#700 – ALEUTIAN TERN (Kenai NWR, Alaska)!!!

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.

Wildfire approaching Headquarters Lake (Kenai NWR, Alaska)

Wildfire approaching Headquarters Lake (Kenai NWR, Alaska)

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”.

Aleutian Terns "pairing"image

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?

About George C. Wood

A birder since age ten, but not necessarily an avid "lister", I am closing in on 700 (*800!) species seen in North America.....hoping to capture each sighting with my camera.
This entry was posted in Quest for 700 (*800!). Bookmark the permalink.

54 Responses to #700 – ALEUTIAN TERN (Kenai NWR, Alaska)!!!

  1. choppy says:

    George, I loved your enthusiasm and even learned about birds I never heard of before, hope you continue educating us all, see you back at Haverford, sincerely, Choppy

  2. Jeffrey Dingle says:

    My goodness!!

    Coconut Grove to Kenai NWR – how ’bout that!

    Awesome Egroeg.

    – Ffej

  3. Snider says:

    I can’t believe you illegally took that canoe. You’re such a mountain man. I am completely jealous
    and totally impressed.

  4. fleur says:

    brilliant, george. All my twitcher friends are super-impressed. I’m sure you need to come to Melbourne now to check out the bird-life there….x fleur

  5. David says:

    Tremendous dedication and resourcefulness. Thanks for all the fun. Don’t stop now!!!!

  6. Bob Roche says:

    Congrats, George. You are on a roll to 800!

    All the best.

    Bob Roche 484-802-3648


  7. Wistar says:

    Congratulations Bro! #700 caught in the act of making whoopee… love that!

  8. Rick Warden says:

    Congratulations George !!!
    That dinner we have been trying to plan seems more elusive that the Aleutian Tern !
    Let’s keep trying as we can now toast your accomplishment !
    We can also compare notes on Seward & Homer.
    Rick Warden

  9. Jeff Shaw says:

    Congrats on a well earned 700th NA sighting !!

    Jeffrey M. Shaw President & CIO Armstrong Shaw Associates Inc. 45 Grove Street New Canaan, CT 06840 phone: 203-972-9600 fax: 203-972-9630

  10. juliezickefoose says:

    Yay George!! That’s where Bill and I got our life Aleutian terns. I’m still wondering how you got the canoe out of the ten-foot fenced enclosure. Did it open from the inside? Also: Toby is the guy who famously beat back a grizzly bear with his tripod while birding with his wife and kids. Their homeschooled kids swept the drawing contest I judged when Bill and I were speaking at the Kenai Birding Festival a couple of years ago. They are made of awesome, as are you. Headed back to Carrington ND in a couple of weeks. You’re in some ads I made for the Potholes and Prairie festival, stretched out on a prairie hillside, dreaming. You were such fun to bird with!! Wish you’d return.

    • Hi Julie and many thanks to you and Bill for continuing to inspire me and many. And I will always cherish our Carrington Big Day. As for the canoe, I could have waded around enclosure….but climbing made a better story! All the best to you and yr family.

  11. Henry Maguire says:

    Congrats on 700

    you are done

    now save some money and go home


  12. Andrew Mozino says:

    CONGRATS !!!!!!!!!! Don’t stop now. Best Drew

  13. Douglas Southgate says:

    Congratulations, George. 750? Easy to do if you move (back) to Central America! Doug

    • Cheers Doug! I think of you often. My Karly just turned 19…I recall she was born while I was finishing up our MAster’s thesis! She has just completed freshman year at Vanderbilt – engineering!! Where does the time go???

      Sent from my iPhone


  14. Lars says:

    Way to go George!!! A well earned accomplishment.

  15. Thomas, Brinton (RBC Wealth Mgmt) says:

    Congrats…. 700 twitches makes a twitcher!!!! Brinton


  16. Dorothy Weisbord says:

    Unbelievable! Congrats, George. You’d have problem on stairs if you broke a leg.

    • It really was an adrenaline rush paddling “illegally”. Kept telling myself…”just like Ninevah”. Except for the fire and seaplanes and wind!!!

      Sent from my iPhone


  17. Martin, Lisa says:

    Congratulations George!!

  18. Joey says:

    Way to go George! I regaled the Palmer House Team with your #700 post. Made for a great check-in!

  19. Deborah Glass says:

    Congratulations George!! A huge milestone. Happy more to follow.

  20. George Gephart says:

    Congratulations George!!!

  21. Scott Tuttle says:

    Congratulationds, George. Keep the blogs coming and the numbers growing

  22. Nina says:

    Love this blog and so happy and thrilled that you are completely able to break rules! Love from your partner in crime and number one rule breaker!!

  23. Marv says:

    George, you did it! Congrats. A great achievement. Thanks for showing me birds I never knew existed!

  24. Thanks Marv, appreciate yr interest!

  25. Page Wood says:

    Great work ! And I say the “pairing up” = 3 !

  26. ANNE WOOD says:

    #700, the Illegal Aleutian Tern ! You really did it and with no champagne. No mention of 701, the white black headed tern? You now get to write that book.

    • The blog will be the book. If not a best seller….a birthday present for each family member in next twelve months! Oooops, that was gonna be a surprise for your 91st!

  27. Brant says:


    Congratulations on #700. What a testimony to perseverance and commitment. I have enjoyed the blog and hope you have energy (and resources) left in your tank to pursue 750, as I eagerly look forward to continuing to follow the adventures of George Wood.


    Sent from my iPad


  28. Julie Foster says:

    Congratulations George! I don’t think you can go for 750 in N. America – aren’t there only 745? Time to work on the World list. XXX – J

    • Two legendary guides are over 800! Technically, only 650 breed in North America. That is a lot of migrants, vagrants, accidentals. Believe me, I’m pleased and relaxed. Working on photography of any bird now.

  29. Tom Mason says:

    I don’t think you’d want #700 to be anything but an adventure. Great work, George!

  30. Jim Buck says:

    I echo Brant’s comments re the perseverance and commitment on display here. (How about “lifelong learning” as a plus, as well?) You’re a crazy and obsessed dude, without a doubt. But, I’m glad to know you and proud to share some lineage (educational) with you which, unfortunately for me, didn’t lead to the same personality traits! Travel safely and congratulations on this milestone, Woody.

  31. Cheers Jimbo! I COUNT on a response from you…sincerely appreciate your support and interest. No more blogging though. I stated at the outset that this blog was a mechanism to chronicle the quest for 700…and now it is accomplished (actually added two more lifers in the Pribilofs). Of course, I’ll keep birding but at a sane pace from now on…promise!

  32. Joe Knowles says:

    Huge congrats, George — and I still like the idea of celebrating 750 with you whenever it happens…and wherever it happens!

  33. david lincoln says:

    Made my day reading this Georgie. I love your blogs – just for the total amusement of hearing how crazy you are. Keep ‘em coming.

    David Lincoln
    Managing Partner
    Three Radnor Corp. Ctr, Suite 410
    Radnor, PA 19087
    610.947.6400 direct dial
    P In the interests of the environment, please print only if necessary and recycle

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