21 May 2014

Arrival to St. Paul

As we ascended above the mountains outside of Anchorage in our smallish plane (it seated 30-40 people), we were informed that we would stop in Dillingham to refuel the plane (typical of many flights out to St. Paul).  Having never been to Dillingham, I didn’t mind the idea of being somewhere new.  Of course, once we landed, we weren’t allowed off the plane so this was my view of Dillingham:
The first leg of the trip to Dillingham was probably about 1 hr 15 minutes.  The second leg, the one to St. Paul Island, would be about 1 hr 45 minutes.  Of course, we learned otherwise when the pilot informed us that airline made an audible and changed our route; we were headed to St. George Island first. 

From what I gathered, it’s not too common for them to do that but I didn’t mind, it would be neat to see the second-biggest Pribilof Island in person, after all.  As we finally descended, I craned my neck to see if/when the clouds would break and I’d see some water, birds, or land.  Finally the clouds cleared and staring at me were huge cliffs teeming with flushing murres and kittiwakes. 

We were allowed off the plane during the 15-minute break on St. George.  Turns out that is just enough time to hop out, see a distant flock of CACKLING GEESE with a larger GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE mixed in, see our first GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES, snap a picture of the view from the runway:
I also snapped a picture of our Saab:
Our flight to St. Paul Island from St. George Island was probably less than 20 minutes, just a quick jump from one Pribilof Island to the next.  We eventually landed, got to meet a few TDX staff, gathered our bags, and headed to our house.   Of course, we couldn’t even get to town, a mile or two away from the airport, without finding something rare.  Glen, one of the other guides, spotted a Eurasian (rustica) BARN SWALLOW over Icehouse Lake.  Ahh, our first Asian stray. 

In town, we stopped by the AC (THE store on the island) to ensure we had some food on hand.  After that, though, it was time to check out the island a bit and see what was around.  It wasn’t long before we found more rare birds.  First up was this “WHISTLING” TUNDRA SWAN on Antone Lake:
Of the three birded seasons here (spring, summer, fall), they’re most-likely to be found in spring but even then they’re listed as rare.

We continued to Southwest Point, a good vantage point for seawatching, etc.  Apparently we were so caught up in looking at what was offshore that we didn’t see what was ON the shore, 3 BRISTLE-THIGHED CURLEWS:
They, too, are most-expected in spring compared to summer/fall but they’re still considered rare and not necessarily annual.  This was a long-awaited life bird for me so I was mighty pleased.  Of course, this all goes without saying (until now) that new birds were flying all around me all the time; swarms of LEAST and PARAKEET AUKLETS, RED-FACED CORMORANTS, and RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKES were swirling offshore.  

So far, so good.