Saturday, September 29, 2012


Well, something happened that turned the "migration" switch on and now Gambell is flush with birds. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but finding 3 new arrivals yesterday (9/28) was quite exciting. First, the far boneyard held a flighty Orange-crowned Warbler, and then a much more confiding Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Then, in the near boneyeard, the second Gambell record and 6th Alaska record of Mourning Warbler looked quite out of place.

A drastic change in weather is predicted to hit in the next few days and last for quite a while. Winds will switch to the South and Southeast, and get strong for a few days into next week. Not the best weather for those vagrants from Asia, but it will be interesting to see what shows up from the mainland. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wind Storm

After having perfect weather for a vagrant to show up from Asia (light west wind and precipitation), nothing was produced. We checked every area multiple times for anything new and came up empty. Paul and I are the only birders left, and he leaves on October 1st. It is too bad I am here for the worst fall for vagrants on record, but I can't complain too much as I've seen 10 lifers and am being paid to be here. And I have a feeling this won't be my last time birding Gambell.

The lull in birds has given me time to focus a bit more on counting loons and photography. I'm pleased with this picture of a Rock Sandpiper, basically the only shorebirds left on the island, although a few Pac. Golden Plovers and Dunlin might still be around.

The wind has really, really picked up and is only going to get stronger. Right now gusts of 35mph from the NE makes birding the boneyards nearly impossible and the seawatch is the only thing worth doing if you can stand the cold. Winds of 45mph are predicted before finally breaking sometime Friday. With a drastic wind shift predicted for this weekend and into next week, I just might find something before I leave (if the predictions hold).

Keep checking back, one bird could change an extremely slow fall into a great success. It only takes one...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Still Turnover

We had a slight break in the weather as the north winds subsided and gave way to very light, variable winds on Thursday night and Friday. During this time two new birds showed up, another White-crowned Sparrow and a Yellow Warbler (I didn't see either). We worked the boneyards very hard yesterday and although calm winds can be good for Asian vagrants, we found none. Sunday night the winds may shift to a light WNW, and Monday may be calm as well. This could be good for some new birds if it holds true.

Work wise, the loons have been very slow. I'm here to conduct Yellow-billed Loon surveys. A few years ago, a native hunter claimed to have shot 100 Yellow-billed Loons on one of the subsistence harvest surveys, so the Alaska FWS is surveying to see if this number of YBLO could actually be harvested (it can't). I have only seen 6 or 7 Yellow-billed Loons since my arrival, although they are supposed to pick up later in the season. Pacific Loons are trickling by, but not nearly the number they are supposed to be, and I've yet to see an Arctic.

I'll update again soon, and hopefully I'll have something more interesting to report!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dull Days

As you can probably surmise from the lack of posts, there ain't much happening. The most exciting thing in a while has been the now 4 Gyrfalcons frequenting the mountain in Gambell, wreaking havoc on unsuspecting auklets. The Gyrs are mostly the white flavor, my personal favorite, but also a gray.

Not much going on at the seawatch yet either. Loons are still very slow. Most of the landbirds are gone, and weather is still predicting north winds from now until forever. Maybe this cold, snowy weather will bring in the McKay's Buntings sooner? We will see...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Pechora

Yesterday was a beautiful day in Gambell, and those are hard to come by. Even though we didn't have west winds, the winds were very light and somewhat variable, which can be just as good as west. Any time the wind dies is good.

The excitement started when Gary Rosenberg and I found 2 "flava" Horned Larks, along with a light faced bird that may be an "arcticola", or some sort of young, weird looking "flava". I'm not familiar with these subspecies, and Paul has never had a light-faced bird in the fall here. Interesting to say the least.

A "flava" Horned Lark

The light faced Horned Lark.

Things got even more exciting when Gary flushed an interesting, silent Pipit that took short flights and was extremely skulky. With diligent birders stalking the bird, we got good looks and pictures, clearly showing a Pechora Pipit. This species is proving to be annual on Gambell in small numbers.

Keeping with the "asian bird" theme, here is a picture of a nice adult Slaty-backed Gull found earlier in the week. They seem to be quiet sporadic this year, although I've seen a handful since my arrival.

Winds continue from the NE for the near future, and they may become quite strong. Seabirds should be picking up (eiders, loons) so I may do more seawatching. As always, more later.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Playing With Puffins

...and Auklets. I ventured to the seabird colony on the North end of the mountain and climbed around a bit. With no rare birds from Asia around, this helped past the time, and it was a beautiful night!

Crested Auklets were the most numerous. At this time of year, they have lost most of their crest.

Horned Puffins were flying by at close range.

Horned Puffins are also numerous.

On my way back, this Parakeet Auklet was posed quite nicely, and allowed very close approach! He wasn't bothered by me at all.

I won't be posting much until something exciting happens, which could be a while. North or Northeast winds projected until at least the 16th (a long away to be predicting winds... but still). Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Another Rare Shorebird

The last few days have been dominated by strong North or Northeast winds, the winds of which bad dreams are made of. There continues to be a little passerine turnover, but all are from the Alaskan mainland (except maybe some Red-throated Pipits). We have seen an influx of White-crowned Sparrows and some had a juvenile Chipping Sparrow. Arctic Warblers, Northern Wheatears, Bluethroats and Red-throated Pipits continue to please the crowds of tours groups that have all finally arrived.

Even in these winds, when you have this many birders together in a small area, good birds are going to be found. September 3 produced my lifer Lesser Sand-Plover along the lakeshore of Troutman Lake. Great looks were had. I re-found the bird in the same place today (September 4) and managed a mediocre picture. Also today a Gray-tailed Tattler was found, along with a few Sharp-tailed Sandpipers.

September 2 and 3 produced one Yellow-billed Loon each, the bird I will soon be surveying for the Alaska Fish and Wildlife. They become more numerous later in the season, along with other loons (*cough Arctic cough*).

There are now three tour groups here including Wings, High Lonesome and Wilderness. Winds are supposed to change to the West on Thursday, but possibly only for a short time. After that we will be hammered with North winds indefinitely. Looks like this might be the year of no Asian passerine vagrants… more later.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Rare Shorebirds

After my somewhat quiet start, Gambell has been producing. On August 29th we took a trip down to the bottom of Troutman Lake in a thick fog. Shorebirds were grounded and abundant. This is where I got my first solid looks at Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and they were quite numerous.
We continued around the lake, checking the good plover habitat along the way. Plenty of Pacific Golden-Plovers were around, but we couldn’t find the rarer Lesser Sand-Plover (a bird seemingly annual now on Gambell, and one of my high priority species). We made a quick stop to check some landbird habitat, and this is where I flushed a white-rumped Tringa. It called while flying, and landed in another pond where we chased it down. It turned out to be the third fall record of Wood Sandpiper for Gambell.
We made it back around the lake and started birding the far boneyard. Almost immediately Paul called out “COMMON SANDPIPER!”. This is unheard of in the fall, and represents the first fall record for Gambell. We spent quite a bit of time chasing it around to get better looks/pictures to confirm it wasn’t a Spotted. It is still present today.
August 30th brought north winds and rain. North winds are not what you want for Asian vagrants, but the rain seemed to drop a number of “trans-Beringian” migrants from the mainland. There were good numbers of Northern Wheatear, Bluethroat, Arctic Warbler and both Wagtail for all to enjoy. I was able to finally get an identifiable picture of a Bluethroat, an extremely hard bird to approach.
In the afternoon, huge numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters were streaming by. The picture below is one frame from the massive passage that lasted over 6 hours. You do the math.
August 31st is more of the same. Stronger north winds did not bring many new passerines. Arctic Warblers, Wheatears and Bluethroats are still around in smaller number than before. Paul’s tour had a “flava” Horned Lark below Troutman Lake, so even with poor winds birds from Asia are coming over. All of September is fair game for finding megas from Asia, and more tours are coming in the next few days, so this place will be covered in birders. Someone should turn something up! More soon…