When we last left the passengers of the Puk-uk, they had just finished a day of birding in high winds, sideways rain, and sunshine…
After a night of drying out, we ready to go again on the morning of May 31. I thought the weather from the previous two days would have blown a lot of Asian migrants off course and deposited them on Attu. Gilbert Ridge and Alexei Point are some of the best for vagrants, so we decided to ditch the bikes for the day. We put ashore on Massacre Beach and hiked east along Gilbert Ridge. Within 30 seconds of starting, a pair of Bramblings flushed from the path. I was cautiously optimistic. We had begun other days with a quick start only to have no luck the rest of the day, so I wasn’t taking this as a sign of more to come, but I was still hopeful.
A few hundred yards down the ride, we flushed another Brambling. It flew down the ridge in front of us, but we couldn’t refind it. Then as we approached a bend in the ridge, I heard a different call note and a small, long-tailed bird flew around the corner. Based on its tail length and flight style, my first thought was Gray Wagtail. It landed near us on the beach, but took off again before I could get the binoculars to my eyes. I radioed to the trailing members of the group that a wagtail was flying toward them. They were able to get on it as it flew past. Jess thought he saw it put down, but it wasn’t there when we got to the spot.
The group got back together, and we discussed the bird. Everyone saw yellow on the underparts and agreed that its call note was definitely not that of an Eastern Yellow Wagtail. Then Isaac and I hiked further back to see if it was on the shore. We still couldn’t refind it, but we flushed a male Siberian Rubythroat. Despite seeing exactly where it flew too, we couldn’t find it again for the one birder who missed the one on the previous day.
We gave up on relocating either the Gray Wagtail and Siberian Rubythroat and resumed hiking. There were more and more Bramblings along the way. Then a few birds would fly by us, high up on the cliffs. Their call notes suggested Rustic Bunting. Eventually, one cooperated enough for most of us to see it sitting on the cliff face. A few more Rubythroats revealed themselves. A female perched in the open on a rocky outcropping, so now everyone on the tour had a sighting of this skulking species.
Normally we finish this hike in the morning and have lunch near Alexei Point, but today we were slowed by all the birds. We had lunch just past the hike’s halfway point.
Up to this point, species diversity was a little low despite the good numbers of individuals. But we were soon to add to the species list. Jess quickly stopped to take a few shots of what turned out to be a Dark-sided Flycatcher. A few hundred yards further, at the base of Alexei Point, I noticed a large bird sitting on the road in front of us just as a tour participant asked, “What’s that?” It was a Common Cuckoo. It flew up, passed right over our hands and flew back down the ridge. Some of us followed and got scope views and more photos. The bird then flew back to where it had been originally, putting on a show for those who had chosen not to chase after it.
At this point, we were starting to get giddy, and we were about to get even more giddy. Moving down onto Alexei, Isaac flushed a Wood Sandpiper from a pond. It flew to the other side, just out of view from the rest of the group. The plan was to walk around to the other side for a view, but there was a distraction we had to deal with first – a neighboring pond held two Smew. As we were admiring them, Isaac radioed that he just flushed another male Siberian Rubythroat. To give you some idea of how things were going, everyone ignored that bird.
After the enjoying the Smew, we moved into position for the Wood Sandpiper and picked it out walking among the pond-side vegetation. Basking in our luck, Jess and I were talking when we heard the loud call note of another bird flying overhead. Simultaneously we called out, “Eastern Yellow Wagtail!” We then moved over to the other side of Alexei. Jess looked up at a gull and noticed a shorebird with a long decurved bill flying from east to west. He shouted, “Curlew!” I looked up too and saw what looked like a Long-billed Curlew. It looked a little dark for that species and giving where we were, I knew it wasn’t that, so I quickly followed up Jess with “Far Eastern Curlew!” Amazingly, everyone was able to get on it as it continued on to the west.
It was about 5 PM, and a few participants decided to retire to the Puk-uk. The rest of us made a clockwise loop around the point. It was surprisingly devoid of shorebirds, but at the southeastern part of the point, Isaac found a Gray-streaked Flycatcher and a flock of three Bramblings. Then we flushed another Common Cuckoo from shoreline. We had such a long and successful day that our reaction to this final vagrant for the day was muted. We were tired.
Here’s the final tally of Asian species for the day:
Eurasian Wigeon – 2
Smew – 2
Wood Sandpiper – 1
Far Eastern Curlew – 1
Common Cuckoo – 2
Dark-sided Flycatcher – 1
Gray-streaked Flycatcher – 1
Siberian Rubythroat – 5-6
Eastern Yellow Wagtail – 1
Gray Wagtail – 1
Rustic Bunting – 5
Brambling – 13-15