Red-legged Kittiwake on the Pribilofs

KlippenmöweA sticky grey fills the sky. Fog lays over the sea. Only a shade of white on the water is visible when the waves crush to the rocky coast. A narrow trails gives way to the cliffs – called bluffs – on the southern edge of the island of St. Paul. St. Paul, the biggest island of the Pribilofs, is more or less in the middle of nowhere in the Bering Sea.

Suddenly in the grey an almost white birds passes by, silently and effortlessly in a slow pace – sometimes standing in the constant wind – along the colonies of seabirds on the cliffs. Yes, a Kittiwake. But some characteristics with the well-known Kittiwake of the Western Palearctic, the Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) – do not match. The bill looks more stout and the underwing looks grey and not white. Starting the descend of flight, red legs, are hanging out of the white body. Hey, this is the enigmatic Red-legged Kittiwake (Rissa brevirostris).

The Red-legged Kittiwake is closely related to and partially sympatric with Black-legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla) but there is no interbreeding known. The breeding adult Red-legged Kittiwake is white as its congener, but shows a darker grey mantle, back and upperwing.

Although roughly three quarters of the world’s population of Red-legged Kittiwakes nest on St. George Island in the Pribilof Islands St. Paul is much easier to travel. St. Paul Island is not only the best place in Alaska to see most of the Alcids of North America and definitely the easiest location to spot Red-legged Kittiwake (Rissa brevirostris) in good numbers but is also a perfect vagrant trap. The Red-legged Kittiwake is breeding besides on St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, on Russia’s Commander Islands, on Otter Island and St George Island of the Pribilofs and on some islands of the Aleutians.

The Red-legged Kittiwake is found on sea cliffs and ledges close together with Black-legged Kittiwake and Northern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis) during the breeding season in Alaska. During the breeding season, the ledges of the island are packed with tens of thousands of nesting sea birds. The cliffs on St. Paul are sometimes remarkable low albeit steep and host an excellent variety of Gulls, Auklets and Puffins. St Paul and its seabirds breeding colonies compete in the sheers numbers with the breeding colonies of seabirds in Norway on Runde or Hornöya (Hornøya).

The Island of St. Paul has been a mecca for ABA birders for over 25 years. Although conditions were originally quite rustic they are now very decent. A variety of tour companies lead trips to St. Paul and because of the logistics I would suggest this is certainly the most comfortable and easiest way to bird St. Paul. I travelled to the Pribilofs as well as Nome and Gambell in spring 2016 with High Lonesome and it was a great adventure with great leaders and excellent organization and support. Birding Alaska is always a bit of a surprise given the weather and locations off the beaten track. Stories of delayed planes, baggage on the next plane for days and people being stranded in various places are numerous.

In order to satisfy the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of Palearctic, has undertaken targeted travel to near and distant bird areas. This is to be able to do anything to provide excellent images of the birds of the Western Palearctic. The results in images even of rare Western Palearctic birds are very good. Very nice images could bring back home among others from Europe from England, Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark), from Holland, from Poland, Austria, France, Portugal, Spain and of course from Germany.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic.  Beside the image above you can find a nice selection of birds in the gallery or in the “Pictures Shop” very soon. Just give a message, if Bird-Lens could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *