July 10-15 – Nome Birding Trip — Pied Wheatear and More

I’m back in Anchorage now and able to post pictures and more information about my  trip to Nome that ended yesterday. Yve Morrell, who is doing an ABA big year, invited me to join her in Nome, with the goals of seeing a first-ever hemisphere record bird, the Pied Wheatear, and of adding more birds to her year list. Missions accomplished. Yve, however, was delayed a day in getting to Nome.

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Some Nome scenes and flowers are shown, beginning with some downtown sites:

Below are highlights of the trip for me.

One of the most commonly seen birds was Long-tailed Jaeger. This picture was taken on Monday the 10th as I drove some of the Council Road before Yve arrived.

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While I was waiting on the foggy morning of the 11th for Yve’s delayed flight in, I encountered a Common Raven near the airport that seemed to want to tell me something.

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On most days we saw at least one Eastern Yellow Wagtail, usually not staying in one place very long. Usually they were seen in sandy/gravel areas on the Council Road.

Also on Council Road near Cape Nome were Yellow Warblers and Pacific Golden-Plovers (photos), Common Redpolls, American Pipits, Lapland Longspurs, and White-crowned and Fox Sparrows. Farther out were many Common Eiders and a couple of Tundra Swans (photos). We also saw many Red-throated Loons, and a couple each of Common, Pacific and Arctic Loons, but none of my pictures of the loons shows much detail so they are not shown here. On Thursday on our way back from a drive out Council Road Yve and I stopped at a gravel pit where Bank Swallows were nesting in holes high above us.

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Our main goal at Cape Nome was the Pied Wagtail. From Tuesday the 11th through much of Thursday, we did not have a single sighting that we were sure was our target bird, even though we spent about 4 hours there each day. Finally on Thursday (13th) afternoon when we saw the bird well-enough to confirm its identity, we realized that we had probably seen it earlier, darting from one rocky area to another and up to the alder-covered slopes, rarely pausing long enough to allow us to see it well. Photographs were even trickier, but finally, possible.

Of course we were elated!

Before we saw the Pied Wheatear, late on Wednesday morning we took a break from the hunt. Peter Burke from Colorado, whom we met while he was also looking for the wheatear, told us that he had found a Bar-tailed Godwit on Teller Road. In addition to seeing a godwit walking the river rocks as it ate, we saw a few Rock Ptarmigans on Teller Road.

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On Friday Yve, Peter and I went out Kougarok Road to try to find Bristle-thighed Curlew, a species difficult to find anywhere in the continental U.S. except in the Nome area. On the way there we found a family of the very similar Whimbrels along the road (picture of a young Whimbrel).

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Also along the road was a single caribou, probably the same animal that we saw on the back on the road later that day.

At about mile 72-plus on Kougarok Road we did the arduous climb up Coffee Dome, my 4th trip up it, much harder the older I get. We got to the top without sign of the curlew and hardly any other birds except a noisy American Golden-Plover. We were surrounded, however, by many hungry mosquitos and biting flies.

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We turned around to head back down the hill on a somewhat different part of the hill and all of a sudden were being scolded by two very irate Bristle-thighed Curlews, which sometimes dove at us as we progressed through their obvious territory.

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On our drive back into Nome we took a side-trip up toward Pilgrim hot springs. When we got to where we could walk out on the tundra, we went looking for Northern Wheatear and were delighted to find about seven of them, including some fuzzy young ones.

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Before evening that day Peter took us for a quick drive so we could see musk ox, which he had seen earlier.

On our last day in Nome, Yve and I drove all the way out to Teller (about 70 miles), with White Wagtail as our goal. It was a bit foggy and sometimes rainy (the first we’d had during the daytime on the trip) but beautiful anyway. We saw maybe 40 Willow Ptarmigan along the road, including many family groups.

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We did find two adult White Wagtails in Teller, and on the drive out of town had 3 or 4 young wagtails (photographed through the front window of the car; although unfocused the clear difference in color of the immature along the roadside can be seen in the photo).

It was definitely a trip to make us happy birders!

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I plan to go back to Nome soon!

 

 

 

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