Thursday, June 22, 2017


May 30, 2017

Compared to the passerines, you could say that the shorebirds had already treated us better.  We'd seen a few Wood Sandpipers, several Rock Sandpipers, a Red-necked Stint, a Ruddy Turnstone and a Common Snipe already.  There were no flocks of shorebirds, but at least these singletons gave us longer looks than we'd had of other species.

Our third to last day on Attu started out as a morning of biking. We also hoped to refind a couple of the species that we'd seen earlier as not everyone had gotten decent looks at the Olive-backed Pipit or the Taiga Flycatcher.  We were having the harshest weather that we'd had to that point.  Truly Attuvian! The rain was frequent, and a lot colder than what we had been getting. There was fresh snow on some of the hilltops.  This was nothing like storms that previous groups of birders had encountered (Click here for a story from 2000 about that!), but for us it was bad weather. And as promised, with it came some great birds. 

It's true that most of the birds we had been seeing seemed to be sticking around. Neil found Olive-backed Pipits by the upper base building before we got rolling on the bikes.  Like most of the Attu birds before them, as soon as they realized we were looking at them, they flew away, depriving Patty of a much needed bird to get to her goal of 750.
Olive-backed Pipit - Neil Hayward

Between the LORAN station and the runway, we looked again for the flycatcher, without success. With the cold rain pounding down, a few people decided that it might be best to just go back to the Puk-uk and wait out the weather.  Our group had splintered.  Brandon was climbing the hills, Greg and Monica had gone on ahead towards the runway, people were heading back to the base and a few of us were still trying to find a tiny bird in a big landscape.  We were all carrying radios so if someone saw something, they could say something. And then someone did!  Greg and Monica had flushed a shorebird from the creekbed just before the runway. Those of us who still had bikes (yes, the fleet had diminished) raced to join them, while those who had been walking towards the base, turned on their heels and started to come back the way they'd come.  Neil and I were the first to get to Monica and Greg's location. The bird was no longer in sight, but had to be nearby.  We tried walking a large arc outside of the range we thought it could have reached. Boy, were we wrong.  Even the shorebirds were going to be sneaky! The bird was already about 100 ft down the beach, moving back and forth between the sand and the tall grasses on the verge.  Looking for the world like a winter-plumaged Spotted Sandpiper, the bird was identified by Neil as a Common Sandpiper.  It continued to make its way around the cove as the others arrived, and eventually everyone who wanted to, saw it.
Common Sandpiper - Yve Morrell

While some of us were waiting for the others to arrive, Brad had radioed the ship.  There was a Common Greenshank  at the Navy Town Beach! Yve wanted to get a picture of the bird, so once everyone had seen it, she moved towards it, flushing a Red Phalarope in the process.  I managed to miss this species from the ship and now on the shore. Good thing it's regular where I live! 

The Tufted Duck and a Wood Sandpiper were seen in the runway ponds, and a Common Snipe (listen) was calling from the marshy areas, but there would be no dilly-dallying.  We had a greenshank to find!  We got more details from Brad about the location of his sighting. Dave headed to Barbara Point to work the shoreline towards Navy Town, while Monica, Greg, Neil and I rode on past the spit that culminates at Loaf Island to search from the other direction.  We had no luck on our side, so crossed over where the sand met the rocks (as instructed by Brad), and almost immediately, Neil found a Gray-tailed Tattler in the tidepools in front of us. Word was relayed to our group via Dave, and while Monica, Greg, and I kept our eyes on the tattler, Neil went a little farther down the beach in search of the Common Greenshank. In short order, we heard the "Tu tu tu" call and sure enough, a Common Greenshank flew in for us to have some great looks.  The next group of birders were still at least 20 minutes away, so a couple of us "babysat", keeping our eyes on the birds until they arrived.
Shorebird terrain

Gray-tailed Tattler - Neil Hayward
Common Greenshank - Neil Hayward

The group split up to check out more places. I went with the group heading back over to Alexai Point with Neil in the hope that we might turn up an even more spectacular shorebird. John would stay with some of the others and walk along Casco Cove.  We were able get picked up at Navy Town Beach for a delivery across the cove. We were even able to bring our bikes back on board so we wouldn't have to track them down the next day.  We'd been wandering the tundra on Alexai Point for about an hour when Fish and Wildlife biologist Brad radioed in that he had seen a female Smew in the company of a Tufted Duck.  Decision time!  Do we stay at Alexai in the hopes of finding an unknown new bird, or go for the Smew?
Looking for birds in all the wrong places.

Not sure what these eggs belonged to. ;-)
Well, you know what they say about a bird in the hand.  Just as we were turning around, Yve spotted a mystery duck dive in one of the ponds.  We looked and waited for about five minutes. Nothing surfaced. I suspect that it had somehow managed to come up in some vegetation around the edge of the pond, but we had a Smew to find!  It took us about 20 minutes to get back to the boat and and another 10 to get back across the cove and dropped off, when Brad radioed that he also had an interesting passerine along one of the runways.  Greg and Monica had been riding around checking all of the ponds. The Tufted Duck was seen, but without its companion.  Then Brandon called saying that he had seen the Tufted Duck and friend heading from the pond near the revetments back towards where we'd seen the Tufted Duck on Day 1. Sadly, despite the whole group coming back together to get into that chase, we were unable to relocate either bird. Had we missed something equally great by leaving Alexai early? There was still tomorrow, though!  We wouldn't be saying that for long. In the meantime, Brandon had seen Rock Ptarmigan and Snow Bunting during his hilly trek. Splitting up definitely produced more birds, even if everyone couldn't see them!

eBird Checklist: May 30

Next: Becoming a Part of Attu History

1 comment:

  1. Well this day here is what Attu dreams are made of. Even though the weather was terrible another door opened with a shower of incredible rare birds. Congrats on the greenshank and common Sandpiper and thanks for putting in the common snipe recording. Too bad you missed the Smew that's one of my most wanted birds but I know how that feels as I missed a Ross's and Ivory Gull by a matter of minutes in Nome. Loving your posts so far.