Finding a Bristle-thighed Curlew
Lately in my life I've been trying a lot of new things- food, habits, sleep patterns, and experimenting a little with my blog. Most of these changes you won't be able to see yet, but it's my attempt to stretch myself outside of my comfort zone, and learn a little bit more about myself. Doing a Big Year, many birders can attest to almost falling into a rhythmic cycle, of chasing birds, traveling, and finding some time left over to sleep. It's almost robotic. I'm doing things differently- that's what makes The Birding Project so exciting to me. So while I wait for the Polar Cub Cafe to open in Nome, so I can enjoy a hot breakfast to fuel my exploits into the sub-Arctic today, I'll share a few photos with you from yesterday.
A BIRD LIKE NO OTHER
The Bristle-thighed Curlew is a unique species of shorebird. It breeds only in North America, unlike the similar-looking Whimbrel, another medium-sized shorebird sporting a de-curved bill.
With only about 7,000 adult birds left in the entire population, this is definitely a rare bird. Although only a Code 2 by ABA standards, to me this bird is much rarer. I've already made the trek to Nome earlier in my post-college life, driving 75 miles outside of Nome on a highway that dead ends into the tundra, and hiking up a hill to scan the vast hillsides and valleys for this bird.
I didn't see it.
Yesterday, I returned with more optimism. Despite my high-hopes of seeing this bird, knowing from recent eBird reports that there were breeding birds present at this spot, an invisible pressure hung over my head. What if I didn't see it? Would I have to come back? Could I intercept a late-departing adult on St. Paul in August? How could I even get to St. Paul? There was no shortage of questions in my mind.
The hike up the hill opposite of "Coffee Dome" a dark mountain on the other side of the dirt road is described by birders as a "death march". I couldn't disagree more. The deep holes in the tundra, empty now but filled with water after rains, made hiking difficult. The spongy ground gave way under my Xtratuf boots, yet there was a solid feeling of being supported by plant life. The mosses, lichen, and willow shrubs made a lush green canvas for cottongrass and yellow wildflowers to bloom against in bright contrast.
I hiked over an hour, only finding several Whimbrel with chicks (believe me, I tried making them into Curlews) and several Willow Ptarmigan (a new bird for the year!) Choosing a different route down the hill always seems better than re-tracing one's steps, and this strategy produced not one, two, three, or four individuals- but SIX Bristle-thighed Curlews! I didn't spend much time photographing them, since they were agitated to share their nesting habitat with me, but I did stop briefly and fired off a volley of shots.
I'm heading to breakfast now, and hope you can enjoy some glimpses of this amazing bird. My images try to convey a sense of where this bird lives- as well as the beautiful mottling and barring on his plumage. I'll update this post later with some more biology of the bird and how it was named, but for now- overpriced omelettes are calling my name!