Greetings from Nome, Alaska
High Lonesome’s June Newsletter
I’m writing this newsletter from Nome, Alaska. We’re in the middle of our Alaska schedule for this year. Things are hopping, birdwise, in the Bering Sea: Tundra Bean Goose, White-tailed Eagle, Lesser Sand Plover, Common Ringed Plover, Red-necked Stint, several Terek Sandpipers, Temminck’s Stint, Hawfinch, White Wagtail. All have all been seen on Gambell or St. Paul Island this spring. This is the first record in North America in many years for the eagle. There was a pair breeding on Attu Island back when Attours was still going there in the 90’s, but otherwise, no sightings since then.
The spring trips are ending, but we do still have availability for Gambell September 1 – 8, 2012. These late summer trips for fall migration can be extremely productive, since most of the first North American records for Eurasian birds have been recorded at Gambell in the past 12 or 13 years, including Yellow-browed Bunting, Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Blyth’s Reed Warbler, and Pallas’s Warbler.
Good numbers of other vagrants have also been found there during September, including Common Rosefinch, Oriental Cuckoo, Reed Bunting, and Pechora Pipit. Of course, it’s impossible to know what will show up from year-to-year, but it is exhilarating to be involved in finding these mega-rarities! Dave Mackay will again lead our fall migration trip to Gambell. Hope some more of you folks can join us this year.
Nome, as usual, is spectacular. The scenery alone here is worth the trip. I’ve heard many people comment that they’ve seen most or all of the birds up here in the lower 48. But, they haven’t seen most of them in their breeding plumage and engaging in displays. There’s quite a difference. Nome presents a breeding extravaganza without equal in the western hemisphere.
I’ve just finished our first trip, and though we didn’t have any huge rarities, we had plenty of birds to keep us occupied. Kougarok Road was a bit difficult this early in the season, yet we were able to get up to the Bristle-thighed Curlews at mile 72, getting close looks at one as it flew past us, doing its characteristic wolf whistle. We also flushed a nesting Short-eared Owl on the way up the hill. On the road, we had our first displaying and singing Bluethroat. Territorial Willow Ptarmigan tried their comical best to block the road as we drove.
Our first Gyrfalcon was perched, but then flew off in the distance. At the same location, we saw a beautiful pair of Rough-legged Hawks displaying. We had a couple of special mammal treats along the way. We found a large male Grizzly Bear at a small lake—about 100 yards away. He stood up on his hind legs to get a better look at us and took off running across the tundra away from us, fortunately). We watched him run for a good ten minutes. He would run, then stop and look back us, then run again. I’m glad he wasn’t chasing us! He was very fast for such a large mammal.
A few minutes later down the road, Kim Risen waved us down and told us they had a Lynx! We were able to observe it for several minutes as it moved parallel to us along a stream-bed. It was difficult to get a good picture, but I tried. This was a first for everyone (except me, my second) in the groups, including Kim, who lives in Minnesota and has heard them a number of times. We had the usual moose and muskox as well along the road system.
The next couple of days were spent driving Teller Road and Council Road. We found all the usual birds we expected, including Pacific and American Golden-Plover, Black-bellied Plover, as well as breeding Surf and Black Scoters. We saw several Northern Wheatears, and the largest number of Rock Ptarmigans I have ever seen along Teller Rd. We also found Red-faced Cormorants together with some Pelagic Cormorant and several Black Guillemots at the Teller Spit.
I’ll be off to Denali and Kenai following our second trip to Nome. Then I’ll be in the far north at Barrow where we always get great looks at Spectacled and Steller’s Eiders (and, sometimes, Polar Bears). I’ll finish up at Dutch Harbor where we expect to find breeding Whiskered Auklets.
Why don’t you join us in Alaska, this year or next? It’s the trip of lifetime.
High Lonesome BirdTours
Photo credits: Ardith Bondi and F. Davis.