Saturday, September 24, 2016

Fall strategy: Supplemental A

Let me start off this blog by saying, the 24 hour rule bites, it blows, and it even sucks...there ain't no pot of gold at the end of my St Paul rainbow...okay, it wasn't the end of the world and if I think about it, who the heck else would this happen to, but me, fat, dumb

Okay, let me get to today.  I got nothing to say about the last two days on St Paul, okay, I took a pretty fox sparrow photo, or date the only bird seen on Putchkie by me that actually doesn't live on the island, well except for a rather sickly gull which may have lived on the island, IDK

There were reports of a possible Eurasian sparrowhawk on Adak but that plane left Thursday and well if I was going to go there to get it I had to bug out of St Paul on Friday and fly to Adak on Sunday, but that was not my plan and well, going there for a bird that may not pass muster with the state committee or the ABA was not a good idea since there is only two flights a week and the next one is Sunday, and I'd be stuck there until Thursday....but I had had enough of St Paul, someone needed to take it for the team and leave, as then the 24 hour rule kicks in and since I had been in Alaska for a whole month plus three days, that person needed to be me....I was the dark cloud casting its shadow creating a terrible fall for birds...The 24 hour rule states that if you leave a bird you need will show up within 24 hours of leaving....the question is who needs to go?

I needed to see my wife, my family, my new kitten....the whole gang has been treated for giardia thanks to the kitten, a very odiferous little kitty but alas everyone is being treated, healthy now hopefully.....My sister had a baby I need to see, I need to do my grandmother's taxes.....heck, I need to pat my dog and well, a certain booty is calling..........sigh, rocks were looking like my wife on St Paul....I'm so sooooo lonely.

Yesterday I bugged out, it something that only made sense to me but i had to go... but not before the Olaf effect started....a Eurasian skylark was flushed off the road on the way to the airport...I saw it well, not a year bird just a USA bird but was it the vanguard of something?  It was a good look but not a photographable bird but was seen by everyone in our van.  Thinking about the vanguard thing...I hoped not, but well, I had to go.  Nothing was going to come in....

I flew to Anchorage and well, I had no hotel, nothing....but then there was a report of a bird in Arizona I needed....I checked Alaska and Delta, both had a seat on an overnight until I called...then poof............gone.  It was an omen.  I got a room at The Coast Inn, it was so cheap it had to be a mistake.  Sigh....then on my way to Seattle on the 9am flight.....the NARBA alert came out...Dusky warbler in San Francisco, and not just in San Francisco, as close to the airport as any place to ever get a bird could be.  I am a wiz at changing things on the fly in an airport...this was easy peasy for me, and SFO I was now heading.

I talked the woman at the Delta counter to switch my ticket to SFO and she did for FREE, then she moved my suitcase.  I decided to buy a suitcase in Anchorage and put my winter jacket and boots in it as I was too cheap to just ship it home, so I checked it....Olaf, checking luggage has cost you...why why did you do it?  What bird could show up?

Then woman told me the bag would go to San Fran....when I checked enroute over Oregon, I saw it was going to San Diego.  I didn't worry about that and on landing I blew out of the airport to the train to get a car.  It is slow at San Fran, the train takes forever and the rental car place is weird, luckily I am Hertz gold and just drove it the 4 miles to the stakeout I had two hours of daylight left.

Okay, as stakeouts go this was a little weird.  The bird was in this fennel patch on a side hill between an Inn and a UPS warehouse.  There were a few birders below and a few in the middle, some sitting, some on their bellies, and the last view of the bird was just before I arrived.  

I took a spot and watched.  It had been feeding in an 80 foot circle all day, but never seen well.  People tiptoed into the fennel like they were on eggshells.  In Alaska, someone would have just said heck with it and would have just walked through the stuff, back and forth until the bird flushed and was seen by all, here, that isn't considered ethical birding so we waited and watched, the sun sank....then I heard it.  YEA!!!  I thought I saw it but then a flock of bushtits flew in...drat.   

Now every glimpse of a bird had to be checked for being a bushtit, and then it happened, the dusky warbler showed and was deep in the fennel and intermixed with bushtits...I couldn't get on it, then the next time still no, it called again, they guy in front of me had it and I looked over his head and him over the guy in front of him who had it, but not me....but if you took your eyes off it, you lost it, then it flew down, I saw that, then I saw the ass end of the bird, brown, buff under neath, that was no bushtit, then a wing bars...then the back end again....finally as it was going dark, the hoard of tits came by and then I got on it, again, three deep looking over the head of the guys in front of me.  I saw the eye line and the brown eye brow...dang skulky phylloscopus warblers...DUSKY WARBLER  TICK!!   .I had seen my first in 2014 on St Paul but it was like this view only in flashes of it flushed, multiple times before Doug Gotchfeld got it on camera...I never could catch it on the camera then or now   and this time, 15 birders, most saw it, nobody could ever have hoped to photograph this bird, but I had bird 760.  Some you just cannot photograph.

I saw it again and then chatted with a local birder until dark, surprised at meeting a big year guy, (there aren't too many birders with Olaf monogrammed on their shirts) he had just read Neil's book so there you go Neil, a sell!

I was feeling good and then...I checked my email....not one bird I needed was seen today on St Paul, not two, but 3..........I fell over on the hill, coughing, ugh, why me?  Why??
I felt like Hillary Clinton cursed by something.

The guy I talked to told me a tale of a jaguar killing a bear on the Santa Rita mountains....that cheered me up, those damn bears...way to go Jag!!  First ever documented killing of an adult bear, a 230# sow, sweet revenge from last month.  But where I should feel jacked at the dusky, I felt jerked,,,,a blue tail, a yellow-browed warbler,...Brambling....crap....okay, I got a consolation bird and a good one at that but why does this happen to me?

Too late now, at least I didn't go to Arizona, and so now how do I get ahead of my bag, I tried to forward it to Minneapolis but I may need new winter gear, if it doesn't show...San Diego...why did it go there?

Oh well, I'm crawling under a rock for a while, it seems safer.......I got a boat load of birds this year but it is these days that hurt..........


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Fall Strategy part 3

September 20th 2016

This is the evening report from St Paul Island:

the high this week was the winds with some days the speed in excess of the temperature
the low was the morale of the birders here looking and hoping
the pressure is high on the guides to keep the birders from considering drastic measures--like leaving, jumping off a cliff, or heavy drinking

I was about to give a St Paul birding-weather prediction..."It's going to be cold, its going to be gray, and it's going to last the rest of your life."

But well, it just seems like this fall birding strategy is going to last the rest of my life....sigh, you know, I did see a year bird this week....and it could be worse, I still could be in Gambell, they've seen even less than here...and the weather is hopeful....


Day 29  Anchorage/ St Paul Island Alaska

Contemplative Birding

Well with all the bears around, I just decided to drive to the airport and leave.  My flight to St Paul left at 1215.  PenAir came in on time, I got out, we loaded up the group and 45 minutes later we were stomping the lake with the Jack snipe and 5 minutes later  "snipe"  I had bird 759 but no picture, Scott didn't want to overflush the bird as many more were coming in in two days.  I could say more but well, it was a bit lackluster and not very thrilling

I got settled in, got some beer, and we got ready for days of birding...
this is another marathon location, I needed to pace my emotions

Day 30  St Paul Island Alaska

Another day, another day of birding...I hiked, thought a lot

then I did a lot of hiking, we ate,  and then a lot of contemplating this silly year and my life, I rarely said anything, no one talked to me, did I say I hiked?

We drove some putchkie saw an interesting bird that got a way from us at dark....nothing new and that was probably a Lincoln's sparrow

I don't know, I'm not sure I should be hanging out with birders 24/7...I tried a little to talk about TV, no one had seen Game of Thrones except our guide Claudia, other shows...nada....sports?  Nope.  I gave up, all they wanted to talk about is birding.....well their birding....I've been birding for 9 months...I've kind of been there

that was my only answer to my questions, was I need to go home

Day 31  St Paul Island Alaska

Jack Returns

Again, bad prevailing birds then a larger group of birders arrived, including Barrett Pierce another biggie in the realm of ABA birding probably in the top 10, but Barrett only counts once a year, and he is another nice guy from Amarillo Texas.

Immediately we went out to look for the Jack snipe and it was within 10 feet of previous flushes,
this time I got photos.....all in all they were not bad.

A tough bird as you about have to step on it to flush it and it is very cryptic...rarely seen on the ground

but as we went around to find stuff we really didn't see too much, largely except for sparrows nothing that doesn't breed here is even around...

Brants anyone?

Day 32 St Paul Island Alaska

We worked hard, continued to hike around looking at crab pots

we found an adult slaty-backed gull on a beach

I spotted a nice king eider in the salt lagoon...

but that was the extent of the day...a good day birding but nothing new and nothing from Asia

We left jack alone....and I was beginning to think I didn't know jack...about birding or anything...still no new birds on Gambell though so that was fine to have left.

Day 33  St Paul Island Alaska

You don't know Jack

It was a morning fit for sea watching as it wasn't easy to do anything else birding and now I was sure I didn't know jack this morning...

I went to find a rock to take care of too much coffee when I saw a photogenic arctic fox

Arctic Fox

I came back and everyone was giddy in that they had a close fly-by of a short tailed albatross only the fourth time the bird had ever been seen from land!  ...and I missed it,

It was one of those kind of days
The most interesting flying object seen today by me was the 3pm launching of the weather balloon

They launch one every twelve hours, I tried to get in in flight...and I missed
sort of like my bird photography

We went and picked up David Greening a birder I had met in Minnesota earlier in Florida...ah someone to talk too....I know Minnesota.   We went for the jack snipe and worked at it hard, checking every local swamp and jack, but with the wind...?

Maybe Jack was lying low...but it didn't look too good....glad we got it earlier, sorry David.

Day 34  St Paul Island Alaska

Reindeer Games

I have spent many a week on St Paul and I have never seen reindeer but after today, I can't say that anymore.  We went to seawatch at SW today and 45 minutes after arriving, the weather turned, wind shifted west, and with it hope.  On the way back, I tallied the reindeer herd, check!

The lumps are reindeer, really...

They are not native but well, they are established....I saw the same species on Adak so not even a year mammal then...but I was happy

There were no birds on the island, flying by the island, on the island it meant for a long day.  We ate, watched from the north beach where we did see an albatross sp. unknown as to which of the two it could be it was dark brown and big, either a black-footed or a short-tailed albatross juvie bird, four at least saw it and with the sighting the day before it was probably a short-tailed but I left it unknown on my list.  A designation I may never use again...albatross sp.

We saw a shrew and hoped for the winds to blow and bring in something from Kamchatka, time will tell....

I did get an USA bird for the year, a white-winged scoter, (750) but who is counting, I have also seen my 131 island bird, which again, I only know as there is nothing else to do...........

wish I could have seen the albatross better but that is birding...

Day 35  St Paul Island Alaska

Seal, it's what's for dinner!

The morning brought heavy wind and waves

They were impressive hitting the rocks

I got bored and then we toured the village and we drove past the rental car center, well I don;t think the old pickup runs...

It is the same rental car I've featured before just $10/ day more and it has a lot more rust and a better view of the roads...through the floor is still missing the back bumper, the rust is the only thing now holding it together.  $100 a decide

The birding continued as we cleared the island of having any new birds early today, there was no albatross fly overs, nothing, not even a sparrow, but....

I finished seeing all of the mammals on St Paul in a trip consecutive days, seeing both Pribilof shrew (Barrett Pierce took this picture)

they are quarter sized with a long tail, if the boreal owl is still around just a midnight snack even for that

I saw the arctic fox....again

of course harbor seals and then ignoring a gyrfalcon we saw killer whales hunting northern fur seals

watching the killer whales eat made me hungry, so I went to the Trident plant to eat.

It was the best meal ever, but it wasn't seal, it was curried crab.

After 3 days of stomping every marsh I can say that the island is jack snipe is safe for the rest of us

Well tomorrow is the last day of summer....we do have favorable winds so there is hope that something is coming, otherwise if I have more days like this....I may snap

insanity is doing the same thing every day day after day going out and expecting different results....
basically now, five weeks of the least I got Jack

thank you Mr Snipe

Big Year Total:  759
Coded Birds:  88
provisionals: 1

Miles driven.  35,438
Flight Miles 147,000
miles on ATV 475
speeding tickets: 1
flight segments: 145   Different Airports: 47
Near bear/ death experiences 2
Hours at sea: 225
Miles walked 407
showshoes 4 (isn't going to be any more)
Miles biked 12

states/ prov. birded: 35
Lifers seen this year:  64
nights slept in car:  12
slept in airplane:  5

You have wasted another half hour reading this blog as I have wasted another perfectly good week birding....

thanks for your support


Fall Strategy Part 2

Day 28, Anchorage Alaska

Let me just say it here.  I am not dead, I repeat, I am NOT dead.  I am safely back at The Coast Inn drinking a much earned beer, now not for any life birds, but for life....wait a minute....I feel like I'm repeating myself...

I was enjoying my day off after jumping a plane out of Gambell yesterday and surviving the worst stretch of fall birding in Gambell history (more on that later) and I went into the bush north of Anchorage to maybe find myself, find God, and find some birds... nothing in particular just birds. I stopped at this view above and dreamed that I was standing there holding the hand of my best friend, Silja, the love of my life, a woman I miss so much, who with, I have now not shared a moment together in 32 days, our longest stretch apart...something I will never do again and I saw this view and couldn't take it as I knew she would like it too...I had to walk on.

So I walked aimlessly on continuing my search for avian life, God, a meaning in life, answers to life questions, a good plot for a novel, anything....I was a nice day and it all seemed so simple.....but....

and all I found, again, ..................was bears........


bears.....again?...the answer to life's questions seems to just be bears, I guess it is a simple answer.  A one word answer that seems to fit everything for me....BEARS!

There is a saying back home about being up to your ass in alligators but what if you are up to your ass in bears?

Okay, I was warned this time (and I am a whole lot smarter, or so I think after Arizona) first there was the yellow sign, like I was warm...but well one goes through yellow lights....well I do.

Then the red sign, maybe hotter now, a smart guy would stop...

You know, I took these pictures BEFORE I saw any bruins like I knew what was coming down the trail, why did I know this?  Because bears and me, well you know, we got this thing....In truth, I kept going because well and then there was this grouse up 20 yards on the trail, maybe it was a grouse, I had not confirmed the species, (Paul Lehman wants confirmation or the sighting is worthless), maybe it was a ptarmigan, or a spruce, or a ruffed...IDK...It was a hen.  .I didn't get that far because then  HE came....

I was going to be no hero....This was a real bear, not a garbage bear.....I stopped and watched and well he came, and kept coming and well, at 50 feet away, I got the puppy dog out of there.....

I couple hundred yards down the trail....I met some people...crazy people...idiotic people apparently looking for bears.

"Hey, you didn't happen to see a bear?"  They asked.  I nodded but kept up my pace (a fast pace)
"Which way?"  They said confused.

I gave the thumb over my shoulder.
"Why are you going the other way?"  They were even more confused.
" 'cause it was.. a bear, a really big bear."  I race walked past them.  "But you got that big camera...."  they said....yeah I thought, lot of good that will do, he'll just spit that out when he is finished. 

I saw a more sane person in the parking lot coming past me as I was breathing easy watching robins, robins in a parking lot seemed like safer birds for me than grouse.  "Hey what you see?"  She asked flirtatiously.

"Just a damn bear."  I said.  She turned  180 degrees.  "I thought you were going this way."  I said.
"Not anymore."  She said and hurried off the other way.


I should try to imply some meaning to this sighting but Doug Gotchfeld would just say "why does there have to be meaning?"  Ah Doug......Gambell.....

Yea, 16 days in Gambell, the place where you can literally see tomorrow, today...

That is Russia in the background and on the other side of the International dateline which is about 15 miles off shore.  I would like to change that saying to where you can experience tomorrow's birding frustrations today....IDK.  It was a bad year for birding's marquis spot....again I'll get to this.  First for all you know, I'm still in St Paul...

Day 9;  St Paul Island

Enough Rain for One Lifetime

This was to be our last day on St Paul and we gave it our best efforts, walking celery, walking the pumphouse, driving the roads....but alas we went all day with nothing more to show and at 4pm Pen-Air showed and well, off we went for what could be the best flight ever on that airline, fast, efficient, we were standing in Anchorage at 7pm waiting for a shuttle to a hotel.

To sum up most of last week in St Paul...drudgery, wet and windy drudgery...but well I got something out of it...3 birds

What we saw was the best thing in the sky all year...

we saw the sun

It was so nice in Anchorage, we didn't want to go to bed.  The sun, the sun, the sun............
Jim left and went back to Newark, finally, I went to bed after taking care of some paperwork that needed to be done.

Day 10.  Nome, Alaska

A Boogle of Weasels

Well I boarded my cargo plane for Nome, it was a rather uneventful time in Anchorage airport, although beware, I learned Alaska Air is cutting the size of carry-ons so small, I think Pen-Air may allow bigger, so BEWARE!  Rules change in the end of the year.  Platinum on Delta gets you somewhere on Alaska, like the end of the line but in a cargo plane, but I did learn something and the woman looked the other way for my heavy bag.

I flew into Nome and landed at noon, later in the flight, I started talking to the guy sitting next to me, Dr. Geoff Chambers from New Zealand, a retired University researcher working on the genetics of Albatross.  As my tour had gone out without me, I rented a car and I took him out to get a few lifers, for him, he was waiting for a 10am flight to Siberia, and a Russian boat to Wrangle Island.  Cool trip and I got invited to New Zealand.

We came upon a rarity but it was just a rarity for the area, Caspian tern in Safety Sound.

An Alaska lifer for me, yahoo...wahoo...don't ask me why I know it is #205, please don't.  I will never post my Alaska list again.  Well, then I learned you get a patch for crossing 200 and I did do that in the past week so okay, I'll apply to join the 200 club....It was 73 when I left Attu in 2013.    Geoff got Aleutian tern, his goal bird, and so that went well and we saw muskoxen.

First I saw a funeral owl, and then today, it was a boogle of weasels, yes it is a flock of sheep, a herd of cows, and yes, YES, it really is a boogle of weasels.  Short-tailed weasels darted about me everywhere, I may have hit one but we'll get to that if that is considered good or, though, it WAS a veritable boogle of weasels.

Well seeing a weasel can mean many things, most of them are bad.  I depends on what culture and what context.  In Japanese culture, it is really, really bad.  There is none that I can find for the local tribes people and in my culture, northern European, it is only safe to kill weasels from August 15th to September 8th, (the French could never kill one safely).  They play tricks on us for the rest of the year and killing one then is a harbinger of the worst omens ever and was more taboo than marrying your sister or having sex with your mother.  But during the special period, seeing one was generally just bad for the weasel as now, we could sing, "pop goes the weasel," and smack one and get a little revenge, although that is not the meaning of the rhyme.  I surmise it feels good getting a little revenge and the pop, well....  I think being in the dates window, August 27th, seeing all of these weasels then, means nothing, and well if the weasel did go pop on my tire, I'm safe, whew!!!!.  Maybe crazy birding if, I didn't pop him? I was afraid to look behind me.

We ate pizza and finally I connected with the WINGS people.  Aurora Hotel is the worst, they cancelled my reservation, and told me "WINGS Tour?  They aren't here." and my room-mate cancelled, maybe the whole thing was off, IDK.

I went out for pizza and beer with Geoff and at the tail end of the day finally ran into the group.  I guess I could have just met them at the airport tomorrow, but I was glad it hadn't got cancelled.  Tours and me are not compatible.  Never have, never will, cruise ships, anything I need to follow along things go wrong and haywire.  But I needed the time in Gambell...

There is something called the 24 hour rule, within 24 hrs of leaving a spot a bird you desire shows up.  It happened on St. Paul but to Jim, not I....little stint showed today, a bird Jim desired, I didn't need it, whew....weasel chaos averted, go and plop that bugger!  A group is also called a confusion, which maybe is the confusion of trying to determine the omen, but boogle is the word for me...the word of the day.

to quote my late grandfather, Allwin Danielson, on the matter of weasels, "beady eyed little blood-thirsty bastards."  I think that sums up today in one neat package.

In hindsight, I should have headed the warning.....damn weasel, and never got on the plane.

Day 11.  Nome/ Gambell, St Lawrence Is AK

The Curse of the Weasel

I woke up had breakfast with the group at the Polar Cub and we went out birding...I drove myself, as I had a car.  We stopped at Nome river bridge and then the point 
Flying in seemed a bit treacherous as there was a lot of side to side movement.  I was very happy to have the plane land as ground appeared under the fog.  The guys the day before, got stuck in Nome for fog.

The group stopped at the cape and I went ahead for a quick look past the bridge in Safety Sound for a arctic loon, I wanted a photograph.  I drove hard.  The Caspian tern was gone and I saw a road killed bird but I drove on, no time.  At 28.5 miles I turned around, I had a plane to catch, but I still had time to photo and ID the dead bird.  I stopped the car.  Got out and then heard a very strange sound in the air, I looked casually as I bent over to look at the bird, I saw a large shorebird....then it called again, what was that?

I went through the curlew and godwit calls in my head and stood up and picked up the bird as it crossed the road above me and then swung to my left fanning its tail showing a black end stripe and white at the rump, with a small amount of white on top of the wings, but only the primaries.  It had large barring streaks on the belly and when it got going east, it closed the tail so only the black tip was evident.

Crap, I ran for the car to get my real camera.  my only shots were into the sun.  They showed.....a godwit.  I don't know, I know what I saw, but what did I actually see?  To be able to count something, you have to be confident, There was some baring on the upper tail after really lighting the photo so diagnosis......GODWIT, sp.

I raced at pushing 100 mph to get back to the plane to get out of Nome and for once Bering Air...was on time.....I have never driven so fast in Alaska, I kind of wanted to get the group to go back and chase the bird and get a better photo, but life and the group moves on....

The plane flight was not nice, although as it is said, we could see tomorrow while standing in today, but with the fog, tomorrow didn't look so good, and I didn't feel so good.

I unpacked, found my stuff I sent in, and got ready to bird.  There was a buff-breasted sandpiper around and the weather was about to turn so Paul Lehman agreed to drive me to see it and I got a good photo of the bird, a photo first.  Get what you can while you can.

Buff-breasted sandpiper

The bird left that night so it was good to see it. I was tired, it was a very long day.  We stayed in the lodge which isn't too bad actually, the beds are nice, room decent and I've done worse

Day 12.  Gambell, St Lawrence Is AK

The Weasel strikes

With the bad luck of the godwit, I had hoped that the curse of the weasel and possibly a dead weasel was overcome but in the end just confusion reigned, the critter wasn't finished with me.  Well the weather report for the island came in as bad, not like St Paul rain and fog bad although we had that, it was wind bad, like a dreaded NE wind pattern, which started just before I got there and then started blowing harder with a NE tempest for later in the week.  At Gambell, on the weather map, we appeared to sit somewhere between  sucks and blows, and it was going right overhead.  It was not good for bringing in anything from Siberia, it wasn't good for anything except...frostbite, boredom, frustration, and well, all of the above.


So, I went out with the group, hoped for the best but expected nothing.  I am not the best tourist with a group and for the first week here, I am with the WINGS group, and my goal became to get the birds for the group, here in Gambell, it is group birding, us and the independents, or well, it should be.  

All of the big year birders arrived by today, we are all here all trying to help each others finds, well...maybe, some of us did.

Anyhow, a gray tailed tattler was called in and so I went with to get the bird, it was close and I got a nice photo of it.

Gray tailed tattler

Although on Gambell, a more fitting picture would be this one intermixed with garbage

Mind you, I like Gambell.  It is a classic reservation village, I can site many similar places in South Dakota, I live next to one, Peever SD comes to mind, BUT really why would they put the dump and sewage treatment pond upwind from the village, and then one would only expect all the garbage to be blown all over town and also into the fresh water source for the town, Troutman they not get this?  Do they not care?  Oh well...can't fix Pine Ridge, Eagle Butte, Agency Village, so why expect to fix Gambell.

We looked around finding lots of white wagtails and wheatears, both trans-Bering migrants, that can come through here on their way east.  But after a couple of days the wagtails thinned out, and the wheatears vanished....nothing except for a handful of sparrows scattered over 14 days replaced them.

Day 13.  Gambell, St Lawrence Is AK

Bluebird Kind of Day

After the morning seawatch which produced a yellow-billed loon and again a bit yawner of a seabird show, the sun came out and while we sat there, Gavin, the ever intrepid WINGS guide pronounced the bird he wanted to see today, a Mountain Bluebird.  Before we could all think about that, Aaron Lang called and had a very cooperative Bluethorat which many (not me) wanted to see.  We couldn't find it.

The bird it turned out had been sucked into the birding void as it was nowhere to be seen.  Then we all eventually gathered for the daily 10:30 Far Boneyard drive and there were more birds this time as we drove out a golden-crowned sparrow and an arctic warbler.

Arctic Warbler

We worked a bit so everyone could see it as the passerines are very skittish in this wormwood environment intermixed with holes, but there were a few of the group I was hanging out with that still needed it, so we keep at it with arctics, so I kept taking pictures.

The sun began to shine brightly and I drove around after lunch but didn’t see much, someone in our group created a bit of a stir when asked if that "was a bean goose" on the radio and other birders on the island began to start to fire up their machines to chase the "goose."  Gavin responded "there is no goose, repeat there is no goose."  It was just a pintail, crisis adverted.  Well, we eventually we went back to seawatch and saw thousands of short-tailed sheerwaters fly by, and then on the gravel in the sun, I took a needed nap.

Today, I saw an odd sight.  I found an abandoned textbook on Evolution stomping around to flush up a sharp-tailed sandpiper for the group.

I guess here in Gambell they have dismissed and thrown away the theories of evolution in favor of their own theories.....

The best bird for the afternoon was a Savannah sparrow, which the fact that I took a picture of it shows how slow it was becoming.

We did the near boneyard and Gavin spooked a bluethroat, which looked like the same one as earlier.  It went in a hole and never came out.  Here is Gavin trying to get it out of the hole….it never came out again, sucked into the void.

After dinner, we got word from St Paul of a new species in the Bering Sea….a Mountain bluebird……Gavin’s call, somehow the correct bird…just the wrong island.  How it was done boggles the mind...not boogles.....there is the faux competition between St Paul and Gambell that no one wants to admit to but it exists at least in some and maybe should just end....but that isn't my doing and well, birding goes on.

By evening we pushed the far boneyard and spent an hour chasing a very furtive pipit of unknown ID, there was hope for an Olive-backed….on the 15th flight, it finally called, just a lowly American pipit….dang birds!

The near boneyard....

The evening brought alerts for northern lights as it was actually the first clear night outside of my lone night in Anchorage that I had experienced in Alaska… was just a few glows in the north but nothing spectacular… ends another day in paradise, I guess…or at least in Gambell.   I was in the Washington Post this day so that upped my blog readership in a period when I was in a blackout on Gambell, we'll see if they keep following me.

This is as good of a time as any to describe the gang here in Gambell

Besides all of the big year birders, 5 of the top 7 listers of ABA all time were at Gambell (Macklin Smith (1), Larry Peavler (2), Paul Sykes (3), Ebbe Banstorp (5), and Monte Taylor (7),  The man who made Gambell what it is as the premier vagrant spot for ABA Birding, Paul Lehman,  Six really top quality guides (Aaron Lang, James Harrington, Gary Rosenberg, Doug Gotchfeld, Cory Gregory, and Gavin Bieber), the biggest lister in Nevada (Greg Scyphers) and Nevada OU Secretary and mega lister, Martin Meyers, plus some other big shots...Chris Feeney, a birding chum I know and have written about previously, Susan Clark from Michigan who was on a pelagic with me and some others birders I didn't really get to know...sadly.

I felt like a minnow in a tank of sharks, except, I guess that these guys were not mean like sharks but maybe more like whales....the cartoons always portray whales as occasionally a whale accidentally sucks in something and maybe spits it out, ask Jonah about that, but well, I was Jonah in a sea of whales, I guess then, just hoping not to get sucked into the baleen and spit out.

Let me go over these megas of bird listing

Paul Lehman has spent more time on Gambell than anyone not claiming Gambell as their home.  He is writing a huge paper on the species appearance on the island and is the king of Gambell.  He isn't in charge really of anything though but well, he is.  He sees almost every bird worth seeing on the island so if you want to become persona non grata don't call in a bird to Paul....

Paul is a cross between The Father in Leave it to Beaver and Marcus Welby.  He is a father figure, imposing yet nurturing.  Tough but fair, encouraging you to do better and yet has all those answers for you when you most need them.  Paul is like Dr Welby in knowing all that needs to be known.  Paul has a doctorate, so to say and honorary of course, from the Gambell School of Ornithology.  

Paul Sykes is sort of that uncle who comes over at a wedding and smacks you on the head and tells you, "to shape up and stop embarrassing the family."  He tells it like it is because someone has to do it.  We all need an uncle like that.  Paul has seen 903 ABA birds.  He has a heavy Georgian accent and has been everywhere and almost seen everything and has spent much time on the Ivory Billed woodpecker finding project and seems like a good guy and I like Paul.  I asked Paul what his favorite bird chase was.  He chastised me a little in saying "we don't think that way."  That was a very deep answer if you think about that for a while.  I was trying to get the higher meaning of it for days when it came to me...he was just Uncle Paul smacking me behind the ear.  Yea, "we don't think that way."  I needed to change my idea of bird listing....they are all great chases, the best one is the next one.  The worst one is the last dip.

 He birds a lot with Larry Peavler (904) Larry is the thinker behind the duo of Larry and Paul.  He is quieter and certainly has forgotten more about birds than I will ever know.  I didn't get Larry to open up much.  Larry is a nice guy, polite and I like his rabbit bomber hat.  

It took me a while to get Ebbe Banstorp (870) talking but then I did.  Ebbe has an odd Swedish accent that took me a while to place as I initially thought he had to be Danish but that didn't fit, as he didn't pronounce things Danish.  He is from the province of Skone, in southern Sweden, they have an odd Swedish dialect down there (Skonish) compared to "08s" which is the phone exchange for Stockholm and the standard Swedish accent, but if you ask him, he is just from Orange County.  Ebbe walks, doesn't ride an ATV, has a fixed birding schedule and absolutely refuses to ever EVER seawatch.  Too cold I think he told me and It has done him well, even his fixation on Frosted Flakes has done him well.  A birding 

Monte Taylor is the king of photography of ABA birds having photographed more species than all but 6 people have seen, his life list at 860, photo list of 852 is amazing.  He spends all of his time organizing photos in the corner, waiting on the radio minding his computer.  Monte is under appreciated and not understood by everyone.  He is the character from Oh brother, where art thou? played by George Clooney.  Monte has the gift of gab, just like the character and travels with Ebbe so one talks and one listens and well that seems to have worked for 31 years.  I like Monte, and I would not hesitate to call him to help me in a pinch in Santa Ana, California or Irving or somewhere close by.  I hope I meet him and the other Megas again....

Macklin Smith came in a week later.  One word describes Prof. Macklin Smith, "Genteel."   Macklin has an amazing number (916).  He lived through a disease that would have killed him just a few years before he got it, living in extra time is a grand thing as it beats...not living.  Heck, I'm going on my 36th year of extra time.  Life IS good.  Medicine, I like it! ....Macklin knows poetry from the Middle ages, was a professor at Michigan....I would have liked to have studied "Paradise Lost" with him in college or the "Inferno" from Dante.  My college president at Ripon, Bill Stott, also was a man with an advance degree in English Lit and a master birder....English and birds....go figure?   I bet Macklin has a lot to say and not just about being the birding chef of Attu... 

I hadn't seen Doug Gotchfeld since 2014.  Doug was a young gun back then, which was only 2 years ago, it seems since then he has transformed into a bit of philosopher, he seems to have grasped deeper meaning in life, wise in his young years.  Maybe it was a trip to Israel, maybe he is like Scotch, and aging well, even though he is really just a kid. doesn't mean anything, it is just Doug being, Doug and there doesn't have to be any meaning.  I just want to say, I like it!   Doug is the best field photographer I have ever seen, just does amazing, amazing things with his 400 fixed lens on a Canon...I think He could get a clear photo of a fly going across the room....

I last birded with Greg Scyphers and Martin Meyers (sp?) at the tail end of the amazing 9 days I had with Thor Manson on St Paul in 2014 with Doug....and Cory.  They were still licking their chops thinking of what we had as when their plane landed the winds turned and the birds switched to warblers and robins from Asian code 4s and 5s.....I sort of think I jinxed them again....sorry guys.  This is birding.....I think they are okay, even though I kept reminding Greg my daughter has a dusky grouse up on him in lifers in Nevada......everyone has a nemesis....even him.  When an Arctic warbler showed in Nevada last week, he looked a little peeved at it all and he wasn't nearby....even when we tried to be supportive and stated one couldn't prove it wasn't a Kamchatka Leaf warbler as they look similar to an arctic and without a call who knows...?  I don't think he appreciated that and he looked at us like we were insane.

So that is a bit of a snapshot of the crew....and they are a good crew, the Gods of birding in many respects.

It is hard for me to sit with a group of birders for as long as I did on Gambell....I don't like to talk birding and weather that long, I like football and baseball, and 1880-1930 history and art history of the same period, fishing, .....and we only had one TV channel and no alcohol is allowed on the island...I could have used a beer.....IDK, but I survived and best of all they didn't kill me.....I doubt anyone will invite me back but I always say that. 

back top birding...

Day 14.  Gambell, St Lawrence Is AK

A NON-Starter

The day had an odd aire to it not even considering the view with the sun interacting with the fog on the cliffs. The morning at seawatch was even slower than the day before.  It was really windy in the north, and cold air came in with the wind.  It was clear nothing and came in overnight.  I played around with my digiscoping attachment and saw 39 pelagic cormorants, counting them to pass the time.  The wife of the teacher from school walked over and introduced herself.  They are here for a year without an ATV, which seemed pretty hard to get around, I was thinking.  I should not have thought that.  It was damp and cold and on the way home my ATV failed to start so we called the owner.  Maybe I jinxed it.  

There was a report of a lesser sand plover so we all went out like the US Calvary looking for the bird.  It was an organized assault by Col Feeney with most of the best bird chasers in the world, these guys could find a lone mouse in a building.

I rode pillion, or "bitch" using a US slang term on Lt Col Chris Feeney's (US Army Ret.) ATV as we charged around and my bum was sore after a while, really sore. That is an odd term as I think about it, and I'm not sure if it is really offensive or it being a biker term makes it okay....ideas?    But I felt like a bitch....IDK

I (we) looked for hours.  Before lunch in terms of shore birds...only a single sanderling was located, Greg Siefert got a really good photo of a juve bird that had some color to it.  I saw it, it looked funny but well it was a sanderling.  The sand plover remains UNREPORTED in the ABA for fall 2016 and not on Paul Lehman's official list, even though it may appear on a big year list or two.  Chasing up a shorebird on an ATV into the wind and trying to ID it flying off somewhere is next to impossible, rock sandpipers were called westerns mistakenly and heck I had a dozen I had no idea what they were over the period, but to ID them and even call them as a rare bird?

The total shorebirds this day was the same gray tailed tattler and a couple of long billed dowitchers, there were even few ruddy turnstones about, but no plovers.  No one saw the bird, someone would have if it was there. 

I counted a single sanderling to my day list    

I got my ATV back and now to start it I have to take a pliers and cross the two poles of the starter.  I get a large spark and it starts. The pliers brand Fukong, and it was a Fukong odd starter I had to deal with for the rest of my stay.  It was Fukonged up, I said....everything Fukonged. 

We had another Bluethroat sighting in the near boneyard.  Gavin announced it was definitely cornered this time.  Then we had vanished a third time.  It made me laugh.  Bluethroat 3, Gavin 0.  

On a scary note somehow Norm, a really nice guy I had met from North Carolina who drives for Wilderness Birding had an accident falling off an ATV, but I was relieved when the word went out that it wasn't serious.  I like Norm, loaned him a book for Tristan de Cuhna, my daughter liked him too, so glad he seems okay.  He did well during his stay...yet another educator in the written arts....birding and English

Well, the cook, Greg made a wonderful cheesecake tonight, so well, all was not lost for the day.

It has been another week, and no new birds that I can honestly count.  Maybe I can see a sanderling and call it a sand plover, maybe I can see a rough legged hawk and say it is a white tailed eagle, which I kept doing in my mind for a moment....maybe I can see an arctic warbler and call it a dusky warbler.....or maybe see a pintail and call a bean goose, but then of coarse one would have to distinguish a Taiga versus Tundra Bean goose and those are hard calls, especially without a, I can't do that.  Sanderlings are sanderlings, hawks, are hawks, an arctic warbler is an arctic warbler, and well, Bean geese should be lumped in the ABA as no one can usually ID the two 'species' anyhow so it is actually better just seeing pintails.

Day 15-22

Gambell, St Lawrence Island

NE Winds

It blew, blew some more and the crew got surly.  We watched the weather like clockwork at 530, and then notcied at day 23, it would shift to west.....there was hope, but for the WINGS tour people, they ran out of time and hope and went home at day 17, but nothing changed, nothing did.

We looked at the turbines every moment and hoped they would change from NE to something... anything...the wheatears and arctics left....we hoped for even a sparrow....then we looked at alternative weather models...during all of this three things happened.

First...we discussed a white cheeked pintail in Virginia which Paul L called "squishy" meaning that it was probably an escaped bird and you could count it but...well it was "squishy".

second, we discussed the Tropical storm on the east coast which didn't bring in much, a couple of tropicbirds in the Chesapeake Bay area but not much and then shockingly we discussed the remnant hurricane in Arizona which produced the most amazing fall out of odd seabirds I expect to ever hear about....things never seen off the coast of California let alone in Arizona.....and I was stuck here. but well I wouldn not have gotten there in time to see anything anyhow...just wishful thinking of what could have been.

Thirdly I thought of bugging out, but there was this great weather forecast for vagrants....

Day 23  Gambell


The wind shifted 40 minutes ahead of forecast at 210, by three a report of an Siberian accentor, came out and we missed it being in the south, Chris and I passed the time each day counting rock sandpipers and harlequin ducks 5 miles south of town.

But...we found it, good bird, cool bird, but this was not a year bird for me, then we spotted a second bird, my 3rd and 4th all time of the species, they are kind of neat...code 4s too.

They stayed for two days....unfortunately an hour later, the winds shifted to pure south and defied the weather report and any predictions....and the other birds...never came....they never came.  I wanted to cry....

Day 24-25 Gambell

Counting Owls

In the morning fog, I flushed a snowy owl, unfortunately I had no witness, no photo, no proof, shoot, I even lost it in the was just a snowy owl but the bird was not counted, sigh, these guys are tough.  I didn't even report it to Ebird....Paul L would reject it, so why bother.

I worked on my novel which I named "Counting Owls" but as the depression grew and my loneliness expanded, I found the writing becoming more lustful even pornographic and weirdly like one had 30 porn channels and were switching them fast, it didn't make any sense.  I couldn't even focus on one steamy scene so I switched to murder scenes and the murders became ghastly, grizzly, all blood and mutilation so I had to stop writing.  Is this what being stuck somewhere does to people?

Mostly I just felt I had to get out of here, the people nice, the natives fine, but the weather was still hopeful, so I demurred and stayed and as the guys studied new weather models, things could be okay....

I went out and saw 7 short eared owls getting enough photos to satisfy but they had been seen before.  My best...

Then on day 25, Chris found the snowy owl.  He confirmed my sighting!  I wasn't seeing things....then I went out and saw 5, a flock or a parliament, I thought we saw 5.

Paul L looked at the photo and counted 4 owls, daily count was 4, as we could only prove 4.  It was still a parliament of owls, though.

I got a better in flight photo later....

I also saw many pacific golden plovers

I rescued a least auklet chick stuck on the ground not making it to sea and I carried it to the ocean and threw it in flying off, I hoped that would appease the birding gods but alas, all I did was saved a least auklet chick, they were getting blown around all over as the adults just leave them and eventually hungry they fly off the cliffs but well, they aren't too bright and many die.  Doug G said why does there have to be a meaning in saving a chick or seeing a bear...maybe, it is just that you saved a chick and seen a bear.

I walked the dogs, chasing us on ATVs, I'd say I spotted a wolf here but you'd see the tag.  Our best boneyard stomp had 7 canine helpers

Depression grew...and I think by day 27, the weasel had won.  I wished I hadn't seen it, but secretly hoped it was I called Bering Air and I left....I got all the way to Anchorage sitting by Nicole from Nome for the 3rd time.  She said I needed a beer on the plane as all the internet was out in Nome and it was lucky we got out of there....she talked about her moose she had just shot....a 60 incher, he was battle tested with healed wounds that would have killed an ordinary animal...any talk was better than talking about birds and the weather.

I woke up on day 28 to calls from my mom and wife, text from sister, Jena, she had given birth to a nine pound 6 oz girl, her 2nd...named Lucy.

I'm an uncle again, maybe I can be a Paul Sykes kind of uncle...LOL....IDK.  

When it is all said an done, what number we have doesn't matter.  A Wikipedia blurb means nothing.  All we are remembered by is really our children.  I think of my grandfather Allwin everyday and if I think too much, I start to cry. I like to tell his stories as much as possible as it makes me feel like he is still around.  He would be 101 if he was around and I loved my grandfather.  He thought I was special, and told everyone that, that I think was what made me move forward in life.  I have not really felt as safe and secure in my existence from anyone else, to be honest.  I don't want to dish on anyone it is just the way it is.  One of my bucket list items was to name a son after him, Allwin was born 5 years after his death.

 Lucy is named after grandma Lucille Danielson, the other half of my grandparent duo....Lucille gets to meet her namesake, still kicking at 91...she is also the person I dedicated this year to.  My grandmother has outlived all of her siblings and for that mater a vast majority of her nieces and nephews, memories are fading of many people who walked on this earth.  I see grandpa Allwin "Bop" in my son's eyes, every time I look at him. My sister makes me proud, way to go girl!!  Husband Jon is okay too!  I hope they see Grandma Lucille in this child's eyes for the rest of their lives.

I am having a hard time writing and seeing the screen as tears well up.  I want to go home.  I miss my wife and my family.  My wife got a new kitten and I haven't seen the kitty either.  But alas I cannot, but I have to stop writing or I may become morose.

Damn big year ...

Gambell was a bust but maybe those left behind will get something....hard to tell. 
It isn't for lack of trying.  You know...maybe next year.

That is my update,...I continue to fight the mundane and the, I found myself photographing downy woodpeckers and red-breasted nuthatches, well...and then bears.....

damn bears...


Golden dreams and memories

  Today brings me to the north suburbs of Chicago.  Although not for a bird even though a lifer bird had been flying tantalizingly close to ...