One is not likely to run into an Aleutian Tern (code 2) unless you are in the Aleutian Islands…..or at Headquarters Lake in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, 150 miles south of Anchorage. I received a tip that these maritime feeders had recently taken up residence on a small inland lake; a presumed lay-up! Since I had a free day before my Pribilof Islands adventure, I drove down the scenic Kenai Hiway, filled with optimism.
Upon arriving at the tiny observation platform, I was more than disappointed to see a huge lake void of avians. Where were the terns? In the distance I could see birds flying over what turned out to be a floating bog-island, but the smoke from a growing wildfire was beginning to erase the blue sky and cast a large shadow.
I hustled back to Headquarters and convinced a very friendly refuge field person (Toby) to bring his 60x magnification scope to the viewing area. We were able to positively identify a couple of Aleutian Terns but what about photos? I couldn’t write this blog without proof of #700! Toby discouraged any thoughts about using a yet-to-be located form of water transport (1. it was illegal for visitors and 2. the lake was off-limits for even Refuge personnel, as it needed to be a clear landing area for the increasing number of firefighting seaplanes) and headed back towards his office.
As I paced the shore wishing for an impossible Aleutian Tern fly-by, I noticed an upside down canoe in an enclosure. I hesitated, but quickly made the right decision for me and somehow scaled the ten foot fence without busting my optic equipment or my leg. The canoe’s midriff contained two paddles and a life preserver! At least I would appear legal in someone’s eyes if I was run over by a seaplane or swamped by the heretofore unnoticed lake swells. Within thirty minutes I was positioned next to the floating bog-island and I clicked away hoping to catch a decent shot. Note: the white forehead is the key, distinguishing field mark. And yes, those two birds are “pairing up”.
Thank YOU all for your interest and encouragement! Writing this blog has been gratifying and enjoyable. Of course, I won’t stop birding just because I’ve reached 700. There is a code 3 Tundra Bean-Goose on the Pribilofs right now! How does a round number of 750 sound?