Thursday, September 27, 2012

Going home.

The weather was nice today, partly sunny, light wind.

No new birds, but one of the Gyrfalcons finally stayed still long enough for a photo.

Gyrfalcon, Contractor’s Marsh, 09/27/12

Up at Clam Lagoon, the Red-necked Stint was still present on the peninsula. On the flats at Candlestick Bridge, we had a record 94 Harbor Seals sunning.

94 Harbor Seals sunning themselves, Clam Lagoon, 09/27/12

The airplane arrived and left early. I got some nice aerial shots as we took off.

Lake Andrew (top right), Haven Lake (top center), Contractor’s Marsh(center right), 09/27/12

Clam Lagoon, 09/27/12

Clam Lagoon Peninsula, 09/27/12

All of our flights were on time and uneventful. We got home at 3 pm Friday.

The highlights of the trip were roaring Sea Lions, a Giant Squid, lots of new photos, the Baikal Teal, and most importantly, the Eurasian Kestrel!

It was a good trip and we will be back.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

And the days trickle down to a precious few..September…

The weather was similar to yesterday, but the wind got stronger again. Fewer rain showers.

We got a new trip bird today. We had a Common Redpoll at the High School Willows. John et al. had a couple there before we arrived two weeks ago, but this was the first one we found since being here. Not a great photo, but identifiable.

Common Redpoll, High School Willows, 09/26/12

Up at Clam Lagoon, I walked the peninsula between showers. One Red-necked Stint was still there, as was the flock of Sanderlings.

The surf was rip-roaring again today (Barb’s sound-level meter recorded a peak of 101 dB!), so not much at the seawall, although I did spot a Layson Albatross way out. Also, Rock Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones. We flushed a few Pectoral Sandpipers here and there.

At the Boy Scout Cabins, I walked over to the other side of the creek to see if I could find any small birds in the willows there. All I could find was a cooperative Pacific Wren.

Pacific Wren, Boy Scout Cabins, 09/26/12

I still don’t know how these little guys survive year-round out here!

At Sweeper Cove late in the afternoon, we found ten Black Oystercatchers — our high count for the trip.

This will be our last post until Saturday morning. We leave at 6 pm tomorrow (hopefully on a high note) and will be spending the next 15 hours or so in airports and on planes, arriving home Friday afternoon.

Trip count is now 52.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Where’s Moby Dick when you need him?

Today was less windy than yesterday, but it rained most of the morning, and became partly cloudy by late afternoon.

While scanning Landing Lights Beach for shorebirds this morning, I spotted a carcass of some type being prodded by gulls several hundred yards up the beach. I hiked up to there and found a giant squid! It was at least twelve feet long from tip to tentacle. The second photo below shows my boot-print for size comparison.

Giant Squid, Landing Lights Beach, 09/25/12

Giant Squid, Landing Lights Beach, 09/25/12

We cruised around Clam Lagoon and spent some time at the seawall. The Emperor Geese had moved out to one of the small rock outcroppings south of the seawall. We had a few loons and grebes, saw some shearwaters in the distance, but added nothing new.

The rain had let up enough by the time we came back around Clam Lagoon so that I could walk out the peninsula and marsh edge. The flock of Sanderlings was out on the flats. When I had seen them the other day at the Seawall Breaches, I noticed one that had not attained winter plumage yet. But he kept hidden behind the other birds, so I couldn’t get a shot of him. Well, today he was more exposed.

Sanderlings, Clam Lagoon, 09/25/12

As I rounded the first bend in the peninsula, a small sandpiper flushed and flew away. I couldn’t tell if it were a stint or maybe one of the Westerns that had been hanging around. The only other shorebirds out there today were three Rock Sandpipers. No stint or Westerns.

I returned from the peninsula and started walking down the marsh edge. I flushed and got good looks at (after they landed) six Pectoral Sandpipers. No other shorebirds.

Only two more days left to find something good…

Monday, September 24, 2012

What a joy it is — birding in 40 mph winds!

The weather was as predicted today, mostly cloudy, rain showers, and 30-40 mph winds gusting up to 60! Trying to stand outside the truck was difficult enough, but trying to steady your binoculars was impossible. Even inside the truck, the shaking often made it hard to stabilize.

However, we persevered…

Still no outflow from the fish factory, so we headed up to Clam Lagoon. The three Emperor Geese were still there.

Emperor Geese, Clam Lagoon, 09/24/12

Emperor Geese, Clam Lagoon, 09/24/12

We had five turnstones fly by and a Rock Sandpiper on the road. We flushed a Pectoral near the seawall. At the Seawall, the surf was up!

Clam Lagoon Seawall, 09/24/12

As we come down the hill near Adak National Forest, we always scan Landing Lights Beach. This time we saw two shorebirds flying down the beach, landing about halfway down towards the Landing Lights. We drove down to a cut in the sand dune, and I walked out to get a better look. The birds were farther down the beach, so I started walking towards them. Just then, the heavens opened up and it started to rain — remember this is with 30-40 mph wind! As I continued down the beach, getting soaking wet, I finally got close enough to get photos in order to try to identify them. At one point, the wind blew my hood back and off came my hat, rolling quickly towards the surf. I raced after it and got it just before the water! Back to the camera. I took as many pictures as I could and then just couldn’t take it anymore and returned to the truck. We headed back to the house, where a quick stint in the dryer took care of my jacket. As it was drying, I took a quick look at the photos and determined that they were just Pectorals. So back out we went. All of that for Pectorals???

We headed up to Contractor’s Marsh and three Long-billed Dowitchers flushed from beside the road and flew back obligingly for photos.

Long-billed Dowitchers, Contractor’s Marsh, 09/24/12

Long-billed Dowitcher, Contractor’s Marsh, 09/24/12

We continued around the marsh and suddenly heard a thwap, thwap, thwap coming from the tires. We got out and and saw a piece of hard rubber embedded into the front left tire with a nail. I pulled the rubber off, leaving the nail, and headed back into town. We called Cindy (from whom we rented the truck) and she directed us to the city garage. There, “Mugs” and his crew quickly fixed our tire so we could get back to birding. While there, I noticed a big freshly- painted sign (at least the background for a sign) and inquired as to what it was for — I had a pretty good idea! Mugs said it was the new Adak National Forest sign! So, the missing frame was a part of replacing the sign after all.

We went back out, but found nothing new for the day. When we got back to the house, I downloaded the photos and looked through them. When I got to the Landing Lights shorebirds, they began to look like two different species.

The one that I had gotten close-ups (relatively) of, was a definite Pectoral. However, the other one looked browner and had what appeared to be a more decurved bill. Unfortunately, that bird had disappeared over a sand ledge as I was photographing the Pectoral, and that is when I gave up and headed back. At the time, through the driving rain-spattered binos, I thought the two birds were the same. After consulting with Isaac, I now believe the second bird was (is?) another Pectoral.

Pectoral Sandpiper (right) and ??, Landing Lights Beach, 09/24/12

The triplist is at 51.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The day started overcast, light wind, and light drizzle. It morphed into partly sunny and very high winds — 30-40 mph!

Several fishing boats came in overnight, so we were anticipating some output from the fish processing plant to the outflow pipe at the Sweeper Cove jetty. This would attract a lot of gulls, increasing our chances of spotting something different. Unfortunately, although we checked several times during the day, no outflow emerged, hence no new gulls.

Up at Clam Lagoon, we finally spotted three Emperor Geese — a species we have had on every fall trip. We were beginning to worry…

Out on the peninsula, the flock of shorebirds was down to one Red-necked Stint and two western Sandpipers.

The seawall had grebes and loons and the usual suspects.

As we drove back around, past Lake Shirley, a Peregrine Falcon made repeated passes over our truck, around the bluff and back.

Peregrine Falcon, Lake Shirley, 09/23/12

We drove one more time up to White Alice for Snow Buntings, and this time, in 40 mph winds, we found them.

Snow Bunting, White Alice, 09/23/12

As mentioned above, the fish plant outflow never appeared, but we had a small feeding-frenzy of gulls and kittiwakes out at the end of the jetty, allowing me to get some nice photos of kittiwakes. Here is a gallery of Kittiwakes.

Black-legged Kittiwake and Glaucous-winged Gull, Sweeper Cove, 09/23/12

Black-legged Kittiwake, Sweeper Cove, 09/23/12

Black-legged Kittiwake, Sweeper Cove, 09/23/12

Black-legged Kittiwake, Sweeper Cove, 09/23/12

Black-legged Kittiwake, Sweeper Cove, 09/23/12

Black-legged Kittiwake, Sweeper Cove, 09/23/12

Black-legged Kittiwake, Sweeper Cove, 09/23/12

Hope this wind blows in something exciting…

Saturday, September 22, 2012

More variety today, but nothing new.

Dawn broke to a cloudless Mount Sitkin — a rare sight! Mount Sitkin is an active volcano thirty miles east of Adak. A mostly cloudy day with practically no wind until mid-afternoon.

Adak Sunrise (Mount Sitkin on left), 09/22/12

Sweeper Cove was a sheet of glass with no birds (well, very few…).

I walked part of Contractor’s Marsh, but the only shorebird was kicked up by Barb — a Pectoral Sandpiper.

There are a series of narrow long ponds (glorified ditches, really) that parallel the road that goes up the west side of Clam Lagoon. They are invisible to anyone on the road and provide neat hiding places for the flocks of Common Teal (the Eurasian form of our Green-winged Teal). At least once each trip up here, I walk over to these ditches and the teal explode out of them as I snap as many photos as possible in hope of catching something exotic mixed in with them. I did that this morning.

Common Teal, Clam Lagoon, 09/22/12

Nothing unusual, but some neat photos.

Out on the peninsula, one stint and three Westerns remained. A flock of Ruddy Turnstones flew by as we continued around Clam Lagoon.

After several days with no loons or grebes, today we had 5 Horned Grebes, one Red-necked Grebe, two Pacific Loons, two Common Loons, and four White-winged Scoters — all along the seawall. Towards the north end of the seawall, there are a few openings (breaches) where winter storms have crashed through. They make for easy access to the stone and boulder-strewn beach, which I try to check every day. Today there was a nice flock of Sanderlings which were resting and preening contentedly until a Peregrine came cruising by. They departed quickly!

Sanderlings, Clam Lagoon Seawall, 09/22/12

The only other highlight today was a Peregrine chasing a Gyrfalcon over Contractor’s Marsh.

After taking the obligatory head shot of a Bald Eagle today, I decided to share a few more.

Bald Eagle, Clam Lagoon, 09/22/12

Sanderling, Clam Lagoon Seawall, 09/22/12

Rock Ptarmigan, Clam Lagoon, 09/22/12

Ruddy Turnstone, Clam Lagoon Seawall, 09/22/12

Red-faced Cormorant, Clam Lagoon Seawall, 09/22/12

Isn’t digital photography wonderful?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Not much today.

The weather was similar to yesterday, but less windy.

We went up to White Alice again to try for Snow Bunting, but still no luck. We usually get Snow Buntings on our September trips, so this is a big miss. Maybe next week.

Sweeper Creek provided Rock Sandpipers and we saw some presumed Pectorals flying over Contractor’s Marsh.

As we got to Clam Lagoon, we sat in the truck until a shower passed. Once the rain stopped, two different-sized shorebirds flew out from the peninsula and away. The larger one was a Pectoral and I presume the smaller one was a Red-necked Stint, as when I got out to the peninsula, only one stint was still there with the four Westerns. No Sanderling or Pectoral.

Over at he seawall, we again scanned the river of shearwaters for albatross and finally picked one out. But it was too far out to tell which species.

We saw one Peregrine at the north end of Clam Lagoon and two more down at Contractor’s Marsh. There was an almost-white Harbor Seal sunning itself in Clam Lagoon.

Harbor Seal, Clam Lagoon, 09/21/12

When we got back down to Sweeper Cove, a pair of Common Murres was close to the jetty.

Common Murres, Sweeper Cove, 09/21/12

Yesterday, we had a young puffin early in the morning. The lighting was so poor, I had to digitally lighten it considerably to see any features. This made the breast look almost white, which I thought was just an after-effect, and I called it a Tufted Puffin. Well, this afternoon, the same (presumed) bird was just off the jetty in good light (but farther out). I took some more pictures and it is obvious that the breast is white, so it is a young Horned Puffin, not a Tufted. This photo is not enhanced, just enlarged.

Immature Horned Puffin, Sweeper Cove, 09/21/12

Our trip-list stands at 49. Our average September list is 55, so we are below average with a week to go. A lot of good birds have shown up in the last week of September on previous trips, so we are optimistic.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Another shorebird day.

The weather was mostly(!!) sunny, but windy. By the way, the temperatures up here have ranged from the high-30s at night to the mid-40s during the day, occasionally edging towards 50 when the sun shines and the wind dies down (rare). As usual, while most of the island basked in sunshine, Mount Moffet kept his hat on and occasionally dispensed a sprinkle or two.

A good day for walking.

As we rounded the south end of the Sandy Cove Bluffs, heading towards Sweeper Cove, a pair of shorebirds flushed from a roadside ditch and flew off. We could not tell what they were.

At Sweeper Cove this morning, Barb saw an all-dark alcid that looked peculiar. I quickly got on it and we determined it was an immature Tufted Puffin. In all of our trips up here we had never seen any young puffins, so this was new. The photo below is heavily enhanced due to poor lighting conditions at the time.

Young Tufted Puffin, Sweeper Cove, 09/20/12

What looks like a white wingbar is actually the young bird’s wing feathers still growing out of their casings.

We headed down to Finger Creek. We had no new birds there, but saw a lot of dead or dying salmon, as the salmon run was coming to a close.

Dead Salmon in Finger Creek, 09/20/12

While I was hiking up the stream, Barb witnessed and documented the following.

Bald Eagle poop, Finger Creek, 09/20/12

We returned to Sweeper Cove to see if the young Puffin was still around in better lighting conditions. No luck. As we headed back up towards the Sandy Cove Bluffs, I joked that we would have another chance to identify those shorebirds that flew off previously (as if they would return!).

Yep, they did! They were Pectoral Sandpipers.

Pectoral Sandpiper, near Sweeper Cove, 09/20/12

We headed up to the Elfin Forest to walk the small ponds there in hopes the Baikal Teal had returned. No luck. I also walked down to some small ponds over the hill from there in the direction the bird had flown last week. No luck.

When we got to Clam Lagoon, Barb dropped me off at the southern end so I could walk the flats. There were no shorebirds along the marsh edge, so I walked over towards the peninsula.

Frank walking the Clam Lagoon Flats, 09/20/12

As I walked out on the peninsula, I saw a bird feeding in the water way out at the tip. Most of the birds I usually see along this stretch are beach-feeders, so I was intrigued as to what it might be. I did not have my scope and the bird was too far for binos. So I took some long-range photos and started working my way towards it.

Shortly thereafter, a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper walked out of the reeds, saw me and flew away. I continued up the beach. Then, as if on cue, a little parade of shorebirds walked out from the edge of the reeds and fed and preened casually along the shoreline. Eventually there were 4 Western Sandpipers, one Red-necked stint, one Pectoral Sandpiper, and a Sanderling. As is usually my experience on the peninsula, the birds were not wary and allowed close-enough approach or photos.

Pectoral Sandpiper being followed by Red-necked Stint, Clam Lagoon, 09/20/12

I continued out towards the tip where the mystery shorebird was still feeding, with the little flock rambling ahead of me. As I got closer, it looked like a Rock Sandpiper! What the heck was he doing out here feeding in the water instead of being back on the rocky shore where he belonged? I was hoping for something much more exotic…

As I was returning to Barb, the Sharp-tailed Sandpiper made a second appearance, again flying off too quickly for a photo.

I returned to the truck and we continued around the lagoon. At Seal Rock Cove, we added Ruddy Turnstone to the day’s list.

Ruddy Turnstone, Clam Lagoon, 09/20/12

This made for an 8-shorebird day (Black Oystercatcher at Sweeper Cove not mentioned above).

One week down, one to go.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Today was not very birdy, but had its interesting moments.

The weather was overcast with intermittent showers (more mittent than inter!). Therefore, I did not do too much hiking around.

Only a few things of note.

Up at Clam Lagoon, the number of Common Teal and Northern Pintails have increased. There were eleven Greater Scaup on Lake Shirley, the most that we have seen so far on this trip. A Peregrine Falcon circled us several times — I think it may have had a kill nearby from which we disturbed him.

Peregrine Falcon, Clam Lagoon, 09/19/12

As we drove north along the seawall, I got out to scan for shorebirds and seabirds. I noticed a commotion out in the water about a hundred yards ahead of where I was standing. There were two Stellar’s Sea Lions sticking their heads out of the water with their mouths wide open. Several gulls were hovering overhead. I took some pictures and then the Sea Lions dived. As I was watching for them to resurface, I suddenly heard a loud roar! The Sea Lions had resurfaced right out from where I was standing and were calling (ROARING!). That is how they got there name. We had never heard Sea Lions before, so this was very exciting. Note the external ears–that is how you tell a Sea Lion from a Seal.

Sea Lions, off the Clam Lagoon Seawall, 09/19/12

Sea Lion, off the Clam Lagoon Seawall, 09/19/12

We headed over towards the east side of Lake Andrew. As we were approaching the lake, Barb spotted some feathers on the road. I got out and picked up a wing. It appears to be that of a Short-eared Owl (If anyone reading this post can identify it as something else, please let us know). For size determination, the walkie-talkie next to the wing is nine inches long (to the tip of the antenna).

Short-eared Owl wing, near east side of Lake Andrew, 09/19/12

Short-eared Owl wing, near east side of Lake Andrew, 09/19/12

We have only seen one Short-eared Owl out here in all of our trips, so this is an interesting find. They have nested on Adak as recently as 2004-2005.

We continued over to the west side of Andrew Lake, and in one of the ponds, found three Eurasian Wigeon — the male had enough orange color to its head to distinguish it from American Wigeon. Most of the wigeon we have seen so far on this trip were in eclipse plumage and difficult to determine which species they are, but we were leaning towards Eurasian for most of them.

Eurasian Wigeon, near Lake Andrew, 09/19/12

We did a quick look at Contractor’s Marsh, and as we pulled in, a shorebird flew overhead, circled and landed a hundred yards out in the marsh. It appeared dark-backed and did not have white spots on the sides of the tail as Pectorals and Sharp-tails do. As I walked out into the marsh to try to see it again, a Long-billed Dowitcher flew out nearby. This was a new bird for the trip. The mystery shorebird flushed again, but gave an even poorer look and disappeared farther out in the marsh. I walked a long section in the direction it flew, but we never saw it again.

Better luck tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Light wind and partly sunny skies today!

We checked our “feeders” and found several Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches had found them, but nothing else, yet…

Other than the spots that we put out bird seed, the only other feeder in town is along Bayshore Drive, which we check every day. Unfortunately, it has a guardian.

Guarded bird feeder

Despite this, we often see Rosy-Finches and Song Sparrows here.

At Sweeper Cove, a nice flock of Guillemots swam nearby showing several plumages.

Pigeon Guillemots, Sweeper Cove, 09/18/12

Since it was a sunny day, we drove up to White Alice–a promontory west of town with the cell phone towers–to look for Snow Buntings. No luck, but a pretty view.

Shagak Bay and Kanaga Island from White Alice, 09/18/12

We headed up to Clam Lagoon and had a Common Loon close by, but backlit. We have had several Northern Pintails the past few days and these two were most cooperative.

Northern Pintails, Seal Rock Cove, 09/18/12

Out on the Clam Lagoon Peninsula, one Red-necked Stint and two Western Sandpipers were still present.

Red-necked Stint (left) and two Western Sandpipers, Clam Lagoon, 09/18/12

This is interesting because last year at this time I had one Red-necked Stint and two Western Sandpipers at the same spot!

Over at the seawall, we had three Sanderlings (and 30 more later in the day). As we were coming back around the northern end of Clam Lagoon, a pipit flew up from beside the road and flew out of sight. After circling around, we relocated the bird. Out on the Aleutians, three Asian pipits regularly show up — Olive-backed, Pechora, and Red-throated. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of them. It was just an Amercan Pipit (and the American race to boot!).

American Pipit, Clam Lagoon, 09/18/12

However, it was only the third pipit we have seen out here, so it was still a nice bird. At least it got our adrenaline pumping…

Two notes about bird perches.

The most reliable spot on the island to find Pacific Wren is in a quarry just south of Sweeper Cove. There, several rusting pieces of equipment provided hiding spots and singing perches, especially a particular piece near an escarpment that had a U-shaped pipe on which the wren loved to perch and sing its little heart out. (See last May’s blog for pictures of just that!) Well sometime the past few months, someone removed that piece of equipment for scrap metal, so the wren’s perch is now gone.

Last Saturday, as we reported, we spotted a Eurasian Kestrel perched on the metal frame that used to hold the Adak National Forest sign. Well, good thing we saw the bird there on Saturday, because today someone removed the frame! We assume it was for scrap metal, but maybe someone is finally getting around to replacing the sign that had vanished several years ago (but we doubt it).

More tomorrow.