St Paul, Pribilof Islands, Alaska September 17-26, 2014 #656-672
When one chases birds, you see a lot of odd things…and you go to a lot of odd places. St Paul islands is one of those places. To get there you fly to Anchorage, overnight, get to airport and board a plane where the agent states you may or MAY NOT get your luggage, it may be left in Dillingham which you find out you have to stop at. So the prop plane goes and shakes for an hour and a half and you land at the coast refuel and then if weather over Bering Sea is okay, you jump the two hours to St Paul. The bathroom on the plane is only fit for a 4 foot tall person, and they give you snacks, if you can eat it. The person in row 6 sits with a folded life boat in front of them and it is the size of maybe a large trunk.
You land, all your luggage and carryons end up in a pile and then you see your suitcase marked “Last ON” and you feel a relief, others look sad as they may get it in two days, or… they may not.
Now we got picked up by a tour but, you could go and get your rental car
Is there a worse rental car anywhere? Some say getting a bumper costs you more than the $95 per day, but I don’t know. The window doesn’t appear to close, or maybe just everyone smokes in the car…it isn’t clear, we didn’t get a rental.
We were told to wear our birding stuff as our luggage may get lost, hum….but no matter, it wasn’t. The motel is actually the airport terminal and isn’t that bad really but four miles from the village,and Thor and I are the only ones here, well for the first week until the nursing facility has a fire and no heat so they come and stay later. It doesn’t seem like we ever need to fight for the television. The internet is broken so Thor and I share a scotch in the evening and then go to bed.
Back to the fire. We heard the sirens that day and initially thought it was a tsunami warning, which….was not something we took lightly birding in the lowest point of the island at the time. Alas we make it to the car drive to the highest point and see the fire trucks coming back. Later we heard that there was a fire.
Right off the bat when we got there, we go and slog in a marsh and start to bird, twenty feet, first rare bird, a sharp-tailed sandpiper, which are everywhere, then twenty feet later we flush a rare Jack Snipe, a code 4, 15 records ever in North America, then five minutes later flush a Common Snipe a code 3, so here we are on island for an hour and I have three life birds all coded rarities. Wow.
Things are odd here. Besides sleeping at the airport, we eat at a seafood plant. We get there every morning at 8, then after 915 when it gets light, we go birding all day. This is not a walk a little affair, which invariably means we hike a marsh or drive the pushkie, the local grass that is tall thick and generally tough to get through which is interspaced with celery. We don’t have beaters or springer spaniels, we got us. It took four days to get one’s pushkie legs and have hips of steel to handle this. At dark we generally passed out exhausted. Well until we got our pushkie legs, then we passed out after the scotch. The beer store was open from 515 to 8 and we tried some of that but after someone’s salad was stolen in the fridge, we didn’t trust the communal refrigerator so we drank it warm.
Our breakfast place, our lunch place, our dinner place……
Besides the pushkie, a frequent birding place was driving the birds out of the crab pots, which are piled near the village
We saw quite a few rarities here even a sharp-shinned hawk, the first accipitor ever seen in the Bering Sea, but alas common back home
Here are a description of the 16 life birds I saw, some birds of a lifetime>
#657 Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Code 3, these guys are everywhere on the island and are like finding water in the Bering Sea
#658 Common Snipe, which I saw twice but getting one which flushes into the camera is a work of art or luck, I have neither
#659 Jack Snipe, see it? It is the dark spot that isn’t the rock. We saw two of these code 4 rarities, which have only been ID’d about 15 times in the ABA area and here we have two of them. I thought this would be the rarest bird we saw but it wasn’t. Flushed them maybe ten times, Thor almost stepped on one, too.
#660 Slaty-backed Gull, code three rarity, the black gull in the middle of the pack, we saw about five of these birds around the island
#661 Red-flanked Bluetail, a code four rarity we found in a cut out of the wind, and we saw it for three straight days
#662 King Eider, not rare, but an extreme northern sea duck I hadn’t seen and they are in winter plumage
#663 Taiga Flycatcher, this little code 4, became a much photographed rarity hanging around until we got easterly winds and heading back to Asia, one hopes. Seen here in Crab Pots
#664 Olive-backed Pipit, a code 3 skulky bird that alluded me to photograph it the only time it would have let me was when I had the a shot at the Siberian Accentor…birds, which to photograph and two coded rarities at same time.
#665 Gray-tailed tattler, seen two at least of these code 3 shorebirds. This is a code 3 rarity.
#666, Dusky Warbler, a code 4 bird, the Devil Bird of the number 666 and a devil to see, hiding in the pushkie, and refusing to be seen until Thor almost stepped on it too, (his feet don’t look so big) photo courtesy of Doug our guide
#667 Wood Warbler, a MEGA code 5, this is the 5th EVER appearance of this species in North America and in the end we actually saw 2 of them
#668 Red-throated Pipit, Code 3 rarity, saw a couple but couldn’t photograph the bird
#670 Yellow-billed Loon, my missing loon, finally, I missed this northern Arctic loon in Attu, as I was taking a shower, it was a nice close fly-by, but no photo
#671 Arctic Warbler, dug this bugger out of the pushkie and had one lucky decent look but no photograph, just a code 2 common mainland ALASKA bird
#672 Eurasian Skylark, a code 3 bird which incidentally is found around Victoria BC where someone once introduced them.
Wow, 16 life birds, even Thor now 83rd birder in the world by ABA life list got 7
But besides the rarities we saw some pretty cool sights:
The arctic foxes>>>>>>>
The Emperor Geese which are by far the coolest geese
Lots of views and cool things, not just birds. Killer whales, too. This was a trip of a lifetime and it seems for Olaf, Adventurer and Author, it was just another cool trip…someday if I go for the big year record (not the nude one) I may be back, I’d have to be back them but now just a happy memory.