Day 195 – “There’s Gold In Them Thar Hills”

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When I read the news that there was an ultra-rare Pied Wheatear in Nome, Alaska, I immediately contacted Laura Keene and Lynn Barber to see if they wanted to meet me there. I knew they’d want to chase it! Lynn lives in Anchorage so she jumped right on board. Laura had to work and unfortunately couldn’t join us.

There aren’t that many birds left for these 2 women to chase in the U.S., this was a mega!

I arrived in Nome on Tuesday, July 11th after many flights and many delays. The fog kept us grounded in Anchorage and when I actually landed in Nome, visibility was very poor.

Lynn had arrived the night before so we decided to head to Cape Nome straight from the airport to look for the Pied Wheatear.

Nome is an old gold mining town and the kitschy remnants of that era pepper the streets. Like modern-day prospectors, we set off on our own quest for birding gold.

We drove on Council Road along the coastline and within 15 minutes we saw and heard an Aleutian Tern, a bird that stubbornly eluded me in the Aleutian Islands.

Half an hour later, we saw several Eastern Yellow Wagtails and just like that, I had 2 new birds!

Our luck stopped there as the Wheatear did not make an appearance all afternoon as we scoured the rocky embankment at Cape Nome.

We did, however, have a chance encounter with Peter Burke, a birder from Colorado with the same purpose as ours. Thank goodness we did! We quickly became a trio.

We would spend the next 3 days birding the long, gravel roads of Nome in search of local rarities and at night, searching for equally rare places to dine.

On Wednesday we tried very hard to find the Wheatear again. You will see from my pictures that it wasn’t exactly the most beautiful place to spend the day birding in Nome. Construction vehicles were constantly coming by and drowning us in dust and the heavy equipment relentlessly moving rock above us.

We took a break in the afternoon and went about 50 miles on Teller Road birding along picturesque rivers and mountains and recharging to go back to Cape Nome and try again. Late Wednesday afternoon, we were told to leave as they were getting ready to blast rock above us. Still no bird.

We were beginning to doubt whether it was even there anymore.

On Thursday morning we had a brief encounter with the Wheatear but the bird disappeared into the rocks never to be seen again. We decided to go to Safety Sound and look for Arctic Loons.

We ended up seeing 4 species of Loons(Arctic, Common, Pacific and Red-throated) plus my very first Arctic Fox. A very nice reprieve but we had to get back to the chase.

On Thursday afternoon, Peter finally saw the bird on the rocks and yelled up to us. He managed to get a picture before it disappeared again. It took another hour for Lynn and I to get satisfactory looks and our own pics. Not great photos but after 3 days, we had the bird!!

Pied Wheatear was my #690 for 2017 in the ABA region.

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