Thursday, September 9, 2010

I Was Halfway Through The Best Years Of My Life

A male (cock?) Rock Ptarmigan on Adak.  Look at those eyecombs!  What a stud.

I’ll be the first one to admit that coming back to civilization (or as some call it, “reality”) is both a blessing and a curse.  It has the biggest perks and the deepest downfalls.  For those of you have never been swallowed by the wilderness and were reborne Victorious (or, shat out defeated) or I’ll give you the rundown of what you can expect:

Perks: Pretty girls and nice ladies, and sometimes, the chance to make some sweet, sweet’ lovin’ again.  Different faces than the same ugly mugs you’ve been forced to look at for the past 3+ months. The chance to obtain both new music and go to some real shows.  A kaleidoscope of different sorts of alcohol that all want to meet you.  Obviously friends, family, and the loved ones inbetween who have missed you of course play a huge factor in making life worth living.

Bummers: Life gets a whole lot more complicated.  Financial problems, bills and every fucking kind of wallet suck reappears.  Coming to terms with television is always a painful chore.  You are forced to interact with countless numbers of people you want nothing to do with.  You are surrounded by a thousand different things that just squash any kind of stoke you can muster…pollution, urban sprawl, news of any kind….perhaps most obviously your social skills seem retarded (in every sense of the word), as you have subconsciously adjusted to only interacting with a tiny group of people for months.

I’ve dealt with these issues time and time again (including now), and its just part of the price you pay for the privilidge of getting to go to these places.

Ashore on Attu Island.

Anyways.  After leaving Adak we island-hopped west along the chain, stopping at Kanaga, Kiska and Agattu to drop off field camps.  A couple of the skiff trips from the Tiglax were experiences I’d rather forget (because I was absolutely convinced that I was going to die)….which was possible, because of the face-melting seabirds that began to appear as we worked our way out west.  Ancient Murrelets, Tufted Puffins, Laysan Albatrosses and Short-tailed Shearwaters appeared first, then came Horned Puffins, Least, Crested and Parakeet Auklets, Thick-billed Murres, Red Phalaropes, Black-footed Albatrosses, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels…..what I’m trying to say is that it was pretty sweet.  On top of all this avian goodness were Dahl’s Porpoises, Humpback, Minke and Sperm Whales, and Orcas!  Fucking Orcas!  Its rare that I get so giddy from a life mammal, but they’re a big deal I reckon.

Horned Puffin!

Sorry Franklin.  They do make better national birds than turkeys.

After dropping off Rob (Willie Nelson lookalike and member of the All-Star Salton Sea Burrowing Owl crew of Y2K8) at Agattu, the weather didn’t look good for a Buldir landing…so we had no choice but to land on Attu Island to do some birding.  I was beside myself.  Had Douglas Adams been there, he would have said that I boggled.  I couldn’t believe I was going to Attu, one of the most inaccessible and inhospitable birding hotspots that is considered to be American soil.  At the very end of the Aleutian chain, Attu is notorious for its ridiculous vagrants that have been seen there every year for as long as its been birded….so it was a pretty sweet bonus to end up there.  Attu was also the site of a large, bloody WWII battle between Americans and Japanese occupation forces, which only adds an entirely new sense of gravity (Midwayesque) to the place.

Turns out we didn’t see a whole lot though.  The birding group that had been there before us apparently had some good birds (including the first North American record of Solitary Snipe), but they purposely refused to tell us for some reason, which is one of the capital crimes in the birding world.  One of guys at the Coast Guard station there (which is closing this month) mentioned that a White-tailed Eagle had been living there for some time, but again, no luck…..we were obliged by a couple flocks of Bramblings though, which I certainly couldn’t complain about.  Massacre Bay also harbored the only Aleutian Terns I saw the entire summer, so Attu was certainly a worthwhile stop….

Fishing off Attu Island, with accompanying gull-fulmar cloud.

You wouldn't think it, but Glaucous-winged Gulls are one of the top avian predators in the Aleutians.  The number of storm-petrels and auklets they eat must be staggering.

When the winds and the seas calmed a bit, we headed back to Buldir, the westernmost and most remote camp that the refuge was operating…and more importantly, my home for the summer.

In even more egotistical news, we have crested the 200 post here at BB&B, a momentous milestone.  Whiskey will be consumed tonight.

It's ok to do embarrassing things on Attu Island.  Behind me is the WWII runway and Massacre Bay.

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