The Rendezvous – Gambell Day 3

In the fall at Gambell, the rendezvous is set for 10:00 O’Clock in the morning. That’s the anointed time that all the birders on the island gather at the Far Boneyard.  It was decided by our leader, Paul Lehman, whom the Yupiks call Peaupuk, which loosely translates to “The Man Who Walks Many Miles Swiftly”. I’ve named him the High Czar because he seems to make all the rules. Then again when you’ve discovered these eight 1st North American Records – all at Gambell:

1. Yellow-browed Warbler

2. Willow Warbler

3. Lesser Whitethroat

4. Spotted Flycatcher

5. Pallas’s Warbler

6. Yellow-browed Bunting

7. Sedge Warbler

8. Blythe Reed Warbler (Supplemental List)

I guess you’ve earned the right to make any darn rule you like.  But there’s actually logic in the Rendezvous. The Far Boneyard is the best migrant trap in Gambell.  Sheltered against the base of the mountain, the dense vegetation that grows in the loose soil along with the artificial mounds created by all the diggings for ancient ivory, create an ideal habitat for small lost migrants.  So rather than allowing individual birders or just one tour group to walk into the boneyards and spook a mega rarity before other birders could see it, the rendezvous was established.

This morning there were about thirty of us at the rendezvous.  It was overcast and drizzling. So what’s new, it seems to always be either overcast and drizzling or so windy that whales might actually be seen flying in the wind.  We advanced slowly north in a long line through the boneyard.  Two Bluethroats flushed and flew twenty yards up the hill. It’s a handsome, bird but not rare. During the excitement I spotted a small brown bird fly away to the right and said to Paul, “What’s that”  But then I lost it. Two seconds later Paul yelled “Dusky Warbler”.  Apparently it had landed on a rock for a split second.  Nobody but Paul had a countable view of the bird.  The group worked the boneyard again several times but it didn’t show itself.  Eventually we all drifted away.

Mike Schwitters, Virginia Vandermeer,and Jean Wilson at the Far Boneyard (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

The Wings group decided to try again for the Dusky Warbler after lunch.  Again without any success.  So we gave up and split into two groups.  Paul’s group would ride south and work the marshes for shorebirds. Mark Billings and Tom and Gene worked Old Town and the Near Boneyard.  I went with Paul mainly because twice yesterday while with Paul, we received a call from Mark who was on a rarity.  I’m not saying I’m superstitious, but my son, Scott, did play high school baseball and baseball players are VERY superstitious.

I was actually slightly bummed out from missing the Dusky Warbler.  Of course at that moment, I had know idea what would soon happen. But then I had seen my 708 year-bird early today at the seawatch – a flyover Gray-tailed Tattler and on this afternoon trip we had a nice view of a first cycle Slaty-backed Gull, a handsome adult plumaged Long-tailed Jaeger and six shorebirds in a flock that included an unsatisfying look at a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Our plan was to drive  back on the far side of the lake.  For some reason Paul stopped near the bottom of the lake with a culvert.  There is a sewage area there surrounded by a wire fence. Seven or eight Snow Buntings were whirling around on the fence and there was something smaller on the fence right in with them.  Suddenly Paul began to run full speed towards the fence. The rest of us were right on his heels.  Whatever the small sparrow-like bird was, it flew right into a low swell that was obscured from our view.

We circled around the enclosure. The bird flew back up to perch again on the fence.  “Pallas’s Reed Bunting” yelled Lehman.  “John, get a picture – quick”.  But it was gone already, besides,  my jaw dropped.  This was a big time mega rarity.  I looked over at Lynn Hemink. He had a broad grin on his face like you wouldn’t believe.  To make a long story short the bird left  then returned to the fence again and again.  All the birders on the island eventually arrived for the mega and eventually got good views of the bunting.  This photo is awful, but I guess it is okay for the blog.

Pallas’s Bunting on the Fence Surrounding the White Tank (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

Pallas’s Bunting at Gambell (Photo by John Vanderpoel)

This evening we celebrated.  In fact Dona Coates baked an apple nut cake with candles that said 700 and served it to Gary Grenfell. The Stonechat yesterday was his 700th lifer!

Gary Grenfell celebrating his 700th ABA Life Bird (Photo by Virginia Grenfell)

So I’m now at 709 for the year and that doesn’t include Sharp-tailed Sandpiper.  Pallas’s Bunting was a real mega. Tomorrow morning we try again for the Dusky Warbler.  I’m hoping for more action before the north winds begin to howl tomorrow night. I’m ready – I’m pumped. Stay tuned.

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