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Alaska 2004

Part 4:  The Pribilofs

After Westchester Park we came back for dinner (Carol and I shared a "Decadent Brownie", and I'm afraid I needed that glass of wine after that to counteract the caffeine) and crash time. We were up at oh dark hundred to get to the airport in time for our flight, and we ended up on weather delay until six! We finally got to our mid-point at Dillingham, only to have another weather delay of several hours! (Kevin said you weren't an Alaskan veteran until you've experiences at least one weather delay...) So in the meantime we poked down a local road surrounded by taiga forest that reminded me very much of the UP of Michigan, where we picked up several warblers, a fly-by Greater Yellowlegs, and the best bird: a pair of Gray Jays! Later we had a Bald Eagle being chased by a Raven, and some of the gang sloshed into the soft tundra to chase a possible Black-backed Woodpecker (or it may have been Three-toed--one of those...). At one point Judy got excited about an owl in a dead tree, but when Marshall put the scope on it it turned out to be a very owl-like stump! You knew birding was slow when everyone lined up to look at Judy's stump!

We fly to Dillingham, only to be stranded there for several hours due to fog at the Pribilofs!

   

"So whadda we gonna do?"

   

We decide to wander the woods and meadows near the airport

                        

Left: Orange-crowned Warbler  Right three shots: Gray Jays

    

John and Nancy check out the meadow whil Judy exclaims, "I see an owl!!"

   

 Judy's "owl" turns out to be a stump, but things are so slow everyone lines up to look at it anyway!

The gang tromps across a wet meadow in hopes of Black-backed Woodpecker... 

The airport folks ordered pizza for us, and we enjoyed the company of a native lady who lived on St. Paul; she and Judy got laughing about throwing the negative thoughts into the trash can, then getting everyone else to do the same! It worked, as at 3:00 they got us a plane and we were on our way!  I think we barely made it in, cuz it was pretty foggy (and evidently the earlier pilot was nonplussed that they gave him the go-ahead to come in, as he evidently felt it was pretty borderline!) But we soon had our first Pribilofs bird: the giant Aleutian Rosy Finch (considered a race of the Gray-crowned, but they really oughta split it; that thing's the size of a grosbeak)! Gavin, one of the local guides, met us and got us checked in at the King Eider Hotel, but I think it was on the way that we stopped at a lagoon that had a few Red-legged Kittiwakes lounging with the BLs; I just remember stating how cute they looked, and Marshall confirmed that that is indeed one of the ID clues: they have a very cute face compared to the BLs! A sunny gal named Tiny actually checked us in and warned us not to leave our windows open, as the Arctic Foxes liked to come in and leave little "presents"... It was really quite a quaint little place, almost like a big B&B, with a library and a den, complete with a puzzle in progress! By filling out a questionnaire you also got a free King Eider pin, so that went well on my vest along with all the other bird pins...  This is also a place you cannot bird independently; you must sign up for a package of some sort (click here for a link to St. Paul Island Tours), and the local guides take you around to all the birding spots in busses. But you really don't miss out: they're on the lookout for vagrants as well!

After getting settled in we walked over to the Trident for dinner, a cafeteria in a building that reminded me of some of the buildings at Keesler AFB, but the food was terrific! The cook used to work at one of the big hotels in Las Vegas I guess, but, boy, did he set up some feasts for us! Then we geared up and headed for a lagoon where we found a pair of Wood Sandpipers (copulating yet--probably breeding!) as well as a Eurasian Teal and nice studies of Rock Sandpipers. (In another pond later we actually had a Eurasian/Green-winged hybrid!) Then we got a report of an Olive-backed Pipit from North Point, so we hightailed it over there where Gavin assured us it would be a ten-minute stop. Well! Up the hill we went, and what we found (besides huge Northern Fur Seals bellowing) was a flycatcher that we assumed at first was one of the reported Gray-spotteds, but it was rather dusky across the breast with very dull streaking (almost an Olive-sided Flycatcher effect) and no real facial pattern; with those field marks we narrowed it down to a Siberian (even though I couldn't make out a malar stripe, which was one of the field marks I was looking for). Everyone but Pat got brief but satisfying views, but it was pretty flighty. Then the pipit came back, and I saw it flying twice, but not enough to ID it (and it wouldn't call, naturally!). By this time the Field Guides group had joined us, and Judy wanted to stay for a better crack at the pipit, so the rest of us came back to crash!

   

Left:  Typical bumpy tundra habitat on the Pribs.  Right:  The King Eider Hotel, our bungalow for the next couple of nights...

   

Left:  Marshall and Nancy chow down at the Trident! (looked like a military mess hall, but the food was great!)  Right:  We head back out to bird

   

Left:  Even Jim (a non-birder) is enjoying himself!  Right:  Gavin (center) is one of the local guides; one cannot bird the Pribs outside of a guided tour...

   

...but that doesn't cramp our style any!  Right:  We trudge across the sand to get a closer look at kittiwakes...

   

Marshall searches the flock for a Red-legged Kittiwake, only found here.  Right:  Pat's happy with his look!

        

We scoot over to a pond to look for goodies like Rock Sandpipers!

                      

Left and center:  Frolicking Red-necked Phalaropes.  Right:  Eurasian Teal, an Asiatic vagrant

       

Can't beat that!" says Judy

    

Marshall closes up shop at the news of an Olive-backed Pipit at Northeast Point!

    

We hike to the knoll and scan the tundra for the elusive little LBJ...

 

Presently most everyone starts spreading out trying to flush this thing...

         

Left:  We're joined by Megan Crewe and her Field Guides tour  Right:  It's hard not to be distracted by the Northern Fur Seals!

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