With great pleasure and anticipation I escorted my group down the Kougarok Road towards a bird sought by all nine for their ‘life-lists’ – Bristle-Thighed Curlew. Brief stops along the way yielded great views of Bluethroat at the Salmon Lake Campground Road and others, as well as Wandering Tattler, Northern Waterthrush and Short-Eared Owls along the way. A familiar call prompted me to announce the presence of Say’s Phoebe at mile 40 – another locally hard to find bird and the 4th I’ve encountered in the past two weeks.
Parking the van at mile 72 we immediately heard the territorial chatter of a flying Bristle-Thighed scolding a raven directly over-head and got tentative binocular views of the bird. We (the co-leader Dave McKay and I) encouraged our group to make the hike to the top of the hill for even better views. A few of us got brief, distant looks at more Curlews along the hike, but it took us perhaps 3 hours to obtain nice 50 foot views as we compared them to the also nesting Whimbrels. A biting squall added to the drama of the adventure.
Returning to our vehicles we found that not only did we have a flat tire on the van but the spare was also flat and we had 72 miles of bad road to return over. We loaded the pickup front and back with all eleven of us for the miserable ride back in the rain and cold. As luck would have it we encountered another stranded motorist just a mile down the road – a young man whose pickup truck had broken down. Serendipitously, the lug pattern on the wheels of his truck fit our van perfectly so a dire situation quickly turned into a win-win as he swapped us his spare for a ride to town.
Along the way we witnessed a pair of blonde Grizzlies stalking a moose calf. The bears were startled by our arrival on the scene and ran away, rising up on their rear legs to look back at us above the willows as they went. In the evening a small group of us returned to the Nome River Bridge and re-found Aleutian Terns.