Serious North American birders absolutely have to witness spring migration in Alaska. Extreme “listers” will venture out to one of the islands with hopes of seeing North American birds which either migrate through or breed in the arctic and also, rare Eurasian migrants which occasionally drop into the island. I chose Gambell, the Siberian Yupik village on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, 35 miles off of the Siberian (yes, Russia) coast. Gambell is a small, timeless Eskimo village where walrus, whale, seal, polar bear, and birds account for most of the native diet. I was not disappointed, as I added a whopping 21 birds to my life list after five adrenaline-pumping 16 hour birding days on Gambell.
Gambell offers huge colonies of Parakeet, Least and Crested Auklets (all lifers for me) on the cliffs and the point or “sea-watch” provides a super-highway for passing seabirds, literally hundreds per minute, flying very close to the island. But Gambell is most famous among birders for “The Boneyard” and the rarities that are discovered in its craters. The boneyards are the native dumps used for centuries to dispose of whale, walrus, and seal carcasses. The natives dig in the boneyards, looking for “old” ivory which is quite valuable. Passing birds drop into “The Boneyard” for both respite from difficult travels and nourishment from the bugs attracted to the decaying animals. Water-proof, knee-length footwear was mandatory!