23 May 2015

The return... and then a week

If you kept track of me last year, you’ll recall that I tried to blog every couple of days during my stint on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs.  Well, I’m back at it!

Although I’m quite behind (we’ve been here 9 days already), I hope to get back into the groove of things now that we have WIFI up and running.

The flight out to St. Paul always starts in Anchorage.  Don’t worry about security on these flights though; there is none.  Feel free to carry a machete, a couple of gallons of jet fuel, or whatever your heart desires; and no, I’m not kidding.  No security.  Typical of small planes, you board just by walking up to it on the tarmac:

Our flight landed in Dillingham and sat on the runway for 20 minutes, which is typical; they often stop here to refuel and/or drop off supplies.  What wasn't typical was that I was stuck inside the plane craning my neck around, glaring out the window hoping to see a bird... any bird.  You see, I was in a new census area (think county) and I really wanted to fill in that part of my county map... but first I needed to ID a bird!  A flock of peeps flew by but I couldn't do anything with them (I needed to narrow it down to a species, remember).  Finally, probably 10 minutes in, I spotted a distant COMMON RAVEN.  I relaxed.  Before long, we were up and over the Bering Sea headed to SNP.

Once we landed, we dropped off luggage, geared up, bought food, etc.  Then it was out the door to go birding to see what was waiting for us.  At Weather Bureau Lake, a TUFTED DUCK was shadily shadowing a BARROW'S GOLDENEYE:
Here on St. Paul, the goldeneye is actually much rarer than the Tufted.  However, we had missed TUDU last year (and gotten a BAGO too) so I was much happier with the TUDU; it was a new island bird after all.

Up on the shoreline of Webster Lake, there were 3 SANDHILL CRANES, another species we missed last year.  Sweet, another new island bird:
In the road at Southwest Point, there were two BAR-TAILED GODWITS that decided to take a bath in a puddle:
These guys aren't terribly uncommon here, we had several around last year as well.  However, they're pretty rare in the Lower 48 so they're still a treat to be around.

Much more abundant are the RED-NECKED PHALAROPES that breed on the island.  Here are a couple in the Salt Lagoon:
Another common breeding species, the RED-FACED CORMORANT, is in full swing of nest-building.  Here's one gathering grass that it will use:
We've had quite a few owls around too (which seems to surprise people).  Yes, owls make it out to St. Paul.  First up, this SHORT-EARED OWL was hunting along the shores of the Salt Lagoon one evening:
We've also seen 2-3 different SNOWY OWLS this spring.  In fact, at least one gets seen just about every day somewhere on the island.  Here's one that was perched on the backside of Hutch Hill one evening:
One of the first good birds of the year came when we were scoping Pumphouse Lake.  A SKY LARK  (Code 3) was singing overhead!  I managed to snap a picture of the distant blob:
A fun fact about Sky Larks... St. Paul Island is the only place (that we know of) that this species has nested naturally in the ABA area.  Of course, a population can be found in British Columbia but that was introduced.

I was driving by Salt Lagoon (like we do many times every day) when I noticed this gorgeous adult male KING EIDER sitting on a rock.  This was the first time I'd ever seen a drake in the lagoon:
There's been an adult BALD EAGLE hanging around lately which isn't a huge surprise considering we had a couple around last year as well:
In terms of migrants, shorebirds are on the early side of things (at least when compared to songbirds).  Here's a SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER that Ashley and I found while walking around Pumphouse Lake one day:
In terms of dowitchers, SHORT-BILLED is most expected in the spring whereas LONG-BILLED is more expected in the fall.

Then there was this thing:
This is a WOOD SANDPIPER, a fairly rare species in much of the ABA area.  In western Alaska, however, they're only an uncommon migrant.  I remember my lifer WOSA came during one of the summers I worked in Barrow but I hadn't seen one again until I worked at St. Paul last year (they're pretty much annual here).  Here's another look at it, this time in flight:
A few days ago Scott called and mentioned he had a close LAYSAN ALBATROSS out at Southwest Point.  Although chasing tubenoses out here is usually a silly idea, we ventured out anyway to see what we could find.  Thousands of fulmars and shearwaters were pouring past the point, which is definitely a good sign, so we got to work.  Before long, a fishing vessel started to come in past the point.  We didn’t mind this one bit because we both got on a LAYSAN ALBATROSS mixed in the fray behind the boat.  I got 3 different looks of the bird but failed to get any pictures (well, the albatross is probably somewhere in this one):
Anyway, so yeah, that covers the first week we were here.  I didn't manage any new ABA birds but did see several new island/state birds so that's something.  I have a hunch that the next couple of days got interesting.  ;-)