Birding in the Pribilofs

By Jaffe, Matthew | Sunset, May 1998 | Go to article overview

Birding in the Pribilofs


Jaffe, Matthew, Sunset


Birding in the Pribilofs

and other Alaskan adventures-from Anchorage hikes to Seward sea life

The birders were all aflutter. The day before we flew into Alaska's Pribilof Islands from Anchorage, a peregrine-like falcon from Asia called a Eurasian hobby had flown in from the other direction. Or, more accurately, blown in-a strong wind apparently carried the bird off course, sending him halfway across the Bering Sea to these remote volcanic islands.

The falcon's surprise visit gave the birders a chance to check off an unlikely conquest on their life list. I have no life list. I was more interested in checking out the abstract composition of the huge stacks of crab traps where the bird was said to hang out.

So as my birding friends carefully scanned the stacks for the hobby, I took my camera and went off looking for good angles. And there, maybe 10 feet away, casually perched on a pair of traps, was a most handsome bird of prey that I assumed to be the aforementioned hobby.

I backed off a bit to give him space. He held still, rotating his head for a better look. We then regarded each other with great curiosity for a couple of minutes. He was, after all, my first hobby. I assume I was his first Jaffe.

Keeping one eye on the falcon, I slinked over to my camera-toting, scopecarrying, binoculars-burdened companions, all of whom were looking in the wrong direction. And in a voice that for some reason came out sounding like Joe Pesci in GoodFellas, I declared, "Hey, I think I gotchyer bird, he-ah."

Instantly they wheeled and spotted the hobby. With copious cooing and chirping, the birders zeroed in on the falcon through optics that Galileo would have killed for. A veritable squawkarazzi, these birders. But by now, like George Clooney on a bad hair day, the hobby had endured enough scrutiny: get blown hundreds of miles from home and now this. He took off, leaving the birders to marvel at their good fortune.

Intoned one, with a solemnity appropriate to the event, "There goes the rarest bird in North America, at least for today "At least technically," he also might have added.

The Pribilof Islands sit north of the Aleutian Islands in the middle of the Bering Sea, closer to Siberia than to Juneau, farther west than Hawaii, and just a shade to the east of New Zealand, give or take 100o of latitude. …

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