Grand Alaska: Pribilofs & Anchorage Pre-Trip May 24—29, 2018

Posted by Kevin Zimmer


Kevin Zimmer

Kevin Zimmer has authored three books and numerous papers dealing with field identification and bird-finding in North America. His book, Birding in the American West: A Han...

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We kicked off our newly reconfigured Grand Alaska program with the Pribilofs & Anchorage Pre-trip, which, by all accounts, was a complete success.  But not before some early drama nearly turned the tour into just “The Anchorage Pre-Trip.”  After an introductory dinner and night in Anchorage, we transferred to the airport the next morning for our scheduled flight to St. Paul Island.  The check-in went smoothly, and the plane took off on schedule, a rarity when traveling to Alaskan outposts where weather delays are the rule rather than the exception.  Ten minutes into the flight, I noticed we were banking—not a good sign.  Within moments, the flight attendant tracked me down to whisper that the FAA had ordered us back to Anchorage because the on-ground navigational aids at St. Paul were non-operational.  Back on the ground in the Anchorage terminal, the usual delay ensued, before we were finally informed that the flight was officially canceled (meaning zero chance of getting out to the island the same day), and that we were all being placed on the standby list for the next day’s scheduled flight (which also wouldn’t be going if the ILS at St. Paul wasn’t repaired in the next 24 hours), which was already showing fully booked.  With all 28 seats on the next day’s scheduled flight already full, there was no chance that 13 of us were going to clear the standby list, and the airline was refusing to add on an extra flight to accommodate us.  Things were looking grim indeed, but my more pressing immediate concern was to guarantee that we had hotel rooms for the next two nights.  Once I had the rooms secured, we returned to the Coast International Inn, lined up an additional vehicle for previously unplanned birding in Anchorage that evening, and then I began some behind-the-scenes maneuvering to get the airline to reconsider their initial stance and put on an extra flight.  It took some networking with well-connected local contacts, and some scrambling on the part of the airline to line up a flight crew on Memorial Day Weekend, but we eventually proved successful and got the word during dinner that we were a “go” for an early morning flight the next day!

Red-faced Cormorants

Red-faced Cormorants— Photo: Kevin J. Zimmer


This time, things went off without a hitch, and we were on the ground at St. Paul in mid-morning.  After collecting our bags and walking them down the hall to our rooms (yep, the lodge and the airport really are in the same building!), we quickly reassembled in order to squeeze in a morning excursion before lunch.  Our destination was Webster Lake, on the road to Northeast Point, and our target was a vagrant Eyebrowed Thrush that had been hanging out there for the past few days.  With that objective in mind, we largely resisted the temptation to dawdle over the numerous Long-tailed Ducks, Rock Sandpipers, Lapland Longspurs, Snow Buntings, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches that we encountered en route, in favor of getting to Webster as quickly as possible.  Upon arrival, we formed a skirmish line and started beating our way through the lush putchki (Cow Parsnip or Wild Celery) and other vegetation.  It didn’t take long before the Eyebrowed Thrush flushed and landed (momentarily) in the open.  Not everyone got satisfactory looks on the first try, so we pressed forward again, but the bird was now in full stealth mode and managed to give us the slip along the lakeshore.  But, like any good burglar, this vagrant couldn’t help but return to the scene of the crime, and we ended up re-finding it back in the original spot.  This time, it paused in the open for a lengthy stretch, allowing great looks for all.  First excursion on the island, and already a Eurasian vagrant in the bag!

Read Kevin’s full report in his Field Report.