The island was about as far from biotech as he could get. He’d watched the Alaskan mainland receding beneath him, giving way to the Aleutians with their volcanoes spewing little plumes of dust. After landing on Adak, he’d boarded a boat and spent 56 hours heading west through the Bering Sea, from one sparsely inhabited rock to another. His destination was Attu. Sometimes called the westernmost point in the western hemisphere, it’s so far west that the nearest landmass is the Russian Far East.
For Neil Hayward, the days of travel and nights of seasickness were worth it, because of the birds. They were what field guides call vagrants or accidentals: species that turn up far outside their normal range, unexpected emissaries from another part of the world. Among birders, Attu is famous for them. Records show everything from rustic bunting to Eurasian hobby, white-throated needletail to long-toed stint. “They’ve been blown off course,” Hayward explained. “They’re either lost or they’ve been carried by a storm.”