Monday, June 7, 2010
Nome - III
We left the house in Nome at 5:00am, our earliest start since we trekked for Dovekies at Gambell. Since Joyce and Nancy were going on a journey of their own, our smaller group fit nicely into the larger van. Our route was north up the Kougarok Road and our destination was Curlew Hill where we hoped to witness the courtship flights of Bristle-thighed Curlews. Along the way we were looking for Rock Ptarmigans. Although we saw over 20 male Willow Ptarmigans, we saw no Rocks. However, we did see some Musk Ox (photo). We arrived at the hill at 7:20am and met the WINGS group with whom we coordinated the climb up the hill. Jon Dunn was the WINGS leader and he had seven people with him. The climb is through tussocks which are difficult to walk on. So it’s better to walk through/around them taking care not to be tripped up by them. The climb is neither particularly steep nor particularly long, about half a mile. But the tussocks make it tricky and somewhat exhausting. However, we had barely walked for five minutes when the characteristic call of the curlew was heard. Since that indicated that the birds were indeed there, it made the remainder of the climb a bit easier. Once we were all near the top we had great displays from at least one pair of curlews. I thought there was a second pair that remained over the crest of the hill. The key field marks include the peachy-colored rump, the large, golden flecks on the wings, and the buffy tone of the breast. We saw all these marks well. The curlew was my second lifer of the year.
After we slowly made our way back down the hill, we headed south with plenty of stops along the way. We stopped near several bridges where we birded and saw new trip birds like Black-capped Chickadee, Myrtle Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, red Fox Sparrow, Common Merganser, Rusty Blackbird (a catch-up bird for John, who doesn’t have many left to catch up). Aaron suggested a stop for Varied Thrush. I didn’t believe him, but sure enough! One of his stops produced a calling Varied Thrush which was a year bird for us. We turned off on the road to Pyramid Hot Springs and drove up onto a ridge where Northern Wheatears breed. We saw a couple of them, but not near the road. We did a last-of-the-day run past the dump, but there were only Glaucous, Mew, and a Herring Gull plus the Common Ravens, but not the Slaty-backed Gull that had been there earlier in the week. Back at the house I took a shower and got ready for dinner while waiting for Joyce to return from her excursion. Dinner was at the Airport Pizza. Don’t be misled by the name. In addition to serving pizza, they also did sandwiches, salads, steaks, pasta, and other dishes. I tried to order something that wasn’t too much food. I succeeded, but Joyce didn’t. Back at the house I found the StL Cardinals losing badly to Los Angeles. Tomorrow we’ll drive out the road to Teller, looking for Rock Ptarmigan. The two new birds today brought the total for the year to 618.