Once signing on with Field Guides, I was happy to find that I was to guide some of the tours there. Going home, in a way.
As it turns out, 2018 was the year I was to head back up do a two-parter. The first tour visits St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs and then the Denali region. The second tour finds itself in Nome, Seward, and Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow).
Anyway, the time came to head north and I was mentally ready (I thought. I was coming off a 2-day break after my Maine tour).
Once I made it to Anchorage and Tom and I met our folks, we pretty much flew out to St. Paul Island right away. This island, one of the Pribilofs, sits roughly 300 miles from mainland Alaska and 250 miles north of the Aleutian Islands. In other words, it's remote. Really remote. It's closer to Russia than it is to Anchorage, for reference.
I had my doubts we were going to be able to land due to the fog but our pilot made a pass, banked hard, and swung in nicely. Here's a view of my former home-island as we landed:
We got out birding pretty much straight away. Here's Tom pointing something out to us:
It was probably this BAR-TAILED GODWIT that was resting in the Salt Lagoon:
The Salt Lagoon there is a great spot near town that's always worth checking. Sometimes HARLEQUIN DUCKS, which are abundant, sit on rocks right next to the road:
The quarry on St. Paul was hosting a mega rarity from Asia and so we wasted little time in going to try to find that. It was a female ORIENTAL CUCKOO and, thankfully, we found it perched on a rock, facing left:
One of the most common species in the rocky areas like the quarry are the SNOW BUNTINGS. It's a beautiful bird to have rummaging around every day:
Another abundant songbird on the island is the LAPLAND LONGSPUR:
The quarry has quite a few nesting ROCK SANDPIPERS. Here's a nest of one of them:
The ROCK SANDPIPERS are worth mentioning though. The subspecies that breeds on St. Paul, Calidris ptilocnemis ptilocnemis, is a very large and distinctive subspecies. They breed on only 4 isolated islands in the Bering Sea and it's been estimated that their population size is only about 20,000 birds in total. On St. Paul, they're abundant and, well, tame:
The seabird cliffs on St. Paul Island are a major attraction for birders. Here's Tom and Pete at the Reef area:
It's at the cliffs, like Reef, that you can see TUFTED PUFFINS, like this one:
... or PARAKEET AUKLET:
The other puffin that breeds on the island, of course, is the HORNED PUFFIN:
Both COMMON and THICK-BILLED MURRES nest on the cliffs there. Here's the latter:
The most common cormorant on the cliffs is the RED-FACED CORMORANT, a specialty that's a lifer for almost everyone who comes to St. Paul:
The cliffs also have nesting BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES and so it's common to have them flying by you at eye-level:
Sometimes the cliffs host birds that don't belong. On our visit, we found a swallow darting around. No swallows really belong out on the island and certainly none of them breed. This lost guy is a BANK SWALLOW:
Although much of the shoreline on St. Paul is rocky, there are long stretches of sand beaches if you know where to go. Here's a young SLATY-BACKED GULL, a vagrant species that is uncommon in the US:
The more common phalarope species, and one that actually breeds there, is the RED-NECKED PHALAROPE:
During our visit, we found this WHIMBREL next to one of the ponds:
Once back on mainland, Tom and I caught up with our group near Denali and we birded with them one final day before the end of Part I. Thankfully, we snagged some mighty fine birds that last day starting with some BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS:
Yep, there are plenty of bears up there. Here's my foot next to the some prints of what was probably a BLACK BEAR:
And with that, Part I was a wrap. For Part II pics, please stay on the line and a representative will be with you shortly.........