As you probably can tell when we are on vacation birding and photographing great places there really are no pressing problems. Except that we bounce from one place to another and I’m always leaving something next to the car or on the roof or hanging from a post. It happens all to often; I’d worry about my aging brain if it hadn’t always been this way. I’ve left stuff all over the world, kind of a foreign aid ambassador. Or perhaps I started this phase of aging in my thirties.
So there we are about 75 miles of dirt road from Nome out near a landmark called Coffee Dome. Coffee Dome is a dark-topped hill in a rolling land of lesser dark-topped hills. Not that much of a landmark really. The roads have green mileage markers out here and those are the real locator devices; no cell phones, no wifi, but there are mileage signposts. Anyway, we arrived in the target area and were about to climb up onto a tundra plain well above the road level to look for the very uncommon Bristle-thighed Curlew. This is the only place where they nest within a mile or so of any road in the US or Canada. It was here or no where. We slipped into our Muck Boots and left our sneakers with the car. Mine were a bit wet so I stuck them on the roof near the driver’s door so they would be easy to spot upon our return.
Off we trudged. It was about two hours later when we met again to descend to the car. We had seen two curlew flying and calling just after reaching the upper tundra plain and had then walked all over the place looking at Lapland Longspurs, American Golden-Plovers, Savannah Sparrows, and whatever else we happened on. Much of the tundra vegetation was in bloom and the hot weather and long days of sunshine had things popping.
We split up for about 45 minutes and planned to reconvene at a shrub (yes, really just a shrub) that was near the path we had followed to get up to where the birds were and the path we needed to follow down again. The terrain looked rather smooth but was pretty rugged. The path was one footprint wide and wandered through the driest, less damp would be better, part of the landscape. We slogged up and would slog down over muskeg, sedges, mosses, puddles, and drainages; it was very very nice.
I happend on a pair of Caribou antlers while up on the tundra and returned to the shrub with one of them. The antler was left leaning against the shrub to help provide a better landmark for the next birder to make this pilgrimage. We found each other, found the shrub, found the path, and started down. Here is the odd part I guess. I kept my boots on when we reached the car and drove off as we were going to stop again and again on the way back to town. We were in no hurry and planned to take 5-6-7 hours to return. It seemed wise to keep the boots on. We started back slowly, looking for Alaskan birds in the wet draws and roadside shrubs and moose and musk ox on the hillsides.