Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
So, I was talking about a trip to Attu, birding at the end of the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. Let's get back to that for a moment. My friend Mike and I were spending a month in Alaska, the trip to Attu to cover one week. Mike and I toured the Anchorage area for a couple of days, then went to bed with a morning flight to Attu in our dreams. This is what happened. Previous chapters are on file here.
We were to leave Anchorage for Attu on a Monday. Thirty-two of us dragged our luggage into the hotel ballroom at 4:30 that morning for a departure meeting. Larry Balch, host and leader, looked unhappy as he walked to the front of the room. Attu was covered with fog. We would not fly that day. Worse, our plane was booked for another use on Tuesday, so we wouldn’t fly then either. We would bird day-trip venues in and around Anchorage.
So, we drove in vans Monday and Tuesday, birding here and there. It wasn’t bad. It also wasn’t Attu. Tuesday night we learned that our plane was broken. Broken. We couldn’t leave on Wednesday. Thursday was another no-go. More fog. That meant we had three days left of this seven-day trip. Booking for a stay of two or three weeks began to look like a good idea.
Larry gathered all of us Thursday evening to offer a deal. We could drop out then, forego the possibility of flying on Friday, our last chance. He would refund a thousand dollars. No thanks. Mike and I made Plan B. We would go back to Nome if we couldn’t go to Attu.
We could go to Attu. Thursday morning we boarded the plane, happy birders. My notes say we were giddy.
The first bird I saw as I put boot down on the Attu runway was a Lapland Longspur. Then, in order, a raven, a Glaucous-winged Gull, and some Mallards. I’d come a long way for Mallards. Attu has ordinary birds as well as extraordinary birds. It was a strange day there, bright, sunny, warm, an aberration the Coast Guardsmen enjoyed. The strange weather somewhat hindered birding because the heat waves coming off rocks and gravel made spotting scope use almost impossible.; the distortion was too much. It was very strange. The weather returned to wet, cold normal the next day.
The photo below shows our Attu quarters, the old Coast Guard building. The bikes will be explained as we finish the story, spring permitting.
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