Alaska: Pribilofs I (St. Paul Island) Trip Report (2011)

May 2011

Day One

Met our group at 6:30 at the Coast. We proceeded the Westchester Lagoon. It was very windy, but we got good views of Hudsonian Godwits, Red-necked Grebe, Bonaparte’s Gull, Mew Gull, Lesser Yellow-legs, Arctic Tern, Wilson’s Snipe in flight. Bank and Tree Swallow were abundant as well. We had our usual excellent dinner at Orso, with fresh Copper River Salmon the clear favorite.

Day Two

Following breakfast in Anchorage, we departed for the airport and our 11:45 flight to St. Paul Island. Uncharacteristically, the flight departed virtually on-time and was uneventful. The airport at St. Paul had a low ceiling, but adequate for us to land. We arrived about 3:15 and checked into the airport hotel (and all of our luggage arrived, thanks to some help from Cheryl from TDX). Our first birds were, as usual, the Pribilofs race of the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch (umbrina). We drove over to Weather Bureau Lake for our first looks at Black-legged and Red-legged Kittiwakes. We also had our first Glaucous Gull, (a 1st summer bird). We walked Polivina Marsh, but were unable to relocate a Common Snipe. We did have a nice breeding plumaged Short-billed Dowitcher and our first Red-necked Phalaropes. Northern PIntails were abundant, and both races of Green-winged Teal were present. Long-tailed Ducks were also abundant.

We drove up to Northeast Point where the road was still closed and walked from the end of Big Lake up the hill where TDX folks had dragged a 4-wheel Van for our use. Our first stop was Webster Lake. It had a number of Red and Red-necked Phalaropes all in breeding plumage. Both Glaucous and Glaucous-winged Gull were there as well. Our best find was at Hutchinson Hill where we had a Siberian race of the Whimbrel (variegatus) that was perched on a rock, then flew for us, showing the white down it’s back. We also walked Novastatia march where there were lots of Least Sandpipers and a couple of Semipalmated Plovers, but no sign of Wood Sandpipers that had been seen a couple of days before. With that, we called it a day and got back to the inn about 10:15 PM.

Day Three

After breakfast, we drove to Reef Wall where we had spectacular views close by on the cliffs of Tufted & Horned Puffins, Crested, Parakeet, & Least Auklets, Thick-billed & Common Murres. After initially foggy conditions, the sun broke through and the lighting was great for photos. We spent a short time at the blind where a couple of beach master Northern Fur Seals languished on the rocks. We then walked along the shore toward Seal Island. We found four Emperor Geese that were as tame any I’ve ever seen. They actually moved towards us as they fed, getting within 20 – 30 feet. We also had our first Long-billed Dowitcher.

After lunch, we walked Pumphouse Lake. We spent some time looking at a very pale peep with dark legs until it flew and called establishing it as a Semipalmated Sandpiper, a casual species for the island. Shortly after, we found a Western Sandpiper, rare for the island. There also a number of the usual ducks and two Dunlin. From there, we drove over to Antone Lake where we had good views of two pairs of Eurasian Wigeons.

After dinner, we made another assault on the Wood Sandpiper that was seen again by another group at Novastastia wetlands. We could not re-locate it. We did get good looks at Pigeon Guillemots and a raft of King Eiders, all female or 1st year males. At Webster Lake, we found a completely white Arctic Fox, fairly rare on the island since most are dark or at least pale.

Day Four

Before breakfast, we stopped at the harbor where we found two close Ancient Murrelets. After breakfast, we headed for Ridge Wall. The alcid numbers were not as great as usual, and there were no Red-legged Kittiwakes and only one Northern Fulmar on the cliffs. We were, however, rewarded, with excellent views of a breeding Yellow-billed Loon.

We proceeded to the Zapadne cliffs involving a fairly vigorous hike. Along the shore before going up, we found a drake King Eider. We were also rewarded with a close singing Pacific Wren and, after some searching, two Red-legged Kittiwakes on the cliff showing their legs very nicely for us.

After lunch, we took advantage of a definite lull in bird activity by going to the native museum and the Orthodox church. We visited Polivina rookery and Marunich after dinner. We had good views of three Wandering Tattlers and a couple of Ruddy Turnstones. The seas were calm with lots of birds on the water. Red-necked Grebes were off shore, and we saw our first White-winged Scoter.

Day Five

It was very foggy and windy this morning, but with a shift out of the Northwest, a somewhat better sign for potential vagrants. We drove up to Northeast and made the walk to the 4-wheel van. Unfortunately, the battery was all but dead, and the van would not start. We did some walking along the road and the marsh along the side, but didn’t turn up anything new. We walked back to our regular van and drove to Reef Point. We birded around there, finding three Emperor Geese again along with our first Pelagic Cormorant of the trip.

It started raining in earnest while at lunch. We returned to the Inn with the idea that we would assess the conditions a little later. Unfortunately, they were no better, so we chose to take an afternoon break. A short time later, Forrest R. reported that he had found a Wood Sandpiper at Salt Lagoon. We headed down there and, fortunately, the it was barely drizzling there. We had excellent looks at the very cooperative Wood Sandpiper. It was still there later in the day, and one of our group got great photos.

After dinner, it was still raining, but we headed out immediately to Northeast again since we heard the 4-WD van was running again. We walked up again, and it was indeed running. In fact, they left it running just in case. We covered pretty much all of Northeast. It was still raining enough to keep our optics pretty wet. Out at the far point, we were able to see Short-tailed Shearwaters moving in and out of the fog. Otherwise, we didn’t find any new birds and called it quits about 9:45.

Day Six

After breakfast, we headed for Pumphouse Lake. We didn’t expect much, but we actually got good looks at Common Snipe, Wilson’s Snipe and Long-billed Dowitcher. So that wrapped up our trip. We flew out right on schedule at 3:00 PM, arriving back in Anchorage at 7:15 PM.

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