Attu May 17: I should use sunscreen more often

by John Puschock on May 18, 2012

The weather forecast for the next 5 days did not look promising. Forecasted winds are light and variable, and no storms are on the horizon. Because of that, I discussed options with the group, and we decided to explore Etienne Bay and then take advantage of calm seas and head out to Stalemate Bank for an extra day of pelagic birding after birding some of the traditional spots around Massacre Bay for one more day. I also put on sunscreen for the first time even though the weather seemed a little different today (clouds were lower, the winds was no longer out of the north, and we had drizzle as we went ashore). After getting sunburned the past few days, I didn’t want to take any chances. As it turned out, we didn’t get any direct sun today. Go figure.

We headed to South Beach by way of Murder Point. The Smew was still absent from the pond near Murder Point. Beyond this, we walked along the shoreline, and Isaac found another Whooper Swan. It was just like the first: dead. This one was decayed more. I didn’t even bother giving this one CPR. A little further along, I was walking along the base of some bluffs and flushed a Brambling, the first Asian passerine of the trip. (Well, the Pine Grosbeak was likely of Asian origin, but no one is going to get excited about that one.) It must have been beat from the flight in because it allowed a close approach after the initial flush and was constantly feeding. (It was still feeding when we refound it on the walk back up the beach a few hours later.)

Brambling (photo by Doug Hitchcox)

There wasn’t much around the South Beach area. The only birds of note was a Rock Ptarmigan far up the hillside above the beach and a fly-by Vega Herring Gull seen by Isaac. On the walk back, several of us spotted a fly-by Slaty-backed Gull.

One of our group, Dr. Carl Sheely, didn’t make the bike/walk to South Beach. He stayed behind and birded around Casco Cove and the runways. When we got back in radio range, he told us he had found a Wood Sandpiper in a pond next to the E-W runway. It posed well for photos.

Wood Sandpiper (photo by Doug Hitchcox)

Everybody got to see the Wood Sandpiper except one person. He was back at the boat. We radioed him and Captain Bill brought him to shore to see the bird, which at this point had disappeared uphill at the west end of the runway. As we were looking for it, Isaac pointed out a male Snowy Owl on the side of Weston Mountain to our south. This is where we had been seeing an owl earlier, but now there were two. Maybe they’ll nest here.

The spot the sandpiper had flown to was just above the last (i.e., most westerly) revetment on the south side of the runway. I had been eyeing this spot as a place to look for passerines, so I circled around the edges on my bike and flushed three birds. Two disappeared over the top of the embankment, but the one that stayed, though only briefly, was an ORIENTAL GREENFINCH. It was just me, Isaac, and one group member here. Everyone else had returned to Lower Base to get a ride back to the boat. I radioed them, and of course, everyone was back on their bikes, headed our way.

When everyone was assembled, we walked to the top of the revetment, where the Greenfinch had flown. On the way, the Wood Sandpiper flushed. We walked about 200 feet when Doug Hitchcox saw the bird zip back down to the side of the revetment. We headed back down but could not see the bird. It then flew again, disappearing over the other side of the revetment, so we went over to the next one to the east. We formed a line and moved to where we thought it might be. No luck, but I flushed another three Brambling. Up to this point, I was thinking that maybe we should delay our trip to Etienne Bay, but now I was sure.

We got back to the spot where the Greenfinch was originally seen, and finally Isaac saw it at the base of the embankment. It feed in this spot for about five minutes, and I was able to get it in the scope.

Oriental Greenfinch (photo by Doug Hitchcox)

Oriental Greenfinch (photo by Doug Hitchcox)

I don’t know why our luck changed today. Sure, it may have been the weather, but I think I’ll put sunscreen on every morning now, just in case.


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