Photos with this report (click to enlarge)
The M.V. Tiglax (Tek-Lah)
Auklets and Albatrosses – The Western Aleutians
Paul Jones - Ottawa, Canada
I spent May 23rd to June 13th, 2010 as a conservation volunteer in the Aleutians, the chain of volcanic islands stretching westward 2,000 kilometres from mainland Alaska almost to the Russian coast. The area is home to millions of seabirds including restricted-range Red-faced Cormorant, Red-legged Kittiwake, Aleutian Tern, Kittlitz's Murrelet, and Parakeet, Least, Crested and Whiskered Auklet. The remote location also offers the chance to see storm-blown strays from Asia. Trip highlights included uncountable clouds of auklets at Kiska and Buldir islands as well as sightings of Short-tailed Albatross and Mottled Petrel. Mammals encountered included Dall’s Porpoise, Orca, Sperm Whale, Minke Whale, Hump-backed Whale and Sea Otter.
Click here for YouTube Video - Seabird Researchers in the Western Aleutians
Itinerary – The journey began on May 23rd with a 2,000 kilometre flight west from Anchorage, Alaska to Adak Island. Shortly after arriving in Adak, which is about half way out the Aleutian chain, we boarded the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) ship M.V. Tiglax (“Tek-Lah”) and continued west. Over the next several days the Tiglax sailed to the far limits of the Aleutians, stopping briefly at Kanaga, Kiska, Aggatu and Attu islands. On May 29th we landed on Buldir, our target destination. I stayed there with a USFWS crew and team of researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland until June 9th. By June 11th the Tiglax had me back in Adak and on the 13th I made the flight to Anchorage and on home.
The Tiglax (“Tek-Lah”, eagle in the Unangan/Aleut language) is a beautiful 45-metre ocean-going ship. The vessel plays a critical role in facilitating research in the Aleutian Islands unit of the Alaska Maritime Refuge. Each spring she drops camps all along the chain, bases from which teams conduct biological, archeological and geological research as well as plan and implement the removal of introduced rats and foxes. It was a privilege to be on the Tiglax and meet and work with the captain and crew and with the scientists and trappers heading out to the camps.
Sky and Water – Rapidly moving storm systems constantly sweep through the Aleutians, bringing rain and high winds. From May 23rd to June 13th there was just one sunny day and the temperature never got above 10 degrees Celsius. Seas were calm when we left Adak but by the third day the weather turned and the ship was rising and falling dramatically in heavy swells. Despite being prone to seasickness I never got ill. The easy start, enthusiasm for the voyage, staring at the horizon and regular doses of the motion sickness pill Bonine kept nausea at bay.
Health and Safety – The Tiglax is a large working vessel replete with hatches, holds, ladders, hydraulic cranes and slippery decks. Safety is a priority in all activity. Landing on the islands to set camps is done with particular care. This process involves craning a skiff (zodiac-type inflatable boat) from the boat deck to the ocean, boarding the skiff, running it on shore and then proceeding on foot up rocky beaches to the camp areas. Full floater jackets are worn for this work; the skiffs often land in heavy surf that can fill or even flip them. Once onshore slip and fall injuries are probably the biggest danger, although any cut or burn is serious because of the remote location. Emergency airlift can take more than 24 hours depending on weather and is very expensive; remote evacuation insurance is recommended.
Clothing – Dealing with the Aleutian weather requires a rugged rain shell and rain pants, gloves and lots of warm base-layers. You also need appropriate headgear. I brought along a watch cap for warmth and a ball cap with a brim to guard against mist and rain. I often wore one over the other. Footwear alternated between leather hiking boots (which wear better than fabric in the sharp talus and do not absorb as much bird crap), rain boots, neoprene chest waders (invaluable for beach landings), and slip-on shoes for around the camp and aboard the Tiglax.
I traveled to Adak with two fifty-pound duffle bags, which I transferred into two 115L Sealline waterproof packs for the boat trip. I also carried a largish daypack. The less material you bring the better. On the Tiglax I kept personal items, a change of clothing and camera equipment with me in one Sealline. The remainder of my gear (in the other Sealline) was dropped in the ship’s hold and I didn’t see it until we landed on Buldir.
May 23 – Anchorage to Adak aboard Air Alaskan Airlines FLT 160 - This flight currently runs Thursdays and Sundays and is prone to weather delay. Fortunately, conditions were good on the 23rd; all along the route the captain called out the names of the snow-capped volcanic cones rising through the clouds below. The plane arrived on schedule and my brother Ian, a biologist who conducts seabird research in the Aleutians, met me at the airport. After quickly transferring gear to the USFWS bunkhouse a short distance away and repacking for the Tiglax, we set out to explore the area. Until recently Adak housed a large U.S. military base and was home to over 6,000 people. Now less than 200 resilient inhabitants remain amidst rows and rows of vacant houses, unoccupied buildings, windswept play grounds, derelict machinery, decommissioned military installations, an abandoned McDonald’s and a forlorn pet cemetery. Gray-crowned Rosy Finch and Lapland Longspur are common around the town site. A stray Hawfinch provided some excitement and a quick visit to nearby Clam Lagoon yielded Arctic Loon, Bar-tailed Godwit, Kittlitz’s Murrelet and Sea Otter. Late in the evening of the 23rd the Tiglax arrived at Adak harbour and after a rushed offload/onload of gear and personnel we boarded the ship and retired to our bunks.
May 24 – Adak to Kanaga Island – Drop Trapper Camp at Weed Bight - The Tiglax departed Adak before dawn. When I awoke we were at sea, and I scrambled up to the deck. Northern Fulmars and Laysan Albatrosses were wheeling by against a backdrop of grey seas and snow-covered islands. Tiglax Hand John Faris and USFWS Biologist Jeff Williams conducted a comprehensive review of ship procedures and a safety briefing, including a survival suit drill.
Mid-morning the Tiglax arrived at Weed Bight on Kanaga Island to drop a fox trapper camp. In the 19th century the Russians introduced Arctic Fox to many of the Aleutian islands to establish a commercial fur harvest. The foxes quickly devastated local seabird populations and all but wiped out the Aleutian form of Cackling Goose. The USFWS has removed foxes from most of the islands and bird populations have rebounded spectacularly. Kanaga is one of the few remaining targets.
Dropping a camp involves launching a skiff from the Tiglax and ferrying a crew ashore. The skiff then shuttles between ship and shore, running loads of food, fuel and equipment to the beach where they are passed up to higher ground by human chain. The “Weatherport” (work/cook shelter) is erected, individual “Bomb Shelter” tents are pitched and the radio and antennae are set up and tested to ensure the communications equipment is in working order. A typical camp drop takes four to five hours and involves multiple runs of the skiff. We were fortunate at Kanaga, the weather was good and we all stayed dry during the operation. Birds quickly glimpsed during the work included resident Rock Sandpipers and an off-course Yellow Wagtail. After saying good-bye to the trappers we returned to the Tiglax and continued west towards Kiska Island. The light easterlies that had made the trip easy began to strengthen and swing to the north.
May 25 – Kanaga Island to Kiska Island - Drop Seabird Research Camp at Sirius Point – The seas grew rougher overnight and by the morning of the 25th the Tiglax was riding through impressive swells. In the strengthening winds Laysan Albatrosses were now arcing high above the waves at great speed. Fulmars and the occasional Short-tailed Shearwater whipped by as well. With the forecast deteriorating, Tiglax Captain Billy Pepper and the crew began focused discussions on if and when the remaining camps could be dropped, running different scenarios on how to schedule the mission in the face of the oncoming storm.
A decision was made that conditions were still safe enough to drop the research camp at Sirius Point on Kiska Island, site of a massive seabird colony. Amidst swirling clouds of Crested and Least Auklets the Tiglax swung in a tight circle just offshore. The skiff was dropped into the patch of temporary calm created by this maneuver and we “rode the elevator”, stepping one at a time into the Zodiac as it rose and fell with the swells alongside the ship. After dropping us on shore the skiff returned to the Tiglax and began ferrying supplies to the beach, which we chained up out of reach of the waves. As the hours passed the sea grew rougher and the Tiglax retired to a sheltering bay some distance away. With the camp set we said hurried goodbyes to the research crew and assembled on the beach. I was in the first return trip and on signal dove into the lurching zodiac. Others boarded and as those ashore struggled to turn the skiff around into the waves it filled completely with water. Then the motor stopped. Andy, the skiff pilot, restarted the engine and set out towards the open sea. I sat in the skiff with water up to my knees as we weaved through standing waves that towered high over us. My assignment was to hold the gas tank upright as it floated in the boat. Groups of auklets whirred off the water and buzzed low overhead, close enough to touch. For some time there was no sign of the Tiglax but eventually it came into view. The skiff pulled alongside it and I clambered on board. Our next scheduled stop was Buldir Island, remotest of the Aleutians, where I was to go ashore with a research team.
May 26 – Kiska to Aggagtu and on to Attu - Drop Seabird Research Camp at Aggatu – The wind was now blowing gale force from the north, making it impossible to land on the exposed beach at Buldir. By radio contact we learned that we had been fortunate to deploy the team at Sirius Point. Huge surf was pounding camp beach there, creating spectacular explosions of spray. The plan now was to set the Aggatu group on the sheltered side of that island and return to Buldir as soon as conditions allowed. The Aggatu camp, lead by Kittlitz’s Murrelet researcher Robb Kaler is located at the end of a small but protected bay and we were able to get everything onshore without difficulty. The forecast called for continued storm conditions, making an immediate landing on Buldir impossible. The decision was made to head to Attu and find shelter on the south side of that famous island.
May 27 and 28 - Attu – Waiting out the Weather - On the morning of the 27th the Tiglax dropped anchor in Etienne Bay near the western tip of the island and we skiffed ashore to clean up the remains of an old USFWS camp. Attu is an intimidating place; the ground rises swiftly from the sea into high pinnacles of ice-covered rock. Along the shore there were still three metre snowdrifts and even in our protected bay the wind was blasting through the mountain valley and out to sea. The bird highlight here was a flock of Brambling hunkered down above the beach. As we returned to the Tiglax a huge container ship appeared out of the open ocean storm and ran close onshore into the bay. The Tiglax pulled along side the 300 metre giant and by radio we learned the interloper intended to conduct lengthy engine maintenance in the refuge. Under the Tiglax’s watchful eye the repair time was reduced from hours to minutes and the container ship was quickly on its way.
Our next stop on Attu was Massacre Bay, site of a US Coastguard station. This is also the place that bird tours, eager for Eurasian vagrants, visit. We made radio contact with the Zbirding group and learned that although winds had not been the most favourable, they still had a number of excellent sightings including the 1st US record for Solitary Snipe. On our brief trudge around the airfield and surrounding roads the best we could uncover was another group of Brambling. Out in the bay Aleutian Terns flew around the Tiglax, their twittering calls drifting down from high above.
Massacre Bay is named for a 1745 encounter between Russian entrepreneurs and the local Unangan (Aleuts). From May 11 to May 30, 1943, it was the scene of vicious fighting between the US military and a Japanese invasion force that briefly occupied the island. Of an original 2,900 Japanese, only 29 survived the battle. Debris from the war, including shell casings and rusting machinery still lies scattered about. The area is now a U.S. National Historic Landmark. From the coastguard staff we learned that the base would soon be closed, with all personnel departing at the end of September 2010.
May 29 – Attu to Buldir - Deploy Buldir Camp – On the 29th the northerlies had subsided just enough to deploy on Buldir. Conditions were not sufficient to land on camp beach so the drop-zone was set 1.5 kilometres away around a sheltering point. This necessitated trip after trip up and down the shore over the next week to haul food and equipment to the main camp. It also meant the heavier supplies could not be off-loaded. Still, we were finally on our island.
May 30 to June 9 – Buldir - Buldir Island is volcanic, built from two main centres of eruption: Buldir Eccentric and Slide Mountain. It is approximately six and a half kilometres long, a little over three kilometres wide and characterized by steep mountains, sea cliffs, coastal talus slopes and boulder-strewn beaches. On the north side there is a wide valley and it is here, between Northwest Point and Main Talus, that the research camp is located. The camp consists of a sturdy wooden main cook/work cabin, a bunkhouse, two Weatherports and assorted Bombshelter sleeping tents as required.
Two teams of personnel were deployed to Buldir in 2010 – a three-person USFWS crew and a trio of researchers from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN). Both groups set immediately to work. Fish and Wildlife’s main task was seabird population monitoring. This involved checking rock crevices and earthen burrows for auklet, puffin and petrel breeding success, re-sighting banded kittiwakes and examining gull and cormorant nests. The Service’s long-standing survey plots are scattered across the island so the crew would leave camp early in the morning and return exhausted twelve or so hours later. The MUN people confined their work mostly to Main Talus, a huge jumble of volcanic rock trailing down into the sea. Here they set about catching and banding Least and Crested Auklets, dusting them for a parasite study and re-sighting previously marked birds.
When not out in the field, duties around the camp included cooking, washing dishes and hauling water as well as general sweeping and tidying. Evening radio check was a particular focus point of social activity as all the camps up and down the Aleutians relayed their news of the day. In spare moments there was also time for birding. The island’s common songbirds – Winter Wren, Song Sparrow, Lapland Longspur and Grey-crowned Rosy Finch - were conspicuous around the main camp. On the day we arrived a Rustic Bunting flitted along the path as we trudged by with boxes of supplies and a Yellow Wagtail darted overhead. The calls of Glaucous-winged Gulls on the beach and Cackling Geese on the grassy slopes filled the air. A kilometre or so to the east of camp flocks of Least and Crested Auklets swirled like long wisps of smoke around their colony on Main Talus.
Other than a few sightings of the most expected strays, it wasn’t a great spring for vagrants. The rarest was probably a Cliff Swallow from mainland Alaska. More interesting than any possible wanderer are Buldir’s nesting seabirds. The island is one of the most diverse seabird communities in the world with 21 species, including 12 kinds of alcids. At the lower elevations almost all available land has some kind of nesting activity occurring but the most spectacular place is Main Talus. During peak activity periods in the morning and evening the air there is filled with the calls of tens of thousands of Least and Crested Auklets. Great flocks of these species repeatedly sweep low over the slope, dropping birds onto the talus where they call, display or slink into crevices. Horned and Tufted Puffins stand alert by their burrows and roar past like missiles down from the heights to the sea. Whiskered Auklets occasionally appear during the day from the rocks. At night they are more conspicuous.
Night is also storm petrel time. In the day they make no mark but as the light dies after midnight the quiet grassy slopes of the island come alive with these gentle birds. Millions of Leach’s and Fork-tailed Storm Petrels emerge from their burrows or return from far at sea and, moth-like, flutter about and call within arm’s reach. The friendly “dip diddly do, do do” of Leach’s and the manic “weeky week” laugh of the Fork-tailed combines into a cacophony audible far out at sea.
June 9 – Buldir to Kiska – Sea Watch - Drop Camp at Witchcraft – Auklet Display at Sirius Point – Early in the morning on June 9th the Tiglax arrived at Buldir to pick my brother and I up and to drop supplies. The departure was rushed and there was barely time to say good-byes to the MUN and USFWS people who would remain on the island until August.
Sea Watch - The Tiglax is an ideal sea-birding platform. The bow is fully accessible and when the sea was calm I would sit on the foremost capstan, bundled up in full rain gear and an XL floater jacket, watching birds pass by just metres away. When the sea was a little rougher both the catwalk that circles the bridge and the flying bridge above the wheelhouse were good places to retreat to. The flying bridge provides excellent visibility but is a little high for photography and arcs back and forth dramatically in swells. When things are really bad there are two options. One is to shelter on the fantail under the boat deck at the rear of the ship. The overhang provides protection from the elements and by clinging onto the pillars with one arm it is possible to operate binoculars or a camera with the other. The second rough weather option is to join the captain and crew in the heated comfort of the bridge.
On the 9th conditions were good so I sat up front. Laysan Albatrosses were always in sight and a single Black-footed Albatross flew by as well. Sperm Whale were in good numbers; at one point I could see six at once, spouting, logging and tailing at different points around the horizon.
Mid-morning I took a break from the bow and walked back to the boat deck to place a sat phone call to my wife. A minute into the conversation the Tiglax’s engines suddenly dropped speed and I could hear a commotion from the forward deck. Jeff Williams and my brother Ian appeared shouting “Short-tailed Albatross!” I said a quick good-bye to my wife and looked out to see a beautiful immature Short-tailed Albatross lumber by so close that binoculars were barely necessary.
The next excitement occurred mid-afternoon. Attempting to photograph fulmars, I targeted a distant bird, hoping it would swing by the bow. It veered towards the Tiglax, the focus mechanism locked on, and a Mottled Petrel resolved on the viewing screen. The bird did not approach too closely but I was still very happy to see this species. Mottled Petrel numbers build up in the Aleutians through the summer; June is considered early for them.
Drop Camp at Witchcraft – The Tiglax continued east and Kiska Island eventually came into view. We followed the island’s west coast south to Witchcraft Point - named for a coven of black triangular rocks rising from the sea. Our task here was to drop an archeology camp. The researchers’ plan was to carefully excavate an Unangan midden and chart, layer by layer, centuries of seabird remains. The Aleutian ecosystem, remote as it is, is in drastic decline. The study at Witchcraft will provide insight into the long-term population dynamics of Aleutian sea life and provide a baseline against which the current collapse can be measured.
Auklet Display at Sirius Point – After dropping the camp the Tiglax set a course for Kiska Harbour on the island’s east side. This required heading back around Kiska’s northern tip - Sirius Point. As dusk approached we rounded the island and growing lines of birds swirled about us. The auklet display on Buldir is spectacular; the evening flight on Kiska is a thousand times more so. The birds, mostly Crested and Least Auklets, gather in immense numbers off shore, assemble into vast aerial formations, and head to land. It is difficult to describe the sight, the best I can do is to suggest picturing a harbour city on fire with a massive cloud of smoke billowing out to the horizon. That plume is a million or so auklets whirling and twisting towards shore.
June 10 – Kiska to Rat Island – The Tiglax anchored overnight on Kiska’s east side and in the morning we dropped supplies for the Witchcraft crew’s Reynard Cove spike camp. We also went ashore briefly at Kiska Harbour. In addition to invading Attu, the Japanese also occupied Kiska, establishing a substantial military base at the harbour. They were there for almost a year, under heavy aerial bombardment from U.S. forces based on Adak. On August 15, 1943, 35,000 U.S. and Canadian troops landed on Kiska only to find it abandoned. After their defeat on Attu, the Japanese evacuated the Kiska garrison under the cover of heavy weather on July 28, 1943. The detritus of war still litters the area – aircraft parts, ship wrecks, rusting vehicles, shell-casings, large coastal guns and smaller anti-aircraft pieces, piles and piles of iron and steel bolts, wires, barrels, plates, hinges and fixtures. Bomb craters, trenches, fox holes, revetments and house pits cut the earth.
From Kiska the Tiglax headed east to Rat Island. Here we took on board Stacey Buckelew of the Island Conservation Society, who had been working with a crew of biologists to remove the human-introduced rats that had exterminated most of the island’s avifauna. The two-year campaign appears to have succeeded and for the price of several thousand rats, birds will quickly re-occupy their former home and millions of new petrels, auklets and other seabirds will be created.
June 11-13 – Adak and home – On June 11th the Tiglax arrived at Adak harbour and we said our good-byes to the captain and crew and disembarked. Settling in at the USFW bunkhouse we began to await the arrival of Alaskan Airlines flight 161 on the 13th, never a sure proposition given the bad island weather. I made contact with local bird guide Issac Helmericks of Aleutian Outfitters and on the 12th we spent an excellent half day exploring the local hot spots, picking up superb sightings of Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Aleutian Tern and mother and baby Sea Otters. On the 13th flight 161 appeared out of the rain, fog and wind and I departed the Aleutians.
Volunteer Opportunities in the Aleutians - I was able to visit the Aleutians as a “paying volunteer”, meaning I covered my own travel costs. Fish and Wildlife also takes on and pays all the expenses of a small number of volunteers each year. For this work you have to be: available May through August, an experienced biotech/wildlife technician (preferably with seabird knowledge), blessed with exceptional stamina and mental toughness, and, able to put work ahead of birding (mandatory, but not easy, during a vagrant fallout).
Commercial Tours - If you want to visit the Aleutians and are not fortunate enough to find a place on the Tiglax, a good relatively inexpensive alternative is to visit Adak. Isaac Helmericks of Aleutian Outfitters is the man to contact for such a trip. He’s a professional, knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide. Check out his excellent website for contact details and information about birding Adak. http://www.adakbirding.com/index.html
John Puschock's Zugunruhe Birding Tours offers the full Aleutian experience – a ship-borne expedition to Attu. The itinerary includes a visit to Kiska to see the auklet display and chances at Short-tailed Albatross and Mottled Petrel on the open ocean – a much more authentic adventure than a flight in and out of wind blown Attu. http://www.zbirdtours.com/attu/attu_spring2011.htm
Aleutian Ecology - The Aleutians are home to diverse community of life, one that is now undergoing a spectacular and frightening collapse. In the 1950s and 1960s the Japanese slaughtered a quarter million great whales in the north Pacific. More recently commercial harvesting fleets have removed several important fish species from the food chain. Although not subject to human hunting, Stellar’s Sea Lion and Sea Otter, until recently abundant in the Aleutians, have all but vanished. The protective blankets of storm-buffering Kelp has disappeared from around the islands, opening the shore-line to relentless erosion. While still present in impressive numbers, Least Auklets are starting to decline; some of their smaller satellite colonies have already disappeared.
A debt of gratitude is owed to the personnel of the USFWS, the captain and crew of the Tiglax and the research teams from Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Island Conservation Society who are working in remote and difficult conditions to understand and ameliorate the horrifying process at work in the north Pacific.
Closing Thoughts – Special thanks to the USFWS especially Jeff Williams and Lisa Spitler, to Captain Billy Pepper and the crew of the Tiglax (Dano Erickson, John Faris, Eric Nelson, Andy Velsko, Cook Bob and Reuben Guetschow). Special thanks also to the Buldir Fish and Wildlife team Alexis Wills, Steve Tucker and Alex Wang and the Memorial University of Newfoundland Buldir crew Hannah Munro and Sarah Kennedy. Special thanks to my brother Ian Jones.
More info on Buldir: http://www.mun.ca/serg/Buldir.html
More info on Kiska: http://www.mun.ca/serg/Kiska2002.html
Paul Jones - Ottawa, Canada - pauljodiATmagma.ca – All photos by Paul Jones
Emperor Goose, Chen canagica (Winter) - A late bird on Buldir Island June 5 and 6.
Brant, Branta bernicla (Migrant) - One, Buldir on May 31.
(Aleutian) Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii leucopareia (Summer) - Abundant on Buldir, sightings also from Aggatu, Attu and Kiska. The return of this sub-species from near extinction is an extraordinary bio-diversity success story brought about by the USFWS’s removal of introduced foxes from many Aleutian islands
Eurasian Wigeon, Anas penelope (Migrant) - Buldir, Adak, Attu and Kiska
American Wigeon, Anas americana (Intermittent) - Adak
Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos (Resident) - At least one pair on Buldir, many on Adak
Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata (Migrant) - Four on Buldir, May 31
Northern Pintail, Anas acuta (Resident) - Several on Buldir
(Aleutian) Green-winged Teal, Anas crecca nimia - Adak, Attu, Kiska and Buldir
Tufted Duck, Aythya fuligula (Migrant) - One dead male found on Buldir. Sadly, many stray birds that end up on the outer Aleutians are unable to find sufficient food and soon succumb to starvation.
Greater Scaup, Aythya marila (Resident) - Sightings on Adak and Attu
Common Eider, Somateria mollissima (Resident) - Sightings at all major islands
Harlequin Duck, Histrionicus histrionicus (Resident) - Sightings at all major islands
Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola (Winter) - One, Buldir
Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula (Winter) - One dead, one live on Buldir
Common Merganser, Mergus merganser (Resident) - Sightings on Adak and Aggatu
Red-breasted Merganser, Mergus serrator (Resident) - Sightings at all major islands
Rock Ptarmigan, Lagopus mutus (Resident) - Adak and Kiska
Red-throated Loon, Gavia stellata (Summer) - One at Buldir
Arctic Loon, Gavia arctica (Migrant) - One, Adak
Pacific Loon, Gavia pacifica (Migrant) - Adak
Common Loon, Gavia immer (Resident) - Three on Attu at Etienne Bay, one at Buldir
Laysan Albatross, Phoebastria immutabilis (Summer) - Common at sea between Adak and Attu, seen in the hundreds some days
Black-footed Albatross, Phoebastria nigripes (Summer) - Five, Adak to Attu and back
Short-tailed Albatross, Phoebastria albatrus (Summer) - One immature on June 9 between Buldir and Kiska
Northern Fulmar, Fulmarus glacialis (Resident) - Common at sea between Adak and Attu, seen in the hundreds some days
Mottled Petrel, Pterodroma inexpectata (Summer) - One on June 9 between Buldir and Kiska; a bit early in the season
Short-tailed Shearwater, Puffinus tenuirostris (Summer) - Fairly common at sea between Adak and Attu
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Oceanodroma furcata (Resident) - Occasionally seen at sea between Adak and Attu, abundant nester (millions) on Buldir
Leach's Storm-Petrel, Oceanodroma leucorhoa (Summer) - Never seen at sea between Adak and Attu, abundant nester (millions) on Buldir
Red-faced Cormorant, Phalacrocorax urile (Resident) - Sightings at all major islands
Pelagic Cormorant, Phalacrocorax pelagicus (Resident) - At all major islands
Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus (Resident) - Sightings on all the islands we visited, except Aggatu and Attu where they do not occur
Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus (Resident) - Resident birds seen around the large auklet colonies on Kiska and Buldir
Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis (Summer) - Four off-course birds on Buldir; towards the end of our stay they were circling and calling high above the island, restless to continue their journey to Siberia
Semipalmated Plover, Charadrius semipalmatus (Summer) - One, June 8 Buldir
Wandering Tattler, Tringa incana (Migrant) - Sightings from Attu and Buldir
Black-tailed Godwit, Limosa limosa (Intermittent) - One on Buldir, May 31
Bar-tailed Godwit, Limosa lapponica (Migrant) - Six Adak May 23, one Buldir May 30 to 31
Sanderling, Calidris alba (Winter) - One on Buldir
Rock Sandpiper, Calidris ptilocnemis (Resident) - Adak, Kanaga and Attu
Snipe sp., Gallinago - Unidentified individual snipe flushed on Adak and Buldir
Red-necked Phalarope, Phalaropus lobatus (Summer) - Adak near Clam Lagoon
Red Phalarope, Phalaropus fulicarius (Migrant) - Three from the Tiglax between Kiska and Aggatu on May 26
Slaty-backed Gull, Larus schistisagus (Migrant) - Two sightings, a dark saddled bird on May 29 from the Tiglax off Attu and a breeding adult on June 8 on the beach at Buldir loafing with the local Glaucous-winged Gulls
Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescens (Resident) - Abundant, a malevolent presence around the auklet colonies
Black-legged Kittiwake, Rissa tridactyla (Resident) - Seen occasionally at sea between Adak and Attu, common breeder on Buldir
Red-legged Kittiwake, Rissa brevirostris (Summer) - Regularly seen within much larger Black-legged Kittiwake flocks on Buldir, a noticeably darker-backed bird with dark underwings, red legs conspicuous even at a distance
Aleutian Tern, Onychoprion aleuticus (Summer) - Several birds heard and then seen just offshore from the LORAN station at Massacre Bay, Attu. Additional sightings on Adak courtesy of Issac at Aleutian Outfitters. These birds like to fly around high above the ground, their presence indicated by their unusual shorebird-like calls
Arctic Tern, Sterna paradisaea (Summer) - Sightings on Adak
Pomarine Jaeger, Stercorarius pomarinus (Migrant) - Four, Adak to Attu and back
Parasitic Jaeger, Stercorarius parasiticus (Summer) - Dark phase breeding birds present on Buldir, several light birds on the voyage to Buldir – probable migrants
Common Murre, Uria aalge (Resident) - Occasionally seen at sea from Tiglax, common nester on Buldir
Thick-billed Murre, Uria lomvia (Resident) - As per Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot, Cepphus columba (Resident) - Small numbers around islands
Marbled Murrelet, Brachyramphus marmoratus (Resident) - Adak, Clam Lagoon
Kittlitz's Murrelet, Brachyramphus brevirostris (Summer) - Sightings at Adak and Attu – Clam Lagoon on Adak is a particularly good place to view this species
Ancient Murrelet, Synthliboramphus antiquus (Resident) - Small numbers at sea Adak to Attu, frequently seen from shore on Adak, nesting but nocturnal on Buldir
Cassin's Auklet, Ptychoramphus aleuticus (Summer) - Nesting but nocturnal on Buldir, heard but not seen
Parakeet Auklet, Aethia psittacula (Summer) - Nesting on Buldir, seen in smallish numbers just offshore and on rocky/grassy slopes by the water – not prominent in the main auklet colony
Least Auklet, Aethia pusilla (Resident) - Often seen at sea from the Tiglax, nesting in large number on Buldir, in indescribably huge numbers on Kiska – a very cute bird
Whiskered Auklet, Aethia pygmaea (Resident) - Occasionally seen at sea from the Tiglax in tidal rips around islands, seen at night in shore nesting locations on Buldir, two daylight sightings among the many Least and Crested Auklets at Main Talus
Crested Auklet, Aethia cristatella (Resident) - Often seen at sea from the Tiglax, nesting in large numbers on Buldir, in indescribably large numbers on Kiska – an interesting but reptilian species
Horned Puffin, Fratercula corniculata (Summer) - Seen at sea near Kiska and Buldir, common nester on Buldir
Tufted Puffin, Fratercula cirrhata (Resident) - Seen at sea near Kiska and Buldir, common nester on Buldir
Short-eared Owl, Aso flammeus (Summer) - One on Adak at the airport, May 23
Common Raven, Corvus corax (Resident) - Fairly common on Adak
Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota (Casual) - One, Buldir, June 8, very rare bird
Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica (Casual) - One on Adak, June 12, N.A. race, rare bird
Winter Wren, Troglodytes troglodytes (Resident) - Common on the islands, the big-billed Aleutian race was often seen foraging amongst beach driftwood
Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Motacilla tschutschensis (Migrant) - One on Kanaga on May 24, two around the camp area on Buldir May 29 to June 9
(Aleutian) Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia sanaka (Resident) - Common on the islands, the large Aleutian race was often seen foraging amongst beach driftwood
Rustic Bunting, Emberiza rustica (Intermittent) - A nice breeding plumage male was around the Buldir camp May 29-30, four more were seen inland on the 31st
Lapland Longspur, Calcarius lapponicus (Summer) - Common on the larger islands, bubbling song and chattering call notes a signature Aleutian sound
Snow Bunting, Plectrophenax nivalis (Resident) - Many sightings on Attu
Brambling, Fringilla montifringilla (Migrant) - A flock of seven at Etienne Bay on Attu May 27, a small group also seen on the 28th at Massacre Bay
(Aleutian) Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Leucosticte tephrocotis griseonucha (Resident) - Common and pleasant presence on the larger islands
Redpoll sp. - Redpolls seen and heard on Attu were not identified to species
Annotated Mammal List – Aleutian Islands, Alaska, May 23 to June 13 2010
Arctic Fox, Alopex lagopus - One on the beach on Kanaga Island on May 24, not long for this world
Hump-backed Whale, Megaptera novaeangliae - One, May 24 between Adak and Kanaga islands, a rare sighting for the Aleutians
Minke Whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata - Near daily sightings from the Tiglax
Sperm Whale, Physeter macrocephalus - Good numbers seen west of Kiska
Orca, Orcinus orca - A pod of seven cruising at high speed near Massacre Bay Attu, also a mother and young just metres off shore near the camp at Sirius Point on Kiska
Dall’s Porpoise, Phocoenoides dalli - Near daily sightings from the Tiglax, small pods would approach the ship from afar to play in the bow wave – much reduced in last two decades
Harbour Seal, Phoca vitulina - Regular sightings inshore around the major islands
Sea Otter, Enhydra lutris - Seven near shore on Adak at Clam Lagoon, including mothers with young pups riding on their bellies