Thursday, May 23, 2013


So - I didn't make it to St. Paul in the Pribilofs. The volcano effectively grounded all regional flights in the Aleutians and South Bering Sea. Although St Paul is much further north, and out of the ash cloud, the plane needs to refuel further south which is where all the ash problems are.

So - I'm birding Homer for a few days hoping to get to St. Paul at the end of the week. Homer is on the western end of the Kenai (pronounced Keen-eye) Peninsula, and is a place I wanted to visit anyway at some point - it's one of the best places to find the elusive Kittlitz's Murrelet. And some of the best scenery in Alaska.

My visit to St. Paul was organized with Wilderness Birding - it's not really possible to get there and do the island on your own. So, this Plan B - the Kenai Peninsula - is with 6 other birders from that tour, plus our guide, Aaron. It's a great group, and Aaron - who lives in Homer and knows the area well - is an awesome guide.

Spring is late this year in AK - the mountains around Anchorage are still covered in snow (and the city had another 3 inches at the weekend), and many of the lakes are still frozen. As we headed down towards Homer, we stopped at some recently-thawed tundra pools...

Did I mention how beautiful Alaska is?

Arctic Terns are the common terns here.

Arctic Tern

And the shorebird variety was pretty impressive - including my first of year Wandering Tattler and Red-necked Phalarope.

We made it to Anchor River by early evening. Yesterday there was an incredible record of 9 Bristle-thighed Curlew, one of the few spring migration records of this rare Alaskan breeding shorebird. These birds would be returning from a winter spent in Oceania (after which the birds gets its the Latin name, Numenius tahitiensis) to the tundra of the Seward peninsula. Many of the birds make the final 4,000 km Laysan to Alaska leg nonstop.

As we headed down the beach, we found a flock of 6 birds flying towards us. As they banked, they showed off their diagnostic buff-colored rump and tail - Bristle-thighed Curlew!

Bristle-thighed Curlew.
Note the rich color, curve of the bill. 
Even the "bristles" between the legs are just about visible.

This was an important target in Nome - and by no means guaranteed - so it was great to see these birds here - and to see them well. The warm buffy coloration is very different from the much grayer Whimbrel - of which we had one for close comparison. On standing birds, we were able to see the fine feathers - bristles - that project down around the legs. The upperparts are more spotty than Whimbrel, and the bill decurved more uniformly.

It may not be the Pribilofs, but today was a good second best!

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NEW YEAR BIRDS (4): Arctic Tern, Red-necked Phalarope, Wandering Tattler, Bristle-thighed Curlew.

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