The moment we had been waiting for! We were finally at Attu, anchored in Casco Cove to be precise. For about 25 years, ending in 2000, Larry Balch operated Attours, bringing dozens of birders at a time to Attu by plane. (This is when I wish I had a copy of Attu: Birding at the Edge on hand. Ordered, but not here yet.) These pioneers of extreme birding created the legend that is Attu, one that still draws us in today. These days, the only access for "regular" extreme birders is through Zugunruhe Birding Tours, and via the Puk-uk. There are still people flying into Attu for the US Fish and Wildlife Service and as contractors involved in the cleanup of hazardous materials, and there are birders among them, but the rest of us come by boat. There may even be people with their own boats or who otherwise find their way to the island, but when we landed, it was just us, the cleanup crew, Brad Benter and Andrea (whose last name I don't recall--blaming scopolamine!), one of this year's USFWS artists in residence.
There are pros and cons about coming by boat. I've already told you about the cons, but of course, we got to see a lot of seabirds and that was a definite pro. Another very serious pro was that although we'd be walking or cycling on the island, the boat could also get us a lot closer to our destination and even come and pick us up when we were "knackered". The first order of business, though was to get the bicycles to the island!
Billy, Mike, John and Neil had lowered the skiff and were loading bikes and parts to be taken ashore. The rest of us were eyeing the bikes, trying to figure out which would be the best to snag for the week. John had already told me that we were the shortest group he had ever taken to Attu, and that he was hoping we'd all find appropriately sized frames.
|The old LORAN station/Attours Base Camp|
|Stalactites growing from the ceiling!|
Outside, the pedals, seats and rat traps were being attached to the bikes, and people were vying for their favorites. After many trial runs, and a few swaps, everyone had a bike and was ready to ride!
|The Upper Base--accommodation for the guides and the dining room in the Attours days.|
The roads weren't really roads anymore, and the terrain ranged from moss-covered packed gravel, to streams overflowing wooden bridges to sharp stone, but somehow we all managed to ride to the runway that day. I felt weak from the trip and lack of food, and definitely out of shape, but I made it!
The first bird of note was spotted by Yve and Brandon, a Tufted Duck! Brad, the USFWS biologist, had alerted us to a Great Egret, an extreme rarity for Attu, but a year bird for Yve! At least it was the Eurasian subspecies. Searching the ponds, the bays and surrounding hillsides, we also saw Wood Sandpiper, Rock Sandpiper, Snowy Owls, Common Eiders, Tufted Puffins and Eurasian versions of other familar birds, Green-winged Teal and Common Mergansers. The birds were very skittish on Attu. Look at them, and away they'd fly. Most of my pictures are bad. Fortunately, some of the others did better, so I'll be sharing some of their photos as well, with credit.
|Tufted Duck - Yve Morrell|
|Eurasian Common Mergansers - Neil Hayward|
|Eurasian Great Egret - Neil Hayward|
|Eurasian Green-winged Teal - Yve Morrell|
|Snowy Owl - Yve Morrell|
On our return to the base camp, an Eyebrowed Thrush was found along the cliff face. Distant, but tickable looks for everyone. Those who hadn't already seen them on Adak were especially grateful.
|Eyebrowed Thrush - Neil Hayward|
We were also pretty grateful that we'd be spending the night on the Puk-uk and not in the LORAN station!
eBird Checklist: May 25