Why Adak in December?

I’m on a northbound plane once again traveling to Alaska. This will be my sixth trip of the year!  My destination will be Adak, which is one of the Andreanof Islands in the Aleutian Chain and is located almost 1200 miles southwest of Anchorage and 445 miles west of Dutch Harbor. In fact Adak is the westernmost city in Alaska.  I’ll be birding with Issac Helmericks of Aleutian Outfitters. Issac is an interesting guy from a very interesting Alaska frontier family. We are going to attempt an actual Christmas Bird Count on one of the days. So why am I journeying to Adak in the middle of December?  I’ll give you several reasons.

1)   Adak is also the southernmost city in Alaska with latitude similar with Vancouver Island, BC. This means that there will be plenty of light to bird (if the holling winds and blowing rain don’t shut us down first). The daytime high temperatures are forecasted to remain in the 30’s while I’m there.

2)   There are two regular birds on Adak that I hope to be able to add to my year-totals- Whiskered Auklet and Whooper Swan.

3)   This fall has seen extraordinary fall weather in Alaska, particularly the western and central Aleutians.  Storm after storm with sustained westerly winds has blown rarities in from the West.  Alaska’s “storm of the century” blasted through Adak right while waterfowl and thrushes were moving south in Asia.  Realistically, there could be other goodies on the island.

4)   So little birding occurs in Adak this time of the year, its an opportunity to add to our knowledge base on bird distribution. By the way, I’ll be adding all my Adak sightings to e-bird

5)   But in the end, the ultimate answer is that it’s going to be a wild adventure.  How many times do you get the chance to do this stuff in a lifetime?  If all goes well I’ll be in a small boat in the Bering Sea in DECEMBER! There are stories here that will hold the attention of my grandchildren for hours. (assuming I’ll be able to remember them when I’m 85 years old). I’m anxious, but first I have a meeting with Mr. Whitekeys and the Dusky Thrush.

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17 Responses to Why Adak in December?

  1. matt Beatty says:

    Gray Heron reported in Somervell, TX on ebird, not yet confirmed…

  2. Bill Schmoker says:

    Well, now we have two down-to-the-wire, nail biting ways to end games in Colorado: Tebow Time & Vanderpoel Time!!

    Best of luck in AK, amigo!!

  3. Sounds like an amazing adventure, John! CBC on Adak – awesome! Good luck with the Dusky Thrush ahead of time.

  4. steve kohl says:

    been following your amazing adventure since we meet you in gambell in june,
    good luck with the auklet..we were out with issac in his little boat in may, 2010 and in the big sea the boat felt very small indeed
    good luck for 745+ and thanks for your help with the snowcock…got it in july!

  5. Kerry Provance says:

    John, “feed” Mr. Whitekeys well as I am anticipating the story he’ll write in Alaska magazine in the near future. I read all his articles with much enjoyment and no doubt he’ll give you great props! We all wish you the utmost success there in Anchorage and on Adak. And who knows, maybe Robin, Carol or Joe will flush out that elusive Redwing while you’re in the neighborhood. Maybe it will show up at my daughters feeder! I’ll let you know right away. Have fun, bundle up and RESPECT those Alaskan elements! KP

  6. Kevin Breault says:

    We are all pulling for you in Tennessee, John! Here is an issue to think about on one of your long plane trips. Most people put Sandy Komito’s Big Year at 745 but three birds he identified yet could not count (I understand, Bulwer’s Petrel, Belcher’s Gull & Yellow-throated Bunting), are now countable. Thus, the argument is that his Big Year was actually 748. I would have to agree that he has 748, but that for reasons of comparability we should perhaps only consider the number of countable birds in the year of the Big Year. The problem is that if we add birds that become countable after the Big Year then we must do that for everyone’s Big Year, and it becomes difficult if not imposible to keep the records straight–or standardized. What really was Vandaman’s Big Year, or that of Al Levantin and Greg Miller, to name just a few on the all-time list of Big Years? Of course, what this means is that there are really two lists of all-time Big Years, one of birds seen within the year, and the other, less comparable for historical reasons, of birds currently countable. Any thoughts on this weighty conundrum?

  7. John Vanderpoel says:

    Thanks, folks.

  8. I’m with you in spirit John. Keep going you’re almost at the peak of the summit! Hopefully Florida will produce something for you at the last minute!

  9. John says:

    You gotta give anyone doing a big year first NA records no matter when they’re accepted. I think everyone else has counted them before they got accepted. Sandy’s probably the only one strictly playing by the rules.

  10. Deanna Campbell says:

    Adak in late December! Insane! I love it! Break that record! GO, John, GO!

  11. John Vanderpoel says:

    Thanks Deanna!

  12. Dennis Wall says:

    John, I also read S. Komito’s claim of 758. From his interview I couldn’t tell if ABA acceptance on any of those birds came in the same year (I suspect it was later), so it’s tough to gauge how the “rules,” such as they are, should play out in that case. Either way, I agree with Kevin B that if claiming later-certified birds becomes the standard, chaos could ensue and the Big Year could devolve into the Big Bicker (e.g., claiming newly certified birds later isn’t all that different from claiming splits later, is it?). My vote, for what it’s worth, is to count the number you find by Dec. 31, 11:59pm, whatever the ABA rules are at the time. That way, the standards are clear, there’s no arithmetic after the fact, and the game stays in real time. And…man, I can’t believe you’re on Adak right now. Happy holidays for sure!

  13. Gloria Nikolai says:

    May the birds be with you!

  14. Dominic Cormier says:

    Just thought I’d weigh in on the number to beat. Go to this link and read the last paragraphs. I think I agree with Chris, though I’d still give him the benefit of the doubt on the Gray Vireo and make the number to beat 746!

    http://slowbirding.blogspot.com/2011/11/wild-goose-chase.html

    Cheers,
    Dominic Cormier

  15. Christian Hagenlocher says:

    Good luck on Adak! I will be around Monday searching for the Dusky Thrush. Hope to run into you and say hello.

    Cheers,

  16. John Vanderpoel says:

    Thanks, Christain

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