As with many birders, I know my life list, and pay particular attention as it approaches significant milestones. Recently, I visited Alaska for the first time. Although it was a family (i.e.: not a birding) vacation, I knew my life list was approaching 1,000, for the second time. 

In August 1984, long before listing software or personal computers were readily available, I made my only trip to Europe. When I returned, my life list was 1,008 birds. However, in 1994, when I bought my first listing software, I could not find my European records. Although I remembered a number of the birds I had seen, one does not easily forget Lammergier, I could account for only a total of 974 species.

Early on June 29, 1999, we were in College Fjord, just north of Prince William Sound, Alaska, when I identified my first Kittlitz’s Murrelet; life bird number 999. As we traversed the Sound and entered the Gulf of Alaska, I knew what I wanted for number 1,000, an albatross, a family I had never seen.

I spent most of that day scanning the sea, but saw few birds. However, as evening approached, Sooty Shearwaters arrived, frequently crossing the bow to give those of us in the forward lounge wonderful views, as we sipped our pre-dinner cocktails. (“Roughing it” and “birding” are not necessarily synonymous, even in Alaska.) After dinner we scanned the open Pacific from our stateroom balcony. Shearwaters were still flying, mostly Sooties. However, a few were smaller with more uniform underwing paleness;  Short-tailed Shearwaters, and I could, for the second time, list 1,000 lifers.

I was, of course, delighted (even though I had really wanted number 1,000 to be an albatross). But all was not lost.

I use two listing programs, because each does things the other does not. One offers Clements’ taxonomy, recognizing 9811 species; while the other offers two world wide taxonomies, recognizing 9942 and 9950 species. It was based upon the 9942 species list that I had just re-achieved the millennium mark. This list differs from Clements’ list in one respect particularly relevant to me; it splits Little Hermit into itself and Boucard’s Hermit. The former occurs in Trinidad, where I have seen it 21 times; the latter occurs in Costa Rica, where I have seen it 5 times. (Pulling up sightings details is a snap with good listing programs!)

That far north at that time of year, we had 22 hours of daylight with 2 hours of dusk. About 11:00 p.m., another species approached gliding low through the wave troughs. It was about twice the size of the Sooty Shearwaters and, as it came closer, the white ring around its bill became visible; a Black-footed Albatross. Thus, based upon Clements’ taxonomy, I achieved 1,000 lifers (for a third time) with an albatross!!!

It may not have been a birding vacation, but it sure worked for me.

Michael R. Hannisian