Monday, May 28, 2012

Adieu Attu, off to gambol on Gambell

My husband, John, called from Adak to tell me about his boat trip to Attu sponsored by Z Tours. Since he was there for the birds, I'll tell you about the ABA area life birds he got first. Some of these birds we have seen on other  continents, but to count on your ABA life list you have to see them in the ABA area, which is the continental North America above the Mexican border. Since Attu is on the continental shelf, it counts, whereas Hawaii doesn't. On Attu, he saw the Common Snipe, Brambling, Wood Sandpiper, Oriental Greenfinch and Smew. At sea, he got the Red-Legged Kittiwake. On Adak, he got the Hawfinch and the Emperor Goose. So he is now up to 677 for his ABA life list.

Then there are the many additional birds John saw for the first time this year. Notable ones were 5 auklets, 3 albatross, 3 murrelets and 2 puffins.  If he is ever home long enough to make a species list, I will link it to this blog. For the year to date, he has seen 500 species in the ABA area. He would love to see at least 200 more by December 31st.

The weather wasn't bad on Attu, in the 40's but mostly clear. John said the water in the bay they anchored in was like glass. For ten days, they got off the boat and bicycled around the island looking for birds. Two days, John's bike needed repairs so he walked. The crew did a great job. Bill was the captain, his daughter, Colette, was the first mate, Nicole was the cook (really good cook) and Jake was the handyman/bike repairer and videographer. John of Z Tours and Isaac were the guides and there were 8 participants. A lady from Maine persuaded 4 friends to come with her so they really made the trip a go.

John was in Anchorage last night and today, May 28th, Memorial Day, joined a Wings tour flying to Gambell for five full days of birding then Nome for a couple more. John will fly to Chicago, June 8th, to do laundry at our son's home. The 9th he flies to Norfolk VA for a Brian Petteson pelagic the 10th. Then on and on.

I should be able to blog more frequently once John is back to regular cell phone coverage.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Good tidings from Attu

I received this email today from John. The boat's band width is limited so it is brief.

Beverly,                                                                                                5/17/2012

Having a great time.

My year list is at 491.  I saw three new life birds today.
I have about 34 new life birds this year.  The total is now about 673.


John has added 21 species for the year since they sailed from Adak to Attu and they still have at least 5 days on Attu before they start sailing back. What fun!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Attu, Brute?

I don't expect to hear from John while he is on the boat at Attu. There is email, but limited and costly. If the wind is coming in from the west there might be some good birding, if they can find the birds. They are going ashore each day and riding bikes around. Blisters and callouses? Without military stationed there or over-night visitors allowed, roads and trails are slowly disappearing. Z Tours (Zugunruhe Birding Tours) worked hard to set up this trip and the one they did two years ago. Attu is still the gold standard for a big year attempt, even if it will never again be like it was in 1998, 'The Big Year'.

They are due back to Adak Sunday, May 27th, for an evening flight to Anchorage. John starts an Alaska tour with Wings the next day. I won't blog until then unless John emails from the boat.

Families. That was John's goal before he started his big year, to see a member of each bird family in the world. Unfortunately, the definition of what is a bird family is more artificial than bird species these days. An isolated species on a little atoll might be its own family, or not. Do you make the huge effort logistically and financially to see that bird? It gets a little silly, even sillier than a big year.

For a big year, you use the ABA list of North American birds, and ABA geographical boundaries. You decide if you saw or heard the bird well enough to tick off. Only accidental birds need to be verified by committee. If you claim you saw a hoopoe in Seattle in December, you will need witnesses and photos, otherwise, your list is up to you, the honor system.

John hopes to be over 500 by the end of June. 500 birds in 6 months. 6 months more to go, but a lot more work to get each new bird.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Wye Y Why

My dragging my husband, John, to the movie 'A Big Year' last fall isn't the only reason he is on this quixotic quest. Last year, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent radiation therapy. Seems to have worked. Time will tell, but it was definitely a wake-up call.

He is also turning 70 this year. So, what, on his bucket list, could he reasonably accomplish? That adverb doesn't seem to me to fit the circumstances. There I go again, the long-suffering wife. I am not on Adak waiting to board a boat for Attu today, because I get seasick and bored on pelagics, and because it would cost that much more for me to go on all these jaunts with him. Also, I turn myself into a birddog whenever  we are out together. Since John is blind in one eye and almost deaf, it gets a bit frustrating for me. I start to snap and snarl. I will relax at home, commune with friends, lead children on nature walks, visit grandchildren in Texas and Missouri and book John for tours, pelagics, flights, cars and motels.

This caper has been great for John's psyche and physique. He has lost weight, his blood pressure is down, he is visiting wonderful natural places, and meeting wonderful fellow birders. We are a nice bunch of people.

The beard. On the pelagic to the Dry Tortugas, John didn't shave and noticed that most of the other men had beards. John has looked younger than his years all his life. He is just starting to get substantial gray and is tall and lanky. He noticed that the gray hair in his new beard made him look older. Looking old and yet still trying for a big year seemed to him to add drama to his quest. Might even get him some extra help out on the trail. So he plans to keep the beard. I'll see.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Do you hear what I hear?

Oh, I hear a Bell's Vireo, a Wrentit, a Pacific Slope Flycatcher! Nope, John doesn't hear them! SOOOO frustrating for me to try to get these birds for him. Then he can't just see them, he wants a photo!

Yesterday, Sunday, May 6th, after visiting Peter's Canyon with a hundred other people, we decided to change horses in mid-stream and drove down to a spot in San Diego County where our daughter is surveying the Gray Vireo. After a couple of hours of me listening to all those chaparral birds sing, one GRVI finally came down to us so that John could see it sing for him. And a Costa's Hummingbird posed so that it's lovely gorget flashed color in his camera shot.

John leaves tomorrow, this morning was his last chance for some of the SOCAL birds. Instead of packing, we went out and got, with considerable luck and lots of patience on my part, Hutton's Vireo, and Bell's Vireo at  San Joaquin Marsh in Irvine CA. Wood Duck and Olive-Sided Flycatcher were a bonus. Tried for the California Gnatcatcher in the Back Bay and got a Wrentit to get visible in response to pishing. No CAGN, our daughter will have to help him with that in July.

John is up to 451 birds.

Tomorrow, May 8th, he flies to Anchorage, in a few days flies to Adak, then a boat trip to Attu, with bikes on board so that they can get around when they land each day. That's with Ztours. Then Gambell and Nome with Wings. Then fly to Chicago June 8th, son and daughter-in-law's house overnight (laundry), then fly to Norfolk VA the 9th, go on Brian Petteson's pelagic the 10th, fly to Portland, Maine the 12th, go out to Machias Island with Bold Coast the 14th, fly to Detroit the 17th, and try for the Kirtland's Warbler the 18th. I still have a few motels and rental cars to book. It will be easier to do once I have him on the plane.

After Detroit, well, a day-to-day itinerary hasn't been set up, but there are sparrows and warblers to be found in the northern Midwest. How well is he is going to do without being able to hear them? Stay tuned.

John has booked a Five-Striped Sparrow trip into California Gulch in southern Arizona with Melody Kehl the 29th of June. Then he will bring himself and his laundry home for a few days.