Yesterday mid-afternoon I landed in Gambell on a small twin-engine turboprop plane, flown by a youngish pilot sporting Carhartts and a blue flannel shirt- the official uniform for the Alaskan bush. I was one of three passengers, the other two were also birders and seasoned veterans of birding Gambell and Attu, back when it was run by Attours. I sat next to several hundred pounds of cargo, spending most of the 81 minute flight leaning on a box I later examined more carefully which read 'EGGS'. In the rear of the small plane, a stack of pizzas from an Asian restaurant in Nome filled the cabin with a slight aroma of lukewarm pie. I was glad I'd saved my second Qdoba burrito for my layover in Nome, which I hastily downed publicly in the one-room airport with no shame.
The day had literally flown by. Hours earlier I had been at my Washington home with my parents, before boarding the second leg of an Alaska Airlines flight to Anchorage from Seattle, less than 12 hours after landing in Seattle from Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. As I sat on the Boeing 737-400 it dawned on me that I was now traveling by air, a luxury I'd dreamed about for thousands of miles from the driver's seat of my Subaru for most of the year. This trip, from Raleigh to Nome was made possible by a generous friend and prior colleague who donated air miles to The Birding Project, with instructions to go get more birds. Well, friend- I'm doing it! There's no better place in North America to spend the coming weeks in search of rare birds. What started as a dream, of far-flung islands in Alaska shaped by winds and time, has turned into a year-long tour of these places, not just visiting and flying home but experiencing the place- living there. By the end of the day I had seen over 20 species of birds, none new for the year but I fell asleep last night with a deeper appreciation for this place called Gambell. I'd walked under the arched jaws of a Bowhead whale skull, weaved through ancient bone pits of walrus skulls, whale vertebrae, and seal ribs. I'd talked with locals, trying to sell ivory carvings to make a few bucks. I'd birded with two friends also doing a Big Year. I'd made new friends too, who I'll be walking alongside in the coming weeks, through the challenging terrain trying to flush rare birds, blown by the winds off their teams-Siberian migration route to this Island. The days are quickly growing shorter, and familiar migrant birds are departing. We will see what tomorrow brings. One thing is for sure: I love it here! Adventure awaits, my friend. I can't wait to share it with you.
Christian will be updating his blog while on Gambell this fall with accounts of his birding adventures. With modest internet speeds, photos will be challenging to upload so he will have to paint a picture in your mind with words. Enjoy following along!