Bird Treks - A Quality Birdwatching Tour Company

Previous Tours - ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA

Top 10 lists are voted upon by the participants at the completion of each tour.

 

ADAK ISLAND
20-27 May 2012

  1) RUFF--a white male flew into a large wetland at Contractor's Camp, preened, bathed, and drank for 5 minutes, then flew east and out of sight, never to be seen again.
  2) Hawfinch--this handsome Eurasian finch is slightly smaller than an Evening Grosbeak. A male and a female spent at several days at one of our feeding stations.
  3) Laysan Albatross--distant but good looks at one over the open ocean, north of the old Loran Station.
  4) Ancient Murrelet--this striking alcid was numerous everywhere that we scoped coves and open ocean.
  5) Brambling--a male and female were present for several days on the grassy flats at Clam Lagoon, a somewhat unusual spot for them.
  6) Yellow-billed Loon--we found one from Palisades Overlook, the only individual of the week.
  7) Bar-tailed Godwit--we sometimes found 6-7 in a day, with an occasional individual in high breeding plumage.
  8) Common Snipe--seen and heard well in courtship flight over Contractor's Camp.
  9) Eurasian Wigeon--as many as three pairs were present at Clam Lagoon for the entire week.
10) Song Sparrow (maxima)--this local race is impressive by both its size and plumage.

Our favorite mammals were the adult SEA OTTERS carrying their nearly fully-grown young on their chest. We counted a minimum of 24 Sea Otters, mostly in Clam Lagoon.

 

ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA
20-27 May 2012
Tour participant, Warren Hanson
Tour leader and trip report writer, Bob Schutsky

20 May, Sunday
Warren and I met on Sunday afternoon at the Anchorage Airport for our 1300-mile flight to Adak Island. Adak is located in the south central Aleutians, mid-way between Dutch Harbor and Attu. The view of the Aleutians during the flight is best from the left side of the plane. Our flight also produced a grand view of the spectacular ‘ring of fire’ annular solar eclipse. Go to the following link for more details: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/05/120520-solar-eclipse-2012-ring-of-fire-annular-sun-science-how-see-where/. Some people took our flight just to witness and photograph the eclipse, and then returned to Anchorage on the return flight later that afternoon. It was quite a spectacle, and a unique way to begin our tour. Also on the plane were good friends from my home county in Pennsylvania, Barb and Frank Haas. They would be birding Adak on their own, but we planned to be in contact with one another, and sometimes team up to help each other with difficult species.


Warren and I moved into our townhouse, had dinner, and began birding around 8 PM. The Kuluk Bay from the end of the airport runway yielded a flock of 200 Black Scoters and 50 Common Eiders. The dump was good for 50 Common Ravens and numerous Bald Eagles. Warren saw his first life bird at Clam Lagoon, a pair of Kittlitz’s Murrelets. Our final new bird of the evening was a pair of Eurasian Wigeon. It had been a long day, so we headed for home, even though it would not be dark until well after 11 PM.


21 May, Monday
Palisades Overlook gives a fantastic view of Kuluk Bay. There we found our first Common Loon and what would be our only Yellow-billed Loon. Two Black Oystercatchers entertained us on the rocks at the base of the cliff. We moved on to Clam Lagoon and saw our first of several Arctic Loons. The waters of Sitkin Sound near Goose Rock proved quite productive, starting with 100 Harlequin Ducks and 100 Ancient Murrelets. We also found a Red-necked Grebe, Arctic Tern, and had good looks at Pelagic Cormorants. As we drove past Contractor’s Camp, we flushed three Pacific Golden-Plovers, two in breeding plumage and one in winter plumage. They would be in the area for several days to come. Our final new species before lunch was a single male Snow Bunting coming to one of the spots where we had put down seed.


We began our afternoon at the jetty near the mouth of Sweeper Cove. There had been a White Wagtail reported here prior to our arrival, but repeated searches were unsuccessful. This is also a good spot for gulls, where the outflow from the fish processing plant empties into the cove. Nothing but Glaucous-winged Gulls today. Scanning from the end of the jetty we saw two Rock Sandpipers, a Common Murre, and a flock of six Tufted Puffins. Ancient Murrelets and Harlequin Ducks were common. Our last good find of the day was a Caribou tooth, lying in the water in a cove along Finger Creek. It piqued our interest, a single tooth lying in a pool of water.


22 May, Tuesday
One of Warren’s requests was to visit all of the available birding spots on Adak, then return later in the week to the ones that seemed most interesting. This morning seemed good to try the Old Loran Station at the north end of the island. Optimal conditions combine good visibility with north or west winds. On my previous Adak tours, we had been able to drive to the tip, but not today. Several rockslides deposited massive boulders in the road. We parked the truck and began our one-mile walk to the Loran Station. This is a good seawatch spot, and Warren was hopeful that we would find his first Laysan Albatross. This was a bird that he had hoped to see since he began birding, more than 40 years ago. A fishing boat and its associated fish scraps can make the search much easier, but no boats were to be seen this morning. So we went to work, scanning the ocean for Warren’s most wanted species. After 30 minutes we had found two Short-tailed Shearwaters, but no albatross. Another 15 minutes yielded an unidentified whale spout. Then finally, a Laysan Albatross was soaring below the horizon, not close but quite viewable! I waited until it was holding its position, and then turned the scope over to Warren. He was calm and steady, but obviously ecstatic! We were able to observe the albatross for at least 5 minutes, before losing it behind a wave. We looked for more, but no luck. Regardless, Warren was a happy man. He had seen what would be his number one favorite bird of the tour. Neither of us could have guessed how many we would see on our upcoming pelagic trip to Dutch Harbor.


In the afternoon we made our daily visit to Clam Lagoon, THE best birding location on the island. While walking the grassy edge of a vast mudflat, looking for shorebirds, we flushed two songbirds. They were not Lapland Longspurs, but that was all we knew. Fortunately they landed on the roof of a duck blind for a scope view--two Bramblings, in very unexpected habitat. Between us and the Haas’s, we would see them in this area for the next several days. Clam Lagoon also yielded two Arctic Terns, the usual dark-morph Parasitic Jaegers, and a pair of Eurasian Wigeon. We were destined to see only Eurasian Wigeon, but no American Wigeon all week, an interesting situation. The Airport Ponds produced our first Aleutian Terns, right on schedule in the third week of May. They would be seen daily for the rest of the tour. Sea Otters were a daily sight, mostly at Clam Lagoon. Several of the adults were carrying nearly grown young on their chest. Our highest one-day count was 24 otters. We saw smaller numbers of Harbor Seals, and had at least two sightings of Steller’s Sea Lions.


23 May, Wednesday
We found our first Red-necked Phalaropes on the Airport Ponds, a brightly plumaged female and a more subdued male. Phalaropes display a classic case of reverse sexual dimorphism, where the female is the more colorful one. She mates, lays the eggs, then moves on to find a new mate, leaving the male to incubate the eggs and raise the young. This is very unusual in the bird world. Our next stop was Contractor’s Camp, where we decided to walk the wetland areas in search of shorebirds. We had a lot of good exercise, but no shorebirds. As we walked back toward the truck to try our luck elsewhere, a large shorebird with a lot of white plumage flew in from the east. Initially I was stumped, but fortunately it landed on a small island of a nearby pond. It was a RUFF, a breeding-plumaged male with extensive white plumage on the head and neck. It drank, bathed and preened for five minutes, then flew east toward Kuluk Bay. We alerted Barb and Frank but, although we searched extensively, it proved fruitless. We checked a small shorebird flock composed of the Pacific Golden-Plovers, several Semipalmated Plovers, and two Ruddy Turnstones--no luck. The Ruff was never seen again. We did, however, have good looks at two Common Snipe, the Eurasian counterpart of Wilson’s Snipe. Both species breed on Adak, which makes for nice comparisons of plumage and vocalizations.


Later in the day we returned to Contractor’s Camp to look for more shorebirds. Instead we found Barb and Frank, and Frank was running toward our truck. They had been trying to call us, but we were having some telephone problems. “Hawfinch at the Naval Administration Building.” I thanked Frank, waved at Barb, and made a beeline for town. One of our seed piles had produced, big time. We turned into the parking lot and focused on the single spruce tree near the abandoned building. There were several Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, and a single HAWFINCH, my most wanted bird on Adak since I began birding there. I was able to sneak out of the truck and set up the scope--what a view! A bit later Barb and Frank pulled up to take more photos of the Hawfinch. It is a large finch, just slightly smaller than an Evening Grosbeak. By the next day there were two Hawfinches, a male and a female. At least one remained until Sunday, when John’s group arrived by boat from Attu and walked directly to the feeding area for satisfying views of this great bird.


24 May, Thursday
Most of today’s interesting sightings came from Clam Lagoon. We found our daily pair of Eurasian Wigeon. It is nice to see the drakes and to practice identifying the hens. There were at least two pairs frequenting the Lagoon, and possibly a third. Warren had been hoping for a good look at Red-faced Cormorant, and today his wish came true. We had a nice adult near Goose Rock, one of the few for the entire week. Bar-tailed Godwit is a regular, sometimes numerous migrant. We found our first one near Candlestick Bridge, a male in full breeding plumage. We would later find as many as six in various plumages. The male and female Brambling were still in the grassy flats at the south end of Clam Lagoon. And the male and female Hawfinch continued their dominance of the feeding area at the Naval Administration Building.


25 May, Friday
We stopped at the administration building feeder twice this morning. At 8 AM we saw the female Hawfinch. At noon both the male and the female were present. It was enjoyable to get just one more look at these handsome birds. There was a flock of nine Aleutian Terns at the Airport Ponds. Late in the morning we decided to return to Finger Cove and take a walk up Finger Creek. We checked on the regular Pacific Wren at the quarry, then continued south. We made it to the top of the next hill, then noticed copious amounts of steam escaping from under the hood, which is never a good sign. There was a 2-inch slit in our upper radiator hose, so our trip to Finger Cove was postponed. For years I have carried a roll of electrical tape and a roll of duct tape in my pack on every tour I lead, knowing that someday they would be needed. Today was the day. We dried the hose with one of the small towels that I also carry, wrapped first with electrical tape, then did a big wrap with the duct tape. It was a work of art. We poured all of our drinking water into the radiator fill container, and drove a short distance down the hill to a pond. We topped off the radiator and drove to the gas station. Ray, Adak’s chief mechanic, looked it over, admired the fine job, and said he would have us back on the road within an hour. Ray found a hose that was almost the same size as ours, clamped it in place, added water and coolant, and away we went. That was our only mechanical problem all week. We proceeded to Finger Cove for a nice walk, but no new birds, or teeth.


We heard the news that two Chicago birders had found some geese at Clam Lagoon: 2 Snow Geese, 2 White-fronted Geese, and a Brant. These birds are uncommon on Adak, so off we went to find them. After lots of searching and scoping, we saw all three species. We also scoped the flock of six Bar-tailed Godwits at Candlestick Bridge. Later in the day there was a single Bar-tailed Godwit in a puddle near the Sweeper Cove Jetty.


26 May, Saturday
We made a morning visit to Clam Lagoon and relocated all of the geese, godwits, and one Brambling. We would find three new birds later in the day. There was a breeding-plumaged Dunlin on the grassy flats of Clam Lagoon. Barb and Frank had seen a female Northern Shoveler on Lake Shirley that we were also able to see. In a nice trade, they found the Dunlin that we told them about. And finally, a female Peregrine Falcon made a low swooping flight over Contractor’s Camp. Warren was hoping for a Gyrfalcon, but it was not to be.


We found 59 species during the week, a good total for an island in the Bering Sea. Warren saw seven life birds, including his most-wanted Laysan Albatross and the spectacular Ruff. The Hawfinch was my favorite species and a really nice life bird.


27 May, Sunday
We were making the rounds in the morning when we received word that John Puschock’s group from Attu had arrived and were docked in the harbor. Most of John’s folks would fly out of Adak late this afternoon, while others, including Warren and me, would join him for the 400-mile pelagic trip to Dutch Harbor. And thus a new adventure would begin. See John’s blog, http://zbirdtours.com/blog/ that includes stories of the pelagic trip, Attu, and more Aleutian birding.


 

Favorite birds of the
ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA TOUR,
11-18 May 2008 (week #1 of 3),

as voted upon by the participants & leader.

  1) TUNDRA BEAN-GOOSE
  2) Whiskered Auklet
  3) Tufted Duck
  4) Least Auklet
  5) Rock Ptarmigan   6) Common Snipe
  7) Pacific Golden-Plover
  8) Arctic Loon
  9) Harlequin Duck
10) Lapland Longspur


Favorite birds of the
ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA TOUR,
18-25 May 2008 (week #2 of 3),

as voted upon by the participants & leader.

  1) COMMON SNIPE
  2) Thick-billed Murre
  3) Slaty-backed Gull
  4) Whiskered Auklet
  5) Smew
  6) Wandering Tattler
  7) Least Auklet
  8) Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch
  9) Pacific Golden-Plover
10) Ancient Murrelet


Favorite birds of the
ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA TOUR,
25 May – 1 June 2008 (week #3 of 3),

as voted upon by the participants & leader.

  1) COMMON GREENSHANK
  2) Whiskered Auklet
  3) Harlequin Duck
  4) Crested Auklet
  5) Brambling
  6) Eurasian Wigeon
  7) Laysan Albatross
  8) Parakeet Auklet
  9) Black-footed Albatross
10) Red-necked Phalarope


ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA
May 11 - June 1, 2008
Leaders: Bob Schutsky and Jason Horn
Trip Report by Bob and Jason

Sun, May 11 When we touched down on Adak Island, we were on a mission. We needed to claim our luggage, pick up our townhouse keys, load up the rental van, and head for Boy Scout Lake. There had been FOUR Tundra Bean-Geese coming and going from the lake for the past week. We were there within 15 minutes, but the lake was bare except for a few ducks, including a small flock of Eurasian Wigeon. Oh no. We scanned again and again, but nothing looked like a goose. Suddenly, there they were in the air, flying past us, four Tundra Bean-Geese! We had seen a super-rarity within an hour of our arrival. We would see them again the next day, but we all cherished this moment. The Adak Experience had begun. Our next stop was Smew Pond, near the airport runway. There was a male Tufted Duck, our third good bird of the evening, along with the Eurasian Wigeon. We counted a flock of 79 Cackling Geese, also very nice. It was time to move in, get settled, and have everything set for our first full day of Adak Island birding.


Mon, May 12 We began our daily routine: do our best to re-locate any previous rarities and continually look for new ones. We located the more common and exciting regular species, plus set up feeding stations throughout the area, usually near some of the very few evergreen trees that were planted on the island. The only native trees are small patches of stunted willows. The Tundra Bean-Geese were once again flying over Boy Scout Lake (also called Haven Lake), and seven Eurasian Wigeon were on the lake. Clam Lagoon produced five Barrow’s Goldeneye, relatively uncommon for Adak. And a bit later we found a Long-tailed Duck. The Tufted Duck was still on Smew Ponds.


Tue-Wed, May 13-14 The next few days were tough. The weather was nasty, but not nasty enough to blow in any good birds from Asia. Conditions were just bad enough to make viewing difficult. But the more normal and expected species on Adak would be considered exceptional in most of North America. Lapland Longspur is the most common songbird on the island. Flock after flock arrived daily, and most birds were in full breeding plumage. Snow Buntings are less numerous, but very showy in their breeding plumage. They seem to prefer abandoned quarries, and occasionally come to our feeding stations. An average day produces 25 or more Rock Ptarmigan, bursting from the roadsides or walking along grassy ridges. Another very common bird is the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. It is easy to take just one more look at this large, spectacular finch. Bald Eagles are common and approachable. Every day is a good day on Adak.


Thu, May 15 Just before lunch we found our first flock of Sandhill Cranes, 15 feeding near the airport runway. They would be a daily occurrence for the next week or more. Throughout the day we enjoyed Rock Sandpipers, the very large local race of Common Ravens, and the regular assemblage of Harlequin Ducks on Clam Lagoon. A tour of Contractor’s Camp Marsh after dinner gave us our first look at four Pacific Golden-Plovers. This is always a popular bird, especially in full breeding plumage.


Fri, May 16 The birding action was good today. Palisades Overlook produced our first two Arctic Loons and two Arctic Terns. It seemed as if more terns had arrived, as we soon found five Aleutian Terns high above Clam Lagoon. Both tern species later settled in to nest on a grassy peninsula on the lagoon, in relatively large numbers. Good birds continued around the lagoon with a single Pacific Golden-Plover and another Arctic Loon. At Contractor’s Camp Marsh we heard and saw Common Snipe well, sometimes in direct comparison with Wilson’s Snipe. And we ended the day with a handsome Red-necked Grebe on Lake Andrew.


Sat, May 17 Today was the one day that we hoped for gorgeous, calm weather, and our hopes came true. We boarded Al Giddings’ boat, the Homeward Bound, in search of seabirds. Our special target bird was Whiskered Auklet, and we were rewarded with point blank looks at as many as 20,000! This is only one of two spots in the world where this very localized species can be seen. We also saw small numbers of Parakeet, Crested, and Least Auklets. There were large numbers of Horned and Tufted Puffins, and even a Wandering and a Gray-tailed Tattler. As we returned to the dock, a call came in from one of the other tour leaders. He and his group had just seen a Bar-tailed Godwit and a Bristle-thighed Curlew on the large mudflat at Clam Lagoon. We spent most of the afternoon searching for these two birds, as did the other three tour groups, but to no avail. Our consolation prize was two more Arctic Loons on Kuluk Bay. And there were now three Tufted Ducks on Smew Pond, an adult male, a young male, and a female.


Sun, May 18 Two more firsts today, a Pacific Loon in Kuluk Bay, and a Bar-tailed Godwit on the flats at Clam Lagoon. We made our late day run to welcome Jason, Jim, and Mymm at the airport. We easily found the Tufted Ducks, Eurasian Wigeon, and Arctic Loons, then settled in for the night.


Mon, May 19 The flock of Sandhill Cranes had grown to 17. We checked them daily, just in case any other species of crane joined the group. Clam Lagoon yielded a beautiful Bar-tailed Godwit, plus at least 15 Kittlitz’s Murrelets, a showy little alcid that is often quite difficult to find. Late in the morning we saw a female Smew at Lake Shirley, thanks to Jason’s expertise as the duck flew from the lake with a flock of Common and Barrow’s Goldeneye. During the next day or two it would be seen on Lake Shirley, Clam Lagoon, and Shotgun Lake, variously spending time with Green-winged Teal, Greater Scaup, and the goldeneye flock. I believe that all of the birders on the island eventually saw it, sometimes with a great deal of effort. We later learned that a father and son team birding alone had found the Smew the previous evening, but did not know how to contact any of the other birders. We were all very happy that we found it again! And we gladly loaned them a radio.


Tue, May 20 We made our way to Shotgun Lake right after breakfast and had fantastic views of the Smew. Moving on, our time at the Loran Station was quite productive. This is the best spot on Adak to watch for seabirds. We saw 60 Laysan Albatross, 2 Black-footed Albatross, a Northern Fulmar, and a Short-tailed Shearwater, in addition to many more common species. Almost all of these birds were following a fishing boat that was close enough to give us nice views. Back in town, there were now 31 Sandhill Cranes at the airport.


Wed, May 21 Cackling Goose is a rather recent split from Canada Goose. It is relatively easy to see on Adak in the spring. This morning we had a flock of 33. Pacific Golden-Plovers seemed to be making their presence known, with a flock of eight at Contractor’s Camp Marsh and three more at the Seawall on the north end of Clam Lagoon. We watched them intently for quite a long time. A late afternoon view of the Smew was a fitting end to the day.


Thu, May 22 Most of the Parasitic Jaegers on Adak are extremely dark birds, and we see a few almost daily. Today we found a light-morph Parasitic, a nice comparison with the local dark birds. Our next bird gave us just a really fast look, but it was a Gyrfalcon that buzzed by near Haven Lake. We had seen another one the previous day, from the window of our housing unit! Bar-tailed Godwit is expected on Adak, but a male and female feeding and flying together made for a very nice study of the species and sexual differences.


Fri, May 23 Today’s highlight was a Wandering Tattler. Normal habitat for this handsome shorebird is rocky shoreline, especially large rocks. This bird was in a gravelly, roadside ditch that did not contain a drop of water. We were able to view it from the van for quite some time before it finally flew away toward more familiar habitat.


Sat, May 24 Part of the group took their boat ride on the Homeward Bound today, while Rick and Bob made a thorough sweep of the island. We checked every single feeding area, feeling this would be our best chance at finding a new bird. We had great looks at many Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, Lapland Longspurs, and a few Snow Buntings and Common Ravens, but no rarities. We spotted an Arctic Loon, three Tufted Ducks, and our first Red-necked Phalaropes, gorgeous females in full breeding plumage.


Sun, May 25 Final day of week #2 and the start of week #3. We made a special effort to see Common Snipe displaying, and it worked quite well. A nice flock of eight Eurasian Wigeon was on Smew Pond. We had seen American Wigeon earlier in the week, much less common than its Eurasian relative. A flock of three shorebirds buzzed by high overhead at Contractor’s, two phalaropes and an unidentified stint. We checked all of the likely places based upon their direction of flight, but no luck. They were never seen again. Two Pacific Loons were a nice find. Our final new species for the first two weeks was Slaty-backed Gull, two distant adults far out on the water from Goose Rock. After dinner we greeted Art Bergey and bid farewell to Bob Schutsky and Jim Hailey.  Upon Art’s arrival we headed out to see some of the nearby specialties such as Eurasian Wigeon and Tufted Duck before settling in for the night.


Mon, May 26 Art and Jason joined two other birders for a pelagic trip on the Bering Sea.  It was a beautifully calm day and the birding was fantastic.  Thanks to Captain Al Giddings’ ability to maneuver the boat, we had excellent views of every species we encountered.  We had close views of large numbers of alcids that included Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Common Murre, Ancient Murrelet, and Whiskered Auklet.  Many of these birds were so close to the boat that we did not even need binoculars to enjoy them.  Of all the alcids, the Whiskered Auklet was by far the most numerous with approximately 10,000 seen.  They formed large rafts and allowed us to approach very closely.  It was an incredible experience to see and hear these fantastic little birds so well.  After viewing the alcids on the water, we visited a nearby puffin colony where we had excellent views of Tufted and Horned Puffins, Red-faced Cormorant, and Steller’s Sea Lions.  We then proceeded to deeper waters and, with the help of some chum, attracted 20 Laysan Albatross, a single Black- footed Albatross, three Northern Fulmar, and two Short-tailed Shearwaters.  We spent quite some time with these birds as they swam and fed around the boat.  It was a great photographic opportunity for albatross close-ups.  After this incredible voyage on the Bering Sea we headed back to do some land birding.  Because of the beautifully calm conditions on the island, viewing was spectacular throughout the day and birds were easy to locate.  As a result we found the first Yellow-billed Loon of the season.


Tue, May 27 We started the day at the airport with Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck, and both Common and Wilson’s Snipe displaying overhead. At Contractor’s Camp Marsh we found a Pectoral Sandpiper in alternate plumage, a rare spring bird on Adak.  At Clam Lagoon we found two Pacific Golden-Plovers and relocated Yellow-billed Loon, Long-tailed Duck, and Mew Gull. Birding was soon interrupted by a call requesting our presence at Lake Andrew.  Every time the call came through and the bird’s name was broadcast there was too much static to hear the species.  We decided to make haste to see this mystery bird.  Upon arrival we learned that the bird was a Wood Sandpiper, but unfortunately it had flown over the hill just two minutes before we arrived. We birded in the direction where it had flown with no luck, so we returned to the original location of the sighting.  There was no sign of the bird upon our return, so I tried playback. Almost immediately it flew in, spotted by Mymm. In the end, everyone had excellent scope views of this Asian rarity.


Wed, May 28 Today we birded the Finger Bay area where we were happy to hear and see the resident race of Winter Wren.  While scanning for ducks and alcids, we watched a Caribou swimming across the bay.  After reaching the other side, it shot up the hillside at a full gallop – an incredible sight!  Upon request we headed to Clam Lagoon for more looks at Pacific Golden-Plover, Harlequin Duck, Kittlitz’s and Marbled Murrelets, and Sea Otters.  Around the lagoon we were able to find a nice Wandering Tattler in alternate plumage.  A trip to Lake Andrew produced a light-phase Parasitic Jaeger and close views of Red-necked Phalarope.  After everyone retired for the evening, I went out and found nine Whiskered Auklets and a newly arrived Bar-tailed Godwit.


Thu, May 29   We began the day at Clam Lagoon and quickly relocated the Bar-tailed Godwit. On the way back we stopped at the National Forest and had brief views of a Hoary Redpoll before it flew out of sight.  After lunch we greeted Ginger at the airport and said farewell to Mymm.  We then set off to find some of the great birds of Adak.  Since Ginger was a beginning birder it made my job easy and very satisfying.  We found the Bar-tailed Godwit and made stops for the common resident birds as well.  By dinner Ginger had eight life birds, a great start to her trip.


Fri, May 30   The ponds and wetlands near the airport yielded Eurasian Wigeon and both snipe in full display.  On the grassy section of the runway we had ten Cackling Geese.  In Kuluk Bay we watched White-winged and Black Scoters, Arctic Loon, and many alcids.  We went to Clam Lagoon to look for new arrivals and to get Ginger caught up for the trip.  Our best find was TWO Yellow-billed Loons.  Later that day we learned there was a Wandering Tattler at Lake Andrew that we were able to relocate, much to everyone’s satisfaction.


Sat, May 31   While Ginger and I were heading to the dock for the pelagic trip, a call came in from Frank and Barbara Haas who told us of a Common Greenshank that had just arrived at Sweeper Creek.  As the birders were assembling, I returned to get Art and Rick so that they could also see the Greenshank.  Ginger and I went out on the boat while Art and Rick birded with Frank and Barbara.  On the way out on the pelagic the water was a bit rough, but Al’s boat handled it well.  When we arrived at the strait the water became relatively calm and birds started to appear everywhere!  We were pleased to see large numbers of Whiskered Auklets, approximately 15,000 in total.  When a group of 2000 flew from the water, three Cassin’s Auklets remained.  We slowly followed these Cassin’s Auklets for about 15 minutes.  We also saw good numbers of Crested and Parakeet Auklets.  After leaving the strait we headed for several small islands.  Here we had multitudes of Common Eiders and three Peregrine Falcons.  We watched as one of the falcons attacked a Bald Eagle in a territorial dispute.  The eagle landed on a sea cliff where its mate was sitting on a nest.  The Peregrine came in a full stoop and punched the perched eagle in the back of the head with its feet.  Shortly after impact the eagle fell backward over the cliff, appearing to be knocked senseless as it fell out of sight.  About a minute later, the eagle that had been struck was flying out to sea, giving a loud scream.  Several minutes later this same eagle returned to perch near its nest with its mate.  Both birds threw their heads back and yelped in response to this experience.  Once the eagle took flight again, it was quickly harassed by the falcon, resembling an aerial dogfight.  After several passes at the eagle the falcon appeared to strike the eagle once more, which infuriated the eagle.  This prompted it to attempt to grab the falcon in its talons.  All of this was a simply spectacular show and it seems possible that this happens often, with these two species nesting in such close proximity.  Back on land we learned that a Brambling had been seen earlier in the day near Sweeper Creek.  We had a quick lunch and headed out to find it.  Unfortunately the Brambling eluded us for the time being. After a long day the group was tired and we pinned our hopes on the following morning.  I decided to go out by myself to look for this rarity, and at 10:00 PM it returned to the same small tree where it was first located.  It settled into the grass, apparently to roost for the night.


Sun, 01 Jun   We headed straight back to the small tree where the Brambling had been seen and were rewarded with close views.  We checked beyond Sweeper Creek and everyone had close looks at the Common Greenshank.  Working our way toward Contractor’s Camp Marsh, we found a Bank Swallow and, while watching it, we noticed what appeared to be two small peeps fly by along with a small brown passerine.  Unfortunately we could not locate these birds, again leaving their identification to our imagination.  A close Hoary Redpoll was our last sighting before our departure to Anchorage, the end of three great weeks on Adak Island.

 

Favorite birds of the
ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA TOUR,
20-27 May 2007,

as voted upon by the participants & leader.

  1) SMEW
  2) Whiskered Auklet
  3) Common Snipe
  4) Gyrfalcon
  5) Tufted Duck
  6) Bristle-thighed Curlew
  7) Laysan Albatross
  8) Rock Ptarmigan
  9) Ancient Murrelet
10) Red-faced Cormorant


Favorite birds seen during the first week of the
ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA TOUR,
14-21 May 2006,

as voted upon by the participants & leader.

  1) BRAMBLING
  2) Smew
  3) Lesser Sand-Plover
  4) Long-billed Murrelet
  5) Whiskered Auklet
  6) Common Greenshank
  7) Eastern Yellow Wagtail
  8) Tufted Duck
  9) Wood Sandpiper
10) Common Snipe

Interesting mammals observed during our first week on Adak include a Minke Whale, twenty Steller’s Sea Lions, pods of Dall’s Porpoises, numerous Sea Otters, including some with young, many Harbor Seals, and a herd of seven Caribou.

Favorite birds of the second week on
ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA TOUR,
21-28 May 2006,

as voted upon by the participants & leader.

  1) SMEW
  2) Gray-tailed Tattler
  3) Aleutian Tern
  4) Rock Ptarmigan
  5) Gyrfalcon
  6) Laysan Albatross
  7) Short-tailed Shearwater
  8) Pacific Golden-Plover
  9) Kittlitz’s Murrelet
10) Common Raven


Favorite birds of the third week on
ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA TOUR,
28 May to 4 June 2006,

as voted upon by the participants & leader.

  1) EYEBROWED THRUSH
  2) Gray-tailed Tattler
  3) Brambling
  4) Gyrfalcon
  5) Bean Goose
  6) Smew
  7) Tufted Duck
  8) Common Snipe
  9) Horned Puffin
10) Yellow-billed Loon


REPORTS FROM THE ADAK ISLAND, ALASKA TOURS:
MAY 14 through JUNE 4, 2006

MAY 17, 2006
Here is a summary of the highlights from the first three days:

Smew
Arctic Loon
Tufted Duck
Eurasian Wigeon
Wood Sandpiper
Common Snipe
Lesser Sand-Plover (Mongolian Plover)

John
Photo of a Wood Sandpiper

Wood Sandpiper

--John Puschock

MAY 19, 2006

We've had FANTASTIC birding, finding 71 species thus far. Here are the highlights. Arctic Loon in full breeding plumage, lots of Laysan Albatross, 5 Short-tailed Shearwaters, Red- faced Cormorants, several Eurasian Wigeon and Tufted Ducks, SMEW!!!, 3 Gyrfalcons, Rock Ptarmigans are everywhere, Lesser Sand-Plover, Common Snipe displaying, COMMON GREENSHANK!!, Wood Sandpipers are common, 43 in one flock, Black-headed Gull, Whiskered Auklet, first Adak and Aleutian Island record of LONG-BILLED MURRELET, 2 Eastern Yellow Wagtails, THREE Brambling.

Bob
Photo of an Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

--John Puschock

Photo of a Lesser Sand Plover

Lesser Sand Plover

--John Puschock

MAY 22, 2006

Today we had east winds at 20-40 mph, which is typically very bad weather for Asian vagrants. But we found a Vega Gull, sometimes called East Siberian Gull. It is currently still a race of Herring Gull, but may be split. Same area had a Glaucous and 2 Black-headed Gulls. Then we had 5 Siberian Whimbrel, same sort of status as the Vega Gull. Four Northern Shovelers were our other new bird for the day. Everyone enjoyed 3 Gyrfalcons at close range.

Yesterday we found a second Smew, a young male like before. We've had 5 Bar- tailed Godwits, 13 Pacific Golden-Plovers, and a Crested Auklet in the harbor. Most of our other good birds from last week have moved on. Numerous authorities have confirmed the identity of the Long-billed Murrelet from John's photos. We've now seen 80 species since we arrived, 77 the first week. Three of our participants have reached 700 for the ABA area.

Bob
23 May 2006--Adak Island--Day 10

Gorgeous day today. Light southeast winds, sunny all day, low 50s in the afternoon. We added one new bird today, a Gray-tailed Tattler, yet another Asiatic stray on winds from the wrong direction. Nice photos obtained by John and Barrett Pierce. We had great looks at two different Gyrfalcons. At Clam Lagoon we found a North American Mew Gull. Other good birds today include Arctic Loon, 5 Bar-tailed Godwits, 5 Red-faced Cormorants, and 3 Black Oystercatchers. We found just one Wood Sandpiper today, compared to 50-100 per day late last week.

Photo of a Gray-tailed Tattler

Gray-tailed Tattler

--John Puschock

Photo of a Smew

Smew

--John Puschock

MAY 26, 2006

The weather has been nice all week. Sunshine everyday, no rain. It's been too nice in fact, so we aren't getting as many vagrants as last week.

Here are the highlights of week 2 so far:

Arctic Loon
Red-faced Cormorant
Cackling Goose
Eurasian Wigeon
Tufted Duck
Smew - 2
Osprey
Gyrfalcon - up to 3 per day
Common Snipe
Bar-tailed Godwit
Whimbrel - 5 of the Siberian subspecies
Wood Sandpiper - up to 14
Gray-tailed Tattler
Mew Gull - North American subspecies
Glaucous Gull
"Vega" Herring Gull
Black-headed Gull - 2-3
Aleutian Tern
Kittlitz's Murrelet - great looks at Clam Lagoon

John

 

ADAK & SAINT PAUL ISLANDS, ALASKA
May 20th to June 5th, 2006
Barrett Pierce, tour participant


I arrived in Anchorage, Alaska on May 19, 2006. Anchorage was my base from which I would travel to Adak Island, St Paul Island, and Gambell on St Lawrence Island to bird, hoping for Asian strays. On May 20th, I birded West Chester Marsh in Anchorage. Highlights at West Chester Marsh were Red-necked Grebe, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Black-bellied Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, Whimbrel, Wandering Tattler, Mew Gull, and Arctic Tern. In total, I saw 32 different species in Anchorage.

In the summer, a bazaar opens in downtown Anchorage, off 4th Street. The booths feature Alaskan curios and different types of food. I tried the Mexican food (too hot and spicy) and the Russian (really bland). The Anchorage Museum of Natural History and Arts is located at 7th Avenue and A Street. The museum offers a great study of Alaska, its resources, people, and history. It is a topnotch museum and provides an excellent introduction to native Alaskans and their culture.

Adak is 1300 miles from Anchorage in the Aleutian chain of islands, and it is 400 miles from Attu, which is at the western tip of the Aleutians. I visited Adak during the spring since it offers a chance to see Asian strays. I had booked a 7-day birding tour with Bird Treks which included round trip airfare from Anchorage to Adak and back. Alaska Air has scheduled flights from Anchorage to Adak and back on Thursdays and Sundays during the summer. Generally you should not take the scheduled Adak departure and arrival times too seriously as they are often late.

Alaska Air's 737-200s are configured so that the forward section carries cargo and the rear carries passengers. This one had 36 seats. The flight included a stop in King Salmon and was uneventful. On May 21, 2006, I arrived early and was met at the airport by John Puschock and Bob Schutsky. Bob is the owner of Bird Treks (717-548-3303) and John was the Adak tour leader.

Adak has a population of about 85 residents and may swell to as many as 105 during the spring birding season. Natives left Adak in the early 1800s to follow the Russian fur trade eastward. Adak first served as an Army base during World War II in our effort to evict the Japanese from the Aleutians. After the war, Adak became a naval air station and housed 6000 naval personnel and their families. The naval station closed in 1997 and Adak’s facilities were transferred to The Aleut Corporation. The southern portion of the island, which was not transferred, remains within the National Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The Aleut Corporation is promoting Adak as a commercial center, trying to make use of the infrastructure (port, airport, utilities, roads, and buildings) that remains from the naval station. A map of Adak is available from the US Fish and Wildlife Services (907-592-2406 at Adak or 907-235-6546 at Homer).

John took me to my room, which previously served as an officer’s quarters. These town homes are two bedroom, two bath units complete with washer and dryer, TV, hot and cold water, diesel heating units, and a telephone. We birded from rental vans that were probably old naval vehicles. The roads on the naval station are still in great shape and allow good access to much of the island that is not in the refuge. Access to the refuge is on foot and we did not bird any of the wilderness area.

All meals were at the R & V Enterprises restaurant (907-592-2332), operated by Violet Pearl and Rex Poe. Violet prepared cafeteria-style meals and also had an a la carte menu. A small convenience store was located in the restaurant that carried snacks and sundries.

We birded all the sites that were accessible by van, stopping at some twice each day. Rock Ptarmigan were everywhere and would alert us to their presence with a big snort as they took flight. The Eurasian Green-winged Teal and Red-breasted Mergansers were attractive in their breeding plumage. The Common Ravens were huge.

Adak highlights included Arctic Loon, Laysan Albatross, Short-tailed Shearwater (27,000! from the Old Loran Station), Red-faced Cormorant, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Smew, Gyrfalcon, Black Oystercatcher, Pacific Golden-Plover, Common Snipe, Bar-tailed Godwit, Wood Sandpiper, Gray-tailed Tattler, Glaucous Gull, Black-headed Gull, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Ancient Murrelet, Snow Bunting, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch. The seabirds were all seen from shore. Most tours include a pelagic trip, but I already had seen the Whiskered Auklet, and the others had gone the week before I arrived, so I did not go on the pelagic trip. In the week I was there, I saw 64 different species.

Reports from St. Paul Island indicated a nice variety of Asian strays, several of which I had not previously seen. An Ivory Gull was reported in Anchorage, so I flew back to Anchorage on 5-28-06. I dipped on the staked-out Ivory Gull. On 5-29-06, I took a Penn Air flight to St. Paul Island.

St. Paul Island has a population of 350 natives and hosts an important commercial fishing industry. The Deadliest Catch was filmed on St. Paul to document the dangers of fishing in the rough, cold waters of the Bering Sea.

Joline at St. Paul Island Tours (877-424-5637) can arrange and book birding trips to St. Paul Island. I booked a three-day tour and ended up staying five days. A new motel has been built at the airport to replace the condemned King Eider Hotel. Birding is done from vans and guides lead three outings each day. Cafeteria-style meals may be purchased at the motel.

Nesting seabirds on the cliffs of St. Paul Island are the main attraction. The seabirds are approached very closely and offer a great study comparing close views to the usual distant looks. In addition to the cliffs, upland and wetland habitat can be birded. A storm from the southwest during migration may cause Asian strays to take refuge on the island.

St. Paul highlights included Red-faced Cormorant, Bean Goose sp., Emperor Goose, Cackling Geese that cackle, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck, King Eider, Steller’s Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Pacific Golden-Plover, Lesser Sand-Plover, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Wandering Tattler, Red-necked Phalarope, Red Phalarope, Long-tailed-Jaeger, Glaucous Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Black-headed Gull, Red-legged Kittiwake, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common Murre, Thick-billed Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Ancient Murrelet, Crested Auklet, Least Auklet, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Snowy Owl, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Eyebrowed Thrush, Bluethroat, Snow Bunting, Brambling, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, and Common Redpoll. In total I saw 79 different species on St. Paul Island.

St. Paul Island hosts breeding Northern Fur Seals and their arrival results in areas of the island being closed beginning sometime in early June.

On June 2nd, I returned to Anchorage. Asian strays were being reported at Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. I could not book a flight to Gambell, so I spent a day looking for (but not finding) the Ivory Gull and visiting the Anchorage Museum of Natural History and Arts. On June 4th, I took the red eye special flight home.

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