09 October 2015

A shocking Bering Sea first!

The past two days have been way more interesting than I thought they were going to be!  True, the Eurasian Hobby was never relocated (bummer for a few of us), but other than that, things got goofy.

It started yesterday when Susan, Ashley, and I were driving northeast through Novastoshna.  Although we drive the roads here on St. Paul every day, it's not that often we see something that obviously doesn't belong.  However, that's what happened when we caught sight of a tiny greenish bird that had bumped off the road.  After pointing and proclaiming "good bird", we stopped the van and hopped out.  Thankfully, the bird flew across the road in front of us and landed on a dune ridge.  Then we heard it.  It sounded like a kinglet... but not the Ruby-crowned kind!  It took several minutes to find the culprit but we eventually succeeded in unearthing a very secretive GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET:
It's a quality find out here, actually.  This was the 7th record ever for the Pribilofs and the first since 2011.

As it so happened, we weren't done with kinglets for the day... we found this RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET in the main crab pots a few hours later:
Always a nice thing to see, we stopped and watched this very white SNOWY OWL that was perched on a hump near the Coast Guard Station:
Little did I know that the next day was going to have even more surprises!  Ashley and I decided to drive roads in the wind and rain this morning and it paid off with this VARIED THRUSH near the Zapadni area:
This was the 12th Pribilof record (and a new island bird for us).

However, the biggest surprise was DEFINITELY this next vagrant.  Ashley and I were driving alongside Webster House this morning when she mentioned something about a woodpecker.  It took a second to sink in but when I saw what she was pointing to, I stopped the van, put my bins up, and instantly dropped them and reached for my camera instead.  Clinging to a post behind the house was a little dracula-looking thing:
We could NOT believe our eyes, it was a freaking BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER!  After we snapped some pictures, it randomly flew off (it was being buffeted by a 30 mph north wind):
It flew out of view towards the Webster Celery patch:
And just like that, we had one of the biggest surprises of the entire season.  This was not only the first record for the Pribilofs, but also the first ever for the Being Sea region.  Take a look at what the all-time records look like in eBird:
When this recent sighting gets displayed, it will be the westernmost record in the world of this largely non-migratory species.

Even without vagrants, I must say I'm a huge fan of the fall evenings here on St. Paul Island.  Here's the upper cut of the quarry (where the Pallas's Rosefinch was found earlier this fall):
... and here's a panoramic view of Lake Hill, an extinct volcano with a lake in the crater:
From a different angle, and in evening light, the crater glows (but not in a scary way):
Anyway, with these recent surprises, who knows what will show up next!  American Dipper?

07 October 2015

Need a hobby?

Four of the seven birders on the island were lucky to have a EURASIAN HOBBY fly by earlier today.  This Code 4 vagrant (the 4th Pribilof record) is our latest by almost 2 months and the first one here in 12 years.  As (bad) luck would have it, Ashley and I were birding on the opposite end of the island and ended up missing the bird.  Who knows, maybe it'll stick around?

In our subsequent searching for the hobby, we came across this NORTHERN SHRIKE near the airport:
This is the 6th Pribilof record and the first since 2013.

I have to say, the fall evenings here are still splendid!

04 October 2015

Bramblin' Man

The past few days have seen a marked increase of BRAMBLINGS on the island.  With daily counts reaching upwards of 13 birds, these Code 3 finches are quickly becoming commonplace.  Here's one on the north side of Hutch Hill:
Before you think that's mind-blowing, remember that our daily counts of BRAM last fall topped 40 birds!  In terms of Asian vagrant passerines, Brambling is indeed the lowest-hanging fruit.

Compared to last fall, SKY LARKS are more reliable on the island this time around.  We've seen as many as 3 in a day and at least 1 has been seen almost every day for the last week.  Here's one near Hutch Hill that was actually giving little song snippets between the usual flight calls (it's a blurry photo but I managed to catch the bill open):
However, the main highlight yesterday was the discovery of a new Code 3 species for the season.  Tom and Doug found a RUSTIC BUNTING on the slope downhill from the upper cut of Polovina Hill.  All groups coalesced, ascended, and then descended to the spot.  It took a couple of sweeps before we were able to flush this secretive Old World emberizid but once it did, most of us got quite decent looks:
Who doesn't love a vagrant with a semi-crest?
But of course, we wouldn't stop there... we found yet another RUSTIC BUNTING on the top of Hutch Hill later in the day!  This is the first time we've had multiple RUBUs around since 2011.

Another highlight from yesterday was an OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT (Code 3) in the Barabaras Celery patch.  However, in typical fashion, the bird remained very skulky and I couldn't manage any IDable shots.  But hey, it's an awesome species and any day with an OBPI is a good day.

So what was the rarest Pribilof sighting yesterday?  It wasn't the pipit... or buntings.  Nope, it was this NORTHERN HARRIER!
We were lucky to see this bird meander overhead while we were at Polovina Hill doing the whole RUBU chase thing.  Although this is a familiar species for most of us, this is only the 7th record for the Pribilofs which makes it the rarest bird sighting yesterday (relative to here, of course).

Technically speaking, we leave next week.  Yikes.  Better get out there and walk some lava fields before it's too late!

02 October 2015

Dolores Wanted an Albatross

It's October!  It's also Friday already which means we fly out in only 2 weeks.  Craziness!  In the meantime... the blog.

It doesn't take long looking around outside to notice that the seasons are in full flux right now.  The vegetation is matted down, the landscape looks brownish, winter is coming!  The seabird cliffs that hosted hundreds of alcids are quiet save for a few cormorants.  But we bird on.
Here is Aaron L. and his Wilderness Birding Adventures group doing some seawatching from Southwest Point.  The point remains a worthwhile spot to seawatch from and most visits yield seabirds like THICK-BILLED MURRE, HORNED PUFFIN, RED PHALAROPE, as well as the more abundant species like GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL.  Here's one in the process of molting its outer primaries:
I'll throw this picture in as well, also taken at Southwest Point.  It's not a great photo by normal standards... it's dark.. and I cropped it strangely.  Still, I'm not sure why I like it so much:
Walking the lava fields at Southwest Point usually is an exercise of futility.  Then every once in a while you bump into something you're glad to see.  We found this agreeable AMERICAN PIPIT just the other day:
The rarest bird of the last week came when Aaron and I were taking the group past the Webster House area.  We caught sight of a thrush flying by and thankfully we were able to exit the vehicle and snap a few photos before it flew out of sight (and never to be refound).  The verdict?  It was a Code 4 vagrant DUSKY THRUSH.  Here is my sad, sad series of photos:

So there you have it.  Sometimes the birds find you!  Although this was a new island bird for me (I missed the one last fall), my first Dusky came nearly 10 years ago (June 12, 2006) when some friends and I found one in the cemetery in Barrow.

In terms of other Code 3+ species lately, it's been fairly quiet.  Sure, we have the normal Code 3 species like SLATY-BACKED GULL and SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPERS but they hardly seem to count anymore.  :-)  

There was a very shy SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT (Code 3) that was only seen in flight by one group but no one was able to relocate it.  We DO have that continuing JACK SNIPE though, so that's something.  I seem to have gotten lazy in terms of trying to get better photos of it though.  Here it is in silhouette style:
We also continue to find SKY LARKS (Code 3).  Here are two in flight (from like a mile away) near Hutch Hill:
Chucking the whole Code 3, Code 4 nonsense for a second, we've had a stunning GYRFALCON around for several days now.  Although this record shot leaves much to be imagined, seeing this bird making passes at GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES at Polovina Hill was just a riot to watch! Here it is roosting just below the upper lip:
We didn't have any Gyrfalcons around last year so this was actually a new island bird for me (and was only the 8th Gyr I've ever seen).

I actually snagged another island bird that day as well.  This RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH has been frequenting the old auto dump where it will forage among the twisted metal and flattened cars (or sometimes celery, as seen below):
It's easy to see this picture and see the nuthatch in it... but remember that to get here, this tiny bird flew 300+ miles over a very unforgiving Bering Sea.  This little warrior is lucky to be alive.  Hopefully it rights its path and finds a nice coniferous forest to spend the winter in.

Not all birds that reach the Pribilofs survive their layover here.  Cue this PEREGRINE FALCON we saw yesterday evening.  Before we knew it, it was in a stoop directly in front of us!
 It continued to gain speed:
When a Peregrine wants to chase something down... it will.  In fact, no other flying creature on this planet can outpace it.  That list includes RUDDY TURNSTONE.  Here are both birds at the split second before impact; one filled with hope, the other with dread:
 ... and yes, the Peregrine was successful in nabbing the turnstone right out of the sky:
But guess what... there is one species here that scoffs at falcons and turnstones alike.  It's a safe assumption that PACIFIC WRENS don't need to worry about falcons.  These little dudes spend their time tucked way down in veg and crevices and such.  Here's one today from Zap Ravine:
Also in Zap Ravine, this FOX SPARROW was the first we've had in nearly a week (and the first for me in 11 days):
I'll end the post with two photos of mammals to round things off.  I'll start with this face-to-face with an ARCTIC FOX:
Also, the REINDEER herd was just opposite Antone Lake today!  Notice a lot of antlers?  Indeed, that's because female caribou/reindeer also have antlers:
That's all for now but stay tuned.  Maybe my next update will have some news of a rarity!  Orrrrrr maybe more photos of foxes and reindeer.

P.S.  The title of this post is devoted to the person, whoever he/she is, that searched that phrase online and somehow found my blog... twice.

28 September 2015


When the rosefinch was found more than a week ago, you can imagine the scramble all of the birders undertook to get onsite ASAP.  As you can see below, you know something worthwhile is afoot when all of our vehicles are at one place (other than where we live):
And understandably, we've been birding the quarry every single day since the Pallas's Rosefinch was found.  However, the bird has remained very elusive along the hard-to-reach ridge top and very few people have actually succeeded in relocating the bird.  As far as I know, it was last seen on the 24th and only in flight.

However, the "Patagonia Roadside Rest" effect went into action when Alison and her group found a RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL (Code 4) while searching for the rosefinch!  However, the bird was a one-and-done wonder and no one was ever able to relocate it.

Despite those birds being less than reliable, we've had some other fun birds around like this ARCTIC WARBLER in Zap Ravine for a couple of days, the first one of the season.  As is typical for this species in migration here, it was quite skulky and rarely came out in the open.  This is the best I could do:
We continue to have large numbers of redpolls on the island.  We've seen a flock of 100+ birds once or twice which is the largest I had ever seen here.  And believe it or not, not all of the redpolls on the island have found their way to that flock yet; here's one in the quarry crab pots:
Present on the island since we arrived in mid-May, our resident BARROW'S GOLDENEYE continues on Weather Bureau Lake:
In shorebird news, it's stunning to scope the Salt Lagoon and NOT see Rock Sandpipers!  Sure, there are a few stragglers remaining but the vast majority have departed their breeding grounds and have migrated south to the Aleutians.  They are such a staple here during most of the season that it seems strangely quiet and stark without them.

Also, we now have TWO different JACK SNIPE on the island; another one was found at Tonki Point Wetlands just yesterday.

Speaking of snipe, sometimes you have a bird that you miss once or twice... and then it's three and four times.  Before you know it, it becomes a nemesis.  That's what COMMON SNIPE was to Ashley.  Was.  We were finally able to connect with the continuing bird from Pumphouse Lake:
Thankfully, the fun didn't stop with the COSN.  Scott had found a Code 3 OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT on Hutch Hill and so nearly all the birders on the island converged there later that evening.  Although it was quite uncooperative, as this species of pipit can be, we all were successful in seeing the bird flush several times.  An easier photographic subject was the beautiful fall evening with the bright sunlight contrasting with the incoming squalls:
To top things off, we called it a night after relocating a SNOWY OWL that was found near the Coast Guard Station.  Although regular here in spring and fall (and sometimes summer), does anyone actually get sick of these ghostly sentinels of the north?
The guiding season on St. Paul is winding down (only 18 days left on island) but we hope we have a few rarities tucked into this traditionally exciting time.  Stay tuned...