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Dispatch from Attu: To the End of the Aleutians

Editor’s Note: We’re excited to offer dispatches from John Puschock and Zugunruhe Tours‘s trip to legendary Attu, at the very tip of the Aleutian Islands. John will be posting about the journey here at the ABA Blog every few days.

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Greetings from Casco Cove! We’re almost done with the first week of our two-week tour to Attu. Here’s a rundown of what’s been going on:

We had slow going on the boat trip from Adak. The wind was out of the west and in our face the entire way, putting us about 12 hours behind schedule. For most of this tour, we want west winds. They bring vagrants to Attu and provide a tailwind on the way back to Adak. The trip to Attu is the only exception. At least they weren’t too strong, so the sea conditions weren’t bad.

Highlights on the way out included a good showing of Red-legged Kittiwakes (several individuals every day), a Long-tailed Jaeger following the boat on May 27, and almost 1000 Laysan Albatrosses. However, the stars of trip were at least four Short-tailed Albatrosses on the morning of May 28. I was woken up at 6:30 AM by the news that a Short-tailed had just flown past the boat. I got on the aft deck ASAP and started chumming, and within five minutes, the bird was flying up our wake. After it made several passes, an older sub-adult Short-tailed circled the boat…and then another immature came in to check out what was going on, and then finally an adult made two passes by the boat before disappearing over the waves.

STAL_collection_low

All photos by Doug Gochfeld, except rightmost by Julio Mulero

Since we were behind schedule and wouldn’t be getting to Attu until late afternoon on the 28th, we decided to stop at Alaid Island, a small island due east of Attu. Over several hours, we found a male Rustic Bunting, an Emperor Goose with an injured wing, and the rarest bird…a Snow Goose. Not exactly what we were hoping for, but quite rare in the western Aleutians. We then made it to Attu in the early evening. Most of the group made a quick trip to Big Lake but turned up nothing of note.

Rustic_Bunting_Julio_Mulero_low

Photo by Julio Mulero

Winds on the morning of May 29 were still out of the west but then switched to the east mid-day. We took a look at most of the major hotspots between Casco Cove and West Massacre Valley. Birding was a bit on the slow side, though there were a few goodies. A single Steller’s Eider was in Casco Cove, a pair of Snowy Owls appears to be nesting on the north side of Weston Mountain again, and another pair of Snowies was on the hills above West Massacre. We argued over a tattler at Barbara Point before settling on Wandering as the correct ID.

Northeast winds greeted us the next morning. Not the winds we hoped for. We started birding at Alexei Point. There was a single fly-by Pacific Golden-Plover, a Bar-tailed Godwit, and the most notable bird of the morning, a Vega Herring Gull, on the outer point. Later, we saw a single pair of Eurasian Wigeon and a Yellow-billed Loon, but otherwise, the afternoon was quiet.

There is a bit of drama to report. The transmission on our boat has developed a mechanical problem. We likely will have to cut the trip a few days short and limp back to Adak.

That’s the best I can do for a cliffhanger, so I’ll leave you with that.

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John Puschock

John Puschock

John Puschock reports ABA rare bird alerts and manages #ABArare for the American Birding Association. John is a frequent participant in rare bird forums around the web and has knack for gathering details necessary to relocate birds. He has been a birder since 1984 and now leads tours for Bird Treks, as well as for his own company Zugunruhe Birding Tours. He has led tours to locations across North America, from Newfoundland to New Mexico and from Costa Rica to Alaska. He specializes in leading tours to Adak in the Aleutian Islands.
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