As long as I can remember, I’ve used the expression “Don’t make me go out into the freezing tundra!” any time the temperature dropped below 40, to exaggerate my disapproval. Well on Attu, I finally learned the true meaning of the phrase.
I wouldn’t exactly say that I enjoyed Attu, I survived it. I wear the experience like a badge of honor.
As soon as I boarded the skiff in the mornings and the wind forced me to lower my gaze, I braced myself for the discomforts that awaited me. My mantra “Why am I doing this?” playing in a continuous loop. Well, we all know why I was doing it! Asian vagrants, of course.
The days started to blend together. My Big Year has made the calendar into one giant hourglass. The isolation on Attu magnified this phenomenon. I can’t promise you that what I recall happened on any particular day. I do remember that I kept remarking to Neil and John that I was shocked at the lack of shorebirds.
By the third day, I abandoned my bike. A couple in our group, Greg and Monica, were diehard cyclists. One day while we were scattered across the landscape, me and John hiking up a ridge, Greg saw a Common Sandpiper from his bike! The dismal weather had brought in a prize. I could see them gathered on the beach a couple miles away, right where I had been an hour before.
Not long afterwards, news came from Navy Beach that there was a Common Greenshank and a Gray-tailed Tattler. Finally, some shorebirds!!
The prized birds dribble in on Attu. It was special having 3 great birds in the same day. Teamwork paid off. Our splintered group would always make sure that everyone got a good chance to see the rarities, even if it meant standing in the cold rain, waiting for others.
Once again, my skills as a photographer were challenged. Try getting a good picture when it’s foggy, drizzling, windy and your subject blends into the landscape. Many of my photos look like they’re in black and white.
On May 31st, we had the best bird of the week, a female Common Rosefinch. A passerine commonly found in Asia and Europe. Sadly, we saw the drab female not the scarlet-colored male.
One night we had a surprise visitor on the boat: a Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel. It caused quite a stir! We had a chance to view him up close before John released him.
Another evening on the boat, we watched “The Big Year” on the DVD player. It was pretty cool sitting there watching the movie and seeing the scenes from Attu. Wow, this was really happening to me.
The time on the island was quickly slipping by.