On a map of Alaska, the island of Attu often is shown in one of those boxes cartographers tuck into map corners. The box holds gangly extensions of geography not fitting conveniently within regular map dimensions. On my Alaska map, the designers chopped the Aleutian Islands at Umnak Island, due south of the Pribilof Islands up there in the Bering Sea. They put this amputated arm of the Aleutians — from elbow to fingertips, including Atka and Adak islands and then beyond the 180th meridian into the eastern hemisphere to the Rat Islands and Agattu and, finally, Attu — into that corner box.

Attu belongs to the Samoan time zone if you consider its longitude, its actual place in the world. It is beyond Pacific standard time and beyond Alaskan standard time. It also is beyond Aleutian-Hawaiian time, but by some convenient agreement the far end of the Aleutians has been glued to the latter zone, the clock gerrymandered. It’s almost as if time there was being borrowed.

On my old National Geographic globe, using the crude measurements of a flexible tape, Attu is far closer to Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, than to Minneapolis. It is closer to Tokyo or Seoul or Peking than to Los Angeles. Attu, any way you look at it, is part of North America by decree only. That, of course, explains its appeal to birders: the birds reflect the geography. Asian and Eurasian strays and vagrants can magically appear almost anywhere in North America. But magic is not necessary on Attu. All you need is a strong wind from the west. The Attu checklist is fleshed with birds you will not see regularly anywhere else on the continent, and festooned with even better birds, birds of legend and lore.

To be continued.



This isn't an Asian stray nor a bird of legend, but the Red-faced Cormorant that breeds in Alaska and can be seen on Attu is a stunning bird. This bird was found on its nest.

Older Post

A weekend on Attu: chapter 2

Newer Post

Radar shows movement of geese and cranes