Previous Tours - ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA
Top 10 lists are voted upon by the participants at the completion of each tour.
Favorite birds of the first week on
ADAK ISLAND ALASKA:
24 Sep – 1 Oct 2009
as voted upon by the participants & leaders.
2) Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
3) Bald Eagle
4) Snow Bunting
5) Peregrine Falcon
6) Harlequin Duck
7) Ancient Murrelet
8) Winter Wren
9) Eurasian Green-winged Teal
10) Glaucous Gull
11) Olive-backed Pipit
Favorite birds of the second week on
ADAK ISLAND ALASKA:
13-20 September 2007,
as voted upon by the participants & leaders.
2) Marsh Sandpiper
3) Lesser Sand-Plover
4) Oriental Greenfinch
5) Common Greenshank
6) Sharp-tailed Sandpipe
7) Yellow-billed Loon
8) Emperor Goose
9) (Siberian) Rough-legged Hawk
10) Slaty-backed Gull
Additional highlights included three Orcas from the Loran Station seawatch, many Sea Otters with pups in Clam Lagoon, and large numbers of spawning Pink Salmon and Silver Salmon in the smaller creeks.
Favorite birds of the first week on
ADAK ISLAND ALASKA:
6-13 September 2007,
as voted upon by the participants & leaders.
1) MARSH SANDPIPER
2) Oriental Greenfinch
3) Little Stint
4) Common Greenshank
6) Sharp-tailed Sandpipe
7) Slaty-backed Gull
8) Gray-tailed Tattler
9) Rock Ptarmigan
10) Pacific Golden-Plover
Mammals of interest included Sea Otters with pups, a large bull Steller’s Sea Lion near shore, and two Minke Whales, also near shore. Spawning Pink Salmon and Silver Salmon were abundant and attracted numerous Bald Eagles, ravens, and gulls. We saw rainbows almost daily, including one above our newly-discovered Oriental Greenfinch!
ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA
September 6-20, 2007
Leaders: John Puschock & Bob Schutsky
Trip Report by Bob Schutsky
6 Sep Two weeks on Adak Island in the Aleutians, 1200 miles southwest of Anchorage, searching for strays from Asia. What could be more exciting than that? John Puschock had been scouting for a week prior to our arrival and had a good report when we met at the Adak Airport: two Oriental Greenfinches had been seen earlier in the day. John had quick glimpses the day before and another birder had good looks today. This species was previously unreported on Adak. We picked up our luggage and, with an hour of daylight remaining, we were off to the National Forest on our first chase. We had Lucie Bruce, Nick Cooney, and John Odgers from Texas, and Bill Sugg from North Carolina, all eager to search for our first Asian stray.
There are no native trees on Adak, so birding the National Forest is not quite what you might think. It is a small grove of spruces that you can easily circumnavigate in 30 seconds. Down the road a short way is an even smaller grove that we call the State Park. No luck at either spot, or in the gravel road or the surrounding vegetation. We put down some birdseed in an attempt to attract the Greenfinches. We’d be back in the morning, and many times to come.
7 Sep After breakfast we checked the National Forest again, finding a Song Sparrow and a Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, but no Oriental Greenfinch. Clam Lagoon yielded a juvenile Ruff and juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher in the grassy flats at the south end. Later in the afternoon as we continued around the 6-mile road that encircles Clam Lagoon, we discovered two more Ruffs and a juvenile Common Greenshank on nearby Lake Shirley. These are excellent birds. But 30 minutes later we hit the jackpot - - TWO Marsh Sandpipers (!!) on the Clam Lagoon flats near Candlestick Bridge. This was the 5th ABA record, and the only occasion on which two had been seen together anywhere in North America. It was a life bird for the entire group except John Puschock who had seen it twice before on Adak. [I will refer to the ABA area several times in this report. ABA = the American Birding Association area, basically the US, Canada, and surrounding waters.] We finished with a couple of Peregrine Falcons and an apparent adult hybrid gull, Glaucous-winged x Slaty-backed. Our first full day on Adak had been a good one, a very good one indeed.
8 Sep Late in the morning the Common Greenshank was still on Lake Shirley, but the Ruffs were gone. After lunch we visited Sweeper Cove near the village of Adak, specifically the outflow from the fish processing plant. This is a major concentration point for gulls because of the abundance of food in the cove. John spotted the 2nd-winter Slaty-backed Gull that he had observed last week. We all had good looks as it rode on the water with the abundant Glaucous-winged Gulls. Even though we weren’t finding anything there, we felt compelled to check the National Forest again. This time it paid off, BIG TIME! John flushed an Oriental Greenfinch from the spruces. It flew down the road to the spruces at the State Park where some of us saw it well and others were still hoping for better looks. We knew of one lone nearby spruce that Nick had dubbed the Regional Park. As we slowly and carefully made our way to this solitary tree, there was the Oriental Greenfinch, perched on the very top. And it remained for everyone to see and photograph. Persistence paid off and our entire group was more than pleased. We spent late afternoon at Contractor’s Camp Marsh. A Peregrine Falcon flushed a shorebird from the wet grasses, an almost definite Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. But the Peregrine did not catch it, which pleased Bill, who still needed Sharp-tailed for an ABA bird. We also saw a Common Snipe, the Eurasian version and a separate species from our Wilson’s Snipe. We ended the day with our first of many rainbows.
9 Sep It rained all morning with strong southwest winds at 30-40 mph. We found nothing new, but did relocate the Common Greenshank and two Marsh Sandpipers. They were now traveling together as a flock, spending most of their time at the south end of Clam Lagoon. We would see this trio almost daily.
10 Sep A double rainbow put in a nice appearance, as did a bull Steller’s Sea Lion not far offshore at Sitkin Sound. During our stay we also saw Minke Whales, several Orcas, and numerous Sea Otters, many with pups.
11 Sep Late in the afternoon we spotted our first Gray-tailed Tattler of the tour. It was on the rocks at the mouth of Navfac Creek. This is a close relative of the Wandering Tattler of the US Pacific Coast, the only two tattler species in the world. The Slaty-backed Gull plus the Common Greenshank and Marsh Sandpipers were all accounted for during the afternoon.
12 Sep Wednesday turned out to be another one of those spectacular days. It began with a juvenile Pacific Golden-Plover at Lake Andrew. This is not a rare bird by any means, but it is certainly a handsome one. A bit later in the morning we were making our daily round of Clam Lagoon. We spotted the flock of about 50 Sanderlings that was often accompanied by two Western Sandpipers. But now there was a third peep, smaller than the two Westerns. John and I both felt that it was a stint, most likely a Red-necked. We mobilized quickly for our walk across the flats. We were able to approach closely for excellent looks, but juvenile stints are not easily identified. John obtained fantastic photos, which he displayed on his laptop at lunchtime. It became very apparent that we had found a Little Stint, the first documented record for Adak. What an incredible find! We returned to Clam Lagoon after lunch for more photos and prolonged observations. Between 5 and 6 PM we saw the following species at Clam Lagoon: Little Stint, two Marsh Sandpipers, Common Greenshank, and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. And Florida birders Ted Robinson and Greg Bretz were flying in tomorrow to join us for the second week. Hopefully some or all of these birds would hold tight for the next 24 hours.
13 Sep Our first new bird for the day came in an interesting fashion. A small flock of Ruddy Turnstones was flying over Sitkin Sound, near Goose Rocks. The flock was occasionally joined by a smaller flock of shorebirds, then the small flock would disappear. This happened several times. It turned out that the small flock was a group of five Red Phalaropes. When they landed on the water, they effectively vanished. We finally had good looks at them feeding from the surface of the water and on the kelp beds. We were pleased with the sighting, as phalaropes are uncommon this late in the season. We ended our first week with 57 different species and many high-quality finds. And we began our second week when Greg and Ted landed at the Adak Airport at about 7:15 PM. We whisked them out to Clam Lagoon, stopping en route for a great look at our first Gyrfalcon. They were able to see the two Marsh Sandpipers very well (ABA bird for both), along with the Common Greenshank. We ran out of daylight and ended the day quite content.
14 Sep Not long after seeing the Greenshank and Marsh Sands yet again, John spotted two Kittlitz’s Murrelets on Sitkin Sound. This species is relatively easy in spring, but much more difficult by September, especially from shore. After lunch the wind had finally settled down, so we stopped at another grouping of stunted spruces that we had dubbed the Elfin Forest. We had seen Winter Wren there on earlier stops, plus the occasional Song Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. But today we hit the jackpot when Greg spotted a songbird atop one of the spruces and John yelled “Oriental Greenfinch!” We had quick looks there, then it flew back to the other end of the trees where we had more looks. Then it disappeared into a nearby tree. Barb and Frank Haas had arrived from Pennsylvania on the Thursday flight with Ted and Greg. They put in a voluminous amount of time, scattered more birdseed, searched, played greenfinch songs on their iPod, all to no avail. We were never able to relocate this bird. Whether it was the same bird we had seen last week, or the second of the two birds that John had seen before we arrived, or a brand new one, we’ll never know.
15 Sep gave us our first Eurasian Wigeon, and the next day (16 Sep) Greg and John had a brief look at what was probably a Whimbrel, but it got away before we were certain. We had at least three Eurasian Wigeon on 17 Sep, probably several more. The winds picked up on 18 Sep, 50-60 mph sustained winds with gusts to 80! The birding was tough, but we kept trying. It would blow like this for the next 48 hours.
19 Sep We had another curlew-type bird get away from us today. Bill and I had spotted it on Clam Lagoon and had alerted the others that we had an interesting, unidentified shorebird that needed immediate attention. Bill and I had started across the flats, battling the excessive winds. Just as we were approaching close enough to perhaps identify the bird, and just as the other two vehicles were pulling up to the overlook, a Peregrine stooped on the shorebird and chased it out of sight, never to be seen again. We searched most of the remainder of the day, but no luck. It went down as a curlew-type shorebird that got away. Drats!
20 Sep Our final day on Adak Island Alaska, and a short day due to our early evening flights back to Anchorage. But we still had plenty of good birding time and we took full advantage of it. Shotgun Lake is one of the small lakes near Clam Lagoon that we check regularly for waterfowl. Sometimes there are 100 birds on it, sometimes none. This morning there was a flock of five Eurasian Green-winged Teal, then a smaller flock of three. But one of the three looked different, with a few light markings on the face. We were just getting better looks at this bird when it disappeared behind some vegetation. After a quick drive to the other side of the lake and a few photos by Frank Haas, we felt confident that we had a Garganey, but by now the flock had flown. We relocated it in a small roadside pond, no more than 30 feet from the vans. We all had prolonged views of the Garganey in perfect light and point blank range. Very exciting! We moved on to Sitkin Sound and found our only loon of the entire two weeks, a Yellow-billed Loon. On the return trip to lunch we saw two Gray-tailed Tattlers along the edge of Clam Lagoon. And, after a grand chase and lots of trips around Clam Lagoon and across the flats, we found our last new bird of the tour, a juvenile Lesser Sand-Plover. Our final tally for the second week was 57 species, with a total of 65 species seen during the two-week period. It was an excellent birding expedition to Adak Island with many exciting adventures.
12-26 September 2004
John Puschock, Leader
Trip Report by John Puschock
Adak is located in the central Aleutian Islands, 1300 miles southwest of Anchorage and only 400 miles east of Attu. The US military established several bases here during WWII to stage for the battles against the Japanese on Kiska and Attu. Following the war, the military presence continued on the island until the late 1990s when the US Navy closed its base. Access to the island was restricted while the base was active. It has been opened to the general public for only the past few years.
With the end of regular scheduled birding trips to Attu and the opening of Adak, Bird Treks decided to do a scouting trip to this island to explore its birding potential. While spring migration through the Aleutians – at least in the westernmost islands – is fairly well documented from more than 20 spring trips to Attu, the characteristics of fall migration aren’t known as well. Only recently have trips to Gambell and St. Paul revealed the potential for Asian vagrants during this time of year. We thought that there was a good chance of finding some great birds on Adak as well, considering that it is further west than both of these locations. In fact, despite a limited amount of birding activity in the past, North America’s first Broad-billed Sandpiper (Aug 1977) and second Marsh Sandpiper (Sep 1998) were found on Adak.
We went to Adak Sep 12-26, 2004. I was the leader of this scouting trip, and was joined by Devich Farbotnik, Mitchell Hait, Jason Horn, Dorothy Poole, and Dotty Robbins. No one knew what to expect. I was thinking that if we could get 3 or 4 Asian vagrants, the trip would be a success. We were all happily surprised with what we found . . .
Day 1 - Sep 12
Leaving Anchorage, we were excited to start our first Aleutian birding experience, and the 2.5-hour flight seemed longer than it actually was. The hour-long layover in King Salmon didn’t help. Sightseeing from the air was limited once we reached the Bering Sea, as most of the islands were covered by clouds, but some of the higher mountains were peeking above the cloud tops, most notably a volcano that was emitting some steam. About 2 hours after leaving King Salmon we were finally on our approach to Adak. We all started birding even before the plane landed – my first Adak bird was a Glaucous-winged Gull that I saw soon after we broke through the clouds. As the plane was touching down, others got a Bald Eagle sitting on a runway marker, followed soon after by a flock of Lapland Longspurs in flight.
We all wanted to start birding immediately, but first we had to figure out who in the crowd greeting the flight was the “hotel” manager and who was the car rental agent. Things are a little less formal in these places on the outskirts of civilization. There are no counters at the airport for car rentals, and the hotel is actually just a group of townhouses that had been housing for naval officers when the base was open. These are the same townhouses that most Adak residents live in. We succeeded in finding the people we needed to find, filled out the paperwork, and were on our way to our home for the next couple of weeks.
We quickly got settled in to the townhouses and headed out to start some serious birding. First stop was the Kulik Bay shoreline. Immediately, a Song Sparrow popped up to greet us. This isn’t your normal everyday Song Sparrow. The subspecies on the Aleutians look unlike any other you have seen – it is large and dark, and in flight it reminded me of a huge Seaside Sparrow – a chunky bird desperately beating the air trying to stay aloft. A quick scan of the shoreline and bay started turning up lifers for everyone. A few Rock Sandpipers were working the water’s edge, and Ancient and Marbled Murrelets, Common Murres, and Red-faced Cormorants were just offshore.
Next, we drove out to Clam Lagoon, the hotspot on the island. On the drive, we were continuously flushing flocks of Lapland Longspurs from the roadside. The first scan of the lagoon produced two dark morph Parasitic Jaegers and Green- winged Teal of the nimia subspecies. This form is a potential split. In fact, the British Ornithological Union has already split the Old World forms of Green-winged Teal (including nimia) from the American subspecies. Most of the ducks were in eclipse plumage during our stay, but the broad white borders of the speculum of these ducks showed that they were “Eurasian” Teal. There were also good numbers of Sea Otters and Harbor Seals to watch.
As we continued driving around Clam Lagoon, we found a flock of Rock Ptarmigan on the road in front of us. We had great looks as they ran down the road before finally taking flight. This scene was repeated several times a day throughout the rest of the trip.
We looked over Sitkin Sound just to the east of the lagoon and found a flock of about 10 Common Eiders, a larger flock of Harlequin Ducks, and more Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants. It was starting to get late, so we turned around to return to town, but of course, we stopped to scan the lagoon again. Jason found our first Asian vagrant of the trip – a Common Tern of the longipennis subspecies from Siberia, another potential split.
Before heading to dinner, we made a quick drive through the south side of town and nearby areas. A stop at Sweeper Cove produced a Black Turnstone and Pigeon Guillemots, and I found the first Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches of the trip at an abandoned building overlooking Finger Bay. It was getting dark as we drove back to town, and the last bird of the day was a Short-eared Owl hunting near the airport.
Day 2 - Sep 13
I started the day by driving to the “gas station” to fill up our van. You can only get gas on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and then only for an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. While waiting my turn (there’s only one pump), I listened to a Winter Wren singing. But the first bird of the day for the rest of the crew was a gray morph Gyrfalcon sitting on a utility pole on the edge of town. Nice start!
Next, we headed back to Clam Lagoon. The usual flocks of longspurs were seen on the drive. I don’t think we ever drove anywhere without seeing some. We quickly relocated the two Parasitic Jaegers. The Common Tern was gone, but there was more than enough to make us forget its absence. As we drove around the lagoon, I noticed a bird disappear over the grasses between the road and the water. I didn’t think much of it. While it looked fairly big, I just thought that maybe it was a Song Sparrow. But then it flushed again, and after about one second to process what we were seeing, both Jason and I were shouting “Cuckoo!” I slammed on the brakes and everyone was out of the van in no time. We were able to watch it fly for about 10 seconds before it disappeared behind a hill.
We didn’t see it well enough to know if it was a Common or an Oriental Cuckoo, and though we weren’t sure where it had gone, we quickly came up with a plan to track it down. While Jason, Dotty, and I hiked up the hill to try to flush it, the rest of the group was looking down by the road in case it had doubled back.
While hiking out to the spot where we last saw it, Jason and I flushed a small bird that was obviously something good, i.e., another Asian vagrant. It gave a call that neither of us recognized. It took us by surprise and flew away very fast, but we were able to follow it in flight and noted where it landed. We’d get back to it as soon as the cuckoo hunt was over.
Well, we never managed to figure out where the cuckoo had gone, so we focused our attention on the new mystery bird. We flushed it several times, but every time it would quickly fly and drop back into thick grass. Once it flew up high and joined a flock of longspurs. We could see that it was slightly smaller than the longspurs, but we didn’t get much else. Another time, Jason noted white outer tail feathers. We had a chance when it landed near a bare area on a hillside along a stream. Devich and Jason saw it pop up in this spot, but it flew before either one could get binoculars on it. Eventually, we lost track of it, so we had to accept that we just had seen two very good birds but that we wouldn’t be able to count either one of them. We had to console ourselves over the next several hours with a female Tufted Duck, an immature “Peale’s” Peregrine Falcon, and an Arctic Loon.
After exploring some other areas, we were back at Clam Lagoon near the end of the day. Earlier, Jason had spotted a small gray sandpiper, but it was too far away for a positive ID. Now we were walking around the lagoon but weren’t finding anything new. As Mitchell and I were returning to the van, a small sandpiper flushed from the edge of the grass. It was probably the same bird Jason had found earlier, but at close range, the now obvious white outer tail feathers made the ID a snap – it was a Temminck’s Stint.
After everyone got killer looks at it from only about 50 feet away, we decided to drive around the lagoon some more. A rainstorm was moving in (typical weather on Adak is rain showers then sun followed by clouds – this pattern generally repeats every 20 minutes) just as Jason found a group of 3 Long-billed Dowitchers and a bird he first thought was a Marsh Sandpiper. Initially, I was reluctant to believe that’s what it was. It just didn’t look quite like the photos of Marsh Sandpipers that I’d seen. We went closer for better looks and to videotape it. But the rain was making viewing conditions difficult, and the birds flew. We really weren’t sure what it was – maybe a Wilson’s Phalarope (which would also be very rare for the island) – but something didn’t seem quite right about it. Just as I was starting to think it actually was a Marsh Sandpiper, Jason was beginning to doubt his initial ID. We were all very tired after that first full day of birding and neglected to look at the video once we got home . . .
Day 3 - Sep 14
We started the day again by driving up to Clam Lagoon. Most of the birds from the previous day were still around – Tufted Duck and Peregrine Falcon at Clam Lagoon, two Gyrfalcons flying around north of the airport. We went back to the area where we flushed the cuckoo and the “mystery bird” on the previous day. As we worked the area, we ended up spread out over several hundred yards. Soon I heard Jason yelling and waving his arms. Running back, I learned that he saw a Fork- tailed Swift as he was watching a flock of Longspurs fly past. He mentioned that there may have been more than one.
The bird had flown west, more or less back to the area I had been searching. I went back to this spot, but now I started scanning the sky uphill from my location. Soon I spotted a swift...then another...and another...my first count was at least 9 or 10! Everyone else got on some of these birds, and we decided to drive up to the top of the hill for better looks. We found the flock, and now some of the birds were flying right over our heads. My conservative count was 13, but Jason was guessing as high as 30. A little later in the morning about a mile away at the bluffs near Lake Andrew, Devich’s minimum count was 17. While counting the swifts, he also noticed a bird sitting on a wire near him. Unfortunately, it flew down into a restricted canyon while everyone else was trying to get to his location, but luckily he was able to get some video of it. The video showed that it was a Gray-streaked Flycatcher.
Day 4 - Sep 15
We went back to Lake Andrew to try to find the flycatcher. It was not seen again, but the swifts were back, and Devich and I separately counted a minimum of 23! There were probably even more than that. A flock of Black-legged Kittiwakes was in the middle of Lake Andrew, and we had a probable immature Red-legged Kittiwake with them, but it was too far for me to comfortably count it.
During our midday check of Clam Lagoon, the “mystery” sandpiper from two days earlier was refound, and this time there was no question about its identity. It was a Marsh Sandpiper. A white edge up the middle of its back was seen well when it flew, and we could now see it’s thin bill, yellowish legs, and overall slim body shape as it fed close to us. We were able to get video of the bird, and assuming it’s accepted, this will be only the third record for North America; the second record was also from Adak in September 1998. The Temminck’s Stint was still in the lagoon, but now with the excitement of seeing the Marsh Sandpiper, this bird that had been one of the stars of the trip was barely looked at. Later, we also found another great rarity for the island, but one that was difficult to appreciate due to our North American bias: Yellow Warbler. Jason and Devich went out later after dinner and found a small lake that held one, maybe two Eurasian Wigeon.
Day 5 - Sep 16
We started the day at the lake with the wigeon. Mitchell needed it for an ABA lifer, but we planned our approach to the lake poorly and accidentally flushed the birds before most of us could get a look. But just before the flock flew, I noticed at least one Eurasian Wigeon, so we knew the birds were still around.
We then hiked through a wet area near the airport and flushed several snipe, at least one of which was a Common, a Eurasian species recently split from the North American Wilson’s Snipe. The Marsh Sandpiper was still at Clam Lagoon and we also found a Lesser Sand-Plover in basic plumage, which was a lifer for some. This bird was very cooperative, giving everyone great looks and allowing us to see the diagnostic lack of a collar around the nape and its long legs. It was in a small flock with a Baird’s Sandpiper and the Temminck’s Stint. All three were often in the same scope view. You don’t get to see that too often.
By this point, we came to expect at least three or more Asian birds every day. Yes, we were getting spoiled, and we were going to be spoiled some more. We had talked to Jeff Williams, a USFWS biologist who lives on Adak, and he pointed out a stream near town that he said was good for wagtails and reed buntings during spring, so we decided to check it out that afternoon.
We parked the van and got out to take a look. As soon as we got there, a large brown bird flew off the right embankment and Jason and I were both immediately shouting “Cuckoo!” again. The bird continued up over the left embankment into a small residential area. Everyone spread out again, but we couldn’t find it. We were all starting to think that we’d be leaving the island with only “cuckoo sp.” on the trip list, but in about 15 minutes, a call came over the radio from Dotty that the cuckoo was right in front of her in a gravel parking lot. We quickly tracked her down (well, everyone except Jason who had disappeared up-canyon), and got scope-filling views of the bird as it fed in the parking lot. The only problem was that we couldn’t decide if it was a Common or Oriental Cuckoo. It didn’t seem to match up well with either species, despite the great looks we were getting. Dorothy eventually tracked Jason down, and everyone got the bird. Dorothy also settled the ID issue, determining that it was an immature Common Cuckoo with the help of “Birds of Europe” and, to a lesser extent, “Birds of Korea”. The fact that the North American field guides only show the adult plumages of Old World cuckoos is another sign of how little birding has been done in western Alaska during fall.
Day 6 - Sep 17
Not much happened today other than a flat tire and more looks at Common Cuckoo, Temminck’s Stint, Lesser Sand-Plover – the usual stuff. However, the Marsh Sandpiper was not refound. My first day on the island without a lifer! But we did get to see some Snow Buntings, including some birds in juvenal plumage, as a consolation.
Day 7 - Sep 18
During our morning rounds of Clam Lagoon, we discovered a large movement of Short-tailed Shearwaters on Sitkin Sound. Jason also spotted an albatross that was almost certainly a Laysan. We all jumped into the van and headed up to the abandoned Loran Station at the north end of the island, perhaps the best sea watching spot on Adak. The shearwaters were moving past the point by the hundreds, if not thousands, though they were fairly far from shore. We didn’t find the Laysan Albatross, but several Black-footed Albatrosses were seen among the shearwaters. A pod of Orcas was also visible far offshore.
Day 8 - Sep 19
We desperately tried to get some new trip birds for Mitchell and Dorothy who were leaving on the flight back to Anchorage that afternoon. We couldn’t get them anything new before they had to head to the airport, but within 30 minutes of there departure, we found two more Fork-tailed Swifts near town, followed by our first Sharp-tailed Sandpiper at Clam Lagoon about an hour later, thereby continuing the superstition of The Sacrifice – the belief that the departure of someone will soon be followed by great birds for those who remain.
Days 9-15 – Sep 20-26
For the most part, the second week didn’t produce as much as the first week – or maybe we had become jaded to all the birds we were seeing – and the migration seemed to be winding down. Shorebirds numbers were dropping, and some of the alcids that had been easy to find at the beginning of our stay were dispersing offshore now that the breeding season was over. Even longspurs were starting to thin out. Sure, we still saw them every day, but just not in the massive hordes that we had grown accustomed to.
We started exploring some other areas of the island this week, looking for possible hotspots we might have missed. One interesting location was the stream that empties into Finger Bay. It was choked with spawning salmon. Some parts of the stream were totally full of fish, their dorsal fins poking out above the water from bank to bank. This aggregation of course attracted a big flock of Glaucous-winged Gulls and some Bald Eagles.
With things slowing down somewhat on land, we took more time to scan Kulik Bay for alcids. On several days, Jason and Devich found Parakeet and Least Auklets. Crested and Cassin’s Auklets were also seen once. The waters of the bay were clear and, from a cliff, I enjoyed watching a Red-faced Cormorant as it dove in search of fish close to shore. During one scanning session, we had a flock of 50-100 Cackling Geese (just split from Canada Goose several months ago) fly overhead. I was expecting to see more of these birds. Apparently, they’re easier to see in spring.
Here are some other highlights from the second week:
– The Common Cuckoo was last seen on Sep 21. We were able to watch it for about 30 minutes on that day, and I got several photographs from as close as 30 feet.
– Several more Sharp-tailed Sandpiper sightings. After flushing one bird, Jason imitated its call as it flew overhead, and it quickly came down, looking like it was headed straight for him. It peeled off at the last second.
– On our first drive around Clam Lagoon on the morning of Sep 22, Jason noticed a bird flush from beside the road. It had a large amount of yellow on it, and Jason was guessing it was a wagtail, probably a Gray Wagtail. We started looking for it and flushed it again, only to lose track of it. It was raining at the time and pretty windy, so we decided to back off and give it time to return to where we had seen it – Jason had noticed a large number of insects in the area, so it seemed like a good bet that it would come back. After the weather cleared in an hour, we went back. Again, we flushed it several times, but it wasn’t being very cooperative and we lost it again before getting a good look. However, it did fly overhead once, revealing that its tail was the same length as its body, supporting Jason’s impression that it was a Gray Wagtail. Since it had returned once, we figured it would come back again. After waiting another hour or two, we came back for a third try. This time we had a strategy, and when we relocated it, we didn’t rush it, knowing that it was very flighty. It flushed a couple of times, but each time it just moved further down along the shore of the lagoon, and when it flew, we were able to see the diagnostic white stripe on the wing confirming that it was a Gray Wagtail. With patience, we were able to get some looks at it through the scope as it foraged on rocks along the water’s edge.
– Sep 22 was also Gyrfalcon day. We watched 3 Gyrfalcons playing and diving at each other over a cliff just two blocks from our apartment. We saw 6 overall that day.
– Emperor Geese were seen at several locations on Sep 23. Three were just offshore at Sitkin Sound in the morning, and they later came to roost on Clam Lagoon at sunset. We also saw two others on the shore of Kulik Bay.
– A Pacific Golden-Plover was on the road between Sitkin Sound and Clam Lagoon on Sep 23. We were able to approach as close as 20 feet in the van.
– We had several more sightings of Eurasian Wigeon. The highlight was 4-5 on Sep 24, including a male mostly out of eclipse plumage on Sep 24. The Green-winged Teal were also losing their eclipse plumage near the end of our stay, and we were able to observe several males.
– A hike to Shagdak Bay on the 24th turned up an apparent Glaucous-winged X Slaty-backed Gull hybrid. Devich also saw an alternate-plumaged Yellow-billed Loon flying toward the ocean.
– On our last morning on the island, we drove out to the Loran Station to try our luck with some sea watching. The wind was coming out of the north, so I thought that maybe some seabirds would be pushed closer to shore. Well, it took a little longer than expected to get out to the station as we flushed something from the side of the road along the way. It was definitely something Asiatic. We just had to figure out what exactly it was. The second time we flushed it, it called just like the bird that we had flushed almost two weeks before while looking for the first cuckoo. But just like that bird, we couldn’t get a good look at it, and we soon lost it as it flew out of sight. We then went back to the sea watch and I quickly spotted a Laysan Albatross. Then Devich spotted one and then another one. It soon became apparent that there was a pretty good movement of albatrosses, along with thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters. But unlike our last sea watch from this spot, most of them were Laysans. In 30 minutes we spotted at least 30, with a few Black-footeds mixed in. Devich also saw another Yellow-billed Loon fly past.
On the drive back to town to get ready for our trip home, we again flushed a bird from alongside the road, most likely the one we were trying to track down earlier that morning. Again, we had trouble getting a decent look at it, but at one point it landed on a bare area uphill from the road. The sun was just above the hill, making viewing conditions difficult. The bird soon flew off, but Devich and I were able to see enough that I finally determined it was an Olive- backed Pipit, but only after lots of research when I got home to eliminate Red-throated, Pechora, and Tree Pipits as possibilities. After a morning like that, it was difficult to get on the plane to leave, but we began our journey to Anchorage and home.