Alaskan Birding Journey — Part 1

This is a tale of an Alaskan journey with Bill Drummond and stops in Nome, St. Paul, and Anchorage. It is my story of how it began, the stops, the impressions, and most of all the birds. Come join me on my journey.
And so it begins. Not in a spectacular fashion , indeed, just the opposite. It is June 1989 and I am sitting in the Northwest Terminal restaurant being glared at by a raspberry croissant whose very existence was about to end. The Coke fared better , only that it lasted longer, but it’s fate was also doomed. Power does have its advantages. Here sits King Gerry , conqueror of croissants and soda. Time to think about how I got to this point.
Bill Drummond had announced an Alaska trip and being a professional procrastinator I simply let it slide. When some of my friends said they were going I decided to call Bill and of course the trip was full. “You’re on the wait list” were Bill’s words of encouragement. Now I don’t know if birders are by nature superstitious, but I can tell you this one is and I convinced myself that if I said anything to anybody I would jinx my chance to get on the trip. Like it would really matter! I became so convinced of this that if I met Bill in the field I never mentioned Alaska. My lack of action was all that was to blame.
While birding at Newburyport one day Bill approached and said.”Gerry it’s close — you are number one on the list so be ready.” To those of you that have been in this position you know it is pure mental torture. I am so close and yet so far away? When will he call? Should I call him? Maybe, someday, and nowhere the answers. I had reached “birding trip limbo”
This is a semi-euphoric state that does nothing but heighten your pains of anxiety. I know I’m close but will it finally happen? The more I wish for an an answer, the more I create a subconscious rationalization of defeat. I found it was not possible to put aside my chance of success or failure. You hope for success but failure always rears its ugly head. Nothing is perfect in this life but the mere thought of not going to Alaska is more than I am willing to accept. So much inner conflict. There has to be a need for group or individual therapy for birders.
The holidays came and went and still no word. Arriving home this January day my daughter says.” There’s a note from a Mr. Drummond on the counter.” On a yellow post it was this message, ” Mr. Drummond called  – Alaska is on – call ASAP.” Now one might think that a man in his castle would now release all his inner emotions in some sort of primal scream of joy and incoherent babbling.
Quite the opposite. I called Bill and said,”Hey that’s great – count me in.” Bills response was ” Super!  glad to have you aboard. I’ll be sending the final itinerary shortly. I also haven’t worked out all the room assignments yet, would you mind rooming with me if necessary?” Hells Bells! I would have roomed with a moose if I had to. I had left bird limbo and had entered bird euphoria.
In just a few days, I was at the gate waiting for the announcement. Of course I was processed through in record time. Only when you’re in a hurry does everything go wrong. But do I really care? Of course not as I begin my very special journey. This morning Boston – tonight Anchorage – tomorrow Nome. Thank you Wright Brothers. My flight is announced and the real journey is about to begin.
When does a birder become aware that their birding cannot be complete without a trip to Alaska?  photo by Seavamirum

When does a birder become aware that their birding cannot be complete without a trip to Alaska? photo by Seabamirum

The flight is Boston – Minneapolis – Anchorage. First leg is without incident. I should have known that my luck was going to be short lived. It appears that the airline overbooked the second leg and are trying to coax six people off the plane otherwise we stay grounded. The airlines negotiating process was tedious at best. The final offer was two free round trip tickets to anywhere in North America and $200 cash. The six also got dinner and a hotel for free. I was almost tempted but realized I had let greed be the temptress. I was on a birding trip and had to get to my destination.
At last with everything sorted out we began to board the plane. Boarding door shuts and we taxi down the runway for take off and finally are airborne. I let myself relax and reflect. When does a birder become aware that their birding cannot be complete without a trip to Alaska?  There are as many answers as there are birders. My reason was easy.When I had made birding my lifetime commitment, Alaska became my Mecca of North America. Reading all the books and seeing the pictures only fueled the flame. As I close my eyes and recall all the events prior to this moment I soon fall asleep. The plane droned northward.
“Ladies and gentlemen please fasten your seatbelts we are in our descent to Anchorage,” crackled over the intercom .  It was the most pleasant wake-up alarms I ever heard. Wheels on the ground, I’m in Alaska.
I arrived at 5:30 PM with a temperature of 65 under bright sunny skies. Shuttled over to the hotel, I expected to find the crew but have two messages waiting from Bill. I know this is not a good sign.  The first is to find another trip member and second and more ominous, “Meet me at the airport noon tomorrow and check to see what remains of United Flight 37.” If he sent the message all was not lost. So there was nothing to do but find the other person and have dinner.
Upon returning another message,” Do not fly to Nome without us; will eventually meet at the airport. Monitor through United Airlines.” After pleading with a supervisor I was told the plane was on the ground and would not leave until tomorrow maybe. They wouldn’t even tell me where it was. First call in the morning said there was no progress – the plane is still on the ground. What they didn’t tell me was it was preparing to depart. Next call confirmed plane was airborne.
We were waiting at the United terminal when it was announced that Flight 37 will arrive at the International Terminal since the plane is coming in from Canada. Engine trouble caused them to land in Saskatoon. Well the scene at Customs was pure bedlam as most passengers were coming with no passports and finally they waived through the entire flight. Finally we are all together and headed to gate B6 for our flight to Nome.
We board the plane, get airborne, wheels are up. Next stop Nome.
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