September 20 – Day 7, St. Paul

Today was more of a mammal day than a bird day even though our leader for today, Scott Schuette, did his best to find new island birds beginning with a dawn sea watch. The wind has not yet delivered any rare birds to us, but it just keeps blowing and we keep hoping.



Meanwhile, we had delighted moments watching an endemic Pribilof Island Shrew on the road near the van early in the day.

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Toward the end of our birding time, we had more delighted moments watching a female Orca hunting baby fur seals in shallow water while another Orca waited farther out. Just before we drove off for our supper, the female apparently caught them some supper. We did not stay to watch any more.


Other mammals today were the usual foxes, which I did not photograph, and fur seals, of course.

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We did actually look at some birds today, and I photographed a few Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, a flock of Northern Pintails taking off and couple of spinning, feeding Red Phalaropes.

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We also took the opportunity during the slow birding today to visit the small museum and Saints Peter and Paul Russian Orthodox Church, where Father John told us a bit about the church and its history. Although seeming small and unimposing from the outside, the church was beautiful and inviting inside and I am glad we were able to see it.


295 species so far


September 19 – Day 6, St. Paul

It was more of the same birds and wind today, although the wind has been more south/south-west. We monitored the seas, all the ponds and cliffs and ravines and crab pots, etc. etc., and have been waiting for the birds to appear.


On the bright side, there is more time to take pictures when the birding is less frenetic. The pictures below (presented in the order they were taken) show: some of the 18 Brant seen, a mostly hidden Savannah Sparrow, one of a few Wandering Tattlers seen today, a Rock Sandpiper, Red-faced Cormorants, a Lapland Longspur, Stephan Lorenz (our leader today), a young King Eider and a fur seal.



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I believe that winds tomorrow are likely to be similar to those today. Hopefully they will bear birds to us.

295 species so far

September 18 – Day 5, St. Paul

Today we did an extensive seawatch at the southwest point of St. Paul Island. The wind was from the south and seabirds were actually visible. A Short-tailed Albatross was seen by some (I was wandering around nearby looking for a reported shorebird so missed it; I am very grateful that I saw one on the Dutch Harbor trip this summer). A couple of us got extraordinarily close views of a hunting Gyrfalcon, which dove a couple of times at a Snow Bunting about 25 feet away from us. Only very fuzzy photos however.

Not too many other birds were seen today, but handfuls of the same birds that have been seen in recent days were around. Photographs below are Red-faced Cormorants on cliffs near the dining hall, Red Phalaropes in one of the many areas where we searched unsuccessfully for the Jack Snipe, birders tromping a marsh in search of a Jack Snipe, and a fluffy Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.

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Tomorrow the wind is expected to be even stronger from the south, so we plan to start again with a seawatch.

295 species so far

September 17 – St. Paul, Day 4

Actually it’s the fourth day here but we’ve only been here 3.5 days or so because the first day was a partial day here. Today the weather was a bit more balmy but still with pretty strong winds, now from the west. If there are any lost Asian birds out on the ocean, the wind has not yet forced them to come to St. Paul (at least not anywhere we have looked so far).


Thus, the birds were pretty much the same as before, with even fewer Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings, many of which appear to have left the island.

Birds that I did see and  photograph included a few Horned Puffins on one of the cliffs, Rock Sandpipers, Red-faced Cormorants, increased numbers of Pacific Golden-Plovers, a Slaty-backed Gull among the Glaucous-winged Gulls, and Harlequin Ducks. Other birds seen include Pacific Wren, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstones, both kittiwakes, Brant, Northern Pintails and Long-tailed Ducks.

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295 species so far

September 16 – Windy but Good Birding

Today on St. Paul Island was a day of wind, rain, rainbows and sun, with only the wind being a constant. The direction of the wind has changed a bit, however, and is expected to go even more westward, which is the desired direction most likely to bring in Asian migrant birds. No new birds today, however.


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Highlights for me included another two fly-by views of a Jack Snipe, during the first of which I actually got some in-flight photos that fuzzily showed the gold-striped back and the short beak (short for a snipe, anyway).

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In the same marshy area where the Jack Snipe was found we got very close views of Red Phalaropes (not red at this time of the year).

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We also had good but distant views of a King Eider perched on the rocks.

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As usual on St. Paul in the fall (actually late summer), we had good views of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers and Pacific Wrens.

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Also as usual at this time of year, we had good views of fur seals, some cute and some just sleepy-dopey. Many of them seemed often to have very human-like expressions.


295 species so far

September 15 – Windy Day at St.Paul

No new birds today for my year. We birded windy St. Paul today. Although we spent some time out in the windswept marshes, we also spent time trying to find places that the birds, and we also, could get out of the wind. We checked out a few of the nesting cliffs which were mostly empty today but we did see a few puffins. It is my understanding that most of the seabirds are still around but do not spend the days on the cliffs as they did in the spring.



The usual Sharp-tailed and Rock Sandpipers were around as were large flocks of Long-billed D0witchers.

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Walks in the areas of piled-up crab pots, seal blinds and the rock quarry held their usual Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches and Pacific Wrens, and we had a Yellow-rumped Warbler at the crab pots, which I do not believe I have seen at St. Paul before.



In addition to the usual Red-faced Cormorants that I photographed on the cliffs near the dining hall, we also saw a Double-crested Cormorant and a Pelagic Cormorant.

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We saw small numbers of Brant at a few different places and just as it was beginning to get dark tonight had a flock of 14 silhouetted geese. My photos do not show much, but I’m hoping that either someone else’s photos show something or we see the flock tomorrow to figure out what the geese were.

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295 species so far



September 14 – St. Paul Jack Snipe


We arrived on St. Paul Island about 3:10 pm, checked in, got our luggage (all of it, which sometimes does not occur on planes flying out here) and stowed it in our rooms, loaded up in the van, drove to Rocky Lake, got out, formed a line under the direction of Scott Schuette, Tour Director of St. Paul Island Tours, walked a few minutes and flushed a JACK SNIPE! Goal bird for the day! It all happened so fast that I did not get my camera on it.

But I did have a chance to try out the new camera on other birds, Red-necked and Red Phalaropes, Sharp-tailed and Pectoral Sandpipers, Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, and Pacific Wrens.


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Also I photographed a few fur seals.


It was a bit windy but quite mild, and only a few brief light rainy times. I don’t know of any birds still on the island that I “need” for my year, but every day brings the possibility of new arrivals. Nearly anything is possible.

295 species so far

September 13 – Anchorage Quickie

My short trip to Potter Marsh this morning was cut short by a call from my husband telling me that my new/replacement camera had just arrived. So I raced home to unpack it and check it out. For a couple of months now, my camera has been periodically acting up by refusing to focus, and sometimes even to take pictures. Mostly it has been working, but that is not usually good enough, especially when there is a bird that I feel the need to photograph. So now I have an identical (except presumably it won’t act up) camera. Just to be safe, I plan to take both cameras on my next trip.



Today of course the old camera worked fine on the couple of birds that were present at Potter Marsh. It was another beautiful day. I heard Black-capped Chickadee, saw but did not photograph Green-winged Teal, and saw and photographed Mallards, Greater Yellowlegs and a Common Raven.






Tomorrow I expect a bit more bird variety after I arrive on St. Paul Island in late afternoon. I am hoping, of course, for rarities sometime during my stay there, but in any case it will be good to see what is around. In the past there has been some Internet available so I also hope to be able to post periodically on this blog while I am there.

294 species so far

September 12 – Pleasant Anchorage Birding

In between errands and work today, I took a brief trip to Westchester Crossing, primarily the woodland portion of it along the creek.


I did not expect to see, and did not see, anything rare or unusual, but it was a mild day (just over 60 degrees) and I had a nice walk among a flock of mostly Black-capped Chickadees (6), a Boreal Chickadee, a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a Wilson’s Warbler.



Farther down the path the usual Mallard flock was lounging about, as were three Greater Yellowlegs.






Far out on the lake were other ducks, the most noticeable of which were about 20 Gadwalls.


I have one more day of Anchorage-area birding before I head out to St. Paul Island.

294 species so far

September 11 – Report from Gambell, August 31-September 10

I arrived back in Anchorage last night. No time to bird today, so I’ll try to begin to catch up from my time in Gambell where I did not have access to the Internet.

I birded on this trip with a Wilderness Birding Adventures group led by Aaron Lang of Homer, Alaska. The group arrived in Gambell at 1:50 pm on August 31st and started loading our luggage on the cart to be taken to the “lavender lodge” (the purple-painted house where our group stayed this trip), but when we heard that a “good” bird had recently been seen, we changed plans, unloaded the cart and were transported by it down the side of the airport along the lake where a GRAY-TAILED TATTLER was casually wandering along the pebbly shoreline. Unbelievable – a new year bird within 20 minutes of landing on St. Lawrence Island!!



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After that we walked to our abode, the home of one of the Gambell residents. A bit of food and we were off to walk the far boneyard where a redpoll was all we found. Near there, however, were a couple of Northern Wheatears and a couple of White Wagtails. Snow Buntings flitted up on the slopes, and higher up various alcids (Least and Crested Auklets and both puffins) flew about. Some of the baby alcids missed their goal landings from the cliffs into the water and were rescued by the birders. No matter when we looked out on the sea, we saw many Short-tailed Shearwaters passing by, sometimes singly, but more often in continuous streams.




For those who are not familiar with Gambell, it has three main boneyards, composed of holes in the earth, lush fall vegetation hiding many of the holes, and bleached white bones of animals killed in days gone by that protrude randomly from the dark earth. Little birds that happen to get to St. Lawrence Island are generally found (if at all) by birders who “walk the boneyard” in a line, trying to avoid breaking a leg while trying to be constantly on the alert for a little bird flitting up out of the greenery as the birders’ approach.


In the evening on the first day we did a seawatch to the west/northwest, seeing many Short-tailed Shearwaters, both Horned and Tufted Puffins, flyby Harlequin Ducks and gulls, and Ruddy Turnstones on the shore.





September 1st was much windier (sadly, from the north) but we valiantly did a morning seawatch, and walked the far boneyard and road to the north, before a leisurely lunch. In the afternoon, three of us walked the eastern shore of Trout Lake. Often we made a gull-stop, which allowed me to catch up to the longer-legged walkers. We did have a Crested Auklet very close to the shore (also seen the next day even closer to the shore).



Highlights on September 2nd included more Ruddy Turnstones and Red Phalaropes in the morning and a distant Short-eared Owl in the afternoon (one of about seven that I understand had been around the south end of the lake).



September 3rd (Saturday) was a bit balmier and even had a bit of sunshine.



I finally added another bird to my year list, SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER, the second new bird for the trip. Some of the other birders at Gambell had seen one earlier, but this bird stayed put in the vegetation at the corner marsh and was photographed by anyone interested in doing so. It was still there when we went back later in the day.



At a little wetland termed the “white house” was a handful of Ruddy Turnstones, a juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher and one of the many White Wagtails found at Gambell. Snow Buntings, usually skitish, stayed put in the little pond where they were bathing.





Sunday the 4th had increased wind, still from the north, which is a bad direction if you are hoping to see Asian migrants arrive at Gambell (the latest forecast was giving us some hope of a change in wind direction in mid-week). We did see a Fox Sparrow on the rocks above the far boneyard among the Arctic ground-squirrels but no other new island birds.


The wind was even stronger on September 5th. To compound the trip-drama, when we woke up in the morning, the house was very cold – the heater had run out of fuel. Since it was Labor Day, the store was not open so no fuel could be purchased. Our landlady’s son found fuel somewhere by late morning so the heater was restarted and the house gradually warmed. Most of the birders went out for the morning seawatch, but did not participate in the usual tromp at the far boneyard. Too windy. The usual birds were seen out on the ocean. Shown below are a Pigeon Guillemot and Black-legged Kittiwake.

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Tuesday the 6th was windier, from the north. Most birding was in the form of seawatching since it was nearly impossible to stand up and walk the boneyards and at the same time try to find birds. Birds were unlikely to be there anyway, probably having been blown off the island. There were Pectoral Sandpipers at a couple of wetland areas.


The 7th dawned a little less windy but still from the north. After the usual morning seawatching and boneyard surveys, most of our group went down to the south end of the lake. On the way down the lake, White Wagtails, Snow Buntings and many little voles entertained us as we looked for new arrivals to the island.




We had just located a couple of pipits at the south end of the lake, one each American and Red-throated, when a message came on the radio that a Siberian Accentor had been found in the far boneyard. We scrambled on to the cart and were bumpily and rapidly conveyed to the boneyard, where we scrambled up the mountain behind it to learn that the bird had disappeared up the mountain somewhere. We were told that we needed to give the bird time to get itself back to the boneyard so we cooled our heels for an hour or so and then re-tromped the boneyard. Nothing. So, we headed off to supper, with plans to reconvene at the boneyard at about 7:30 pm. By about 7:45, others saw, and then I saw, a SIBERIAN ACCENTOR! And then we found that there were two of them, which posed for numerous photos on a rocky area just past the far boneyard along the base of the mountain, the third and final new year-bird for me for the trip.


The next morning we all saw one of the Accentors in the same area and more photos were taken. One of the Accentors was seen on the 8th and 9th. But there were no new birds for my year list on those days, nor for most of the lists (year, island, life) of any of the other birders on the island. As predicted the wind slowed and shifted to the west/southwest, but that did not seem to produce any better bird results, although a few species arrived or were first seen during that period that were not new for anyone’s lists (more Pacific Golden-Plovers, Pectoral Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones; a possible second Bluethroat; more Sharp-tailed Sandpipers; 3-5 Short-eared Owls). Even though the bird species did not grow more exciting, it was always beautiful and enjoyable to be out birding.



Our group was scheduled to leave in the late afternoon of the 10th, so there was not much chance for more vagrants, but I was resigned as the 9th ended. The low number of birds gave time for appreciating the beautiful sunrises (on the days we saw the sun) and the neat plants growing all around us. We had a brief moment of hope when a mysterious bird was sighted at the far boneyard late on the 9th and we all raced out there to check it out, but an American Pipit was what the mystery turned out to be.





Our group was entertained throughout much of the trip, out in the field and where we stayed, by an engaging little dog named Grizzly that accompanied us on many of our forays.


It was an excellent trip with great leaders, great companion birders, great food, and a few great new bird species. Now I have a few days to work in Anchorage before I head to St. Paul Island.

294 species so far