The Kuril Islands stretch in a 1200 km line from Kamchatka to Hokkaido, along the edge of the edge of the west pacific tectonic plate - there are about 40 active volcanoes among the 22 main islands and 30-ish smaller islets.
Tufted Puffin - Fratercula cirrhata
Since 1945 Russia has been in charge of all the Kuril Islands, although Japan still claims four islands in the south, close to Hokkaido.
Most of the islands are unpopulated now, and there is plenty of wildlife to be seen.
On 2nd June we began with a Zodiac Cruise off Ptichi Rocks, near Paramushir Island.
Sea Otter - Enhydra lutris
The area had a large colony of Sea Otters, and was the place where we had our best (but still not very good) views of Parakeet Auklets (right, below).
Parakeet Auklet (r) - Aethia psittacula
The seabirds make easy prey for a Peregrine Falcon - the local race is "pealeai"
We also saw more Pigeon Guillemots. The Kuril form is "snowi", and it has fine lines on the wings, instead of the usual white patches. Mark Brazil (Birds of East Asia) treats this as a separate species.
Pigeon guillemot - Cepphus columba
We passed close to Severo-Kurilsk on Paramushir with many Northern Fulmars attracted by the waste from the fish-processing plant.
In the "narrows" between Paramushir and Shumshu Islands... some more Common Guillemots, and - familiar to Hong Kong birders - Ancient Murrelets...
In the afternoon we landed on the island of Atlasova, dominated by Mt Alaid, at 2339m the highest volcanic cone in the Kuril chain.
Some duck were seen on a small lake, and Hoary Redpoll found breeding in the beachside scrub.
Clear weather, too, on the 3rd for a morning landing on Onekotan. We surprised a (Red) Fox on the beach, and had time to ponder the remains - in the form of dry stone rings - of the dwellings of the Ainu, Onekotan's former inhabitants, "re-settled" by the Japanese in the late 19th century.
Dwarf pines covered the often windy island, and Pine Grosbeaks were a highlight among the land birds.
In the afternoon we visited a colony of breeding Northern Fulmars on the island of Ekarma. The sky was full of them.
"the sky was full of them..."
view bigger video here
There also a few Pigeon Guillemots around, and the inevitable Horned Puffin...
Late in the afternoon we got a foretaste of what was to come the following day, with a flock of about thirty Crested Auklets
Crested Auklet - Aethia cristellata
A single small blob on the water was spotted. A Whiskered Auklet in clear sunshine !
We were keen to get photos while we could, but it kept scuttling away when we got too close.
It seemed to be saying.....
Whiskered Auklet - Aethia pygmaea (composite photo)
"Follow me" - it called- " to Planet Auklet !! "...
End of Part 4
End of Part 4