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My Next Big Adventure: 3.5 Months in the Pribilof Islands

posted by Ryan O'Donnell at
on Saturday, April 7, 2012 

I recently accepted a summer job working as a tour guide, mostly for birders, on St. Paul Island in the Pribilofs!  This will be an amazing experience, and a nice paid "vacation" (although I'll be working a lot of hours), before I start a real career in the fall.


The Pribilofs are a small cluster of islands in the Bering Sea, between Alaska and Russia.  They are less than 200 miles from Russian waters and about as close to Russia as they are to Anchorage.  The Pribilofs are a popular destination for birders, for two reasons.  First, there are a lot of north Pacific/Bering Sea species that can only be seen in this area.  For example, Red-faced Cormorants, Steller's Eiders, Least Auklets, Crested Auklets, Parakeet Auklets, Thick-billed Murres, Tufted Puffins, Horned Puffins, Red-legged Kittiwakes, and McCay's Buntings all breed here.  Second, because the islands are so remote and so close to Asia, they are a likely spot to find lost Asian birds.  This is a big deal for North American birders who are trying to build their life lists, especially for those who are concerned with their American Birding Association (ABA), North American, or United States lists.  Some of the more regular Asian vagrants on these islands include Gray-tailed Tattler, Wood Sandpiper, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Slaty-backed Gull, and Eastern Yellow Wagtail.  But perhaps the biggest draw are the rarest birds: tours in previous years have found Brown Hawk-Owl, Gray Heron, Chinese Pond-Heron, Eurasian Hobby, Spotted Redshank, Great Knot, Solitary Snipe, Oriental Cuckoo, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Rufous-tailed Robin, Oriental Greenfinch, Hawfinch, and many more very rare species for North America, and you never know what might turn up here next.  To see the complete list, click here.

If birds aren't your thing, there's still plenty to see on the island.  The Pribilofs were once known as the "Seal Islands" because of the large colonies of Northern Fur Seals that breed there.  Walruses can be seen here, more rarely.  A feral herd of reindeer now roam the island.  The Pribilof Island Shrew lives only on St. Paul Island, where I'll be, and nowhere else in the world.  There is an island subspecies of Arctic Fox that is very common there.

If you are interested in visiting the island, you can go with any of several tour companies, but I'll be working for St. Paul Island Tours.  I hope to see you there!

Parakeet Auklets on St. Paul Island, in the Pribilofs.  Parakeet Auklets are one of the specialty species of the Bering Sea and they can be seen breeding on the cliffs around the island.  Photo by Francesco Veronesi and available through Creative Commons license.
Arctic Fox pup on St. Paul Island.  These adorable canids are common throughout the island.  Photo by "im me" and available through Creative Commons license.
Brown Hawk-Owl, photographed somewhere in Asia.  A Brown Hawk-Owl found on St. Paul Island in 2007 was the first record for North America.  Photo by Andy Li and available through Creative Commons license.

Because my posts for the summer will be consistently off-topic for a Utah blog, I'll probably be posting at my own personal blog and not here for that period.  If you're interested in reading about my adventures in the Bering Sea, watch my other blog: 200Birds.

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2 Comments:
Anonymous Jerry Liguori said...

Can't wait to hear about your adventures, should be a a great time!

April 8, 2012 at 7:53 AM  
Anonymous Morocco family tours said...

Hi,
thanks so much for these tips! My blogs usually do bring readers and responses. One thing I do is engage with the readers.

April 24, 2012 at 4:54 AM  

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