Friday, July 12, 2019

Alaska June 2019 - Nome (2 of 4)

June 15
Tom Auer, Matt Strimas-Mackey and I arrived in Nome around midday and immediately got to birding. Sean Bachman would be flying in later this evening. We started at the Nome River Mouth, which quickly became my favorite birding spot in Nome. This lagoon and sandspit is a concentration site for gulls and terns in addition to providing tidal mudflats for shorebirds and nesting habitat for terns. ALEUTIAN TERN is one of the stars here, present by the dozen. On this first visit we had our only SABINE'S GULL of the Nome leg.

Aleutian Tern

As we worked eastward along the Council Road, we stopped at Hastings Creek and picked up EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL. The rest of the afternoon was spent along the Safety Sound, where we had our first BAR-TAILED GODWIT and later two RED-NECKED STINTS. LAPLAND LONGSPURS were everywhere. Less common shorebirds included a RED KNOT and a BAIRD'S SANDPIPER. Tom picked up on a EURASIAN WIGEON among the large numbers of Americans. A lone SURFBIRD flew along the rocky channel at the bridge.

Lapland Longspur

Before we knew it, we had to pick up Sean at the airport. Word had come in of a White Wagtail hanging around the harbor, and we took a quick look for that after we grabbed Sean. No joy. Our first WANDERING TATTLER was nice.

We decided we would run the coast eastward again (Council Road) in an attempt to pick up the goodies that Sean had missed in his absence that afternoon. Nome River Mouth, take two. This is the kind of spot you want to check over and over again. There is a pretty steady turnover happening most of the time. We were excited to see a SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER visit the feeding frenzy in the rip. Tubenoses from shore are always welcome. Two first summer SLATY-BACKED GULLS were also present this time.

Short-tailed Shearwater

Further east, as the sun got lower in the sky, we enjoyed our first of a few SHORT-EARED OWLS on the hunt. Sadly, though, we could not replicate Red-necked Stint success for Sean.

As tempting as it was to stay out past midnight with the sun still above horizon, we all needed some rest at this point.

June 16
This morning it was time to explore in a different direction. The road that runs northward out of town is called Kougarok Road, where we would target Bristle-thighed Curlew at a known location. En route we were sure not to miss BLUETHROAT (heard only) and ARCTIC WARBLER. But our efforts would be focused on the famous Coffee Dome at milepost 72.5-ish. This is known to be a moderately difficult (read: obnoxious) hike thanks to a very uneven and erratically spongy ground. Not quite as expected, by me anyway, was the ridiculous mosquito density. It was about as bad as I've experienced anywhere in some time. Newsflash: we field tested heavy DEET versus some natural crap, and the DEET is what got the job done.

Arctic Warbler

Making it all worthwhile were the four BRISTLE-THIGHED CURLEWS actively calling and displaying in the vicinity of the top of the dome. We also enjoyed AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER and of course WHIMBREL, though the curlews outnumbered the Whimbrel for us.

Bristle-thighed Curlews

American Golden-Plover

you can see the cloud of mosquitos around us

Bristle-thighed Curlew habitat

On the way back, a detour down the Hot Springs spur yielded NORTHERN WHEATEAR, but not the hoped-for Rock Ptarmigan. Both GOLDEN EAGLE and GYRFALCON nests were also enjoyed, in addition to a ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK.

Later that afternoon we finally did catch up with the WHITE WAGTAIL in the harbor as we started our daily coastal run. We set up for our first sea watch at Cape Nome, and while not much was moving, a HORNED PUFFIN made a close pass.

Another check at the Safety Sound bridge failed to re-find those stints. We did nab Sean the Eastern Yellow Wagtails we had the day before, though.

June 17
Today was Teller Road day, the last of the three major roads that lead away from Nome. This is the western-most and leads one through a different sort of tundra that held a contrasting mix of breeding shorebirds.

Our first stop was a nesting AMERICAN DIPPER, which was a much anticipated lifer for Sean. Does anyone else remember that awful "Dip" song by Freak Nasty? No? Ok, good talk. Do yourself a favor and don't YouTube it.

Further down the road we ran into our first of several PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVERS (both GP species are present here). A long walk at the mile 34 ridge was very productive - ROCK PTARMIGAN (finally), ROCK SANDPIPER (killer views!), and nesting NORTHERN WHEATEARS. Plus RED KNOT and both GOLDEN-PLOVERS. Our first AMERICAN PIPIT and HORNED LARK of the trip. A herd of MUSK OXEN was somewhat approachable without pissing them off, as far as we could tell.

Rock Sandpiper

Rock Ptarmigan

Northern Wheatear

Matt sniffs the musk

The Feather River crossing was full of wagtails - a very active pair of EASTERN YELLOW plus a bonus male WHITE. We also had killer views of a male WILLOW PTARMIGAN. Matt "flushed" a MUSK OX from the willows; the two would later come to a peaceful understanding of one another.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Willow Ptarmigan

Musk Ox

Thanks to a tip from a friend, a patch of nearby tundra netted us BAR-TAILED GODWIT, PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER, and LONG-TAILED JAEGERS. By the way, LTJA was the dominant jaeger here with Parasitic coming in a distant second. We did not see any Poms in Nome, actually.

Long-tailed Jaeger

Evening along the coast was uneventful, but we never tired of the Aleuts.

Aleutian Tern

Aleutian Tern

June 18
Tom had been itching to do an early morning seawatch from Cape Nome, and this would be the day for it. Unfortunately not much was moving. Most of the Council Road was quiet, in fact.

At our final check of the Safety Sound bridge area, Sean scoped his life RED-NECKED STINT, which we had just about given up on finding for him. This appeared to be a duller bird than the two bright ones we had a few days prior.

Constant scoping for Arctic Loon never produced one, though a SURFBIRD on the beach was nice, especially for Sean who missed the one we had that first afternoon.

Somewhat embarrassingly, up to this point we had not actually seen a BLUETHROAT. So we wanted to make an effort for that before the morning got too far along. Luckily we didn't have to go too far, as continuing birds in the mile 10-12 region of the Kougarok Road came through for us.

With the inland birds out of the way at this point, we were pretty much left to re-checking coastal spots. The Nome River Mouth had a first summer BLACK-HEADED GULL and a nice adult SLATY-BACKED GULL.

Our final evening in Nome was marked by our best mammal observation of the trip. While seawatching at Cape Nome, a local family drove up in their ATV and let us know that they just spotted a WALRUS on the rocks nearby. It flushed out to sea when they approached it, but suspected that it might be unwell and was likely to return to shore. Sure enough, after a while we scoped this massive animal from a distance. It appeared to be making a move back towards land, so we moved closer and waited. A ruckus from more locals seemed to keep it from hauling out again, and it continued down the coast in the direction of town.

Walrus

June 19
We had a few hours on our final morning in Nome and used it to check the coast in a last-ditch effort at something like a flyby Emperor Goose, which had been very scarce locally this spring. As usual, the river mouth was birdy, but we couldn't pull out anything new.

Midday flight to Utqiagvik (Barrow).

 - NB

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