Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Pribs--Days 7 to 10

The past 4 days have been mixed weatherwise.  The temp here this time of year is somewhere between 40 and 50 degrees, obviously warmer if the sun is shining.  Most days you may get a glimpse of the sun, but generally it is overcast, sometimes foggy, and often spitting rain or worse.  The wind almost always blows, and often at more than 20 miles/hour.  The keys to reasonably comfortable birding here are dry feet, good rain gear, and layers of clothes that you can add or take off as needed.  Even so, when the wind is blowing hard and rain is coming down, you do not want to be out in that mix for too long at one time.

Our group of birders is pretty large as tours go--18 birders plus 2 or 3 guides.  We regularly troop on and off our bus, and sometimes use it as a shield against the wind while doing seawatches.

On Saturday we awoke about 7 AM to find the moon shining down upon us.  We are picked up at the hotel next to the airport and taken to breakfast each morning in the dark.  All our meals are at the galley/canteen at Trident which is a seafood processing facility and the main business on the island.  We have a leisurely breakfast waiting for it to get light enough to head out to bird which is currently about 9 AM.  This time of year we lose 5 minutes of daylight each day.

Our highlight as we were heading back to lunch was the first appearance of a white-tailed eagle that has been resident around St. Paul for the past 2 years.  Even though St. Paul Island is only 42 square miles in size, seeing the eagle is totally random because the guides do not know where it roosts.  When it is seen it has usually been on better weather days during the afternoon.  It is a beautiful bird, and was on every birder's wish list this week (all the rest of the photos in today's post were taken by Laura Keene--click on any photo to enlarge).

Our day had us visiting several of the key birding spots around the island, but the high winds had us back at our hotel by 8 PM which was still almost 2 hours before dark.  We were all settling in when Scott returned to pick us up to try to see a common rosefinch that he and Doug had found on the way back into town.  We all scurried around to get our gear back on, and quickly drove the short distance to where the bird had been sighted.  We all spread out on the hillside and tried to relocate it, but to no avail.  I did add 4 new trip birds for the day, and the eagle was life bird #6 for the trip for me.

Sunday turned out to be our best weather day yet--sunny with almost no wind.  We got off to a good start when we located 2 gray-tailed tattlers on Salt Lagoon.  Doug and Gavin helped us coral the flighty birds, and as they changed position on the rocky shore we listened for the distinct call of the gray-tailed tattler.

Next we tried again for the common rosefinch (life bird #7 for the trip for me) and luckily found it near where it had first been sighted.

Then we visited Polovina Hill where we had earlier seen the gray-streaked flycatcher.  It was still there, and while checking out the general area we had the white-tailed eagle come soaring by.

After lunch we visited Hutchinson Hill and the Webster Lake area, but found nothing new.  After dinner we went to the quarry to search for an eye-browed thrush (it looks similar to an American robin) that had been found earlier in the day by other birders.  We located it again, but unfortunately it remained in sight so briefly that only our 2 guides and 2 other birders in our group were able to see it before it flew back up into a rocky area.  We spent some time trying to get it to flush back toward the main group, but did not succeed.  The day generated 3 more trip birds for me.

On Monday the weather continued to be pretty good--overcast with some fog but little rain or wind.  We tried twice to find the eye-browed thrush but failed again.  We did see many of the rosy-crowned finches that are everywhere on the island.

We visited Marunich Point to do some seawatching where we had a fly by yellow-billed loon, and a pair of red-necked grebes plus a large raft of king eiders.  The bird of the day was found in a celery patch below Hutchinson Hill--an arctic warbler.  These last 3 were all new trip birds for me.

Tuesday (Day 10) in my opinion was the worst weather day so far.  It was chilly and raw with driving rain at times on high winds that made it not much fun to be out birding.  Because the winds were from the south and southeast, we did a fair amount of seawatching in hopes of finding something special like a mottled petrel or an albatross.  The best we could find was a sabine's gull, and either a long-tailed or parasitic jeager that still needs to have photos of it studied to confirm which one it was.  Both were new trip birds for me. I missed a parakeet auklet that flew by that would have made 3.

We were back at the hotel by 7 PM.  Tomorrow is the last day for many in our group who will be flying out in the afternoon provided bad weather does not prevent the plane from landing here.  7 of us including my friends Dan, Doreene and Laura will be staying on, and we will be joined by 9 new birders.  I still have 10 more days of birding here, and so far have seen a total of 80 bird species. The weather forecast for the next few days is for more favorable westerly winds that hopefully will bring us some more Asian vagrants.  Stay tuned!

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