Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cooking for the WINGS Tour in Gambell, Alaska

From May 29 to June 5 I made a departure from my usual job of leading WINGS tours. Instead I was the cook for the tour in Gambell, Alaska led by Jon Dunn and Paul Lehman. I designed the menu in April, shopped for all the non-perishables in Tucson in early May, packed the food in boxes (with help from my sister Katheryne), and mailed them to Gambell (with help from my good friend Celina). Then right after my Oregon tour and before flying out to Gambell with the group, I had two days in Anchorage to buy all the perishables – such 10 pounds of butter, 22 dozen eggs, 45 pounds of chicken  (and all the bread, dairy, fruit, vegetables, etc) – and pack them all in our 9 coolers and 12 boxes, ready for the flights to Nome and then to Gambell.

Despite my spending about 16 hours in the kitchen each day, I still managed to get out and see some birds, including most of the rarities found by the birders coursing the area each day. There was a bit more snow and ice than the previous two times I had been there in the spring, but a lot of melting took place during the week. This is looking NNE towards town from the south end of Troutman Lake at the start of the week.

On this old piece of machinery was a territorial pair of White Wagtails. Most years there are at least a couple around, some years they can be scarce or not present. This year it was hard to be out during an hour's birding and not see 3 or 4.

My first outing (after spending the first two days in the kitchen nonstop) was to look for a Common Ringed Plover reported from the marshy areas south of the lake. As in previous years, all I could find was the very similar Semipalmated Plover.

The tundra here has no trees or bushes, and prostrate willows (in the foreground here) are the only woody vegetation.

Willows have separate male and female plants. These flowers are female catkins (notice the forked stigmas).

Here are catkins from a male plant (as the red anthers open, the yellow pollen can be seen).

A Cackling Goose here was a rarity.

Red-necked Phalarope is a common migrant.

The steep mountain slope on the east side of Troutman Lake is home to breeding Snow Buntings and the occasional vagrant. Paul found a female Siberian Stonechat here halfway through our week. This wheel is from an old plane wreck, but I don't know the story behind it.

The boulders are covered in lichen that are gorgeous gardens of color and structure up close.

These wind power generators were installed last fall on the east side of the village. The little red house is the eastern most of the 175 or so in the village, which is located on a gravel bar at the northwestern-most tip of Saint Lawrence Island. To the right of the windmills you can see Russia. The closest point of land is only 45 miles away, but the visible mountains are about 50 miles away. I compare this to viewing the Cascades Mountains from Mary's Peak near Corvallis Oregon: Mount Jefferson is 87 miles distant.

This Google Earth screen shot of the Bering Sea shows our location.

Zoomed in on the Bering Strait.

There are two kinds of birding at Gambell: looking FOR birds, and looking AT birds. This is one example of looking AT birds at the cliffs to the NE of town, where thousands of auklets and puffins breed. Here is some of our group looking at the six Dovekies that breed here.

Flocks of alcids, mostly Crested and Least Auklets, fly out from the colonies whenever a Common Raven passes by.

Here is a zoomed in shot of them perched on a snow field among the breeding areas. The birders also spent a lot of time looking at thousands of seabirds communting past the beaches west and north of town.

This is the Near Boneyard, an area where the ancestors of the Yupik Eskimos dumped the remains of walrus, seal, and whale carcasses for a few thousand years. This is one of the areas where we look FOR birds. Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs are common here, but the clumps of mugwort (an herbaceous Artemesia), rich soils, and wind-sheltered hollows attract lost migrants.

While walking across the boneyard, you could see Tundra Voles scampering along their trails and into tunnels.

Close to Old Town, racks of drying Walrus are a common sight.

Dick and Gaylee Dean beam after successfully seeing the gorgeous male Rustic Bunting, first first exciting vagrant of the week.

Dick's endless energy brought him back out to the boneyards while everyone else took an afternoon break, and he found this lovely female Brambling.

These Long-billed Dowitchers were present for a short time at the marsh at the northeastern corner of Troutman Lake.

I went out again to look for the Common Ringed Plover. A territorial Rock Sandpiper was in the spot that I had been told to look.

I walked about a mile before returning to my ATV, and this male Common Ringed Plover was right behind it! This may be the only place in North America where this species breeds regularly.

A regular vagrant here is the Lesser Sand Plover. This bird was later seen with a female, making the idea of possible breeding within reason.

On our last day, while I was putting the final touches on our last lunch, Paul Lehman called out a report of this Common Rosefinch on the radio, here perched on a Bowhead Whale jaw bone. Lunch was 15 minutes late as a result.

A panoramic of Gambell, looking northwest

Boarding our flight back to Nome

Thanks to Kenyon for waking me on our flight from Nome to Anchorage to alert me to the amazing view of Mount McKinley.

1 comment:

  1. Cook? You have many talents, Rich. Your photos remind me of my time in Norway...especially a summer on Svalbard.