17 October update
Really just enough words to compliment photos below. I joined John Puschock’s Zughunruhe Ross’s Gull tour at Barrow, Alaska on the 11th October during their last two days of birding and Polar Bear watching. Although the group had all seen Ross’s Gulls from a considerable distance the day before my arrival, we had no luck together searching from crazy-cold and blustery shoreline stakeout prior to the group’s flight out. But on the incoming flight prior to their departure was fellow big year birder Laura Keene. She and I teamed up and saw several probable Ross’s Gulls on the 12th, and at least 60 of the little pink beauties on the 13th, a dozen or so of these in reasonably close proximity, indicating that maybe the migration across the top of Alaska is running a bit late, but is finally ‘on’.
I then raced down to Monterey for two pelagic trips – Saturday with the Monterey Bay Whale Watch outfit, and Sunday with Debi Shearwater. With good winds coming in from the northeast, I figured that the conditions were shaping up for great trips. Unfortunately the MBWW cancelled (in reasonable conditions that they really shouldn’t have cancelled for), and Debi’s trip coincided with rough and wet conditions, forcing a shortened trip without getting out to the further offshore hot spots for seabirds. And so, since Laura and I really needed to close the sale on Fleshies, we chartered a boat for the next day – Monday the 17th (today). Today was sunny and clear, with minimal winds, but fortunately with continuing swell of about 2m. Debi and Alex came along as well, which upped our chances of success enormously. Those two were blown away by the number and diversity of Storm-petrels, and we’re all still looking at our photos to resolve ID for a couple of birds encountered. There were a couple of odd Storm-petrels the day before as well. But the big news was, that after a heartbreaking near-miss, the eventual crossing of paths with a Flesh-footed Shearwater happened! There were two more individuals sighted on the ride back to shore. This stubborn seabird provides a milestone for my year on the American birding scene: 100 ‘coded’ (codes 3-6) rarities! Who’d have thunk it likely a year ago? I genuinely had no inkling that anyone would ever close the gap on Sandy Komito’s ‘unbreakable’ rarities total of 96 coded birds in 1998. So in spite of the relative paucity of wayward Asian migrants to the Alaskan islands this Fall, it truly has been the right year for a big year effort.
Pretty drowsy, so here are images of the last two birds to be added to my year list.
A Ross's Gull without the extent of pink colouration observed in many of the more distantly viewed individuals on the day. But a beautiful bird just the same! Five minutes after this bird, feeling satisfied I saw my first Polar Bear. It wasn't even slightly pink.
Interloping Aussie Flesh-footed Shearwater butting in on action of local Pink-footed Shearwater.
Another Aussie interloper, post Fleshie magic moment, with world's best known sea-birder Debi Shearwater, and her intrepid young protege, Alex Rinkert. What a team!