5 - 10 June 2000
by Roger Wolfe
From June 5-10, 2000 I ventured to St. Paul island in the Pribilof islands. Our Reeve Aleutian Air flight arrived late in the afternoon and our group of independent birders boarded St. Paul Tour's buses for a quick look at Red-legged Kittiwakes which the island is known for. We then were checked into the rustic King Eider Hotel. After settling into our rooms I set off with my newfound birder friends who I met on the plane- Mike Sylvia and Greig Cranna from Massachusetts . We birded Town Lake and the sea cliffs just outside of town. On the cliffs we made our first sightings of Least Auklet, Red-faced Cormorant, Thick-billed Murre, and both Horned and Tufted Puffins all of which were busily nesting.
Later after dinner at the Trident cafeteria located in the fish cannery we were of birding until about 11 p.m. Skies were overcast and the wind was from the SE. Birds seen in this first tour included: Lapland Longspurs and the Pribilof forms of Rock Sandpiper and Gray-crowned Rosy Finch which are ubiquitous at St. Paul. Black-legged Kittiwake, numerous Northern Pintail and Harlequin Duck. Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpiper were preludes to our most exciting shorebird of the trip a Wood Sandpiper at Webster Lake. A group of four King Eiders were spotted offshore from Hutchinson Hill. Long-tailed Duck, Greater Scaup, Aleutian Canada Goose, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye and the Eurasian form of Green-winged Teal comprised the waterfowl. Also seen were both Red and Red-necked Phalaropes.
The following day was quite windy with the wind direction continuing from the SE. New birds sighted on this day were Pectoral Sandpipers and a roosting Long-tailed Jaeger eating bugs and a Glaucous-winged Gull. On the cliffs we got our first looks at Parakeet and Crested Auklets. Snow Buntings were plentiful in the rocky areas. We also saw Short-eared Owl, Bank Swallow, Glaucous Gull and the Pribilof form of Winter Wren. The forecast for strong winds from the NW the next day made us hopeful for vagrants.
And windy it was from the NW, gusts up to 40 mph with rain and sleet which was painful in the face and made for very difficult birding. Our binoculars were constantly fogging up. I strongly recommend waterproof bins for St. Paul. Mine got water in them and I spent a couple of hours drying them out with a borrowed blow dryer. Also essential are wellies or some other type of waterproof footwear as you will spend a good deal of time stomping through wetland areas with the group spread out much like you would in looking for rails. Good rainwear is a must for both precipitation and cold winds. St. Paul tours maintains radio contact with one another but a pair of walkie talkies were very helpful in communicating within the group itself.
On this windy day we were lucky to flush a mixed flock of geese which landed in Dune Lake. In amongst the Canada Geese were single Greater White-fronted Goose and Emperor Goose. We also had looks at a pair of Eurasian Widgeon, Pacific Golden Plover and a flyby Whimbrel. Another group had Mongolian Plover but despite much effort we were unable to relocate it.
Winds continued from the NW our next day but the rains subsided and clear skies prevailed later the wind died out and we enjoyed an apparently rare sunny afternoon and evening. Our group worked the island hard this day covering a lot of ground but not seeing many birds. Birding on St. Paul involves a good deal of effort. To quote Sean Smith who runs St. Paul Tours for the native TDX Corp. " We basically promise the alcids and kittiwakes, anything else is just icing on the cake. Birding here requires hard work in looking for a needle in a haystack. That and a little luck."
Despite all our hard work we saw no new birds until about 9p.m. when a calling Mongolian Plover flew over our heads and circled around allowing most in our group decent looks. Back in town there was a Bald Eagle seen over Town Lake.
We were scheduled to depart this morning but a the last minute we were told Reeve had cancelled our flight due to mechanical difficulties. This made for some trouble as many in our group were scheduled for connecting flights to Nome or home or had rental cars and accomodations reserved. Reeve foot the bill for another night at the King Eider and dinner at the Trident. A word here on food and beverages. Food at the Trident is good - breakfast is $9, lunch $13 and dinner $17. Some folks used the microwave at the hotel to make meals and the store across the street has most things. The tavern keeps strange hours and the whole island was without beer for a couple of days, they also serve wine and sake. The liquor store sells only beer and wine and is open sporadically.
St. Paul tours was kind enough to take us out birding in the evening. We missed on a Black-headed Gull seen earlier in the day but Webster Lake produced a Yellow Wagtail seen by few.
Reeve sent a jet for us instead of the usual Lockheed Electra. Aside from all the good birds I got to see I really enjoyed the other birders who started out as strangers and ended up good friends.
Greater White-fronted Goose
Gray-crowned Rosy Finch