I returned home yesterday from a 3-day trip to Nome. I took over 1100 pictures, so although I have attempted to eliminate most of them for this post, there will be very many photos. Although many are rather dark, due to the cloudy darkness most of the time, they still show what things in Nome were like on this trip.
It was lightly raining/snowing when I arrived and it snowed at least briefly each day I was there, with the temperature hovering around the freezing mark. The roads varied from bare wind-blown gravel to very icy, and changed to what appeared to be quite icy beyond the signs posted saying not to travel farther. On my last day there as I was beginning to drive out Teller Road, I watched a truck that had just passed me spin around on the road in a complete circle, finally coming to rest at the edge of the road facing the direction it had been travelling, and then just driving on. I decided not go any farther, since I’d been out that road multiple times the previous days. Although the sun briefly attempted to make an appearance, the weather had so far not done much to melt the rivers or ponds, except for a couple of slivers of creek showing through the snow.
It did not appear that much melting had occurred off the roads and everything on each side of the roads still remains snow-covered. On one large expanse of snow near the mouth of the Nome River (Council Road) I found my first gulls. All but one (a Herring Gull, not in photo) appeared (to me, not a gull-person) to be Glaucous Gulls of various ages and mantle shades of gray.
On one drive in that area, a Common Raven was fighting a small struggling seabird that I could not see very well as it kept being pushed down by the raven. I assumed (because I saw them later) that it was a murre. But when I looked at my photos, it appeared to be a Least Auklet. Comments?
In that same area later that day I saw distant speck that was a living Common Murre sitting on the snow. The next day, probably that same murre was dinner for a flock of gulls that arrived after one of them found it just as I arrived at the spot.
At first I thought the sea ice was mostly broken up and that I might be able to bird the open water from shore, but the steady winds the next night pushed the ice together toward the shore and very little water could be seen except in the far distance.
The final day, there were some open areas in the ice pile-up, and Long-tailed Ducks and a single Common Eider became visible as barely identifiable dots (through the spotting scope) in the open area toward the jetty. A Thick-billed Murre had also been reported there and I was able to see a few of them, also basically little black and white dots, with the black-and-white pattern on their breast helping to identify them.
This trip was a last-minute addition to my year of exploring Nome birding, added mainly because I wanted to learn more about the pace of change of the Willow Ptarmigans’ plumage molt. In early April when I was last there, most of them had not started their spring molt with only a few of them showing any brown feathers. I learned on this trip that while many of them now have partial or completely brown heads and necks, most of them were still all white. But at first I couldn’t find any ptarmigan. Finally I found a small flock on Teller Road, where in early April they had been numerous.
The next day on Kougarok Road I was delighted to find that there was, as earlier in April, a large flock of ptarmigan almost to the Nome River bridge. They were eating (presumably gravel) on the road and were spread across the snow on both sides of the road. I estimated at least 80, but there could have been twice that many, as they were quite camouflaged on the snow.
Although Snow Buntings were seen periodically along the roads, they were mostly not present at the sites where they had been feeding earlier during the winter, except one time when there was a flock of Snow (about 85) and McKay’s (probably about 2) at the downtown parking area where some grass stems protrude above the snow, and where they were buffeted by the blowing snow.
Other birds seen and photographed included a single Northern Shrike.
Other highlights of this trip include the musk oxen seen every trip on Teller Road, usually either lying down or with their heads partly buried in the snow as they browsed. They appeared to be split into at least a couple of herds. At one place quite near the road I saw two groups totaling 49 animals. Their backs appear somewhat golden, sometimes with snow on top of that. In some of the pictures they are partly obscured by heavily falling snow. Most of them were large but some appeared smaller, possibly last year’s young. Mostly they just seemed to be motionless, but upon careful observation, one could see, and sometimes videotape, their movement.
Other mammals on this trip were my first-for-Nome fox, which I had thought was probably an arctic fox, but seems from my photos to be more likely a scruffy red fox (pictures taken in the very early morning hours when it was still quite dark). Comments anyone?
I also saw my first-for-Nome arctic hare, and then more of them. The first one was all white, on Kougarok Road, but on Teller Road I had four at the Snake River bridge, which were changing to brown, chasing each other around, and another two doing the same thing near the Nome high school.
My next trip to Nome will be toward the end of May. I certainly hope (as do the Nome people I talked to) that the snow will be gone, at least on and along the roads, and that greenery (and more birds) will be beginning to be seen.