Sunday, August 5, 2012

Nome River mouth and Council Road, Nome

Leaving Denali we returned to Anchorage for our last little bit of birding, to turn in the van and catch an early morning flight to Nome. Our birding stop took us to Kincaid Park where we saw our one and only bull moose of the trip - albeit a young and raggedy one.  We did not, however, find Three-toed Woodpecker as I had hoped we might and nothing was on the pond except fishermen.

We spent the night at the Intercoastal Hotel near the Ted Stevens Airport and the launching point for many birders arriving in or departing Alaska.  Needless to say, our upcoming trip to Nome had everyone on their toes with anticipation. 

The next morning, after the plane was unable to land at Kotzebue airport secondary to fog, we flew on the Nome and arrived slightly earlier than expected.  We checked into the Aurora Hotel on Front Street in the center of town and dropped everything to run back out to the van to start our birding.

It was bright and sunny but unfortunately this day had fierce winds - I don't recall how strong, but they were strong.  A daytime flying Short-eared Owl was over a field just a few minutes drive from the hotel.  On a little pond along the road a pair of Red-throated Loons we staying out of the wind.  We made a stop at the Nome dump for a Slaty-backed Gull that was reported here.  We couldn find it.  Somewhere along here we also saw our first, of many, Long-tailed Jaegers.  

We drove on to Nome River mouth.  But when we got out of the van to scope the water and shoreline the wind was so strong as to distort essentially anything.    

When one of the trip participants spotted the bird in the photo above our scopes were heaving in the wind.  I had no idea what it was, but I knew it was a new bird for me.  Bill took one look and said Red Phalarope. Wow!  I wasn't expecting this.  The single photo above was the best I could get.   

The Red-throated Loon above was on nest on a spit of land in water that is really being roiled by the wind.

There seemed to be several birding research groups around.  We passed one guy who had a team out in the field and who suggested some of the birds we might find.  He described the Lapland Longspur as "two a penny."  And he was right, but to me that's a good thing.  Here's one of a couple of decent photos I got. 

Just as Mew Gull was the most common around Anchorage and other fresh water locations and Black-legged Kittiwake was most common around the southern saltwater bays, Glaucous Gull was the most common in Nome.  The most common waterfowl species is Northern Pintail.

This Long-tailed Duck seemed close enough to the land to sneak up for a decent shot, but the wind 

Finally, a buzzy singing was heard in a thicket of alders.  Arctic Warbler presented itself and sang in the open in the low branches for about 20 - 30 seconds.  I tried for 3 or 4 still shots and the one above, terrible as it is, was the best I could get.  This is an example of where I wished that I had tried for a brief video that would have captured a couple of snipets of song and the bird would have been clear.  

The photo above is of Musk Oxen heard relaxing on a some banks of snow that remain. 

I think the strong wind finally beat us back from birding around 5:00 pm.  We returned to Nome where the winds were as strong as they had been earlier.  We had a happy hour in our rooms and then went to Airport Pizza for dinner.  I ordered a small pizza for around $25.00. Yes, that's the correct price.  Nome is expensive.  Fortunately, the pizza was good.  

After dinner I braved the wind to go out to the pond and field where we had seen the Red-throated Loon pair and the Short-eared Owl in the morning.  I should have known better because the walk away from town was with the wind at my back.  I tried not to think about the walk back. I didn't find the Short-eared Owl but I got the photo above of one of the Red-throated Loons and of the vocalizing Yellow Wagtail below.  A Red-necked Phalarope was not so cooperative. 

I took the photo above and below around 10:00 pm.  The walk back to the hotel was directly into the cold, stiff wind.  Naturally, I had walked out further than I recall and it seemed I would never get back.  Finally, I did, frozen.  

With the sky still blue and the sun still shining we closed the heavy curtains as well as possible and tried to fall asleep.  I awoke at 2:00 am and peeked out of the curtains.  Still not dark.  There was a couple walking hand-in-hand down the road.

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