The Russian storm had formed over Siberia last Sunday and moving through the Russian Far East by Monday and due to hit the western Bering Sea on Tuesday. It was heading straight towards us. We knew it was coming; we’d been tracking it via NOAA weather. Bill V. e-mailed me from Anchorage saying it was coming. Paul Lehman e-mailed Doug and I saying “Clearly, though, your wind forecast for the next few days sounds good so I’d be shocked if some even more interesting stuff doesn’t appear.” We just didn’t know when it would hit us on the Pribiloffs.
It must have hit last night because we awoke to rain and southwest winds. It was actually tough birding. There actually weren’t any migrants except for a hold over White-crowned Sparrow. We were pretty wet by 12:30 PM and I for one was happy to escape the rain and head in for lunch. But on the way we stopped and found several Red-legged Kittiwakes for Bill. Soon after four Emperor Geese flew across the road in front of us. There were two adults and two immatures. A great lifer for Bill! I clearly remember saying to Bill that he was going to find something really good today.
After a quick lunch, we headed to Zapadni Point. The rain had slacken to a drizzle off and on and there was little wind. As we approached the Zapadni Fur Seal Rookery, Dough slowed the SUV down and went slowly through a likely patch of wild celery. It flew up from the side of the road and landed in the middle of the road only 20 feet in front of us. Doug was the first to call it. Impressive since he’s never seen one in his life. “Rustic Bunting!” he exclaimed. We all got great looks before it flew ahead and to the side of the road. Doug and I got out of the vehicle with our cameras ready and slowly approached.
The bunting obliged us once again by landing in the middle of the gravel road no more than twenty feet in front of us. You could hear the rapid fire of shutters clicking before it flew. Wow! A life bird. I think we were all optimistic after this and had planned to work Zapadni Ravine. But it began raining harder and I needed to visit the restroom so we returned to the hotel. Once there Doug suggested that we work North Hill.
North Hill was sheltered on three sides with lot’s of wild celery for shelter and perching. Insects were flying around for sure. Doug spotted some small bird and braked to a hard stop. We’ll never know what it was. Once stopped we decided to walk slowly along a hillside next to us. Doug kicked a small bird up that perched on a celery stalk in front of us no more than fifteen feet away. I had a stunning view of it with a dark background behind it. It resembled an Orange-crowned Warbler, but I knew it was Russian! A Phylloscopus warbler and not a trace of a wingbar. An off white supercillium that was more pronounced in front of the eye – off white undertail coverts and a yellowish wash on the chest and the belly. It had to be a Willow Warbler! This is the first occurrence on St. Paul. Doug was able to snap off some photos, but his angle wasn’t as good as mine.
Not bad for a four hour period. Two new lifers for all of us and #717 and #718 for me. It appeared that this Russian storm was bringing some excitement with it. This just made us more greedy. We suspected that there might be more to come.
You can imagine how pumped up we were after an afternoon like this. Bill wanted to skip dinner, but they were serving Halibut and Pribilof Halibut is as fresh as it gets. We eat our meals at the Trident Seafood cafeteria, by the way. They’re mainly process
Halibut in the summer and fall and Crab (King Red and Snow) between Jan and April. That means of course there are at least a hundred Crab pots in town that aren’t in use till the fisherman can use them. That’s beneficial to us because on an island with no trees the crab pots serve as shelter for wayward migrants.
They’re legendary among birders. On Aug 27, 2007 a Brown Hawk-Owl was seen and photographed in the crab pots for the first record in the Western Hemisphere! This evening the crab pots held a surprise for us as well.
After dinner that’s the first place we searched. You want to be methodical in your search because birds can hide in the pots themselves. We couldn’t have walked through two rows when Bill V. spotted it. It flew up to the top pot in the row and posed for us. Siberian Accentor! Doug’s most wanted bird for the season! A handsome bird if ever there was one.
So there you have it. One hell of a great birding day. Three lifers for all of us! For those of you who wanted meat? Today gave us filet mignon stroganoff, courtesy of the Russian Storm.