I went back to St Paul Island Alaska from 29 September to 3 October, as part of the Field Guides Fall Alaskan birding tour. There were seven birders in our group, with St Paul veteran (and increasingly a veteran of all over the birding world) Doug Gochfeld. As is the St Paul birding way, the methodology was to travel in our van, usually with one of the TDX resident birding guides/freaks Sulli Gibson and Alex Harper, all across the island, working over the seemingly likeliest of accessible hidy-holes for wayward Asian migratory birds. Also as usual, I tried to hit the hills and dales with perhaps more coverage and intensity than my fellow birding friends, and therefore – also as per usual, I’m now taking a day, maybe two, to recuperate physically in my favourite Alaskan hotel – the Lakefront. We did ‘OK’, in that we saw many beautiful birds, and enjoyed great experiences in relatively calm weather. I added two species to my year-list: Rustic Bunting, and Hawfinch – the later being a ‘lifer’. That bumps my total for the year to 798 – and I’m becoming more hopeful that a record score is possible (hope that doesn’t jinx it). My ‘continental’ score is 762 (birds that I first reported in Hawaii, but have subsequently documented on mainland include Least Tern, Wandering Tattler, Pacific Golden Plover, Brown Booby, Leach’s Storm-petrel, Black-footed Albatross, Hawaiian Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, and Eurasian Skylark). As best I can figure, I’ve done considerably better one the Alaskan Islands than I did in 2016, and can but hope that November/December is better for rarities than the ‘first winter’ of the year – January-March proved to be (compared to 2016). This is getting interesting! I’ve also calculated that I’ve added 28 species to my ABA continental life list so far this year, which now stands at 812 – identical to my Australian life list, as best as I can figure.
While at St Paul I enjoyed bumping into fellow big year types Gaylee and Richard Dean, who are still as passionate and competent about their birding as ever. Maybe more so. Their year lists are spectacular, even though they chose early in the year to resist chasing vagrant birds across the countryside that wouldn’t be new to their life-lists. These two seem to love birding as much as each other (and that is clearly a lot!), and seem to have the world by the tail.