Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

St. Paul Hosts Breeding Gulls, Alcids and Fur Seals
June 24, 2017
By Steve Grinley

     I thought we would continue last week’s adventure by following Strickland Wheelock’s Mass Audubon group to Anchorage and St. Paul Island in Alaska. Before we do, I thought I would mention some rare birds that have shown up in our “backyard” this June. 

     It hasn’t been necessary to travel far this month as June has given us a sissor-tailed flycatcher at the Moose Hill Sanctuary in Sharon on the 4th and 5th. Beginning on the 10th, A brown booby spent a week just over the border at Cobbett’s Pond in Windham, New Hampshire. A brown booby was seen a week earlier in Ludlow, Mass the week before. 

     A magnificent frigatebird was seen chasing terns off Salisbury Beach on the 13th, after one was seen off Nantucket and one off Maine a few days earlier. The Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Saturday Morning birders found a brown pelican at Lot 1 on Plum Island on the 17th and Rick Heil saw one (perhaps the same one?) roosting on the Salisbury jetty 3 days later!

     Still, instead of waiting for rare birds to find us, we will join Strickland and his group in Alaska:

     “Upon returning to Anchorage from Gambell, the official start of the Drumlin Farm Alaska tour as we met June 1st in the afternoon with Kathy Seymour and myself co-leading this tour. To give the participants a quick taste of Alaska birds before we head off to St Paul Island the following morning, we did a few short excursions to local areas.- please know that the majority of these birds seen on the trip are in full breeding plumage, doing display rituals, constantly vocalizing – far different than what we see in the winter in New England. 

     “As we were checking into the motel, Black-billed Magpies, Common Redpolls and Pine Siskins are flying about as a starter. At Westchester Lagoon where we started our birding, there were many Mew Gulls, Arctic Terns, Greater & Lesser Scaup, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teal, American Wigeon, Lesser Canada Geese plus Hudsonian Godwits, Whimbel & a Sandhill Crane on the mud flats. At a small lake near the hotel were both Red-throated and Pacific Loons, Common & Barrow’s Goldeneyes, both Scaup, several Red-necked Grebes, Bufflehead, Long-tailed Ducks plus Bank, Tree and Violet-Green Swallows.

     “The next morning we flew to the Pribilof Islands which are located 300 miles west of the Alaska mainland and 240 miles north of the Aleutians in the Bering Sea. The 3+ hr flight had us landing at St Paul Island, which is very different than Gambell with its gently rolling dwarf-scrub tundra with the climate arctic maritime. This island is noted for 2.8 million seabirds nesting on the cliffs along with 70% of the world’s population of Northern Fur Seals plus many Arctic Foxes.

     “Once we were settled in our lodging, we headed out immediately to a small wetland where a Marsh Sandpiper was recently located – possibly the 1st spring Alaska record – with a little searching, we found the bird to everyone’s excitement. As you travel the island, the common birds everywhere displaying are Lapland Longspurs, Snow Buntings, Rock Sandpipers and Gray-crowned Rosy Finches. The gulls were mostly Glaucous-winged and Glaucous Gulls. “One of the 1st stops was another wetland and pond that had our first Red-legged Kittiwakes sitting next to Black-legged Kittiwakes. These Red-legged Kittiwakes only breed on this island virtually, so if not seen here, you will not see this handsome bird. Also in this pond were Red-necked Phalaropes and 1 Red Phalarope. As we checked various ponds we encountered a mix of Common and Green-winged Teal plus all the expected ducks. One pond a White-fronted Goose and a Cackling Goose flew into. 

     “We were viewing off the cliffs at impressive Northern Fur Seals [huge]. The highlight on St Paul was scanning the cliffs for all the nesting seabirds which are extremely close giving you perfect viewing of Least, Crested and Parakeet Auklets, Horned & Tufted Puffins, Northern Fulmar, Thick-billed & Common Murres, Red-legged & Black-legged Kittiwakes plus Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants [stunning bird]. Along with the seabirds on the cliffs were Pacific Wrens to add to the excitement. Off on the ocean were King Eiders, Harlequin Ducks mixed in with all the alcids, cormorants and kittiwakes.

     “The following day we had some additional rare species – an Olive-backed Pipit that required patience as this bird was very secretive and then a Yellow-billed Loon that was sitting in a small pond close to the road for awesome looks. In town, mixed with all the Gray-crowned Rosy Finches and Lapland Longspurs, were several Hawfinch giving all the participants excellent looks at this rare migrant. After 2 nights at St Paul, we flew back to Anchorage to bird the area and then head down to Seward – following that off to Nome to conclude this amazing trip with new highlights everyday – whether they be birds, mammals or the unbelievable scenery that surrounds you.”

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
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