Friday, June 19th:
As yesterday, we started at 6am by driving over to Airport Pizza for breakfast. We briefly returned to the hotel, then headed out. We saw an immature Vega Gull near the shore at Nome, and Red-necked Stint at the Nome River mouth. We had looked for the stint previously. This time we found it. It is an ABA area bird for me. I had previously since Red-necked Stints from the Esplanade in Cairns. Those were their drab winter plumage. This one was in bright summer plumage.
We turned about and returned to Beam Rd, the beginning of the Kougarok Road. Before long we found some Muskox. We also noticed a Spotted Sandpiper flying up one of the creeks. A bit further on, a Northern Shrike was perched on a wire. We continued up the road seeing many of the same species we'd seen before, including a Gyrfalcon on a nest. We also saw a Moose before stopped to eat a picnic lunch at Salmon Lake Campground. After lunch, we pressed on to mile 72.
Mile 72 is where Coffee Dome, the only accesible breeding site of the Bristle-thighed Curlew. You have to walk up the hill to find the bird. The hill is neither high nor steep. However, you do have to walk across the tundra, and the combination of tippy tussocks and surprising holes make it more challenging. If you take your time, and are careful, it shouldn't be much of a problem. As we walked up the hill, we first found a Whimbrel. These birds are very similar in appearance to the Bristle-thighed Curlew. Since the Whimbrel was calling, it was an easy ID.
We continued up. Pretty soon, we heard and then saw a Bristle-thighed Curlew. The rest of the group came up to get a look, then we closed in for a better look. We remained at some distance, but the bird still flew up in the air and around us. I think the curlews were trying to distract us from the nest. We allowed the distraction to succeed, and headed back down to the car. It took at little over 40 minutes round-trip hiking time and a gain of only 90 feet to find the curlew. The total time was somewhat more, as we did stop to bird.
At this point we were ahead of the game and headed back to Nome. While passing some Alders (I don't recall anything this tall 14 years ago), a couple of Bohemian Waxwings flew in, quickly followed by a Rusty Blackbird. This necessitated a stop to look at them. We made another stop farther down the road where we added Blackpoll Warbler. A beaver dam was a little farther down the road. Some in the other van got to see the Beaver itself. Before we got back, I noticed a Arctic Ground-Squirrel along the road. It wasn't the only one seen today, but was the only one I saw.
Nome to Safety Lagoon
Dinner was again at Airport Pizza (there aren't many places in Nome that can serve a group of 13). Several of us went back out after dinner in search of interesting birds. We found them. It started before we had left Nome. We found a large dark gull on the beach. At first we thought it was a Vega (Herring) Gull, but then noticed an excessive amount of white on the tertials. There was so much white that we weren't quite sure what to make of it. In a little bit, the gull flew, showing the “string of pearls” characteristic of a Slaty-backed Gull.
We headed eastward, to Cape Nome. Just before getting there, we noticed a baby seal on the beach, we're not sure which kind. Some people who looked like birders were up next to it. There we found a collection of birds in the water. Scans revealed several species we had not seen earlier in the day, but nothing special. That changed as we were about to leave. Barry noticed a Spectacled Eider. While we were watching that, a small group of Horned Puffins flew by. The other birders showed up and we showed them the eider. It turned out that they'd been banding the Gyrfalcons and were the ones that put the camera we had noticed at a Gyrfalcon nest (one of them rapelled down to do that).
We continued on to Safety Lagoon. There we found some Common Eiders on/by the shore, but one bird was smaller and paler, a female King Eider. We also found a Short-eared Owl here. As we were getting ready to head back to the hotel, an odd tern flew by. It had a dark bill that was larger than that of the Arctic Terns, but lacked the white forehead of an Aleutian Tern. It flew by and away. We drove down the beach for a better look. Again it circled by and away, this time to the west. We again drove after it, and got one more look. It seemed to the Alaskan/Asian race longipennis of Common Tern.
I ended the day with 68 species of bird, including 2 lifers and 1 ABA bird. This brought the trip total to 122 species of bird including 3 lifers. Three previously seen mammlas were seen again today and the mammal count stands at 10.
Auroa Inn, Nome