard another to the south at close range.   It flew right past us at close range not more than 30 feet away heading north just above eye level.  I got on it with binoculars as it flew away seeing the buffy rump and buffy barred tail, characteristic of this species.  I also got an earful of the call as it flew by at close range.  Success for number 516 for the year!  The three Swedish birders told me that they had driven the Council Road the evening of the 13th and had a Black Turnstone and Sabine's Gull at the Safety Sound Bridge.  I filed that away for future reference.
Approaching Hill at MM 72
Base of Hill Looking Up at MM 72
Long-tailed Jaeger on Top MM 72

Coffee Dome Opposite Hill at MM 72
I left the three Swedish birders who were trying to photograph the Long-tailed Jaegers, and arrived back at my vehicle at about 12:00 noon.  Cloud cover had arrived during the morning and a few rain drops started to fall.  I birded my way back to Nome looking for Bluethroat at all likely and reported locations but without success.  I found a Spotted Sandpiper displaying and a Semipalmated Plover as I checked all rocky streams and sand/pebble bars in streams and rivers for Wandering Tattler, unsuccessfully.  I found a Wilson's Snipe using a heavy piece of road equipment as a perch.  See photo.  At Salmon Lake, I found a male and female Black Scoter on the small amount of open water available on this lake, not new for the year but great to see on breeding territory.  Nearby there was a curious Moose.  See photo.  Partway to Nome, I found people watching a small group of Musk Ox.  See photo.  At south side of the Nome River bridge just before the Dexter Cut-off to Nome, I took a side road to some ponds and found some Red-necked Phalaropes.  See photo.  It had started to rain harder when I arrived at the hotel.  I had hoped to go to the Sinuk River bridge on the Teller Road to try for the White Wagtail that was reported there, but frankly the heavier rain
Whimbrel on Top at MM 72
was a deterrent.  I had noticed much less singing and bird activity in general as I drove back to Nome in the rain.  After I filled the gas tank and got breakfast and lunch for tomorrow morning, I ate dinner and went to bed.

Scene After Back Down from Hill  

Long Road to Nome

Wilson's Snipe on Road Equipment
Distant Musk Ox
Moose at Salmon Lake
Red-necked Phalarope

The rain was not better on the last morning in Nome, June 15.  However, it was my last day there, so I packed up except for the equipment that I needed for the day and checked out of the Aurora Inn.  After checking on the list of reports at the Aurora Inn, I headed up the Teller Road for the Sinuk River bridge at about MM 26 to try for the white  Wagtail.  Rick Cimino had reported it there on June 9.  On the way, I saw some Long-tailed Jaegers, an American Golden Plover and a small shorebird along the road.  As I watched the shorebird flew in close to the front of the pickup and landed in front of me.  It was a Western Sandpiper, number 517, in high breeding plumage.   The conditions were very poor for photography, so I did not try.   At the Sinuk River bridge, I drove slowly, watching for the White Wagtail and parked beyond the bridge.  I donned my boots and wet suit and walked the areas on both sides of the bridge, walked back across the bridge, checked both sides and checked under the bridge.  Isaac Helmericks had told me about this White Wagtail reported on Facebook Alaska before the Attu trip ended.  However, it was not to be.  I could not find a White Wagtail, but got very wet, even with a wet suit, because the rain was being driven horizontally into my face.  Arctic Terns were active as were a few Greater Scaup and Red-throated Loons in the river.  There is a colony of Cliff Swallows nesting under the bridge.  I continued out the Teller Road to MM 26 + 1500 ft. to look for Bluethroat and Northern Wheatear reported there by Rick Cimino the day before.  Nothing was active except for a few Fox Sparrows and Gray-cheeked Thrushes and a few redpolls.  I managed to find an Orange-crowned Warbler that was reluctant to come out in the open in the rain.  I continued to MM 38 where Rick Cimino had reported a Northern Wheatear the previous day on a side road about 1000 feet to the east of the Teller Road.  However, the rain was still horizontal, and I would be facing that to try to see and find the bird if I walked.  Instead, I stayed in the truck and scanned up the slope for a while but did not find the Northern Wheatear or anything else moving.   I drove north for another 2 miles to MM 40 a convenient turn-around point at the turn to Cape Woolley, turned around and headed back to Nome.  It seemed like the only birds active were larger birds, waterfowl and shorebirds.  Therefore, I continued with my original plan to bird the Council Road in the afternoon for as far south as I could until I had to leave for the airport.  I stopped to pick up some additional food and hot chocolate and topped off the gas tank on my way through Nome.  The rain seemed to have abated somewhat, and there was more activity when I passed the Sinuk River bridge with additional Red-throated Loons on the river.  I stopped at the Nome River mouth but found only Arctic Terns.  I continued south to Hastings Creek, but found nothing there.  Dave Sonnenborn had alerted me to look at this spot.  There were still very high snow drifts in the area and the bridge was just passable having been repaired recently.  I stopped in the area of MM 15-19 as recommended for shorebirds, because I found some mud flats with shorebirds.  By this time the heavy rain had stopped, and there was only mist and low clouds.  I stopped and scanned with my telescope and hoped for a rarity like Red-necked Stint or Little Stint or something rarer.  It was not to be.  I found Western Sandpipers, aggressive Semipalmated Sandpipers defending territory and copulating as well as one Dunlin.  At the Safety Sound bridge on the west side of the road, I found the previously reported Black Turnstone, number 518.  There were a lot of gulls to sort through, so I spent some time doing so after an SUV of birders passed me and stopped on the bridge.  I drove up beside them and met Wayne Easley, his son and his son's wife.  They had an Arctic Loon on the east side, which I got to see, the second one for this trip to Alaska.  Not too shabby!  I crossed the Safety Sound bridge and turned into the wayside area.  There I got a close look at a pair of Pacific Loons, a better look than the one on Attu.   See photo below.
As I drove back across the bridge, I stopped to scan the gulls again and found two Parasitic Jaegers harassing the gulls and three small gulls with black heads, Sabine's Gulls, number 519, who obliged by raising their wings and showing off their colors.  The light was poor enough that it was difficult to see the yellow tip to their bills.  The Easleys had asked me if I saw Bluethroat and said that they had Bluethroat on both sides of the road at MM 17 on the Teller Road several days ago.  I decided that this would be my last shot at birding in Nome.  I drove directly back to Nome,  picked up another Subway meal for dinner and headed out the Teller Road.  It was encouraging.  More birds were perched up and singing, but no Bluethroat.   I found redpolls, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Fox Sparrow and Gray-cheeked Thrush.  There were a few small birds that I could not relocate after flying low across the road, but the ones found were usually one of the sparrows and maybe I imagined a small size.  I headed back to Nome, filled the gas tank and returned to the Aurora Inn to turn in my rental truck.  In the lobby I met a man from Ohio, Dan Behm, who is from near Richfield,  Ohio!...of all places and to meet in Nome.  He is a friend of Matt Studebaker, an accomplished Ohio photographer, who was leading a photography tour in Nome.  Dan and Matt are friends.  Matt gave us a ride to the Nome airport.  Matt had at least another week in Nome and then a tour in Barrow.  Dan was on Matt's photography tour for the first week starting on May 30.  Then Dan spent another week in Nome on his own photographing.  Dan and I talked at some length in the lobby at the Aurora and on the plane back to Anchorage.  It was instructive to realize why I missed Bluethroat.  When Dan arrived on May 30, there still was significant snow cover, and during the first week Bluethroats were sitting up and doing flight displays.  But in the arctic due to the reduced time for breeding, that ended after the first week.  Thereafter, Bluethroat was hard to find, because the males were down low and secretive rather than displaying for females.  Recordings also had minimal impact during the second week according to Dan.  This was true also for many other birds.  This also explains why I could not find Bluethroat back in 2005.  I was too late for the short display period in the arctic.  It was a sad but good learning experience.  However, because I went to Attu this year, I could not arrive in Nome earlier than June 10, which may have been too late  anyway for the natural displaying.  There are always compromises during a Big Year.  I still have a chance for Bluethroat during fall migration in Alaska, if I make it to Gambell or Saint Paul Island.  I got great birds on the Attu trip and seven Life Birds.  Bluethroat is not a Life Bird for me but would be a great addition for a Big Year!  Such is life.          

Gray-cheeked Thrush, Arctic Warbler, Willow Ptarmigan, Long-tailed Jaeger, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Western Sandpiper, Black Turnstone, and Sabine's Gull yields a total of 519 after the trip to Alaska.  I expected to be reach 500 species after Alaska and exceeded that in addition to achieving the goal of +800 species for the ABA area.  This is the first year that I have exceeded 500 species since I started keeping year lists about 13 years ago.  Sometimes big goals like getting to 700 species in a calendar year are made of little goals on the way.  I am still having a great time. 

New Update: Anchorage, June 10-12, Now Home, June 20, 2013

In Anchorage on June 10, I first added Barrow's Goldeneye (drake in breeding plumage) at Lake Hood, number 504, after waking up late and shopping in the morning.  Several participants on the Attu trip had reported finding a Barrow's Goldeneye on the lakes near the airport.  I used information in A Birders Guide to Alaska by George C. West, the 2002 version, and also information provided by David Sonnenborn, MD, whom I had met on a previous trip to Attu in 1989, as well as Isaac Helmericks, a guide on the Attu trip.  While on the Puk-uk at Attu, I had compared the new version of The Birders Guide to Alaska and the older version that I took with me and found that there was not much difference between the two versions about the birds to be expected in the Anchorage area. 

On June 10 my first day in Anchorage, I woke up late, because I was tired from the rigors of Attu birding.  In the morning, I bought a bear bell and a canister of bear spray with a holster as recommended by Isaac Helmericks our guide on Attu who lives in Alaska.  I never had to use it, fortunately, but all the signs in every park around Anchorage warned about being prepared.  After seeing the Barrow's Goldeneye, I went to Westchester Lagoon, and quickly found Arctic Terns, number 505, about 25, in breeding plumage and Hudsonian Godwits, number 506, about 30, most in full breeding plumage, on the island by the parking lot, even though it was not high tide in the evening.  There was a cooperative Red-necked Grebe which caught a fish and swallowed it while I watched.  See photos.  Then I drove to Potter's Marsh to the boardwalk and heard but did not see
Distant Hudsonian Godwits

Red-necked Grebe
Alder Flycatcher, number 507.  I had missed the last week of May in Ohio and therefore missed Alder Flycatcher during spring migration.  At Potter's, the Arctic Terns at the pull off south of the boardwalk were beautiful as were the mew Gulls.  See photos.  During this day I also saw Common Redpoll, Black-billed Magpie, Black-capped Chickadee, Yellow-rumped Warbler (Audubon's race), Mew Gull, Semipalmated Plover and Lesser Yellowlegs, none of these new for the year.  The sun set at about 11:30 pm while I was in Anchorage but it never got completely dark.  I had to rely on physical tiredness to remember to stop birding and get some sleep.  The weather in Anchorage was unexpectedly warm and very sunny with daytime highs into the seventies for almost every day I was there and for at least 3 days before I arrived.
Arctic Tern

On June 11, I started early to take advantage high tide at Westchester Lagoon, but found nothing new.  The mountains in the distant over Cook Inlet were special.  See photos.   I did see and hear an Alder Flycatcher along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, as well as Yellow and Orange-crowned Warblers.  I stopped back at Potter's Marsh, because the host had told me on June 10 that he had seen Wilson's Warbler there already this  year.  I had missed Wilson's warbler during
Mew Gull

spring migration in Ohio due to preparations for and the Attu trip. At Potter's Marsh, I  saw the Alder Flycatchers at close range (See photo) and also heard Northern Waterthrush and Hermit thrush as well as Savannah Sparrow, Wilson's Snipe and Lesser Yellowlegs.  Nothing new there.  I continued to Hillside Park in hopes of finding Olive-sided  Flycatcher, Townsend's Warbler, Spruce Grouse or one of the three toed woodpeckers.  I did not find any of the sought for birds but saw several Boreal Chickadees in the spruce near the ski jump and found more Yellow-rumped Warblers, singing Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a family of Gray Jays, and Common Raven--also

View from Tony Knowles Trail
nothing new.  I noticed that most people that I saw or met on the trails did not seem to be prepared for bears!  I left Hillside Park and went to Chugach State Park at Glen Alps.  There was a good chance of seeing Willow Ptarmigan as well as other alpine species.  Due to the nice weather, the trails were overrun by hikers and tourists.  At

View from Tony Knowles Trail
 any given time, I could see about ten people on top of Flattop, the destination of most hikers, and at least twice that many on the trails leading to the final ascent.   See photo of Flattop.  The second photo is an extension of the firs to the west, showing the awesome scenery and why on sunny warm days Glenn Alps is so popular and

Alder Flycatcher
full of hikers.  My guide to Alaska birding warned about this large number of people.   I stayed near the parking lot and the overlook that looks down over Anchorage and scanned distant willows and meadows.  I succeeded in hearing a Wilson's
Warbler in the willows near the parking lot, number 508.  I also expected to see these also in Nome.   I also saw Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrows and heard a distant thrush that I did not hear well
Looking Northwest of Flattop
enough to be sure it was a Gray-cheeked Thrush.  I expected to see and hear them in Nome.  A third photo is from the overlook giving along distant view of downtown Anchorage.

In the evening, Dave Sonnenborn called to see how I was doing and verified that my precautions for bears was a good idea, as also stated by Isaac Helmericks.  After talking to Dave, I decided to go back to Hillside Park on my last day.  The alternate choice was to
View of Anchorage from Glenn Alps
drive south of  Anchorage toward Indian where Isaac Helmericks' brother lives and Wandering Tattlers are common.  Also, further south a Spruce Grouse was reported to me by a man from Great Britain who had photographed a Spruce Grouse on a trail with a boardwalk off the road to Grayling Lake about 20 miles north of Seward.  I met him at Westchester Lagoon    Spruce Grouse can be found in the Anchorage area at Hillside Park, if one is lucky, and Wandering Tattlers can be found on the coast of California in the fall and possibly in Nome.

On June 12, my last full day in Anchorage, I returned to Hillside Park and walked the trails finding a singing Olive-sided Flycatcher, OSFL, (singing "whip three beers"), number 509, off the trail in an opening in the conifers.  This location was reached by walking the wide multiuse trail leading north off of the right side of the end of the skiing parking lot until this multiuse trail drops down toward Campbell Creek.  I took the right most of three trails to the right just at the point where the multiuse trail drops toward the creek, and continued diagonally up the hill until the trail turns sharply left and uphill.  When I stopped to try to find the OSFL, I heard a tapping sound and walked carefully and loudly on a trail into the woods toward the opening.  I found an American three-toed Woodpecker, number 510, feeding on a dead conifer at the edge of the opening, could see the white barred back and yellow cap with some barring near the back of the crown but could not get photos.  This woodpecker insisted on staying on the shady side of the tree and I was looking directly into the sun; thus, could not find the bird in my lens, given how low in the sky the sun is in Anchorage.  I finally saw the OSFL briefly before it flew down and disappeared.  The woodpecker disappeared as well, due to a Merlin that flew through the opening.  When I returned out of the woods to the main trail, I started hearing a song that I was sure was a Townsend's Warbler.  I pursued this bird uphill until it met a trail that is part of the Spencer Loop.  I could never see the singer but was sure it was Townsend's Warbler.  It was clearly different than the Orange-crowned Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers common in the park and sounded like Townsend's Warbler song that I had heard in the state of Washington in the past.  I returned briefly to my vehicle and downloaded a video with a singing Townsend's Warbler to my Droid Razr, hoping to use it again to pull in the warbler.  I quickly ate my sub carried for dinner and returned to the trail.  Before the left turn uphill on the trail, a Townsend's Warbler started singing unassisted.  I played the video (lucky that this worked) and a beautiful male Townsend's Warbler, number 511, flew down on a close birch branch, so close that I did not need binoculars, confirming my voice identification.  That was really satisfying to know that I remembered this song from years ago.  I did not have time this year to review all the songs that I might hear in the west.  I had texted Dave Sonnenborn about my finds and sent him the exact location of the American three-toed Woodpecker and also forwarded the location details to Isaac Helmericks, as he had requested while on the Attu trip.  I had also used Isaac as a resource for birding in Anchorage.  Dave suggested that I should continue birding to look for Spruce Grouse--when you're hot, you're hot.  However, I had a 6:00 am flight to Nome tomorrow and needed for repack my stuff for the flight.  Besides that, a man told me he had just seen a Black Bear walking along the entry road into the park headed toward where I was parked.  That was just before I returned to the trail away from the location of the bear to see the Townsend's Warbler.  I figured I should not push my luck, and decided I needed the rest.  Dave offered to keep my bear spray in Anchorage until a future return, and he picked it up at my motel the next day.

Barrow's Goldeneye, Arctic Tern, Hudsonian Godwit, Alder Flycatcher, Wilson's Warbler, Olive-sided Flycatcher, American Three-toed Woodpecker, and Townsend's Warbler yields a total of 511.

On to Nome.


Last Days, June 8 and 9

There were no new birds for me on June 8 despite spending most of the day looking.  We saw Fork-tailed Petrels well and more Mottled Petrels.  Another Short-tailed Albatross was seen, either yesterday on June 7 or today on June 8.

We arrived at an anchor location in Little Tanaga Strait (previously misspelled) at 3 am and waited for better light before proceeding through the strait.  As we waited in the morning, a Black Oystercatcher flew over the boat calling while I was below having breakfast.  I rushed up on the deck.  The bird was difficult to find on the dark rocks on the shore.  After more searching, the Black Oystercatcher made another pass by the boat.  I saw it well for number 502 for the year. 

We had outstanding views of Whiskered Auklets in very large flocks, Ancient Murrelets as well as of Tufted and Horned Puffins in the Little Tanaga Strait.  See photos (light was marginal). 
Tufted Puffin

When we were about 150 yards of the dock at Adak. Isaac found a Red-necked Phalarope, number 503 for the year.  Thanks, Isaac.

After unloading our gear and moving it to the airport terminal, we birded briefly on Adak.  Isaac, who lived on Adak for five years as an airline agent for Alaska Air, took us to spots in the almost abandoned town to look for Hawfinch, but we found none,  We took a ride to Clam Lagoon, and on the way, saw a Rock Ptarmigan right along the road.  At Clam Lagoon we found two Parasitic Jaegers and common breeding waterfowl, Northern Pintail and Eurasian Green-winged Teal. 
Ancient Murrelet
Then on the plane back to Anchorage.  The views of the Aleutian Islands were fantastic on the way back.

Black Oystercatcher and Red-necked Phalarope raise the total to 503.      

Whiskered Auklets
Whiskered Auklets showing crests

Large Flock of Whiskered Auklets


The Trip Back, June 7: Another Lifer

We stopped at Kiska at the Captain's request.  We saw a fumarole on the side of a snow capped Kiska Volcano, causing yellow snow from the sulfur.   Near the anchor point was a rock with a channel worn through it.
Kiska Volcano
Fumarole, Sulfur Making Yellow Snow
Rock with Channel
I stayed on the Puk-uk to rest my ankle.  Doug had also stayed on the Puk-uk.  We were watching the group on the beach, when we got a call that Isaac had found an Eye-browed Thrush.  I rapidly gathered all my stuff into my back pack, put on my boots, and Captain Choate hustled me over to the island on the outrigger, because Eye-browed Thrush is a life bird for me.  The group was waiting at the top of a high bluff where Isaac had seen it when he went there to take a photo.  The last location of the thrush was pin-pointed, and I made my way as fast as physically possible to join the group.  When I arrived, John Puschock walked up and around the bird to flush it toward us as he walked down toward us.  The bird had flown up and then landed down in into a swale in the foot high vegetation.  We started walking toward John, when the bird flushed, but we were able to see only a dark silhouette against the bright sky.   The thrush flew around John and landed in small swale.  I walked up to it but the thrush flew up and down quickly giving me a partially satisfactory view of the olive colored back and wings, slightly darker tail and part of the completely white breast back to the under-tail coverts.   We tried again and the thrush flew a short distance back down the slope, showing only the olive colored upper-parts.  Another try.  This fourth time was the charm.   I saw the gray head and face, the white eye-brow line as well as the buffy, brownish side to the breast as the thrush turned nearly perpendicular as it flew further to the right and downhill.  Yes!  Number 804 for the ABA and 501 for the year!  Isaac had managed a photo shown here.   Thanks, Isaac.  Great job! 
Eye-browed Thrush by Isaac
We headed back to the beach and took the outrigger back to the Puk-uk to another fabulous dinner by Nicole.  We headed east to Sirius Point, and stopped to see the massive number of alcids on the water and flying back to the cliffs.  An amazing sight.  But it was too dark for photography.  See example photo below of mostly Least Auklets significantly modified in Adobe Photoshop to see the birds.
Least Auklet flock, Sirius Point

Eye-browed Thrush raises the year total to 501, and my ABA list to 804.  It preserves the record of at least one new bird per day on this trip to Attu.


Last Day on Attu, June 6: A Goal Achieved

All the bikes had been transported via the outrigger to the Pu-uk last evening.  We took the outrigger to the old Attour Base and hiked around the base of Weston Mountain, scanning for swifts as we also looked for other birds.  Isaac found a Rustic Bunting, which prompted many people to climb up higher.  I finally heard a Rock Ptarmigan calling from up the mountain.  Funny how we missed them until the final day.  We took the mountain side around Big Lake to the South Beach area.  I stayed low rather than climbing high, because my ankle was hurting while walking. It had become swollen and my boots were rubbing during walking.  Biking had provided relief as did the frozen cold packs that Nicole had provided for the past two nights.  We did not find the Needletail, but as all avid birders, know, we had to try.  We continued to False Krasni Point.  On the way, we saw a Glaucous-winged Gull nip in to take a Mallard chick and fly off to either eat it or feed it to its own young.  The hen Mallard and the rest of the chicks kept swimming almost as if nothing had happened.  Such is Nature.  I photographed flowers on the way.  We ate lunch up on the bluff at False Krasni Point.  The Captain joined us for the hike.  We got binocular view close looks at the wreckage of a Coast Guard plane.  The crash occurred in the '80's.  To see this, a clear day is needed.  When we were at South Beach before during this trip, the low hanging clouds and  mist obscured the view for most of the time.  We returned to the old Attour Base to add our names and our ABA and Alaska Lists to the walls.  I photographed my name and previous ABA area list from my visit in 1988.  We also photographed the new list for this trip.  Jess got a photo of me beside the new ABA number of 803 after this part of the trip.  See photos. 
Still on the Wall after 25 Years!
Zoomed In

We took the outrigger back to the Puk-uk and headed to Alexai Beach to walk Alexai Point one more time before we leave for Adak.  As we departed Casco Cove, I took a few goodbye photos of the Casco Cove area, showing the old Attour base in the distance.
Good-bye to Casco Cove
Good-bye to Old Attour Lower (left) and Upper (right) Bases
We headed on to Alexai birding Casco Cove and Massacre Bay on the way.  We landed at Alexai Beach.  Isaac took a group to Gilbert Ridge to look for a last minute rarity or the Common Sandpiper, which not everyone in the whole group had seen.  John and our group checked for Smew.  They were not a home.  No Wood Sandpiper either.  John saw a Eurasian Wigeon.  We walked out to the point.   John found a Bar-tailed Godwit.  There are still some birds around to see!  As we headed toward the pick-up point for the Puk-uk, John found an Emperor Goose sitting on the rocks at a distance and got the scope on it.  I had the honorary first look at number 500 for the year!   Great job, John!  Everyone got a look at this bird in the scope.  A few minutes after John found the bird, Isaac called us to report it.  His group had just returned from Gilbert Ridge without finding anything of note.

We headed to the pick-up point.  While we were waiting, the fog started to roll in obscuring Alexai Point.  Seemed like a fitting departure note for Attu.  Jess had split off for some photography and while we waited for him to return to the pick-up spot, a Fork-tailed Petrel was seen right along the beach by Jess and eventually close behind the boat.  It must have followed the fog bank in.   When everyone was aboard, we departed east for Adak.  Captain Choate built in enough time to stop to see the spectacle at dusk at Sirius Point on Kiska and to have daylight on our final pass through Little Taniga Strait to see and photograph Whiskered Auklets. 

Emperor Goose raises the total to 500, which was what I hoped to reach on the Attu trip.

See photos below.

Fog Rolls in Awaiting Pick-up, Alexai Beach 
Fog Continues Rolling In

Our Ride Awaits

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Day 8 on Attu, June 5, The Chase is on!

Yesterday evening when all leaders and groups were back onboard the Puk-uk, we heard that Captain Choate took a hike up Engineer Hill toward the Japanese Memorial.  He has taken hikes and bike rides at Attu during the day as part of his program to stay in shape.  He saw a bird that was larger than a swallow, determined by the leaders to be a swift from the captain's description.  A swift on Attu is a rarity.  The plan for the next day was to get our bikes at the old Attour Base and go to Engineer Hill as a group to look for a swift.  At the location where the captain saw the bird, there are remnants of US barracks with chimneys still standing and lots of upright poles to provide roosting sites for a swift.  After the swift search, not necessarily a swift one, Isaac Helmericks planned to go to the Japanese Memorial, because he had never been there.  John Puschock and the folks who already had been to the Japanese Memorial would go to nearby Henderson Marsh for another snipe hunt after the swift search.

It was a gorgeous day for Attu, very clear, so that we could see the top of Weston Mountain.  It reminded me of a similar day in 1989, when Bill Muller and I climbed to the top of Weston Mountain, where we found Rock Ptarmigan.   Our current group had not yet seen a Rock Ptarmigan but John Puschock had heard one up near the Japanese Memorial, and there may have been one seen but only by a leader (Isaac?) on another day.  As we gathered our bikes at the base, I was telling the story about my climb to the top of Weston Mountain with Bill Muller, and may have mentioned that with the high visibility, it would be a good morning to find Rock Ptarmigan.  Suddenly, Isaac found two flying up Weston Mountain and saw one land on a ridge.  He got a scope on it, and I was the first in line to see it.  Unfortunately, it ran down the ridge and flew up and over the ridge and disappeared.  But John and Isaac saw one fly back down to a new roost and got the scopes on it so everyone in the group got to see it.  Great start for the day!  In retrospect, I should have told more stories about birds seen in my previous two visits to Attu.  Perhaps, this would have encouraged birds to appear this time like the ptarmigan...not really, just joking.  Rock Ptarmigan is a new bird for the year for me.

Jess decided to climb Weston Mountain alone.  The rest of the group with John and Isaac started the long bike ride (about 6 miles) to and up Engineer Hill to the area where the swift had been seen.  I was undecided if I would try to get to the Japanese Memorial.  The people who did it with John said that it was really tough.  By the end of the first week at Attu, I had regained some conditioning that I had lost due to lack of time to exercise during my Big Year.  After we failed to find the swift, I decided to follow Isaac up to the Japanese Memorial.  I had done it in 1989, but that was 24 years ago, when I was younger and in better shape from playing years of soccer, later running and playing handball several times a week as well as a series of light weight lifting and other exercises.  I had maintained the light weight lifting and exercises until this year, when I did not have enough time to continue and do a Big Year.

It was very hard physically for me to get up Engineer Hill. I had to push the bike up most of the steep part, but I made it.  See photos that Isaac took of me next to the memorial. 

Yes, It's Really Me!
Jay at Memorial

A real victory for an old fart.  It is about three miles from the coast up to the memorial with an elevation change of about 640 ft. (according to john Puschock's GPS, second hand information).  The scenery was gorgeous with snow on the mountains.  After Isaac and I were there for a while, Jim Brown joined us.  We ate lunch by the memorial.  The bike ride back was wonderful, mostly coasting.  There was a short coast down from near the memorial, then a short ride and walking bike push to the crest followed by a long coast down to sea level.  Isaac, Jim and I stopped by Henderson Marsh but most of the participants had scattered, except for John whose bike was still by the bridge.  They had not found a Common Snipe.  Isaac, Jim and I rode to a spot near the pier where we had seen Arctic Loon.  Isaac first and then I scanned the bay for a while.   I was still looking for Yellow-billed Loon, but found only a Red-throated and two Common Loons and two Red-faced Cormorants.  We had snacks and took naps in the warm sunshine.  We biked back toward base past the warehouse and along the coastal route to the north end of the runway.  We were to be picked up at the south end of the runway, but there was a change in plans due to the wind.  Therefore, we returned the bikes to old Attour Base to take them back to the Puk-uk.  No more biking after this.  Before I reached old Attour Base, Isaac told me that Jess reported on the radio that he saw a swift while descending Weston Mountain, got photos and then the bird headed toward South Beach.  Jess originally thought it was a Fork-tailed Swift.   However, his pictures were good enough to indicate a White-throated Needletail, a much rarer species, due to the white throat and white/light colored back.  We scanned the area for a while hoping for a miracle.  None occurred.  Jess had seen about six Rock Ptarmigans on Weston Mountain.

All the bikes were transferred by outrigger to the Puk-uk.   After much discussion, the final decision was to look for the swift along Weston Mountain tomorrow morning and then take the Puk-uk to Alexai and walk Alexai Point before leaving for Adak.

Rock Ptarmigan is number 499 for the year.

See scenery photos below.
The Last Stretch to the Memorial

Finally Made It There
Looking Toward Chichagof Harbor, Hidden Behind Mountains, from Memorial
Mountains all Around from Memorial
Back Down, River from Bridge at Henderson Marsh