Since I don't want to bore you with all the fall birding I'm up to and I have undoubtedly poor internet, I am just going to include each of the 50 days as sort of a diary entry, maybe some cool birds and maybe some interesting stories or maybe not. You can get the idea of the drudgery each day can be, long, more of the same, and generally stuck out here on a remote location. This isn't 50 days to leave my lover, sorry Paul Simon, it is 50 days of fall birding. This will, however, be the longest my wife and I will ever be apart....It will not be easy for me.....I apologize Silja, for doing this, I really do, never EVER again. I will title each day entry in bold....well days I have something to write about.
Day 1 San Diego to Anchorage
A travel day, which didn't work so well. Delayed flights in San Diego and Seattle meant I got in at midnight where I was going to meet my old birding pal Jim "Arvid" but his plane was even later than mine and we didn't even get to our hotel room until 1 am, it was then a very short night. I'm sure there could be something pithy to say but well, i was too tired to think of this.
Day 2. St Paul Island
Our plane left pretty much on time, and Pen-Air actually took our luggage! We didn't stop at Dillingham and we came in pretty much on time after a stop in St George. The funny thing was while we were waiting at St George to off load cargo, a guy in row two perked up as they were about to shut the door and asked, "hey, is this St George?" Out he ran off the plane. It would have been a week for him to get back if he had slept another minute.
We landed in rain.
But we were ready to bird........We got picked up by Claudia and headed to Pumphouse Lake with a pair of British Tourists and immediately I scored a year bird.
But the marsh sandpiper, however, was no where to be found. Dang. We ate and tried another place and then Scott texted Claudia and off we went to another lake, it took 5 minutes but I had my major quarry for the trip, the Marsh sandpiper, one that got away in April in Sacramento, a code 5 and a marvelous lifer,,,,I cleaned one up.
we also got other birds....one of which was a coded bird..
and the ruff being the best one of the evening after the Marsh sandpiper. I had been here 2 hours and had 2 birds and one lifer and a bonus code bird. But I was tired, I hadn't slept well the night before sop I went to bed early.
Day 3. St Paul Island
Rain and More Rain
Scott was the guide today and the pair of Brits hung in there birding as best they could but it was blowing and it was wet, like very wet. It turned out Martin birded and Jane, read and rarely left the car, unless we were looking at seals, and today was a bad day to visit.
I went and bought some beer as I needed to celebrate the lifer bird from the day before, I had no beer, but needed some, so I bought the weeks supply.
We toured the church.
It was built in 1906. It is quite ornately designed and it doesn't have any pews, the people stand when they are in service. It is a quite complete church of the Russian Orthodox Faith, I was impressed.
We tried to find birds the rest of the day but the storm was just overwhelming and so we finished early and I drink my lifer beer.
Day 4. St Paul Island
The Putchkie Begins
The weather was better and it turned out to be lifer day for Jim. After breakfast, the British couple toured the seafood plant while Jim and I went to the Salt Lagoon by ourselves and then we planned on doing the crab pots for the first time. It was a day of many firsts. Crab pots, putshkie...etc
It took a bit but we dug out a red necked stint for Jim. Last year in Nome, I had seen one and in passing Jim my scope to see this bird embedded in a large flock of peeps, they flew, never to be seen again. Jim never got on the bird. They are easier to see in the spring, with a reddish neck, and now it isn't so easy but with the short bill and other field marks, but carefully we identified it.
A few days later we saw 4 of them. This morning, we struck out in the pots but Jim had learned the crab pot routine. We birded around the island, doing the usual loop, seeing arctic foxes, the Brits wanted to see them and finally they showed up..
Eventually, we tracked down a gray tailed tattler for Jim's life list. It was a tattler picnic on Marunich, and we saw 8 tattlers, six sounded like Wandering tattlers, one made no sounds, and the final bird, made the characteristic call of the gray tailed, as you see, it is difficult to separate this bird from a juvie wandering unless they call. It was Jim's second lifer of the day. He was pleased. Very pleased.
Jim was a putchkie virgin and this stuff is just lush today, think and green
We came back and Jim was going to share a beer with me, one problem, someone had stolen most of my beer, 7 of the 9 bottles I had left, leaving one bottle in each six pack. Kind of pisses you off, I guess if they had taken all 9 I would have really been pissed off. I have been here now three weeks in my life and no one had ever stolen anything but that was now over....I drank one of my remaining 2 beers and hid the other one in my room. Why would you leave two beers if you are going to take them....did they think I wouldn't notice if two were left?
Day 5. St Paul Island
The Three Amigos
Today we awoke at the usual and headed off for breakfast, a suspicious trail of empty beer bottles of the same brand I had bought ( and not a common brand) was noticed along the side of the road, with the first being just out of the road to the airport. It took the thief a quarter of a mile to down the first beer. Sad sad deal.......
Well, we had birds to get, I couldn't brrod over my beer. I was birding in my back up hat, needed to mix things up but it didn't help so.. I changed hats, I needed some luck, my Attu hat wasn't working, so I switched.
We went to a pond near the airport and refound the Marsh Sandpiper, and then we saw two ruffs, a male and a female and then we saw a wood sandpiper, it is odd on St Paul, we ignored the code 5 bird (the Marsh) as I got literally life poses of the code 2 wood sandpiper, I suspect, I will never see this skittish bird any better and so I almost wore out my camera, and this was even the second one of the day. I came up her in July to see this bird and well, now I saw it better...oh well, one doesn't know
here is the wood sandpiper flying with the pair of ruffs
how often do you get a chance at a photo like this?
I guess commonly on St Paul
I vowed to never photograph the wood sandpiper again, I think I have enough now.
We poked around and then drove toward Northeast, then, Stephan yelled "thrush!" as something flew over the road in front of us.
We turned the van around. The bird dived into the side of the road and then appeared and ducked again. We tried to get it into view. Piece by piece it came together. Some times I say I'm too much of an assman, as I seem to always look at the tails of birds first, I need to become a better breast man.....The bird was smaller than a longspur as it walked past one. The tail was darker brown and then it could be seen it held its tail up, not as far as a wren but not down. There was no spots on the chest and it was generally gray, When it flew there were no wing bars, and the wings uniformly brown. There was no significant stripe of color on the face or neck....diagnosis....female Siberian Rubythroat, but no picture....this is my 20th rubythroat and I've only gotten one blurry photo in my life.
bird #757 Siberian Rubythroat
Skulky skulky bird. We chased it trying to get a photo and then it flew to the left into the putchkie, where the putchkie literally had no end and despite a drive into the bird was gone. It was a needle in a haystack, it was gone.
But other stuff was everywhere...
Arctic Foxes were climbing the walls at Polvina Hill
We started to aggressively attack the putchkie, like down at Webster area. We kept poking as the hat was starting to get hot. Don't give up on a hot birding hat, so after dinner we kept pushing...
We went to the Salt Lagoon I spotted a red knot and got a first of year photo of this bird, it wasn't a perfect one but just a juvenile bird but it was a red knot
and then we heard something else as it started to rain.
We had just seen a semipalmated plover but this was not their call.....we walked back to investigate.
Arvid's lifer 690 was identified and found,
Common Ringed Plover (right of the semipalmated plover) we heard the characteristic call of the two and then sorted out which one was which
7th or 8th island record of this bird so this was a good bird. I had seen one in Gambell, well four , but Jim was happy but tired....
Day 6 St Paul Island
The Funeral Owl
You know, when you wake up in the morning at St Paul, you have no freaking clue what you are going to see. I expect anything from smoke from a volcano (1943) to an emergency landing of US Air Force jets (this summer), to French cruise ships and to seeing birds of every persuasion from anywhere, wood thrush (2014) to common redstart (2013)....if a mammoth walked over the hill or a UFO fell out of the sky, I would just shrug and get out my camera.
Today, we woke up to 35 mph northerly winds, and driving rains, so what possibly could show up on a day like today?
Chaucer wrote that "The Owl brings tidings of death."
So what are the odds that an owl would show up on St. Paul Island?
Well snowy owls are fairly common but....well, what about another type of owl?
We drove around and found some birds, a gray tailed tattler here and a red-throated pipit there, then we hiked a lake and we found the marsh sandpiper and then oddly we saw the bird move wait..how could that be? Then it was clear, we had 2 code five sandpipers....would you believe 2 marsh sandpipers?
So what are the odds I could get a photo of both of them in the same frame?
very rare ABA birds (like 11 sightings) and here I had two in a frame...what a deal, what a deal, this is what birding is about.
Then we drove around some more and we went to the crab pots, Scott yelled at me "get your camera." I stood transfixed, thinking why? "Boreal Owl" he said loudly but not shouting. "Four feet from me is a boreal owl."
I couldn't fathom this. "What?" I said.
"Go get your camera." He repeated and I did and yes, the funeral owl, Aegolius funereus a boreal owl was right there looking at him and then looking at me from between some crab pots as Scott carefully extracted himself from next to the bird.
It is the owl of the month right after the bird of the month...the marsh sandpiper, a lifer bird for Jim, and just a wow bird for me. WOW! Seeing a boreal owl is like one of those lifetime experiences anywhere, but here in St. Paul? I have only ever seen three. It had been two decades since one had last appeared here. I had now seen every owl save a northern pygmy this year, my heard only birds were down to five.
We were unsure if this is a Tengmalm's owl, named after a Swede, the European-Asian version or the Boreal owl from North America, either could have ended up here.
We ate a happy dinner after I bought some added beer. Then we found Jim his lifer 692, a spectacled eider, the same one with 9 king eiders I had seen here last month.
A lump on top of a black rock, a juvie male but well, the correct species.
Hopefully, this owl will not be a harbinger of death, just more rare birds. What a day, a duet of marsh sandpipers and a Boreal/ Tengmalm's owl....a day a spec eider wasn't even in the top 5 birds. What will tomorrow bring?
Day 7 St Paul Island
Weather this way or that way
I woke up tired and a bit sore. I had been going at this now for a bunch of days in a row. Dragging marshes and walking. Man I was sore....but birding goes on.
Jim had picked up the remains of a weather balloon and we used it as a front to get a tour of the NOAA weather station, these guys and families keep to themselves and nobody had ever met them. We met a very nice guy named Hans, he had been here 2 years and had just recently left the island for his first break. He home schooled his daughter and we met his wife.
I was very interesting and we learned no one in Anchorage that makes the local weather forecast has ever been to St Paul...in a nutshell, don't believe it. He did give us a bird tip...he had seen a large long necked bird, he pointed at the heron....maybe...a grey heron? Well we went to search for the bird with a rarity in our heads and then Claudia spotted it on a hill....just a sandhill crane
But one never knows......
We picked up 2 birders from Alaska, a mother daughter team and then of course they wanted to look for the Marsh sandy, as of course that is a great bird, having seen it 4 times, I worked on adding to my weird combo photos, here is a ruff and a marsh sandpiper, 3 plus 5 equals 8?
So now on my list of combo photos, 2 Marshes, that is 5 plus 5, a wood plus 2 ruffs, 2 plus 3 x 2 equals 8, and this one...
the combo photos are endless, but well, no new birds.
In general, though, today, I was overwhelmed with disappointment as a bird I have always dreamed about, a jabiru, was seen in Texas and here I am, besides a sea eagle the number one bird on my wish list....I don't know, it is hard to be disappointed after seeing 63 life birds in a year, I get over the jibiru especially on my next great bird.
Day 8 St Paul
Stephan and the Wandering Tattlers
Today we went out with Stephan Lorenz, and well, we'd been birding with Stephan a bit too much. Stephan said he wanted a nickname. Well all we could come up with was that he was incredibly punctual so that doesn't make a nickname. The Honeydripper came out but that didn't seem to fit. I came up with what we would call his band, assuming he could play anything and I came up with Stephan and the Wandering Tattlers.......I guess playing at a music venue near you.
Oh and the birding...well, the weather was okay, I guess as the wind swung to the south. I forgot and/or lost everything today, rain pants, room key, camera lens cover which I found in the putshkie, well that was lucky. I did stpo and smell the roses, well, I guess, the putshkie...
We jumped a pair of common snipe later in the day which was Jim's 9th lifer for the trip, never easy to get a good picture, I at least got something
Best birds of the day, were Baird's sandpiper and a bank swallow, like I said, you never know what you are going to see here....and here is the Baird's sandpiper.
Jim celebrated the day with a whale's jaw bone
we dug the first bird out of the crab pots, a gray cheeked thrush it was a start...but nothing for the year list
so the numbers,
Big Year Total: 757
Coded Birds: 86
speeding tickets: 1
Near bear/ death experiences 1
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Lifers seen this year: 63
nights slept in car: 12
slept in airplane: 5
best bird of period the marsh sandpiper pair and boy was that boreal owl cool!
So three new birds, a good start, one I thought I would get, one I thought I'd never get and one I hoped to get. The shorebird migration in St Paul really hasn't happened or/ if it did it largely missed the island as there is this swirling wind in the Bering sea and maybe they just aren't stopping. We had a small drop out of sharp-tailed sandpipers, maybe 60 birds around the island, and a whole lot more of ruddy turnstones, and we were seeing a few trans-Bering migration birds....so that is the update,
birding continues, I'm not missing just birding