Friday, June 13, 2008

The OTHER birds of St. Paul

Before I start on the non-seabird birds on St.Paul, I want to talk about one more cliff nesting species, Northern Fulmar. We didn't see the nesting Fulmars the first day, as they seem to prefer one particular area of the cliffs that we didn't visit. Fulmars are what is commonly called a "tube nose". They spend most of their lives out on the open ocean. Because of the salt water they have a tube on the top of their bill that helps them expel the salt. I have only seen them on pelagic (deep sea) birding trips. It was so cool to see nesting on the cliffs with the kittiwakes. Here is one of my photographs of them.

I have heard the Pribilofs called the Galapagos of the North because of the way the native wild life has evolved. The Rosy-finches are a good example of this. I have seen Gray-crowned Rosy-finches in Washington state. They are cool looking birds, a dusky pink with a gray head. They are large for finches, but the ones on St. Paul dwarf the main land birds! Every time I saw them I thought they looked pigeons. They are probably the most visible bird on the island, perching everywhere there are manmade structures, but also on the rocks and ledges.

Another bird that has evolved a bit differently on the island is the Rock Sandpiper. They are all over the place, displaying and calling. The call is hard to describe.They have much more white in their wings and tail than a regular Rock Sandpiper. In fact, the first time I saw one fly I thought it was a Snow Bunting! They are also larger. Its possible they may be declared a separate species in the future. Being a lazy bunch, birders often just call them Rock Sand, which inevitably inspires someone to sing in a bad Sting like falsetto "ROCCCCCKKKK SAND! You don't have to put on a red light" We are also a lame bunch when it comes to humor.

There is a sub-species of Winter Wren that is also found breeding on the island. They used to be quite common on St. Paul, but now are a bit harder to find. We did succeed in finding a couple of them singing, in the quarry. The birds there are also larger (am I seeing a pattern here?) and paler. They are also found on some of the Aleutian island. Its another type that may be accorded full species status in the future.

A lot of migrant ducks find their way to St. Paul. (My brother will be pleased to hear this, as he refers to all the birds we look for as ducks) It was a bit frustrating to have the guides say "Oh wow! There is a Northern Shoveler! That's a really good bird here" when we see thousands of them in Texas. Northern Pintails are the most common duck, followed by the Green-winged Teal types. Both the North American Green-winged Teal and the Eurasian Common Teal are found in good numbers on the island. What is frustrating is there are hybrids of every possible combination. This complex is considered two separate species in Europe, but the American Ornithological Union is dragging its feet on splitting them here. I can understand their hesitancy after seeing so many hybrids.

One unwelcome animal is the rat. Rats would have a devastating effect on the breeding birds and the local government is doing everything they can to keep them off of St. Paul. There are barral traps all over town. Town government trucks have big signs saying NO RATS ON ST. PAUL. Its great to see them working so hard to preserve the wild life. They do occasionally catch one, but so far they have succeeded in keeping them at bay.

I will finish my posts on St. Paul either Sunday or Monday. We are doing some birding this weekend!

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