28 September 2014

7 days = no shave

It sounds so snobbish but honestly, having no lifers for a full week now, I’m not sure what to do with myself!  After the nonstop rarity action that last week had, the birding this week has slowed down considerably.   Birding here can be that way, boom or bust.

With that said, there are still some amazing rarities that are continuing to be seen on St. Paul Island.  There was a lot of excitement when yet another WOOD WARBLER was found, this time at Marunich!  That makes the 5th and 6th ABA record of that species here on St. Paul at the same time.  Things got a little shifted around yesterday when I bumped into a WOOD WARBLER at a new location, the upper cut of Polovina Hill.  However, the Marunich bird had gone missing and it’s our thought that this was the same bird:
Although we have continuing numbers of BRAMBLINGS, the 2 JACK SNIPE, and at least one OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT, most of our new arrivals have been American birds.  A new island bird for me, this skulky AMERICAN ROBIN, was found along a roadside first thing in the morning:
We also have had a few PINE SISKINS which were new for the year.  Another new species for the year showed up in Hutch Cut yesterday afternoon; the tiny RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET:
A few DARK-EYED JUNCOS arrived lately too including this one from the celery below Polovina Hill:
This particularly bright YELLOW WARBLER has been at the quarry crab pots for several days now:
The long-staying 6 TUNDRA SWANS as well as 4 BRANT and 4 EMPEROR GEESE have been reliable lately.  Here are two of the latter on the rocks below Southwest Point.
And then there are redpolls.  We see both COMMON and HOARY but many have features of both species and so identification isn’t as straightforward as many cavalier birders suspect.  Here are photos of redpolls from some crab pots:

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me at:


25 September 2014

Jacks of all trades

This might be my first post in who-knows-how-long that doesn't highlight a new and stunning lifer here on St. Paul Island.  And yet, some of the great birds are still continuing; for example, the 5th ABA record of WOOD WARBLER continued at least through yesterday evening!

Another rarity that is continuing is the JACK SNIPE.  Except one small detail... there are TWO Jack Snipes in Pumphouse Lake!  You see, some clients and I were trying to find the snipe one day when not one, but two flushed together!  I returned on a later date and was able to duplicate the results as well as get some proof. 

Say hello to snipe #1:
... and 62 seconds later, say hello to snipe #2 that flushed from ~30 feet away:
Although not sharp and definitely not fancy, here you can see the very short bill on a JACK SNIPE as it banked in flight:
Shorebird numbers have been dwindling as of late, mostly due to the prime weather for migrating.  Pumphouse Lake did continue to host a couple of SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPERS including this one that preferred to look at me head-on:
It's kind of goofy to see but these Sharp-taileds aren't always found in mudflats and wetlands.  Here's one that preferred to hang out on the tall grass in a celery patch:
Another shorebird species that we see most days is the PECTORAL SANDPIPER, this one also at Pumphouse Lake:
Numbers of sparrows also have been declining with the nice weather.  Still, we have a couple of FOX SPARROWS around most days.  Here's a handsome one on a celery head:
There have been a few species of geese around lately which isn't rare but isn't super expected either.  Here are two BRANT on Webster Lake; note how the youngster (left) doesn't have the white neck collar that the adult (right) has:
With them has been this minima CACKLING GOOSE, a flagged subspecies here in the fall:
 In memory of the good birds on September 21, here is what my BirdLog app showed at one point.  Not a bad back-to-back series of 4 species!
My time on St. Paul is quickly coming to a close; I'll be flying out 3 weeks from tomorrow.  Anyway, thanks for checking in.  If you have any questions or comments, contact me at:


22 September 2014

Rarity after rarity

At this point, we were joking about being on the one-a-day program with rarities here on St. Paul.  Of course, we never actually expected it to keep it up.  But hey, the surprise we had in store for the following day was GOOD one.

Scott and I were heading up into Zap Ravine when we spotted an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER.  Although not a rarity, it was my overdue first for St. Paul Island.  It dipped down and around the corner though before I managed a picture.  Because I've been trying to get pictures of every species I can for my hokey photo list, we followed the bird into an area where we usually don't check.  What we found when we turned the corner was mighty surprising; Scott and I saw a distant bird with gleaming white underparts and with a fairly bright yellow face.  While I frantically tried to get pictures, it dipped around a corner.  We slowly continued to try to relocate the bird... and tried some more.  We got to nearly the end before we actually paused, sat down, and checked to see if maybe my previous pictures were good enough.  They weren't.  We both agreed though that it could be a WOOD WARBLER which would be only the 5th time it's been seen in North America.  We stood up to continue looking in desperation when right besides us, by only 10-20 feet, the bird flushed!  While we were sitting there trying to figure out what it was, the bird itself was within earshot of us!  This time I managed better photos, it WAS an exceedingly rare WOOD WARBLER:
You'll notice it has a much brighter eyeline and cleaner cheek than something like Willow Warbler.  Also notice the dark hook extending down along the rear of the cheek, from just behind the eye.  That alone is a great fieldmark for Wood.  Here's another photo showing the greenish back and very long wing projection:
Fewer than 20 people have ever seen a Wood Warbler in North America although this was actually the 2nd record for St. Paul Island (the first was in 2004).

Fast forward to the next day, and we continued with the one-a-day talk in jest.  Later in the morning, it actually became a reality.  A couple of birders and I were walking the crab pots when I caught some movement in the top of a stack of pots.  Bins up.  Mental click.  I was looking at a SIBERIAN ACCENTOR!  We carefully stalked the bird until we were finally able to get some proof:
This is a cool bird for a number of reasons.  This isn't a type of sparrow, or warbler, it's... an accentor.  There are 13 species in the Prunellidae family but only one has strayed to North America; the Code 4 Siberian Accentor.  Eventually, all the birders on the island got to see the bird.  FWIW, it was hanging out pretty tightly with the continuing TAIGA FLYCATCHER that has been in the crab pots for a number of days now.

The crab pots produced another cool bird though besides those two Code 4 species.  We were chasing around a ghost of a bird for a bit; flushing it from dense cover only to see it dive back into dense cover.  By some matter of luck, it popped up to the very top of the pots once; it was yet another an OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT:
If the olive-colored back wasn't enough to ID this bird (which is tough to see when backlit like this), note the pale spot right of the cheek.  That's a great fieldmark for Olive-backed.

Yesterday produced another Code 3 pipit species as well... but this one much more expected.  A RED-THROATED PIPIT circled us, calling, at Antone Slough:
Knowing the call note of this species is IMMENSELY helpful, especially if you live on the West Coast and want to pick out a flyover RTPI mixed in with American Pipits.  It's not hard to do either... as long as you know the call.

Lastly, the SNOW BUNTINGS were using the top of one of our vehicles as a dinner buffet last night; the insects were out in force and the top of the van seemed to attract good numbers of both moths and buntings:
So with that, this amazing fall season continues on.  As always, if you have questions or comments, feel free to shoot me an email at:


20 September 2014

Dusky at dusk

I'm not sure how else to describe it out here other than "getting goofy".  The rarities just keep on piling in and quite frankly, I'm losing track of even my own lifers.  This has already been the second-richest year for Asian vagrants here and if the pace keeps up, we'll pass the famous 2007 season.

A couple of days ago, Scott and I were talking about potential vagrants and I actually uttered the words "Well, if you find a RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL tonight I probably won't chase it".  The only reason for that being a) it wasn't likely they'd find a bluetail that night and b) I have been lucky to see that species before in the ABA area.  Fast forward an hour and I get a call from them up at NE... they had found a Code 4 bluetail!  Ha!  And even though I stayed true to my word that night, the rarity stuck another day and we all got absolutely crushing views of it in Hutch Cut:
I know, it wasn't a lifer... my lifer for the day came earlier when they found a TAIGA FLYCATCHER foraging along the road to Lake Hill.  We rushed to the scene and found it actively foraging:
You can ask anyone around here and they'd know that this species was very high on my list of wanted birds.  This is another Code 4 rarity and was only the 6th record ever for the Pribilofs.  This species has been seen once in the Lower 48 states and, strangely enough, not too far from where I live in the Central Valley.

However, we weren't done with the Taiga tantalizing; we found one the following day in the crab pots!  Is it the same one?  I don't think anyone can say with certainty but there is a possibility of it being a different one (folks seem to think that this one looks more colder-toned).  Either way, another day, another Taiga Flycatcher:
Oh, and yes, the RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL was still around yesterday, the 19th.  It had moved, however.  It was first found in Hutch Cut but yesterday presumably the same bird appeared down the road near Webster House:
Other rarities continue as well such as the GARGANEY, JACK SNIPE, and several OLIVE-BACKED PIPITS.  Regarding the latter, I was chasing one around at Polovina Hill and only managed this humorous but conclusive documentation:
Not a particularly rare pipit here, this is the "Siberian" race of AMERICAN PIPIT.  Note the stronger face pattern, white wingbars, bold streaks on the flanks, a bit more dull streaking on the back, pale legs, etc:
St. Paul Island is certainly the first place I've birded where you can visit your local wetland, see an EMPEROR GOOSE sitting alongside shorebirds, and not get super excited:
With the onset of fall, the RED-FACED CORMORANTS don't look nearly as colorful.  Interestingly, they're the only seabird that uses the cliffs here year-round.
It seems that SNOW BUNTINGS are more numerous these days.  Here's one in evening light at Webster House:
The real excitement yesterday came not from the flycatcher or the bluetail.  Instead, the folks who were walking the Webster celery patch found a real DUSKY WARBLER!  This secretive, Code 4 Old World warbler had only been seen on St. Paul twice before and was a lifer I desperately hoped for (but to be fair, I hope for all vagrants).  I ventured up late in the day to see if I relocate it and, with some luck, managed to do so.  Getting proof of this thing was a major chore though.  At first, I only managed this photo showing a brownish bird zipping away through the veg:
I'd have to try other methods to prove that I saw it.  A bit later on, I just started spraying when the bird took off; taking pictures of everything in rapid succession without actually knowing what I was taking pictures of.  Careful examination of my photos at home revealed that I did managed a picture of it in flight:
More conducive to photos was this GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH; only my second of the year and the first one I've managed a photo of:
Oddly enough, this NORTHERN HARRIER over Novastoshna last night is just as rare here as Red-flanked Bluetail and Taiga Flycatcher!  And no, these photos aren't good enough to eliminate the slight possibility of a vagrant Hen Harrier:
In closing, and certainly off the subject of birds, the NOAA station here releases two weather balloons each day.  We happened to be within camera distance the other day when they released one of them: 
As usual, thanks for checking in and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me via email at:


17 September 2014

A bargain Garganey

I realize that these days it seems like every blog post of mine has word of a new lifer.  Well, I'm happy to keep that streak going!  A couple of nights ago Scott found a duck on Webster Lake that looked odd... kinda looked like a Garganey.  However, the duck was super secretive and it got dark before they got really good looks.  Well, we all returned yesterday and alas, it was very near where they left it; definitely a Code 4 GARGANEY!

I snapped a few digiscoped pictures with my phone but the duck flew to a different part of the lake after a bit.  Notice the dark bill, pale chin, two dark lines on the face with a bold white line through the eye:
This represents the 11th record for the Pribilofs and the first for St. Paul in 16 years.

Speaking of Asian birds, we're experiencing a bit of an influx of BRAMBLING (a Code 3 type of finch).  At least 40 are present on the island which is... pretty amazing (at least to me).  Although this particular one didn't face me, I snapped a picture of it anyway in the Antone Slough celery patch:
Another species being seen in decent numbers are SAVANNAH SPARROWS.  Here's one that popped out of a different celery patch near Barabaras Pond:
Continuing their usual dominance in town, the GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCHES are easy to photograph on the fence at the Diesel Tanks these days:
Likewise, the SNOW BUNTINGS are also present in large numbers there:
Speaking of these striking black-and-white passerines, I guess this SNOW BUNTING was pretty impressed with our electric car!
We were scoping some large gulls from Hutch Hill yesterday and did surprisingly well.  We had a THAYER'S GULL, an "American" HERRING GULL, and two different adult SLATY-BACKED GULLS.  Here's one of the latter, this one molting (but you can still see the "string of pearls" pattern in the new and incoming primaries:
Shorebird numbers seem to be fairly steady during the past couple of days.  Still, the numbers of SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPERS are amazing (triple digits lately)!  Here's a few in flight:
As some of you know, I've been keeping tabs on how many species I can photograph this year on St. Paul Island.  Because of that, I had to snap a crappy picture of a distant PACIFIC LOON yesterday in Gorbatch Bay.  Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.
A little closer than the loon was this ARCTIC FOX laying in some grass near the Salt Lagoon.  I guess it thought it was hiding but judging by how easily I saw it and how close I was, it should reevaluate its strategy:
Thanks for checking in and, by the way, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me via email: