Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Comes Early in Dutch Harbor!

The boat finally tied up in Dutch Harbor after spending the night in the bay, and around 3pm I was off birding Dutch Harbor until sunset.

First, I want to extend a huge thanks to Suzi Golodoff who offered to take me birding with her. She is the go-to birder on Unalaska, and I had the privilege of spending a couple hours birding the area with her.

One of my goals was to see an Emperor Goose, and this was not a hard feat to accomplish.
These confiding geese have to be the best looking goose I've witnessed. They were not hard to spot, and in fact, we saw hundreds without trying.

While enjoying the geese, my second target bird came to me. Again, without putting in any effort at all.
(not my best picture, a little out of focus, my bad)

Now, I would have been completely fine with these two birds as they were both lifers and couldn't have been more obliging. Little did I know things were just starting to get interesting.

Suzi got a call from another local birder, Bobby, who reported that she had just seen a strange bird in with the Junco flock (another uncommon to rare bird in Dutch Harbor), and she thought it might be a Brambling. Luckily we were close, but when we arrived at the scene, all the birds were gone. We poked around for a while but couldn't locate the flock of birds.

Suzi knew I hadn't seen Tufted Duck, and they are regular in the winter in Dutch Harbor almost every winter. The Scaup flocks were just starting to shape up, but yesterday she looked and did not see any Tufted Ducks. Today, however, the story read different. In with the first Scaup flock we looked at, right off the road, this female Tufted Duck did its best to hide.
Then, out pops this beautiful male Tufted Duck.
But wait, then there were three.

This was too easy, I thought. Now it was time to go find that Junco flock and the treasure it might hold. Suzi and I went back to the original scene, still no birds. Time to make a plan. Along the river was dense cover, the kind of cover both Suzi and I thought might make a good hiding place for sparrow-like birds. As we walked the banks, I spied the group of juncos on the opposite side of the river. Suzi got on them and called out "I got it!" I also had just gotten on it, and sure enough, it was a Brambling! After some celebrating and chasing, I finally managed a half-way decent picture.

As the sun started to fade, there was one more bird I wanted to see that was in the area, Steller's Eiders. They winter in Dutch Harbor in huge numbers, and although I had seen in 2008 in Barrow, I certainly wanted to see them again. We drove a little ways and found a nice, tight flock of Steller's, settling down for the evening.

It was quite dark, and dinner time, so it was back to the boat for me. After only 2 hours, 4 life birds and 5 year birds, I had worked up quite the appetite. My plane leaves Dutch tomorrow at 1:20pm and I'll be back to Anchorage a few hours later. I'd be alright with my plane being canceled and having another day to bird Dutch Harbor, but the weather looks good for flying.

I want to thank Suzi again for taking me out with her, it was a great evening indeed! I hope I can get back to this amazing area sometime in the near future.

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