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….Once on shore, we explore with a sense of being pioneers. Rubythroats are
common along the shore, some singing, and others just arrived on migration and
busily feeding. A male Narcissus Flycatcher, in bright yellow and black plumage, is
also tired and feeding on insects on the track ahead of us, between the dwarf alder
bushes. A Rough-legged Buzzard calls as it flies over the ridge. When Brian scopes
the eagle on the snow, the Steller’s has replaced the White-tail. As we watch, out of
nowhere stoops an angry Gyrfalcon onto the eagle. After two attacks, it flies out over
the sea and the ship, to an offshore island, where we lose it among the seabirds.
Ducks along the shore are mainly Harlequins, but there are Teal and Goldeneye too.
….After dinner, I find a Leach’s Petrel on deck, disorientated by the lights in the
fog. After showing it to the group at the log-call, I release it into the darkness.
Monday 2 June
….As we head north, Fork-tailed Storm Petrels become more regular: grey and
prion-like as a first impression, with their erratic flight. Two schools of Dall's Porpoise
visit the ship, and ride the bow-wave for a short while.
….the first Laysan Albatross flies along the port side, where all the birders are congregating, sheltering from the wind. A few Ancient Murrelets appear, at rest on the sea. The black and white head pattern is different from anything else we have seen. Just before lunch, a pod of Orcas passes alongside the ship, allowing brilliant views as they synchronise their surfacing for air.
Tuesday, 3 June
….At Paramushir, it is not fog but strong winds that foil our landing. This is a large, inhabited island with bears. As we steam north to Atlasova, sea-watching is pleasant as the strong winds have abated. A Laysan Albatross crosses the bows with about sixty passengers watching. Among the auks, most are Tufted Puffins, with a few Crested Auklets and Brunnich’s Guillemots. One White-billed Diver - sometimes referred to as "the bananabill" - flies over the ship. There are regular single Fork-tailed Storm Petrels, and one Leach's.
….In late morning we are anchored off Atlasova, with its snow-covered volcano, the highest in the Kurils, visible for a while. There is a gulag here, an abandoned prison for Russian women who (according to one story) committed the ‘crime’ of practising Christianity.
….During dinner we head between Paramushir and Shumshu Islands, in a narrow strait. Here is a Sea Otter stronghold, and we watch over 100 of these engaging animals, as they lie on their backs. Some have young alongside them, and they all watch us as we pass. One Pomarine Skua crosses the bows, and a few Ancient Murrelets fly up from the water. The wind howls outside, but the ship handles superbly, with its stabilizer fins.
Wednesday, 4 June
….At breakfast we are at anchor off Utashud Island, with Sea Otters round the ship, and two Steller's Sea Eagles flying over. The island is a small, steep one, with nesting space for hundreds of Slaty-backed Gulls, and various auks. Above the gulls, the grassy slopes make perfect burrowing grounds for hundreds of pairs of Tufted Puffins. They are constantly whirring above us in flight, and can be seen perched at the entrances, like black-suited sentries. Pigeon Guillemots, here with the usual wing-patch, are no longer the all-black subspecies of the southern Kurils. A few Horned Puffins put in a first appearance, flying into steeper cliffs for their nesting sites. Brunnich's Guillemots have a small colony too.
…. now along the Kamchatka coast in lovely sunshine. Nearby is Vestnik Bay, on the Kamchatka mainland. Snowy volcanoes, far inland, are clear to the top. There is a northward migration of Black-throated Divers, which overtake us at regular intervals; likewise one small flock each of Greater Scaup and Eurasian Wigeon.
….the sun warms us, we have a wonderful hour with sightings of five of the most wanted birds and mammals, from the various decks. Within three or four miles of coastline we have Steller’s Sea Lions hauled out on rocks ahead of us, including enormous, thick-necked bulls. On a pinnacle of the stack above them a pair of Steller’s Sea Eagles have an eyrie. One sails round the sky, while the other attends the nest. Orcas patrol the shoreline in menacing manner. Three Brown Bears are seen, two dark and one blond, on the hillside near the eagles. They are invisible when in the bushes, but they cross the snowfields and give themselves away. Round the corner a second Steller's eyrie comes into view, occupied. As we sail into the next bay, Turkhurka, another bear with three cubs scampers up the mountain slope. Sea Otters approach the ship and seem more at ease than at Utashud. For future reference, this stretch of coast with its wonderful wildlife is either side of Russkaya Bay.
Horned Puffins
Thursday, 5 June
….Long-billed Murrelets rise from the bows, and Pomarine Skuas head north. As we anchor at the Little Chazma River in late morning, its potential becomes obvious. There is a wide bay with many Black Scoter and Greater Scaup in the shallows. Both Black-throated and Red-throated Divers are about: Red-throated mostly on the water, and Black-throated flying north. A pair of Steller’s Sea Eagles fly past the ship and one lands on the closest hilltop.
…. reveals a group of 44 Red-throated Divers, all pairing up and displaying near the mouth of the Chazma River. This is a magical, wild place with any amount of potential for interesting birds to turn up in. As we leave to board the zodiacs, we have a choice of viewing: a close Steller’s Sea Eagle up on the crags, half-filling the scopes, or two Grey-tailed Tattlers on the offshore rocks.
Friday, 6 June
….we are anchored off the mouth of the Zhupanova River on a calm and bright morning. We are lucky to see the panorama of summits free of cloud. There are pairs of Long-billed Murrelets on the glassy water; but attention is drawn to the horizon. There is one volcano erupting ash as we watch, Karimski. It is the only mountain that looks black, as there is no snow on the lava-heated slopes. The black ash alternates with puffs of white smoke and steam: here is a very angry volcano! Ring of Fire is a good description of this area: did we not begin with an earth tremor in Hokkaido?
….The zodiacs drop us off on the bank of the Zhupanova River. A Common Rosefinch greets us with a cheery ‘pleased to see you.’ As we climb the hill into the mature birchwoods, a Steller’s Sea Eagle perches on a bush below us, regal in the scopes. Olive-backed Pipit is the commonest bird, and there are views of Rustic Bunting and Grey-streaked Flycatcher. A Rough-legged Buzzard passes over, ghostly pale against the blue sky.
….The tern colony at the mouth is at the courtship stage: all are Common Terns of the black-billed eastern subspecies longipennis.
….Meanwhile, our party has to work hard, finding little at first in the tundra that lies between the river and the hill. But patience is rewarded by Brown Flycatcher, Arctic Warbler and Pechora Pipit display-flighting all at the same spot. The pipit lands on a bush, showing its white tram-lines, and sings its insect-like song.
….After dinner we compile the checklist for the last two days. 20 Red-necked Phalaropes fly off from the bows, and a Russian submarine surfaces off the port side!
Brünnich’s Guillemot
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