Attu: A birding paradise
No one lives on the Aleutian island of Attu, but every year people pay thousands of dollars to travel to the remote location for one reason — the birds.
“You can see species here that you can’t find anywhere else in North America,” said Marianne Aplin, visitor service supervisor for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
Attu is part of the refuge, which is home to 40 million seabirds.
Aplin and amateur birder Bobby Beckman always have their binoculars handy so they can identify the birds they see. Beckman is on Attu working with a crew cleaning up tar and fuel dumped by the military during World War II. He says he was thrilled when he realized he’d get paid to visit birding paradise.
“The first thing I did was go buy that book about birding on Attu and printed off a list of all the birds that anyone has ever seen on the island,” said Beckman.
While on Attu, they paid a visit to a birding shrine –- an old Coast Guard building.
For a couple weeks every year going back to the early 1980’s, he building is home to birders. They sign their names on the walls, along with their bird count.
“It’s the number of species they’ve seen,” said Beckman.
The American Birding Association puts out the official list, which includes 991 unique birds. According to Beckman, he’s seen around 300 of them.
Some birders return to Attu year after year, looking for a glimpse of a new species. Beckman and Aplin understand the feeling well.
“It’s like collecting things. I get excited,” said Beckman.
“The folks on this wall are probably a lot more dedicated and really interested in the count of birds — an annual count of birds and a life list count of birds and that whole competitive aspect that is pretty exciting,” said Aplin.