Skip to main content

The Pribilofs

Your blogger, standing at the summit of cliffs 200 feet above the Bering Sea. Our crew spent three days out here, on the largest of the four islands that make up the Pribilofs, St. Paul Island. About 438 people live here, and the place is best known as a port of call for crabbing boats featured on the TV show Deadliest Catch.

Birders know St. Paul as a fabulous place to catch Siberian and Eurasian vagrants. Some years are better than others for that, and this has been a very lean spring for rarities. I could care less - the island is packed with incredible birds, and I'll share a few that were breeding on the cliffs behind me.

The most numerous of the alcids - penguin-like seabirds of the northern hemisphere that still have the power of flight - is the Least Auklet. Many thousands nest on St. Paul. They aren't the flashiest of the alcids, as we'll see, but this species is my favorite. They are only six inches long - same as a Lapland Longspur! - but cope well with the severe elements in this part of the world. Platoons would fly by, skimming the roaring surf, dropping into the frigid water and bobbing about as if it were the tropics.

Parakeet Auklets were everywhere, sporting a day-glo red bill and a flashy white eye plume. I spent some time laying on my belly on the summit of the cliffs, peering over at the birds, who in turn would peer curiously back at me. This one was only 15 feet or so away, and completely unbothered by me.

The eye of a Parakeet Auklet looks like a perfect white button, and lends a completely inscrutable look to the animal.

A Crested Auklet shares a rock with a Least Auklet. The sooty-gray cresteds sport an odd comb-like crest, anchored above a bright orange bill. Like the other auklets in the genus Aethia, it has a bright white eye.

Without doubt the "cutest" of the alcids are the Horned Puffins. They have a very gentle, winsome look, created by that little black horn over the eye. Note its very erect posture - alcids' feet are located far back on the body. This is great for underwater dives, allowing the birds to swim like fish and run down piscine prey, but necessitates an upright bearing when on land.

Big and mostly black, the Tufted Puffin is a striking bird. Like the others, it nests on small rocky ledges and in recesses high on windswept cliffs overlooking the sea. Such locations keep them out of harm's way. St. Paul is full of Arctic Foxes, but even as agile as these mammals are, they can't gain access to sites like this.

I watched this puffin for some time. He was unconcerned with me, and it was interesting to watch him lying on a ledge 150 feet above the rocky shore, looking around mellowly at the great sea and taking in all of the action around him. Seabird colonies are a riot of sound, smell, and activity, with birds constantly coming and going, calling to greet mates, scold intruders, and always the freight train roar of the crashing surf. The puffin appeared unfazed by it all.

A trio of Common Murres share a ledge. Both this species and the Thick-billed Murre are common here.

Thick-billed Murre. It differs from the species above by that white whisker mark, and it is also blacker above.

Visiting St. Paul Island wouldn't be for everyone. The weather, even in mid-June, is raw and blustery, and drizzle can be a near constant. Temperatures stayed in the 30's-low 40's, and the sun almost never showed in the three days I was there. Fog was nearly perpetual, and caused the the next two airplane flights to the island after ours to be canceled, as the pilots couldn't see well enough to land. That was especially unfortunate to us, as our luggage had been bumped from our flight due to weight limitations, and was to arrive the next day. We never got it - just picked it up back at the Anchorage airport when we returned.

But any hardships are small potatoes in exchange for the opportunity to see the explosion of life during the all too brief Bering Sea summer.

Comments

Patty M. said…
Thanks, Jim! Your photos were awesome and educational. I hope I can someday visit AK, too. Looking forward to more of your trip postings.
Kathy said…
Beautiful pictures! I like the orange-breasted-black-boot the best. LOL
Buford Nature said…
It is such a treat to be accepted by wildlife.
nina said…
You know you're in a wonderfully wild place when the native life hasn't yet learned to fear man.
Awesome pictures, Jim.

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…