Continued from Page 2
Least Auklet
Saturday, 7 June
….At breakfast we are alongside the quay in Petropavlovsk: a nice change from zodiacs and life-vests. It is a beautiful, cloudless morning, with the sun yet to rise above the hills. The field group travels in a bus to birchwoods that are about to burst into leaf. They are home to Taiga Flycatcher, which we see at the nest hole, with two pairs disputing ownership. This was formerly regarded as the eastern subspecies of Red-breasted, but the red on the throat is much reduced. Rustic Buntings, Siberian Rubythroats and Common Rosefinches are in good voice in these perfect weather conditions, and give us good views during the morning. On the edge of a marsh a reeling song, like a Grasshopper Warbler's but slower, can only mean Lanceolated Warbler: this skulker takes us 20 minutes to find.
….We cast off, for Attu (our first port of call in the U.S.A.), at 19.00.
Sunday, 8 June (the first one)
….All day we are at sea, with no land in sight, steaming east to Attu. Mottled Petrels become a regular sight during the morning, in their non-breeding quarters after a long migration from islands off New Zealand. Laysan Albatrosses can be seen in the wake. Passerines fly over the ship, wind-blown and lost. First is a Redpoll, then Brambling and Taiga Flycatcher. The flycatcher spends time perched on the pool deck, resting.
….After lunch, a Hawfinch flies over the ship – we don’t usually think of them as migrants - and an Arctic Skua cruises in our wake. Later on, a Yellow Wagtail passes by, and a Long-tailed Skua flies down the starboard side. There are a few Fork-tailed Storm Petrels, and the Mottled Petrel count reaches 70 or so, often flying steadily above the horizon, but sometimes shearing and towering.
….Tonight we cross the International Date Line, and so we gain a day. We'll have Sunday, 8 June all over again!
Sunday, 8 June (the second one)
….Short-tailed Albatross is the buzzword this morning, from the moment when one passes close enough to the ship to be identified and called on the p.a. system. There is a dropping of toast and spilling of tea in the dining room as everyone stampedes towards the decks, but the late arrivals miss it. This rare albatross has a world population of only about one thousand.
….As we approach Attu, Ancient Murrelets become more frequent, and two Minke Whales break the surface. We anchor in Massacre Bay and watch many Common Eiders and one White-billed Diver along the shore. This is the most westerly part of the U.S.A, an ideal island for those who "need" Asian vagrants for their U.S.A. lists.
….As we leave the anchorage, two skeins of the local Canada Geese fly past. They are of the small, endangered Aleutian subspecies leucopareia. Kittlitz’s Murrelets, with golden backs and white in the tail, lift up from the bows, one or two close enough for good views. Ancient Murrelets often dive only when the ship is almost upon them.
….All day the Glaucous-winged Gulls have been following us. They have completely taken over from the Slaty-backed Gulls of Russia and Japan. The Laysan Albatross count grows steadily to over 100 for the day. When three Baird’s Beaked Whales are spotted, the ship turns a circle to show more people. Sperm Whales appear regularly during the afternoon, including one straight in front of our bows.
…Dinner is riotous, as a Black-footed Albatross is in the wake during soup, and in the middle of the main course, not one but two Short-tailed Albatrosses are seen, first off the bows. News soon spreads to the diners, who leave a bewildered staff and empty tables. One passes right down the port side, but they quickly disappear. So the day ends as it begins: with mealtime shouts for one of the world’s rarest and most sought-after seabirds.
Monday, 9 June
….At Sirius Point, on Kiska Island, there is a huge colony of Least and Crested Auklets. We pass by early today, and despite foggy conditions, we can see huge flocks of these tiny seabirds on the sea and in whirring flight. The Least Auklet, at six and a quarter inches, is the world’s smallest seabird, and feeds on plankton. Some passengers have a view of a Bald Eagle perched on a pinnacle, and of a Red-legged Kittiwake, but most of the time they are hidden in the mist.
Tufted Puffin
….two faithful Laysan Albatrosses follow in the wake for an hour or more. When the charts show deep water, the birding is quiet, with only a few Fulmars and the occasional Tufted Puffin about. But at midday we pass Semisopochnoi Island to starboard, and an area marked Petrel Bank on the charts. Suddenly the sea is full of Least Auklets and smaller numbers of Crested Auklets, now in perfect visibility. They rise from the bows and form flocks like swarms of bees. Those with keen hearing can make out their twittering above the steady whirr of the engines. As soon as deep water returns, we lose the auklets, but there are distant Sperm Whales taking advantage of the underwater shelf.
….There are thousands more auklets (mostly Least), plus an occasional Pomarine Skua and Parakeet Auklet.
Tuesday, 10 June
….Seawatching is lively this morning as we steam north-north-east from Adak to the Pribilofs. The most dramatic increase is in Fork-tailed Storm Petrels, which are constantly visible. The daily total must be thousands. Often their feet can be seen pattering on the water as they seek their planktonic breakfast. In among them are occasional Leach's. Tufted Puffins are common all day, with occasional Horned Puffins turning up too.
….at the stern deck, two Red-legged Kittiwakes keep us company, an adult and an immature. They are elegant and tern-like in flight, and the immature lacks the black tail-tip and W on the wings.
Wednesday, 11 June
….The sea is calm and the sky bright for our arrival at St Pauls, the larger of the two Pribilofs. We anchor just outside the harbour, and from deck we can see all the excitement and activity of seabird cliff colonies of alcids. Parakeet Auklets are on the glassy water and flying past in pairs, along with both Brunnich's and Common Guillemots, Tufted and Horned Puffins. There are rafts of dark Crested Auklets, and Least Auklets whirring past in swarms. The Fulmars, all coffee-coloured at the start of the voyage, are increasingly pale at this higher latitude.
….Most of the group head off for the fur seal colony at the south-east corner of the island, at Reef Point. There are views of the auks close by on the rocks and small cliffs: the Least especially approachable on a boulder beach. The fur seals are mostly young males, grunting and roaring and eagerly awaiting the arrival of the females.
….In the village Grey-crowned Rosy Finches are common as sparrows, much larger and brighter than the Asian birds we saw last week. The King Eider Hotel acts as a coffee, convenience and backpack stop throughout the day. It is well named, since only two minutes' walk away is a fine drake, at first standing on the sandy beach, and later swimming out towards a group of Harlequins. Red-faced Cormorants fly over and fish in the bay. By Salt Lagoon a pair of Semi-palmated Plovers are on territory, and Arctic Foxes chase the kittiwakes that are loafing on a sand-spit. Their coats are variable in colour, but mostly dark; a few are ginger or blond. Compared with our Red Fox they are small and delicate.
….The other recommended activity is to take the shuttle buses that have been organized for us to Ridge Wall, a long but comparatively low range of cliffs thronged with seabirds. Here most of us enjoy our picnic lunches in the sunshine: a rare event in the Pribilofs, which are not renowned for good weather. We can look down on seven auk species, and more too. Black-legged Kittiwakes have untidy grass nests, and among them one pair of Red-legged Kittiwakes are putting the finishing touches to their neater one. Darker mantle and shorter bill are easy to compare with their commoner relative.
Thursday, 12 June
….The sea is like a mirror through the night, making for a deep sleep for us all. Glaucous Gulls are now following the ship, instead of Glaucous-winged. Now we are too far north for albatross, storm-petrel or shearwater. We anchor off Hall Island in mid-morning, and have time on deck while the first half of the passengers have a zodiac cruise. A Rock Sandpiper flies close over the bows, and thousands of auks fly past.
Parakeet Auklet