A Trip to Egg Islands


Mrs. WC’s friend, Milo Burcham, was kind enough to take WC out on his boat to Egg Islands to photograph Red Knots.

That probably needs some explanation. Milo Burcham is a terrific nature photographer based out of Cordova, Alaska. WC can only wish he was as good at avian photography as Milo.

Egg Islands are low mudflats, the mud and sand from the Copper River, carried westwards by the currents in the Gulf of Alaska. A few acres are high enough to have some windblown grass above the high tide. But at low tide there are immense mudflats, square miles of packed, water-rippled mud. A magnet for shorebirds, who probe that mud for food.

Red Knots are a very uncommon shorebird, moving through the area in migration to breeding areas on the way to the North Slope of Alaska. Compared to Western Sandpipers, there are tiny numbers of Red Knots. And they are famously – infamously – spooky and difficult to approach. Milo’s technique was new to WC: Wade out in to the deeper water off shore from the Red Knots, and then wait for the falling tide to bring the birds, who follow the tidal line. WC didn’t have chest waders. So he had to stalk them across the mud. On his hands and knees. For hundreds of yards.

We had time for two stalks, in the low clouds, heavy drizzle and breeze of the Gulf of Alaska. The first was somewhat more successful.

Red Knots, Egg Islands, Gulf of Alaska

Red Knots, Egg Islands, Gulf of Alaska

The second, despite being longer, was less successful.

Red Knots, Egg Islands, Gulf of Alaska

Red Knots, Egg Islands, Gulf of Alaska

Milo got closer, and has a much larger lens. But the birds flew away from him as well.

Red Knot Fly-by, Egg Islands, Gulf of Alaska

Red Knot Fly-by, Egg Islands, Gulf of Alaska

On the other hand, the trip back passed by a haul out for sea otters. Most of us only see sea otters out on the water, usually on their backs, caring for their pups or munching on sea urchins. But away from people and boats, sea otters will sometimes haul out for a rest. Milo slowed down just a bit, not enough to frighten the resting sea otters but enough to allow a few shots to be fired off.

Sea Otter Haul Out, Orca Inlet

Sea Otter Haul Out, Orca Inlet

Sure, it was rainy, the light was flat and boring, and WC’s rain pants are not likely to ever be the same. The Red Knots were about as uncooperative as advertised. But WC had an excellent time. WC’s sincere thanks to Milo for sharing his time and adventure.

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