The long-awaited day finally came. Our group assembled after breakfast and prepared to board the skiff, aptly named “The Bumblebee.” Our daily routine would consist of eating breakfast, suiting up in layers and raingear from head to toe, packing our lunches and backpacks, and taking all of our gear ashore where we would spend most of the day.
As we approached the island, the first thing that struck me was the lack of trees on Attu. The vegetation th…at we would spend days wading through was predominantly wet, spongy tundra. The starkness of the landscape almost takes your breath away but there is a haunting beauty in this uninhabited land where nature struggles to erase a bloodied past.
The ship anchored on infamous Casco Cove amidst the ever-present Common Eiders. We proceeded to the abandoned and dilapidated Loran station in the skiff. In years past, this is where birders stayed on the island. The storied walls still hold the names and bird lists of previous adventurers. The constant moisture erodes what little is left of the original rooms. You can’t help but feel nostalgic.
We brought bikes ashore and assembled them as best we could. I was one of the shortest people in the group so I had the smallest bike. Cycling and walking would be our only modes of transportation on the island. What little is left of the original roads and trails is more like an obstacle course.
We spent our first day exploring the areas around the airfield on our bikes. We found a solitary Tufted Duck right away in one of the ponds. We also saw a very rare to Attu, Great Egret. I’m 5,000 miles from home and I see one of my yardbirds! Are you kidding me? This bird was the Modesto subspecies.
The most common species of birds on the island are Lapland Longspur, Song Sparrow, Glaucous-winged Gull and Cackling Goose. They are everywhere, even at high elevations. You literally cannot take a step in any direction without stepping on goosepoop. At least once a day a Goose would fly out from the dense grass and scare the hell out of us. Couple that with the rusting debris of war, the small waterholes, the slippery moss, the dense grass hummocks, and the canals that meander everywhere, and you have a very hazardous cocktail for hiking.
You’re trying to look for birds but you have to watch every step as well. And believe me, there are many steps between bird sightings.
We were fortunate that the weather was mild on our first day as we got used to our bikes and the sloppy terrain. This would not be the case for long.