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.
Attu was the site of the only World War II battles fought in North America. U.S. troops were stationed on the island. Japanese troops attacked. We saw many battle relics during our visit. On the beach in front of our quarters troops had abandoned construction vehicles and equipment. These were rusty monuments. Where the tide touched, barnacles covered everything. Kelp fronds were woven into wheel spokes (this was military equipment from the 1930s). Rusty chains crawled out of the sand. We saw fox holes dug into the tundra. We found a metal box that once held radio equipment. It was bullet scarred. Back in the mountains, a long hike if we wanted to take it, was the remains of a Japanese fight plane that had crashed. There was a monument. Visitors came from Japan to pay homage.
Mike and I skipped the hike. We did our assigned chores, then went birding. My job that day was to open cans of sugar that had been stored for those two years and pound chunks into sprinkle condition.
The only vehicles on the island belonged to the Coast Guard, trucks very off limits to us. Birders walked or used bicycles. Dozens of bikes were pulled from a storage room upon arrival. All looked to have garage-sale provenance. The Attu birding trips had a hierarchy. Veterans, birders returning for the umpteenth time, had preference. They got better rooms and certainly better bicycles. Some of the primo places to look for and find birds, however, were miles away. Any bike was good.
We birded in small groups, each with an experienced Attu birder as guide. We fanned out. The guides had the radios that were spitting static into the day room where the man played cards and those birders waited for their moment. The only paved surface on the island was the runway. We walked or biked on muddy, rocky paths. You had to watch for the streams that ran down the hillsides to the sea, melt water from ice and snow in the mountains above, water you could drink. The streams cut narrowly through the tundra, channels a foot wide and four feet deep. A misstep was ugly.
To be continued.
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