Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Alaska Day Three: Taylor/Kougarok Road

 Alaska 2014 Continued:

Day three started out the same--a quick breakfast of cereal and yogurt and then into the van. Sunday was the day we'd search for the Bristle-thighed Curlew, among others. The day was much like Saturday--cold, breezy, foggy. I wore my winter coat, which I had packed at the last minute, and wished I'd worn it the day before.

Nome and the Bering Sea from Taylor Road

I got to ride shotgun this time and watch for birds, which would also enable me to get better pictures. I think this was the prettiest of the three drives, with wide valleys and the snow-capped Kigluaik Mountains all around us.

Our first big sighting of the day wasn't a bird but another small herd of muskox. We stopped to watch them, as this was not an animal we would see downstate.  Such magnificent creatures, so well adapted to this environment.

Muskox eye us warily.

It didn't take them long to decide we were a bit too close. But to watch them run was a treat, with their long guard hairs flowing out behind them.

We paused for a while at the campground at Salmon Lake, where there was a pit toilet, and spent 20 minutes or so exploring the area. Only a few waterfowl could be seen on the lake, all at a far distance.

Salmon Lake, still mostly iced over.

An old cabin sits along side the Salmon River.

There were a few breaks in the clouds which allowed us better views of the mountains, but for the most part it stayed cloudy.

Kigluaik Mountains.
We made it to the area where the curlew was known to nest around 11 am. Bill decided to forego the path that was farther down the road and we instead climbed right up the hill. This was extremely difficult walking, as the ground is covered with small hummocks of grasses and forbs surrounded by mud and small pools of water. While my boots got pretty wet and muddy I managed to not fall down, though several others were not so lucky.

Mile marker 72, Coffee Dome area.

I took several photos of the area with my cell phone, and even recorded a video or two, but I can't find them now. At any rate, we climbed high above the road, and as the hill curved up we eventually lost sight of the van. As usual I got a bit bored as the curlew eluded us, and began examining the ground, where flowers were beginning to emerge.

Diapansia lapponica, or cushion-plant, blooming low on the tundra.

After our search for the curlew we began the drive back to Nome. We took a short trip down Pilgrim Hot Springs Road and stopped at an area known to harbor Northern Wheatears. By this time the sun had begun to shine more regularly, and the hike up the hill to the rock outcroppings was quite pleasant as this ground was solid and fairly flat.

The Tors region along Pilgrim Hot Springs Road

We did not venture all the way to the hot springs, but it was nice getting to spend a little time exploring this area.

While my aunt and I explored the large outcropping, several of our party tramped off to another where the wheatear had been heard singing. I was tired, and told my aunt that unless the bird landed within 15 feet of me, I wasn't going to chase it. We had seen one the day before so my motivation was low. But not 30 seconds later I heard a bird singing, and looked up to see the wheatear doing some areal acrobatics. He landed perhaps 30 feet away on the lichen-covered granite behind us, and paused long enough for me to get some photos. Guess I should threaten the birds more often!

Northern Wheatear.

We drove back to Nome and finished our day with dinner at Airport Pizza, a place with a surprisingly diverse menu. As with all of Nome, food was quite expensive, and they didn't always have all of the ingredients (I recall they were out of tomatoes, among other things) but the food was good and worth the price.

Looking down at the van along Pilgrim Hot Springs Road.

Next: The hunt for the Bristle-thighed Curlew

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