Monday, November 29, 2010

June 14 - Back to Boston

June 14th: Our flight landed in Minneapolis at 7:38 AM. We both got to sleep a little bit on the plane, now we are waiting for our 10:00 AM connection to Boston which is scheduled to arrive at 2:00 PM.

Overall a good trip, 157 total species seen. I had about 19 life birds, Paul had 22. If we were to do it over again, we would go to Nome a little later, spend 1 less day in the Pribiloffs and maybe go there a little earlier. The wildlife viewings in Denali were awesome the first day, but not great the second due to the rain. There is only one road thru the park so taking the shuttle 2 days in a row, is a bit much, even though we didn’t do the same distances. We probably would’ve rather spent a night closer to Paxton to try for the Smith’s Longspur as Birdquest does. After talking to others, we realized that we could have done this trip on our own or with another couple to share the car/gas costs. Anyone can book at the Pribiloffs through the St. Paul Island Tours website, though it may have been a little more expensive. We are not really sure how much of a group discount we got, if any. So if we return to Alaska someday, seems like Gambell and/or Barrow should be on the list in order to get the Loons and Eiders we need and at probably a later date, say mid June at the earliest. We heard that at Gambell, people can rent ATV’s from the owners directly. This is how the High Lonesome tour group got around.

June 13 - Denali (Savage River) to Eagle River NC in Anchorage

June 13th: Since it was departure day, the group was splitting up. Bill was off to go on the Wilderness Adventures “Gray Capped Chickadee trip”. Joan was off to Fairbanks to continue touring Alaska on her own. Jim, Karyn and Alan apparently were planning to do a bird walk at Denali State Park. Although we didn’t know about this until after they left.

Bob, Paula, Donna, Mary, Pat, Sally, Paul and I departed at 7:00 to try to get the Arctic Warbler at Savage River trail in Denali. We walked to the bridge, about a mile thru pretty scenery and found singing Wilson’s Warblers, Tree Sparrows, White Crowned Sparrow, but no Arctic Warbler. Although there have been reported sightings in Nome, no one has reported it anywhere else, so it appears it is still too early for this bird in this area. Nome is also getting the Yellow Billed Loon, and Eiders we needed, but weren’t there when we were, so it seems we should have gone to Nome last.

As we were driving out of the park, we saw a Gyrfalcon flying over a ridge and a moose on the hillside and the other car was ahead of us so they missed it, but they had a Lynx cross in front of their car.

Our next stop was the Denali Park Highway outside Denali where many Blackpolls were singing. This was our last possible spot for Arctic. Then we continued our 5 hour drive towards Anchorage with a scheduled stop at the Eagle River Nature Center. Being a Sunday, there were lots of families there and lots of dogs, so we tried to take the path less travelled.

Beautiful scenery, snow capped mountains, wetlands with wildflowers and a wooded section. We were hoping for Three Toed Woodpecker or Spruce Grouse, but no luck. We did a 3 mile hike, but did see a Greater Yellowlegs perched on top of a dead spruce calling in the middle of the boggy area. This was the second time on this trip we saw a Yellowlegs perched like this. The first time was at Wonder Lake.

Our last stop prior to heading to the airport was at Westchester Lagoon. Out on this tiny island about 200 feet in front of us, we saw a small flock of Hudsonian Godwits, 2 Short Billed Dowitchers, an Arctic Tern with a Chick, a Mew Gull with a chick, Cackling Geese, nesting Red Necked Grebes, Greater Scaups, American Widgeon, and further out in the lake, a Redhead and a Bald Eagle flew over.

Since Donna and Mary from Somerville, were on a 10:00 PM flight and the rest of us were on an 11:15 flight we decided to head to the airport about 7:30 to grab dinner at Chilis. We said our goodbyes to Sally who was staying in Alaska to tour for another few weeks. Her husband was flying in from Australia to join her. While at Chili’s, Dave appeared. Turns out he was on our flight too. He had split off from the group to go to Barrow, while we went to Denali. He actually did Barrow on his own. He said they were having a very late winter there and the water was still frozen on the ocean. He did get the target birds he wanted: the loons, eiders and Ruff, but said it was very cold.

June 12 - Denali in the rain

June 12: Rain, rain, go away! Today our shuttle to Eilson Visitor Center in Denali left at 7:30 AM. Our first sighting was a Moose with a calf near the railroad tracks. Bob, Paula, Paul and I got off the bus at Igloo to look for the Arctic Warbler again with no luck. We walked about a mile in the steady rain for about an hour before Paul and I decided to take the bus up to Eilson to get out of the rain. I discovered my water proof rain coat was no longer rain proof as my arms had gotten wet. We took the “camper” bus and on the way had a small herd of Caribou.

It was hard to see much from the bus since the windows were fogging up and getting covered in mud from the dirt roads. Once we got to Eilson we made a reservation for the next bus back. I slept most of the way back as this vacation’s lack of sleep has finally gotten to me. I was awakened suddenly when everyone was excited to spot 2 wolves with about 7 pups.

Unfortunately I only saw one of the pups with just my eyes, when the driver stood up to get his camera and blocked our views so I never got great looks, but still an exciting sighting. Once back at the Visitor’s Center, we walked a few of the trails and only saw 2 Boreal Chickadees so decided to head back to the Totem Inn at about 5 PM to meet the group for our last dinner at the motel.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

June 11th - Denali - Shuttle to Wonder Lake

June 11th: The 6:45 AM shuttle to Wonder Lake (83 miles)? was a bit late departing. The bus driver was very good at spotting wildlife and she knew her birds which was great, but she certainly didn’t stop talking which was making us sleepy after too little sleep again. Our first important bird sighting was a Gyrfalcon perched on Marmot Rock. Bob, Paula, Mary and Donna were on our bus so we were the lucky ones as the rest of the group was on a later bus which didn’t get to see one. Our luck continued as we had a brief glimpse of a Wolf walking across a ridge before disappearing over the other side, then a distant view of 2 Grizzlys low in the valley. A little further along we were extremely lucky to witness a Grizzly nursing 2cubs. We also had brief glimpses of a moose and lots of distant Dall sheep up on some mountainsides.

When we reached Wonder Lake we only had about 30 minutes to walk around before the return trip back and it was a bit drizzly. I did get great looks at a brilliant red Common Redpoll. Back on the bus Paul spotted a closer Wolf in a lower field. We watched it as it walked closer to us and even pounced on some prey for a few minutes. Our best look at a Wolf!

We got off the bus at mile marker 38 to search for the Arctic Warbler again. We walked for a few hours before 3 of our group got on the next shuttle. Since it was full, Paul, Bob and myself continued our walk for another hour getting some great looks at Boreal Chickadee and Gray Jay as well as White Crowned Sparrow and Yellow Rumped Warbler. We also heard an unidentified bird singing that had a high pitch note, then went into song. We thought it may have been a White Winged Crossbill, but after listening to the song it doesn’t sound familiar.

After an hour the next bus came, with only 1 available seat, so we sent Bob along. As we continued the walk, we were shocked to see one of our target animals for the trip, a Lynx crossed the road in front of the bus as it was departing. Unfortunately I didn’t get a look at the face, just the body, but Bob said the bus driver was the only one to see it. Victorious, we continued our walk for another hour before finally getting seats on a bus. We ended up walking 7 miles, which in reality I loved since we have not gotten hardly any exercise this entire trip. Just prior to this we had great looks at 2 juv Gray Jays with one parent. At first, very hard to ID. The final sighting for the day was when a Porcupine waddled across the road in front of the bus. Then off to dinner at 9 PM – pizza at the hotel and here it is 11:30 PM again.

June 10th - Anchorage to Denali

June 10th: Breakfast at the hotel at 6:00 AM, then a team meeting at 6:30 while the guys went to pick up the rental cars. We left Anchorage about 7:30 for our drive to Denali. As usual there were lots of pitstops, hardly any exercise, car birding and lots of junk food being purchased. Not my favorite kind of trip. The lack of exercise and the amount of food is killing me. We made a stop on the road that goes to Paxton to look for Arctic Warbler with no luck, but did see a group of Cliff Swallows, Wilson Warbler, Wilson’s Snipe, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, White Crowned Sparrow, Bonapartes Gull, Black Scoter, and Greater Scaup.

Then we proceeded to Denali National Park to pick up our shuttle bus tickets for the next 2 days. We drove Savage Road to the point where no cars can proceed and got distant somewhat clouded views of Mt. McKinley.

On the way back I spotted a Gray Jay. We made our way to Healy for our 3 night stay at the Totem Inn and had a relatively decent quick burger at the Inn’s restaurant. We have a 6:45 AM Shuttle tomorrow so need to get some sleep.

June 9th - Pribiloffs to Anchorage

June 9th: The day started off slightly warmer but with heavier fog. Bill was stressed out that our plane may not be able to arrive at 3:30 due to the fog. But as the day progressed the fog lifted and it is a beautiful day. We went to Tolstoi Cliffs this morning to view the best area for Red faced Cormorants.

We had good looks despite the fog and also a couple of Horned Puffins were perched relatively close. We decided to save our sandwiches for dinner and eat lunch at Trident Seafood since they had Mexican food today. The island was still quiet, no new vagrants.

Our flight left St. Paul at 4:00 ish and took almost 3 hours due to the winds to arrive in Anchorage. This time the Quality Inn shuttle arrived quickly as opposed to the 45 min waits that happened twice before. We went for a short walk at Hood Lake and saw a Junco, Bonapartes Gull, Red Necked Grebes and lots of Tree Swallows. I downloaded a lot of photos to Facebook last night so didn’t get much sleep again – probably 5 hrs max.

June 8th

June 8th: Well so far the Pribiloffs have not produced any vagrant birds, which has been disappointing. This morning after breakfast we had our taste of what typical Pribiloff weather is like, drizzly foggy and a strong cold breeze as we started our hike up Zapadni. I left my good camera in the car because of this weather, but of course it cleared when we were at the top and had amazing close views of all 3 auklets: Least, Crested and Parakeet as well as both Puffins, both Kittiwakes and both Murres. I did some digiscoping so those photos will have to suffice, but I’d say this was my favorite spot thus far on St. Paul. Luckily our next stop was also great views of these same birds and we did bring the camera. They were not as numerous here, but at least I didn’t feel so bad now about not having the camera for the last stop.

Lunch was the usual time 12-1 and then we did a short tour of St Peter and St. Paul Russian Orthodox Church and Museum before heading back to the lodge for an hour break. BTW, the lodge is called the King Eider and is really like a dorm at the dirt runway airport… The old King Eider hotel closed. The rest of the birding both before and after dinner was basically dead with the exception of walking out on the mudflats to photograph the Bar Tailed Godwits we have been seeing here the last few days.

The High Lonesome Tour group flew out this afternoon and I’m thinking in reality we don’t need the extra day here, especially given the non-typical quiet birding for this time of year when they generally expect vagrants if the winds are right.

June 7th Pribiloff Puffins & Auklets

June 7th: A 7:15 departure for breakfast at Trident turned into 7:40. Paul and I skipped eating at the restaurant since we had brought enough food with us. We stopped to view the female Stellars Eiders which were life birds for us, but a dull brown in color.

Then we went to some cliffs to view the Least and Parakeet Auklets amongst both species of Murres. There was a small raft of Crested Auklets in the water and then we spotted a pair in the cliffs for better scope views.

Northern Fulmars were also nesting in the cliffs, while Horned and Tufted Puffins were not as numerous.

Paul saw a Short Tailed Shearwater which I hope to see later and we got a good look at one Red-legged Kittiwake.

Then a lunch stop was made back at Trident, which I skipped for a chance to eat my pear. After lunch we had a 2 hour break which is when I tried to use the one computer here to get on the internet, but after almost an hour of fighting with it, I gave up. The weather is bright and sunny again today, but the wind is very cold. I’m guessing the temp is about 35F. We are hoping our luggage is on the flight that is due to arrive at 3:45. If not we heard it is suppose to be on a cargo plane arriving at 10:00 PM. I now know what it’s like to brush my teeth with my finger. Luckily someone let me borrow some toothpaste.

We did a little birding from 3 to 4:00 but heard the plane arrive and YES our luggage was here! So after reorganizing a bit and getting on our waterproof boots we did a tad more birding before going to dinner at Trident. After dinner we slogged around thru some marshes but it was generally pretty quiet...just the usual suspects like Rock Sandpiper, Lapland Longspur, Gray Crowned Rosy Finches and new for this location, Winter Wren (which may be split) and Snow Buntings. We then did a short steep very scenic hike along a ravine with great views near the Northern Seal Rookery and when we returned to the car a big male was very near the van. Forrest’s group was there and gave us a tip on some Emperor Geese in great light so 5 of us jumped in another van and headed out for the Northeast part of the island where there was a lot of black sand dunes – the area kind of reminded me of Cape Cod, Truro area. We did get distant and scope views of the Geese, but they flew off before I could get any close photos.

June 6th: Travel to the Pribiloff Island of St. Paul

June 6th: today was primarily a travel day to St Paul in the Pribiloff Islands. Our flight departed at 12:20 PM but despite the fact we checked our luggage in by 10:00 AM, Pen Air decided to not ship any of the luggage because they wanted to ship a lot of cargo at our fuel stop in Dillingham. The plane was a propeller plane and needed to make this stop to refuel after an hour just in case it could not land on St. Paul immediately due to weather. But the weather was sunny and about 43. We were on the plane with Forrest Davis’ group and none of us got luggage. Luckily I brought enough warm clothes and hopefully our bags will be shipped tomorrow, but there is a chance they may not. If they had told us this in advance we would have packed a little differently as I think the main item missing will be our toothbrush and paste as well as waterproof boots and rain pants.

We landed at 3:40 and our first bird on the Island was a Gray Crowned Rosy Finch which are residents here, a life bird for us! Sean, our local guide, took both groups around a few spots on a shuttle bus. We had amazing views of Thick Billed Murres on the cliffs mixed in with a few Common Murres. Both Tufted and Horned Puffins were flying nearby and lots of Black Legged Kittiwakes were gathering nesting material. Rock Sandpipers are common here.

We then went to view the Northern Fur Seals, mostly males, who were establishing their territory. The numbers of these beautiful creatures are declining, but still plentiful here.

We had dinner prior to birding at about 5 PM at Trident Seafood. All the meals will be here. The Swordfish was delicious, soft and moist, unlike any other times I’ve had it.