Sunday, May 30, 2010

Alaska Holiday - Day 6, St Paul Island, afternoon and evening

Sean (the third birding guide) collected us on Wednesday afternoon, this time to head to the south-east of the Island. Thankfully the snow mist had moved on and the day settled down to freezing cold with medium strength winds :)

The first new species spotted was this Tundra Swan, apparently of the same species as the Bewick Swans we get as winter migrants in the UK. There had also been a Whooper Swan until two days before we arrived:

Sean decided we should walk down a fresh-water melt stream, where he suspected we'd find some waders. We did get views of Least Sandpiper but no decent pictures. Following the stream to a small bay he spotted a Slaty-backed Gull (middle bird):

After the bay we stopped at a nesting cliff, seeing more Thick-billed Murres:

This is a view of the cliff at another angle. There were two dead Arctic Foxes at it's foot:

As always Least Auklets were present, this pair sat on a heap of dirty snow:

A couple of juvenile Red-faced Cormorants shared part of the cliff with Thick-billed Murres:

Northern Fulmar were nesting:
And heading out to sea to feed:
A single Glaucous Gull flew past:
While on the water at the base of the cliff, a big flock of Black-legged Kittiwake bobbed up and down:
Next we headed inland to a small valley by the quarry. In and around this area we saw Snow Buntings:
We'd not seen them in their mostly white plumage before. Of course the Grey-crowned Rosy Finches were present and sufficiently intrigued to follow-us about:
We took these to give you an idea of the landscape (volcanic, mostly flat, trees only six inches tall, very cold....):
It is also beautiful, in parts, in its own way:
That's sea ice in the background... the northerly winds had blown the ice back to the island, it had been clearing for a couple of weeks before the winds turned.
Further around the island, and on our way back to the hotel for dinner (more microwaved macaroni cheese - this being the only vegetarian microwaveable food available in the store), we spotted a small group of Cackling Geese. Hunting had made these almost extinct locally but a conservation programme has seen their numbers start to increase again:
After our meal we set out for the evening birding trip (it's dark from around midnight to 2am ish at this time of year). The shape of the island and prevailing weather and migration routes means that the best spot for birding in the evening is the north-east part of the island.
En route we passed a group of Pacific Golden Plover, here's one I picked out:
Along the shore there was plenty of sea ice, you can see a group of Harlequin Ducks on the lump in the distance:

Another new bird was the Rock Sandpiper, St Paul Island sub-species and relatively common on the island:

A Lapland Longspur flew to a rock right in front of me:

As well as a small flock of Common Redpoll we also saw more Hoary Redpoll:

Bird of the day and probably the whole trip (even our guides were excited) was the Bristle-thighed Curlew:

It was prospecting the pools of melt water in the tyre tracks for food:

This bird is one of the rarest waders in the world, migrating from rocky atolls in the south Pacific, to breed in remote parts of Northern Alaska and is a good find anywhere! We also spotted a lone Dunlin doing the same thing closer to the shoreline.
Our last sighting was Black-legged Kittiwake gathering nest material:

We did see Red-legged Kittiwake and I have a record shot of one but they are much less common on St Paul than on St George. Apparently there's a hunting season for Kittiwakes as well as everything else on the island. Even these remote outposts of life are part of the chain of destruction in the human war on nature. Shame. Anyway a cracking day for us and time for some sleep.

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