Wednesday, June 11, 2008

St. Paul Island

As I said in my first blog on Alaska, I am not going to do a day by day blog. I thought it would be better to do some general impression writing instead. Our time on St. Paul was a mixed bag, for sure. We had some amazing birds and some disheartening misses. Physically it was more grueling than expected. I do want to say that I took away some wonderful memories.

St. Paul sits in the Bering Sea, 765 miles from Anchorage. Its one of the 5 Pribilofs, fairly young volcanic islands. There are rolling hills covered with tundra, sea side cliffs, rock beaches and natural wet lands and lakes. I did not see a single tree, though there are ankle high willows growing through the grass. The weather in May/June is usually cloudy and rainy with heavy fog occasionally. The temperature averaged about 38 as a high. There is a small village, also called St. Paul with mostly frame houses, some painted extravagantly bright colors. A lovely small Russian Orthodox Church sits on the hill above the main part of the town. There is one store, one bar and one place to buy beer and wine. Its not what most people picture as a real vacation hot spot. Despite its desolateness, I found it beautiful, particularly the beaches and cliffs.

The Pribilofs are prime areas for breeding alcids. cormorants and gulls. A number of these birds are difficult to find any where else in North America. St. Paul also has a propensity for Asian migrant birds, which allows one to build a life list that inspires envy among other birders. We came to see both groups. We did very well with the first group, not so much with the second.

The conditions can be tough. We walked across lava fields, around big rocks and tussocks of grass, through almost knee deep water, over rock beaches and up and down a very long stair case to get our meals. (Believe me, I dreaded that climb twice a day!) The King Eider hotel was spartan at best, with shared bathrooms, but comfortable beds. You get to know your fellow birders pretty well! Tomorrow I will write about the actual birds!

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