Friday, October 12, 2007

Saint Paul Island Fall Birding

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From September 1 to October 12 I was on Saint Paul Island in the Pribilofs, Alaska (Lat: N 57.15, Lon: W 170.22) as part of the four-member Fall Birding Survey team.

The idea of a Fall Birding Survey, meant to establish a pattern of rare bird records so that TDX, the parent company of Saint Paul Island Tours, could potentially extend the birding tourism season into the fall months, may have begun with my request to spend one week birding on my own, starting September 1, 1996. Formerly, the tourism season ran only from June 1 to August 31, after which the hotel was closed, the buses stored, and the guides went home. With permission from the executives of TDX, I was allowed to stay on after my first summer with room, board and a vehicle, in return for submitting a full report of the birds I saw. Temminck's Stint, Garganey, and record numbers of Sharp-tailed Sandpiper were the highlights from that week, and I was able to add several vagrants from the American side of the Bering Sea as the first fall storms brought much rain and E winds.

The Fall Birding Survey idea sat dormant for another seven years. In 2003, Derek Lovitch, one of the summer guides that year, had the same idea that I did, having been intrigued by all the rare birds that Paul Lehman had been finding at Gambell, Saint Lawrence Island in the intervening years. He took my idea several steps further by getting support from TDX to stay until October 8 and invited two additional birders, Peter Ginsburg and Brad Murphy to help cover the island more efficiently. Then in 2004, Gavin Bieber repeated the fall survey, joined by Keith Kamper and Dave Porter. Though a third year of data was recommended in Gavin's report from that year, the fall survey was put on hiatus until this year, when an extra week was added.

These were some of the most exciting six weeks of birding I have ever spent. Some days were boring, some were very challenging with bad weather, others were bristling with anticipation as unexpected species popped up in places that the day before had been birdless. Weather on Saint Paul Island is purely marine, during the fall characterized by the Aleutian Low that originates in the NW Pacific and moves east across the Aleutian Island chain. This fall the storm systems tracked almost invariably to the northeast across the Bering Sea, passing to the north of the Pribilofs. This brought us mostly SW to W winds, exactly what we had hoped for, as they directed any lost migrants from Asia towards us. This was in strong contrast to the fall surveys of 2003 and 2004, when the storm track was much farther south, resulting in E and NE winds. First island records were established for several Asian strays, including Yellow-browed Warbler, Little Bunting, Pechora Pipit, Marsh Sandpiper and Eurasian Bullfinch. Gray Heron, represented from Saint Paul Island by an undocumented sight record on August 1, 1999 was photographed for the first time as well, providing the first evidence for Alaska and only the second for North America. I saw fourteen species new for my ABA-area list, half of those being lifers. My Saint Paul Island list now stands at 173.

The other birders of this year's survey, all from Tucson, were:


• Gavin Bieber, who has been the main guide during the summer on Saint Paul since 2002, though only in the spring the past two years since he's been a full-time WINGS leader. He's also the keeper of ornithological records for the Pribilofs.



• Jake Mohlmann, after spending his first full summer on Saint Paul Island as one of the full-time guides.















• Dylan Radin, on Saint Paul Island for his third year in a row as a full-time guide and in the roll as head guide this year.















I had been a full-time summer guide on Saint Paul in 1996 and 1997 before I began leading tours for WINGS.









I kept some birding friends and acquaintances interested in Bering Sea region sightings informed of our finds by occasional e-mails as well by posting to two birding e-mail distributional lists pertaining to Alaska, AK Birding and Beringia-birders. The following is a compilation of the e-mails that I sent out, interspersed with some photos. I took a few of the photos, but many thanks go to Jake, Gavin and Barrett Pierce (a birding tourist who spent nearly two weeks on the island with us) for additional photos.

Enjoy,

Rich
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Subject: Saint Paul Island Fall Migration: Little Stint and Swainson's Thrush
Date: September 5, 2007 11:42:45 PM ADT

Hi Friends,

As many of you know, I'm stationed on Saint Paul Island for six weeks this fall with three friends (Gavin Bieber, Jake Mohlmann, and Dylan Radin) to record fall bird migration. Actually, we're here to find vagrants so the Saint Paul Island Tours can promote birding tourism into the fall months.

If you would like to receive occasional fall birding reports from me, please reply to this e-mail and let me know. Otherwise, this will be the last one you receive.

News from today are a LITTLE STINT (a few fall records; no fall records from Gambell) and a SWAINSON'S THRUSH, the second record for the Pribilofs.

Other migrants on the island in the past few days since I arrived on Sep. 1 were mostly American:

Gray-cheeked Thrush
Fox Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow


Chipping Sparrow (2nd and 3rd island records about a mile apart within 5 minutes of each other!)
Savannah Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Belted Kingfisher (3rd record?)

But we've had some Asian-ish things too:
Eastern Yellow-Wagtail





Red-necked Stint (2)
Gray-tailed Tattler
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper (many)
Bar-tailed Godwit












Of course I can't neglect to mention the BROWN HAWK-OWL that Jake found on August 27, the first record for North America. They didn't find it again on the 28th or 29th with serious searching, but when I arrived on the 1st, I was very pleased to find it still in the stacked crab traps just outside of town. It was there the next two days as well (on the 3rd a group of 12 birders trapped at Gambell chartered a plane for just a few hours to see it), but we haven't looked for it since. In the hopes that it's feeding on Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, we scattered some seed around the crab traps. Gavin doesn't get here until Sunday the 9th, so we're hoping for his sake that it stays.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: St. Paul update: More American Things
Date: September 7, 2007 8:43:18 AM ADT

Hi All,

Just a quick update before I head out again this morning.

We had four birders arrive yesterday in the worst weather we've had since I arrived. Strong SE winds (25 gusts to over 35) and more or less persistent rain, and 50°F. This made birding very hard at times, with wet and fogged optics.

For the first time, and with the most effort so far, we failed to find the Brown Hawk-Owl yesterday. We sincerely believe it was not in the crab traps yesterday. If not there, then where?

Almost all the same birds were seen continuing from the day before, with the exception of the Little Stint, which was too hard to location in the given weather.

New additions:
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER

That's it.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: More American Migrants on Saint Paul Island
Date: September 9, 2007 9:02:30 PM ADT

Hi All,

Today, Jake flushed an Arctic Warbler, a very rare migrant here. We tried refinding it without success. We're experiencing 20 mph winds from the south, but tomorrow the remnants of Typhoon Fitow are supposed to bring winds of 40-55 mph.

In other news another Chipping Sparrow provides the 4th island record (yesterday and today). Yesterday Jake and I tallied 33 Golden-crowned Sparrows, which is likely an all-time one-day record. We also have continuing Yellow-rumped and Orange-crowned Warblers as well as multiple Yellow and Wilson's.

The Little and Red-necked (2) Stints are still at Antone Slough.

Gavin arrived today.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Saint Paul Island migration update
Date: September 12, 2007 11:27:23 PM ADT

Wednesday, September 12

Dear Birders,

After the remains of Typhoon Fitow passed on Monday, we've had strong winds that continued from the southeast, then south, and then today from the southwest. So finally we've had some obvious arrivals. Today's highlights were a male BRAMBLING at Hutchinson Hill and two ALEUTIAN TERNS (an adult with a juvenile) at Webster Lake (very late for Alaska and a very rare migrant here at all). Yesterday there was a RED-THROATED PIPIT above the town cliffs, creating some excitement, but it didn't stick around.

The only other passerine from the west was a japonicus AMERICAN PIPIT that's been present for about 5 days, but the past two days we've had several more rubescens-type AMERICAN PIPITS arrive. We still have the same American passerine vagrants, but in slightly lower numbers, with Fox, Golden-crowned and Savannah Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, and Yellow Warbler today; we've had two Orange-crowned Warblers up until yesterday.

Shorebirds are constantly changing. We had the LITTLE STINT up until two days ago, and one RED-NECKED STINT continues. Both WANDERING and GRAY-TAILED TATTLERS are around, but in fewer numbers than a week ago. Coming and going still are LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS and PECTORAL and SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPERS, the latter still about 15-20 each day. RUDDY TURNSTONES are still present in good numbers; we estimate around 200-300 each day. Today we had 38 PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVERS, including a late adult. A variegatus WHIMBREL was inland today.
The same juvenile BAR-TAILED GODWIT continues on Salt Lagoon each day.

The storm brought us hundreds of RED PHALAROPES (and a few RED-NECKED as well), ARCTIC TERNS (up to 10), and SABINE'S GULLS (up to 4). Continuing are a few SLATY-BACKED and HERRING GULLS, and at least one GLAUCOUS GULL.

Waterfowl arrived in the wake of this storm too, with increased numbers of NORTHERN PINTAIL and GREEN-WINGED TEAL, and today a NORTHERN SHOVELER was new.

Finally, it appears that the Brown Hawk-Owl (or Northern Boobook) is really history. We've checked the crab traps daily and it has now been 10 days since we last saw it. For a nice collection of the photos, as well as a fun account of the discovery, see Jake and John Yerger's website Adventure Birding Company.

See Birdwest for a more complete and orderly bird list as Gavin posts the official weekly update each Friday.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Red-flanked Bluetail on Saint Paul Island
Date: September 13, 2007 5:14:02 PM ADT

Hi All,

Jake and I found a gorgeous, easy-to-identify RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL at the Hutchinson Hill quarry this afternoon at about 1:00. About a half hour later it showed well for the two other guides, Dylan and Gavin, and the only visiting birder on the island Lynn Bieber. This seems to be the earliest fall record from Alaska.

Amazingly, the same general area hosted the continuing BRAMBLING, as well as two YELLOW WARBLERS, two AMERICAN PIPITS, a DARK-EYED JUNCO, two GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS, a SAVANNAH SPARROW and a FOX SPARROW.

Earlier, Jake spotted a bird at Polovina Hill that based upon his detailed description fits only SKY LARK. We failed to re-find it. That location also has two FOX SPARROWS, a CHIPPING SPARROW (probably a continuing bird) and an ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER. There are also two ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLERS near town.

Stay Tuned,

Rich
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Subject: Olive-backed Pipit
Date: September 14, 2007 10:33:00 PM ADT

Hi All,

Today's highlight was an OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT at Hutchinson Hill. I was the only one to see it well and on the ground when it first perched on some rocks. Subsequent sightings were just in flight as we flushed it, but nearly everyone had at least a glimpse. The same BRAMBLING continues there, and we later saw two more BRAMBLING arrive.

Most of the other goodies seemed to have left in the good weather and light W winds.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Sky Larks
Date: September 15, 2007 3:26:17 PM ADT

Hi All,

Today's good bird came in the form of two SKY LARKS, at Hutchinson Hill, the third day in a row that that place has produced a good bird. All of the previous goodies there seem to have moved on. A male EURASIAN WIGEON with a rufous head (i.e., not in full eclipse) was on Webster Lake, and a japonicus AMERICAN PIPIT landed there in front of us.

Gavin flushed a non-Arctic Phylloscopus warbler (whitish below, grayish above) in a relatively featureless area inland from the Kaminista quarry. It perched on a rock too far for him to see details and then disappeared. He's very frustrated and unhappy right now.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Siberian Accentor and Yellow-browed Warbler on St. Paul
Date: September 16, 2007 10:01:29 PM ADT

Hi All,

Fun day today! Shortly after noon Jake and our client Susan flushed a SIBERIAN ACCENTOR at Polovina Hill quarry. I was able to rush down the hill in time to see it, but it was very flighty and disappeared before Dylan, Gavin and his mom could get there. After lunch they went back to look while Jake, Susan and I went to Zapadni/Antone area.
I was in the upper end of Zapadni Ravine when I flushed the YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER. Jake got useable photos of it. I had to drive all the way up to Hutchinson hill to fetch Dylan, Gavin and his mom, and in the meantime Jake and Susan had lost the bird and we couldn't refind it. Tomorrow, we hope.

















The accentor is a third record for St. Paul (two records from October 2003), and the warbler is a first.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: St. Paul Little Bunting
Date: September 17, 2007 10:42:04 PM ADT

Hi All,

In very difficult conditions, Gavin, Jake and I had several brief views of St. Paul Island's first LITTLE BUNTING this afternoon. Steady rain and 30 mph SE winds, wet binoculars (rendering them to maybe 50% functional capacity), and having to tromp through crotch-high, drenching herbaceous tundra to get looks at this flitting little thing was not the most delightful way to spend the afternoon, but it was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

There are now at least SIX SKY LARKS at Hutchinson Hill.

New the past couple of days are a couple COMMON SNIPE.

Hoping for less rain tomorrow.

Rich
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Subject: Olive-backed Pipit and Sky Larks still on St. Paul
Date: September 20, 2007 12:30:59 AM ADT

Hi All,

Today Gavin and Jake found our second OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT of the season at Polovina Hill. They were a bit stumped by it at first, as it had a much buffier underside than usual (more than just a breast band), as well as an almost reddish buff malar region. It also gave a few unfamiliar call notes. But the rest of bird fit well, and by the time I got there, it was very flighty and was giving typical call notes.

Two SKY LARKS continue at Hutchinson Hill.

We were able to re-find Tuesday's LITTLE BUNTING without too much trouble yesterday morning, and without the rain (but still strong SW wind) got much better views. We did not look for it today.

Other than that, we covered a lot of ground without finding much new. A DARK-EYED JUNCO is in the crab traps, while FOX, GOLDEN-CROWNED, and SAVANNAH SPARROWS are still here and there.

The major excitement was getting one of the vans stuck on a remote road. Actually, the grass road was just so slippery that the wheels just spun and we were unable to move the van once it stopped, even though we weren't really mired in mud at all. And just as I was almost able to get it to move out of the small ruts we had created by spinning the wheels by rocking it back and forth, the brakes completely failed (maybe a leak sprung in the line), and then steam started coming from the engine. So we hiked two miles out just in time to see the Olive-backed Pipit. Later, Dylan went with one of the TDX workers to pull the van out. Once going, he didn't have trouble driving on the road back to the airport garage, but then he didn't know the emergency break had ceased to function long ago and he rolled the van into the garage door to stop it. Always some vehicle excitement around here. Fuel pump failed on another van, and a third van has a wheel with the steel belts showing through.

The jet stream that has been training the Aleutian Low NE into the Bering Sea is apparently due for a change this coming weekend, and we're supposed to be getting storms from Siberia moving down instead. Who knows what they will bring.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: American Stuff on St. Paul
Date: September 21, 2007 2:51:21 PM ADT

Hi All,

The new birds from the past couple of days have been American vagrants, surprising us despite our having W and SW winds: SWAINSON'S THRUSH yesterday at Hutchinson Hill was the second this fall but only the third island record. And then today we saw a
TOWNSEND'S WARBLER at Polovina Hill, the fourth island record following the first during the 2003 fall survey and two in 2004.

An OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT at Webster House was probably new, but we didn't find the one at Polovina Hill today.

We've had two ANCIENT MURRELETS and an increase in RED-NECKED GREBES the past couple of days as well.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Pechora Pipit and Siberian Accentor on Saint Paul
Date: September 22, 2007 11:39:20 PM ADT

Hi All,

Today's highlight was the first island record of PECHORA PIPIT, seen well after flushing it many times and even photographed (though the photos aren't great). We have three birding tourists on the island who got to see the bird, and one guide who missed it (Dylan – he was guiding the two non-birding tourists on a hike up Rush Hill). With the extra bodies, a couple of whom would like to have seen the Little Bunting early in the week, we decided to try walking the same patch of wet tundra near the Zapadni Barrabras. After most of the way though the march, this bird flitted up in front of me, and for a brief second I thought I must have the bunting - it also had white outer tail feathers. But instead of zipping away, it only hopped up and sat on an Angelica (wild celery) seed head for about 2 seconds, then flew about 20 yards away and dove into the vegetation. It made no sound. From what I had seen, I knew we had either Red-throated or Pechora Pipit, but the former almost always calls when flushed and usually flies quite far and doesn't usually hide dense, wet vegetation. We proceeded to get only glimpses as it flushed each time, never calling and usually hopping up for looks first then landing no more 50 yards away, and never gaining much altitude. Finally, I got views of the bird in the scope and saw that the primaries projected beyond the tertials, a key field mark that separates the two. We eventually did hear it call, and it once gave a couple calls something similar to American Pipit, but once gave a very different, dry call that is described well in one of the field guides. At one point, Jake got it to come closer by squeaking and pishing, and once we thought we were going to lose it when it pursued a Lapland Longspur high into the sky, chasing it all around for over a minute.

This bird outdid what would have already been an exceptional bird of the day: a cooperative SIBERIAN ACCENTOR that called and perched in the open for digiscoping at the Polovina Hill quarry. Gavin got to see it, making him very happy, as he had missed last week's bird by a few minutes. Dylan missed this bird as well, and he's not happy.

We also have continuing SKY LARKS all over the island (just two today, but there are probably a few more), a BRAMBLING, and a BAR-TAILED GODWIT.

Probably from North America and a shocking sight was the third island record of NORTHERN HARRIER, an adult female at Marunich (North Point) today. There are one or two PEREGRINE FALCONS, the one today being an imm. male tundrius.





The BELTED KINGFISHER continues to be seen almost daily around Salt Lagoon, the Harbor, or Icehouse Lake (and once at Polovina Lake, a good 3 miles away). Yesterday a SONG SPARROW (large Aleutian form) was at SW Point, but I missed seeing it.

The next storm headed our way entered the Bering Sea just east of Kamchatka to our W, rather than crossing the central Aleutians to our SW, so we should be getting mostly S and SW winds as it gets closer tomorrow night and Monday and the passes north of us.

That's it for today.

Rich
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Subject: American Bonanza
Date: September 23, 2007 3:50:02 PM ADT

Hi All,

In about an hour of walking around Webster Lake this morning we had: NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (second island record), AMERICAN ROBIN, four YELLOW WARBLERS, SAVANNAH SPARROW and GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW. What in the world? We had a short period of SSE wind in the middle of the night, but it's been S and SW since then. I think a bunch of American vagrants must have been lost over the southern Bering Sea when they ran into the approaching storm and went downwind until they found us.

We're just heading out for the afternoon run now.

Rich
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Subject: Gray-streaked Flycatchers on Saint Paul Island
Date: September 23, 2007 10:43:38 PM ADT

Hi All,

Yes, that's plural. First one GRAY-STREAKED FLYCATCHER on the road in a very random spot between Kaminista and Zapadni (just west of the south-central part of the island) at about 3:15, then three together in the lee of Hutchinson Hill (in the far NE end of the island) at about 7:15 p.m. There was an AMERICAN ROBIN at the same place on Hutchinson Hill with them, for a very odd combination.

Gray-streaked Flycatcher has an interesting history of occurrence in the U.S. Until 2002, it was known only as a rare spring vagrant to the western Aleutians. Since then, it has occurred several times on St. Paul in the spring. Then only starting in 2004 were there any fall records in North America, here and in the central and western Aleutians. This is the first time multiple birds have been seen in the fall.

The PECHORA PIPIT was refound and easily seen for Dylan, but no sign of the Siberian Accentor from yesterday. No sign of the Song Sparrow either.

A very exciting day overall!

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Two species fallout
Date: September 24, 2007 6:56:00 PM ADT

Hi All,

Seven each (that's SEVEN EACH) of EYEBROWED THRUSHES and GRAY-STREAKED FLYCATCHERS were the tally from the first half of the day's birding in the NE peninsula of the island. We're no longer so confident about the second American Robin that was glimpsed at Hutchinson Hill last night, as that's where several of the thrushes were scattered about today. But we did see two AMERICAN ROBINS at Polovina Hill with one Eyebrowed Thrush, and the SIBERIAN ACCENTOR was seen again, this time finally by Dylan who is now the happiest birder on the island. He'd been in a funk since missing the one on September 16.

A SKY LARK was also still near Hutchinson Hill, while GOLDEN-CROWNED, FOX, and SAVANNAH SPARROWS, YELLOW WARBLERS, and DARK-EYED JUNCO were seen today.

Stay tuned for the rest of today's finds.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: No movement on St. Paul...but Siberian Rubythroat
Date: September 25, 2007 4:02:03 PM ADT

Hi All,

It seems all the rarities that showed up yesterday (and the night before) are essentially still here, including multiple GRAY-STREAKED FLYCATCHERS and EYEBROWED THRUSHES.
A frustrating mystery bird from yesterday that we all chose to not dwell on last night was relocated today and seen well: a stunningly beautiful male SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT.

We flushed a new NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH behind the crab traps by the USFWS buildings early this morning, a spot we hadn't checked in a couple days.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Rustic Bunting, Red-flanked Bluetail and more
Date: September 26, 2007 8:29:10 AM ADT

Hi Everyone,

Yesterday's afternoon birding continued to be productive. Jake flushed a RUSTIC BUNTING off the tundra above Zapadni Ravine, which only upon a second or third flush did Gavin (and Gavin only) get a good enough view to ID at first. Then Dylan became the second person to see it good enough in flight before it vanished into the forbidden zone of a Northern Fur Seal breeding colony. We'll be trying for it first thing this morning. (Local sunrise isn't until 9:14 a.m., because we're stuck in Alaska time zone, more than 3 hours away from real sun time.)

Then I hiked the inland loop around the hill called Ridge Wall to Kittiwake Lake and its lava tube sinkholes, finding our second RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL in an outcropping of rocks on the interior, NE end of Ridge Wall. Returning there an hour later with the one visiting birder here, Susan Clark, who arrived the day after our other sighting, was unsuccessful.
But I did come across a SAINT PAUL ISLAND SHREW (an endemic that has been stranded on the island since the last ice age, about 10,000 years), which I caught, showed her and took some pictures. Cute thing.

Meanwhile Gavin and Jake found a second SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT near Antone Slough, and then later I flushed a BRAMBLING off the road, at first seeing only the white rump and getting excited about other possibilities.

We've had west winds all night, and they are supposed to continue until late today. Perfect.

I've posted a bunch of photos of our highlights at the Surfbirds website, but they get buried quickly under more recent posts. You have to scroll down and click on links to the 12 previous photos to see older posts. And Gavin has been writing the weekly RBA summary, which you can view on the Saint Paul Island Tour website.

Stay Tuned,

Rich
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Subject: A Push of American Vagrants
Date: September 27, 2007 10:40:58 PM ADT

Hi All,

We had a burst of gales from the SE (that is, from the direction of mainland Alaska, more or less) from about midnight until 9 a.m. this morning, and the newly arrived vagrants reflected that. We had noticed dwindling sparrows and warblers over the past several days of SW winds, with single Fox and Golden-crowned Sparrows and a Dark-eyed Junco being the main holdovers (from a total of 33 Golden-crowns in early September). But today's finds included three GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROWS, several SAVANNAH SPARROWS, a TOWNSEND'S WARBLER, and two YELLOW WARBLERS. A SONG SPARROW near East Landing, at least 8 miles from the previous one, is probably a new bird too. I missed seeing that one too, darn it.

But yesterday and today we continued to find birds that probably arrived on the Asian fallout of September 24, including two more SIBERIAN RUBYTHROATS (including a dull female near the harbor just a 30 second walk from our front door), at least four additional EYEBROWED THRUSHES, and an OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT. Most of the other Eyebrowed Thrushes and Gray-streaked Flycatchers continue in the same places. We have been unable to conclusively confirm the presence of the Red-flanked Bluetail, though it was probably glimpsed yesterday.

Unlike the situation on Shemya, we have had only one Rustic Bunting (still not refindable, and I missed it) and no Arctic Warblers. The wind is supposed to do something odd the next days: switch from to NW in the matter of a few hours, then back to SW and W. Always exciting!

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Finally Something New
Date: September 29, 2007 10:10:38 PM ADT

Hi All,

The past couple of days have been tough birding, with pretty much the same birds in the same places, with new singles of SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT and GRAY-STREAKED FLYCATCHERS added to the already record totals.

But finally this evening, a LITTLE BUNTING (second island record) and a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET were in the Angelica patch on the sheltered, SW side of Webster Lake.

With NW to S back to W winds over the past day and a half, we're excited about tomorrow.

Rich
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Subject: Gray Heron and Yellow-browed Warbler
Date: October 1, 2007 6:11:34 PM ADT

Hi All,

Excitement today for sure! First we flushed a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER in the Angelica patch by Webster Lake. Gavin and Dylan did not get great views; for some stupid reason I was the only one who had killers views both times that it sat up. It called a couple times for a solid confirmation. (For those of you who didn't get news of our first one on Sep. 16, Gavin and Dylan were at the other end of the island and never did see it, and it's been a sore point since then.)

Then while dropping our off only birding tourist at the airport (and meeting a newly arrived one), Dustin Jones, a local who works for the Ecological Conservation Office drove up and told us about a heron he saw fly in over the harbor and land on the far side of Salt Lagoon. He had never seen a heron before, but he's an astute observer, so we left Gavin at the airport (the plane had not quite arrived) and followed Dustin to see a GRAY HERON perched on a boulder on the hillside. Gavin raced up a few minutes later with both birders – he asked PenAir and determined there was just enough time to race Bill out to see it and then back to catch his plane to Anchorage. And for Eric, who just arrived, it was his first bird on the island. We later got photos that document it well, showing the white marginal coverts and leg feathers.

The warbler is the second island record, after the first just two weeks ago. The heron is the first documented for Alaska, with a sight record from here on August 1, 1999, the only other North American record being a specimen from Newfoundland.

Good Birding,

Rich

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Subject: Bad Weather, Little Birding
Date: October 4, 2007 2:55:19 PM ADT

Hi All,

We went out for just over 2.5 hours of birding this morning before having to give up. Fifty-mph wind, stinging mist, blowing sand, getting stuck then unstuck in a huge sand drift made for an overall unpleasant morning. Even the PenAir flight was canceled today due to the wind. Gusts are supposed to be as high as 75 mph this afternoon.

Even then, we managed to find the EYEBROWED THRUSH and the SONG SPARROW in the crab traps (yes, I FINALLY got on the Song Sparrow), a GRAY-STREAKED FLYCATCHER at Polovina Hill, and a SKY LARK in the Angelica patch at Webster Lake. There doesn't seem to be any spot out of the wind, and this was the first time in over a week that we've missed one of the three Siberian Rubythroats that have been around Webster Lake.






New and rare was a THAYER'S GULL on Weather Bureau Lake.

No sign of the Gray Heron yesterday or today, but maybe it's just hiding out of the wind somewhere else.

That's it for now.

Rich

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Subject: More of Same, Plus Cool American Stuff
Date: October 6, 2007 9:18:48 AM ADT

Hi All,

So the nasty weather from Wednesday and Thursday passed, and yesterday was gorgeous - mostly cloudy, scattered very light showers (sometimes sleet) and NW wind usually around 15 mph. What with all those amazing W winds, we expected something truly great, but instead we were puzzled by VARIED THRUSH (about the 4th island record), GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW, and DARK-EYED JUNCO! The thrush and the sparrow were both in Zapadni Ravine with three EYEBROWED THRUSHES, for an odd combination. I think we can assume that the American things arrived on the ESE gale that preceded the passing of the front, and only yesterday were able to come out of hiding and find some place to forage.

One of the thrushes is the same juvenile we found there on October 2, and the other two are either new arrivals or birds from elsewhere on the island that have simply relocated in the wake of the storm. I would guess the latter, given that most of the GRAY-STREAKED FLYCATCHERS in the NE part of the island are still there, though in slightly different locations. The Little Bunting and all the Siberian Rubythroats seem to have cleared out.

The NORTHERN HARRIER, a SHORT-EARED OWL and a PEREGRINE FALCON continue to show themselves every few days (the harrier is the third island record and was found on Sep 22, the other two are regular vagrants). I may have had a one-second glimpse of a MERLIN yesterday, but vanished before I could confirm my impression. That would be a very good bird out here.

Seabirding is exciting if you're really into it. Scoters (Black and White-winged), grebes (Horned and Red-necked) and loons (mostly Pacific) are increasing in numbers.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Marsh Sandpiper!
Date: October 7, 2007 3:43:53 PM ADT

Hi All,

This morning there was a MARSH SANDPIPER on Salt Lagoon here at Saint Paul Island. This is the first record for the island, the first in North America away from the Aleutians (four from Adak and one from Buldir), and a lifer for everyone but me. It appears to be a juvenile with several winter feathers coming in. We had great views, got lots of photos and heard it call. It was hanging out with a GRAY-TAILED TATTLER. Jake and visiting birder Barrett Pierce probably got better photos.

Just before seeing the bird, we were watching a SONG SPARROW and a RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET in the crab traps, but the first good bird of the day was a BRAMBLING flocking with the Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches in town.

Not much news from yesterday, other than the continuing three EYEBROWED THRUSHES in Zapadni Ravine and at least two GRAY-STREAKED FLYCATCHERS in the NE.

Rich
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Subject: Saint Paul Island Update
Date: October 8, 2007 11:36:43 PM ADT

Monday, October 8

Dear Birders,

We did not see the Marsh Sandpiper today. The day before yesterday we had a WESTERN SANDPIPER (extremely late), and yesterday also a DUNLIN. Both of these were also one-day wonders.

The best bird of the day was seen only by Gavin: an immature SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS passing by a fishing boat off of Hutchinson Hill. The rest of us are very disappointed to have missed the bird, but maybe there are more out there.

Continuing are one EYEBROWED THRUSH and one BRAMBLING.
















My highlight today was hiking to the peak of Rush Hill, the tallest on the island, north to the NW corner of the island and back. It was not very birdy, but it was gorgeous. Saint George Island, 45 miles away, was very visible today.

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Eurasian Bullfinch
Date: October 9, 2007 3:38:50 PM ADT

Hi All,

The exciting bird from this morning's birding is a gorgeous male EURASIAN BULLFINCH, the first record from the Pribilofs. I found it first thing this morning above the town cliffs by the harbor breakwater only a few moments after spotting an AMERICAN ROBIN (with only a few records from the island). So this is what happens on east winds. While this is not a spot we check daily, it is checked about 3 or 4 times a week and was thoroughly covered yesterday morning. Though no one had his radio on, I was able to walk the one minute back out our dorm, rouse the rest of the crew, pick up Barrett and Jake (who had gone to East Landing for seawatching but had left his radio off), and everyone had great views of both birds. Photos were also obtained, but mine of the bullfinch is not so great.

We later refound continuing EYEBROWED THRUSH, BRAMBLING, and SKY LARK along the road that leads to the west part of the island. The SONG SPARROW is still at the crab traps. No sign of the Marsh Sandpiper nor the Gray Heron.

That's it for now.

Rich
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Subject: Evening update: Arctic Warbler and Siberian Accentor
Date: October 9, 2007 10:53:52 PM ADT

Hi All,

A difficult-to-pin down ARCTIC WARBLER created some excitement this evening as we tried to get good looks and photos of a small, greenish Phylloscopus warbler near Webster Lake. It simply seemed to big and thick-billed for the Arctic Warblers we know, but the field marks in the photos seem to bear out this identification. As it turns out, the Asian subspecies, which is the more likely one to show up here this time of year, are larger than the one that breeds in Alaska (and is already long gone to the winter grounds).

Then on the way back to town, Dylan spotted a small bird flushing off the roadside as he was driving. We stopped and confirmed our third SIBERIAN ACCENTOR for the fall.

Not a bad day!

Good Birding,

Rich
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Subject: Saint Paul Island update: American stuff
Date: October 12, 2007 8:30:54 AM ADT

Hi Everyone,

Yesterday's birding was very exciting, with our highest one-day species total of 56 this fall. As might be expected with the E and SE winds we've had the last two days, new arrivals yesterday were from the east. The only continuing Asian vagrant the past two days was a single BRAMBLING. I had three new island birds, while Jake had three lifers, even after being on the island for 5 months already. The total tally of landbird vagrants just from the afternoon:

Gyrfalcon 1
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 3
Hermit Thrush 1
American Robin 1
Savannah Sparrow 2
Golden-crowned Sparrow 3

The day before we also had an additional Ruby-crowned Kinglet and a White-crowned Sparrow.

The seabirding was phenomenal. Besides a huge and sudden increase in the numbers of gulls (mostly Glaucous-winged), other species are filtering in, the two rarities being ARCTIC LOON (beautifully spotted by Gavin, a close fly-by seen well by all of us) off Hutchinson Hill, and two MARBLED MURRELETS (found by Jake and seen by everyone as well) near town at East Landing.

Helping out the species total was an influx of rarer waterfowl, which included:

Brant 3
Eurasian Wigeon 5
Mallard 1
Northern Shoveler 4

Unless we find something super rare today, this will be my last post from Saint Paul Island. I fly to Anchorage this afternoon, then on to Tucson Saturday night. Jake is here for two more days and Gavin and Dylan are here for three more.

Good Birding,

Rich

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