Wednesday, June 6, 2012

There's no place like Nome!

Finally, a long phone conversation with my husband, John, who is now in Nome, so I have something to blog about!

After Attu/Adak John was up to 500 species of birds for the year to date in the ABA North American Region. After Gambell (5/27 to 6/4) he was at 514 and after one day of birding in Nome his total is 519.

Gambell was COLD and WINDY. It's a village of about 600 Yupiks on the north end of St. Lawrence Island. The island is in the Bering Sea, 65 miles from Russia and 210 miles from Nome. Soft drinks and alcohol are banned there and the Wings tour group John was with were required to bring their own drinking water. The village is wedged between a mountain and the sea. Most of the coastal shelf it perches on is made up of rounded stones, pebble to boulder size. Very difficult terrain to walk on, so the tour group moved around with ATV's. They birded the drainage ditch, the little lake, the air strip, the boneyard (centuries of hunting) and the shore, then did it all again the next day.

Some of the highlights for John were - seeing all the species of eider ducks, comparing Common Ringed (asian) and Semi-Palmated (american) plovers side by side, the Red-Necked Stint and the Lesser Sand Plover. Truly spectacular were the thousands upon thousands of birds streaming past just offshore, heading north to their breeding grounds. As the group were gathering their gear for the flight from Gambell to Nome, a White-Tailed Eagle soared over and gave everyone a good view. A nice farewell.

Nome seemed almost tropical compared to Gambell. In one day, John added Sabine's Gull, Red Phalarope, Yellow Wagtail, Tundra Swan and Arctic Loon to his list, the last loon he needed.

Wednesday, June 6th, the Wings group will head out at 4 AM to see the infamous Bristle-Thighed Curlew. For those who have led a sheltered life, the curlews nest on top of a high bluff covered with spongy hummocks of tundra that John will have to scale with his bad knees. Once, years ago, the birds flew down to the tour van on the road below so the people who opted out of the climb saw the curlews and the climbers didn't. That's what makes birding so much fun!

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