Extreme Birding Close to the Bering Strait

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Wilderness Birding, owned by Aaron Lang, was the only tour group in Gambell this Fall. There were a few birders there as independents and Paul Lehman was there for his usual extended stay. James Huntington was our second leader on this tour. Not only did Aaron and James work their butts off finding birds, but they also prepared all of our food. The menu was always great, especially the desserts. I can’t tell you how much butter and cream we went through, but it was decadent. I walked a minimum of 5-10 miles per day and still didn’t lose weight!

Alcohol is illegal, punishable by law. My friends know my affinity for wine. 9 dry days and I started calling Gambell the “Betty Ford Clinic-Bering Sea Branch.”

Our days were hectic but pleasurable. I was always cold but everyone else thought it was really nice weather for Gambell. Every day we had a similar routine. Breakfast, seawatch for a few hours, sweep the far boneyards as a group, lunch, sweep the near boneyards, maybe head South for more birding around the lake or the mountain, dinner and recap of the day. Sleep, bird, repeat. No dancing even though I packed my heels.

8 of us (3 women, 5 men) slept at the “Lavender Lounge” and shared one bathroom. We had a considerate, cohesive group so this worked out better than it sounds. The house had a mud room at the entrance which was crucial. We took our boots and heavy gear off in this space. This helped to keep the inside of the house much cleaner.

Dinner was eaten on chairs in a circle in our common space. This enabled all of us to get to know each other better and invited conversation. It was also the time when the Ivory carvers would stop in to show us their wares. This nightly procession of vendors was a slight annoyance at first, but quickly became part of the fabric of everyday life on Gambell. The craftsmanship ranged from primitive to downright awe-inspiring.

The Yupiq Eskimos use every part of the animal. The carvings are typically Walrus Ivory or whalebone. It is a long-standing tradition. I bought many pieces, including a 5′ long carved piece of baleen. I have no idea when I’m getting it home.

I don’t think I need to repeat how incredible the birding was! Lifers for every single birder.

There was so much going on with the birding that I forgot to mention that I saw Northern Lights for the first time in my life!! We had 2 nights where conditions were favorable. I set my alarm for 3 a.m. and had a pretty decent display, mainly reds. A few hours later, we had an even better display through Dick and Gaylee’s bedroom window. Another bucket list item checked off. I also saw my first Walrus during seawatch!

Every experience I’ve had in Alaska has touched me at a primal level. I think that I will continue to come to these faraway places for a very long time.

Tomorrow I leave for Hawaii. What a contrast. It looks as if the worst is over in Naples and I should have more details about my real home in the days to come.

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