Nome, Barrow, Kenai Peninsula, and Denali National Park
Main Tour: Saturday 2nd June - Saturday 16th June 2018
Pribiloffs Extension: Sunday 17th June - Thursday 21st June 2018
Alaska's wild and beautiful spaces have long captivated birders and naturalists alike. With miles of unspoiled wilderness, unending layers of snow-covered peaks, rugged hillsides and tundra landscapes aside the Bering Sea, magnificent fjords of the craggy Kenai Peninsula, islands draped with seabirds of all shapes and sizes, glaciers calving into dark blue waters, impenetrable boreal forests and rolling tundra under the mammoth backdrop of North America's tallest mountain peak, it's easy to see why! Our 'Birding the Outposts' tour of Alaska offers a complete sampling of Alaska's birdlife by visiting four distinctive areas: Northwest Alaska's Seward Peninsula and historic Nome; remote Arctic outpost of Barrow, exhilarating Kenai Peninsula and neighboring Kenai Fjords National Park; and extensive forests, taiga and tundra beneath the gaze of Denali (Mt. McKinley). A post tour extension to the spectacular Pribiloff Islands will be offered for those interested in visiting St. Paul Island's impressive seabird cliffs teeming with puffins, auklets and kittiwakes and we will have a 3-night stay here so we can fully appreciate the extraordinary birding opportunities that this island provides.
Birding the land of the midnight sun falls into several broad categories: spectacular movements of migrants, Alaska's colorful breeding birds and the anticipation of finding an Asiatic stray. Just a few highlights of breeding species would include: Pacific, Red-throated and Arctic Loons, four eider species topped by the spectacular Spectacled and Steller's, Pacific Golden-Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Red-necked Stint, Ivory Gull, Ross's Gull, Arctic and Aleutian Terns, Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, Red-throated Pipit, plus seabird cliffs with literally millions of murres, guillemots, auklets and puffins. Even the most ardent birder's appetite is satisfied by visiting many of the best birding and scenic areas in the country. A hearty menu composed of: Northern forest species (Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Owl, Boreal Chickadee, Bohemian Waxwing, Varied Thrush, crossbills, finches and more); tundra species (nesting loons, shorebirds and jaegers, Rock and Willow Ptarmigan, Bluethroat etc); colonial seabirds (Common & Thick-billed Murres, Black & Pigeon Guillemots, Marbled, Kittlitz's and Ancient Murrelets, Cassin's, Parakeet, Crested, Rhinoceros and Least Auklets and Horned and Tufted Puffins); western Alaska nesters (Bar-tailed Godwit, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Red-necked Stint, Arctic Warbler, Red-throated Pipit and McKay's Bunting) can all be expected.
What about the unexpected? Well, Far Eastern Curlew, Mongolian and Common Ringed Plovers, Eurasian Dotterel, Common Greenshank, Wood, Green and Terek Sandpipers, Little, Temminck's and Long-toed Stints, Grey-tailed Tattler, Great Knot, Ruff, Black-tailed Gull, Eye-browed and Dusky Thrushes, Siberian Rubythroat, Siberian Stonechat, Olive-backed Pipit, Rustic Bunting, Common Rosefinch, Hawfinch, Eurasian Bullfinch and Brambling are examples of Asian strays seen on Kim's previous "Birding the Outposts" tours.
This tour is making an extra effort to find all of Western Alaska's breeding birds and to increase our chances of finding Asiatic vagrants. Accordingly, we're spending seven days in Nome and Barrow during the prime migration period to maximize our chances of observing Alaska's migrants from Asia/Siberia and those fantastic Arctic breeders. Highlights from Kim's previous Alaska tours include great looks at all of the nesting western Alaska birds including the much-wanted Bristle-thighed Curlew, migrants such as all four eiders (Common, King, Steller's and Spectacled), four loons (Arctic, Pacific, Yellow-billed and Red-throated) and great flocks of waterbirds and shorebirds, vagrants like Curlew Sandpiper, Great Knot, Grey-tailed Tattler, Red-throated Pipit, McKay's Bunting and Hawfinch, and breeding species Emperor Goose, displaying Bar-tailed Godwits, Red-necked Stint and Gyrfalcon nesting at eye level, Sabine's Gull, Aleutian Tern, Arctic Warbler, Golden-crowned Sparrow, all three skuas, both Rock and Willow Ptarmigan and lots of interesting country.
Red-faced Cormorant (ext)
Rock Sandpiper (ext)
Red-legged Kittiwake (ext)
Parakeet Auklet (ext)
Least Auklet (ext)
Crested Auklet (ext)
Great Grey Owl
Northern Hawk Owl
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch (ext)
Red Fox Sparrow
Sooty Fox Sparrow
Day 1 Arrival in Anchorage- 2nd June
Our tour begins with your arrival in Anchorage. Depending upon your arrival time, we'll get you checked into your hotel, enjoy a quick something to eat and then leave for a short visit to some nearby birding areas where we could see some commoner birds such as American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Red-necked Phalaropes, Bonaparte's and Mew Gulls, Rufous Hummingbird, Violet-green Swallow, Varied Thrush, Myrtle Warbler, Pine Siskin or Red Fox Sparrow. Night Anchorage.
Days 2 – 5 Nome
After our morning flight to Nome which is located beside the Being Sea and is a mecca for birders wanting to experience the best of arctic birding, we'll spend the remainder of our day east of Nome near Safety Lagoon. One should expect to encounter a good variety of birds even though we travel only a short distance from town. Our first divers, eiders, Tundra Swan, Black Brant, White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, displaying shorebirds including Hudsonian Whimbrel, Pacific and American Golden Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Wandering Tattler, Surfbirds, Black Turnstones, Long-tailed Skuas, Eastern Yellow Wagtails will all present themselves. As it does not get dark here until very late as we're just below the Arctic Circle, we'll need to keep an eye on the clock so that we don't stay out too late!
We'll cover all of the roads leading from Nome:
• North along the Kougarok Road looking for tundra species and two of the rarest breeding birds in North America—Bluethroat and Bristle-thighed Curlew. We've never missed this dynamic duo and we'll have time to search until we're successful. We'll enjoy other species of note as we travel through this singularly beautiful and desolate area including Gyrfalcon, Willow and Rock Ptarmigan, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, American Pipit, Northern Wheatear and a host of newly arrived migrants.
• East along the Council Road visiting Cape Nome, Safety Lagoon and the mouth of the Nome River. We'll search for Pacific and Arctic Loons, shorebirds, three jaegers, Arctic and Aleutian Terns and hope for an Asian stray & there's sometimes Emperor Goose present here as well. As we near Council we begin to encounter more trees and their resident species. Arctic Warbler, Varied Thrush, Arctic Redpoll, warblers like Wilson's, Blackpoll, Orange-crowned and Northern Waterthrush and, if extreme luck is with us, perhaps a Boreal or Northern Hawk Owl.
• North along the Teller Road covering vast expanses of rocky tundra. Here Rock Ptarmigan, Rough-legged Hawk, Black-bellied Plover, White Wagtail and Northern Wheatear are more easily found. Willow thickets along rushing rivers hold singing Wilson's & Orange-crowned Warblers, Northern Waterthrushes, Grey-cheeked Thrush, Bluethroat, American Tree Sparrow and Arctic Warbler, along with shedding Musk Oxen! This area has had its share of goodies in recent years as well, with Common Ringed-Plover, Common Sandpiper, Red-throated Pipit and Hawfinch providing the most exciting examples.
And we have plenty of time to locate the enigmatic, rare and hard-to-find Bristle-thighed Curlew. Whilst non-birding highlights could include American Beaver, Caribou and Musk Ox. Nights in Nome.
Day 6 Nome - Anchorage - Barrow
We'll have time to enjoy one last bit of birding near Nome before checking out of the hotel and transferring to the airport for our flight to Barrow. Maybe a close Rough-legged Buzzard, Slaty-backed Gull or some stately Sandhill Cranes will entertain us before our departure. Upon arrival we'll check into our hotel, enjoy a quick dinner then depart for some birding in the lovely evening light.
Upon our arrival, both the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas are likely to be icebound. In order to be prepared for cold temperatures (20 to 40 degrees F without wind-chill) during our stay, you need to have heavy winter clothing that can be layered to combat the elements. Likewise, tall waterproof footwear is required to navigate the wet, thawing tundra. As the sun never sets upon Barrow during the summer months, we'll have optional after-dinner outings (the light for photography can be beyond spectacular) for anyone interested...with the stamina! During our visit to Barrow, we'll focus on finding Spectacled and Steller's Eiders, high arctic breeders and any vagrants that we might be able to find. Night in Barrow
Days 7 - 8 Barrow
After our first breakfast above the Arctic Circle, we'll begin exploration of various roads around Barrow and we plan to travel all of the area's accessible roadways. Not as difficult as you might think as there are only about 55 miles of tracks we'll be able to travel. While we'll stay on roadways most of the time, tundra is wet and, as stated above, you'll want high waterproof footwear so that closer views/photos of nesting eiders, loons, shorebirds and other goodies like Snowy Owl is possible. The surrounding tundra teams with frantic shorebirds preoccupied with their breeding displays. Examples include Pectoral, Baird's, Buff-breasted and, with a bit of good fortune, White-rumped or Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. During good years for lemmings, Snowy Owls and Pomarine Jaegers may be quite common.
On one day an evening outing to Point Barrow is planned (if the necessary vehicles are available) as that's the best time to search for mammals. We'll look hard for Polar Bears. In Spring they are often found near whale carcasses that have been hauled onto the beach by local natives. If conditions are favorable (i.e. carcasses are present and the pack ice is nearshore), our chances of finding one of these glorious animals is quite good. We'll also search for avian specialties of the point as well. Examples include the striking trio of Spectacled, Steller's and King Eiders, Yellow-billed Loon, Black Guillemot and Common Black-headed Gull. Other gulls such as Ivory and Ross's are rare at this time of the year, but we have found them in the past. Open water can be present at the very tip of the point with birds often seeking shelter there. We'll see what our visit brings to us. If all else fails, you can still say you stood at the northernmost point of the United States. We'll take the requisite group photo to prove it! Nights in Barrow.
Day 9 Barrow - Anchorage.
Today is a clean-up day! We'll spend our hours searching for any regular species that might have eluded us thus far. We'll use the rest of our time to search for rarities like Ruff, Red-necked Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and maybe one of the rare gulls. We'll drive Barrow's now familiar roads, checking the customary lakes, melt ponds and open water along the shore before taking a flight back to Anchorage. Night in Anchorage.
Day 10 Anchorage - Seward
We can begin the day at nearby Westchester Lagoon where shorebirds could include Hudsonian Godwit and Short-billed Dowitcher amonsgt others. We'll enjoy stops at several locations for woodland or water species on the drive down the scenic Kenai Peninsula. Although the drive is only 130 miles, we'll spend most of our day en route, taking our time to search for woodland birds amid colorful backgrounds. An incredible mountain backdrop with large pine forests and some of the most scenic country in the world are the order of the day. Birds are not be forgotten however! We should be able to find American Dippers in some of the streams near Turnagain Arm, as well as Rufous Hummingbird, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Wilson's Warbler, Black-billed Magpie, Steller's Jay, Northwestern Crow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Dark-eyed Junco, Varied Thrush, Red Crossbill and Golden-crowned Sparrow in the the huge forests of the Kenai Peninsula and, of course, seabirds once we arrive in Seward. There is also a chance of seeing Dall's Sheep today as well. Night in Seward.
Day 11 Kenai Fjords National Park
Most of our day will be spent aboard our vessel exploring Resurrection Bay, Aialik Cape, Holgate Arm and other areas of the Kenai Fjords National Park, the Chiswell Islands and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. We will be on the longer, more leisurely 9 hour Northwestern Fjord Tour. This gives us as ample time to look at the many seabirds such as Pelagic and possibly Red-faced Cormorant, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Marbled Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots and Cassin's, Parakeet, Crested and Rhinoceros Auklets. This is also the most reliable tour itinerary to get us great looks at both Kittlitz's and Ancient Murrelets along with many marine mammals including Steller's Sea Lion, Sea Otter, Dall's Porpoise, Humpback Whale and Orca, calving glaciers and awesome scenery. This is an enjoyable, leisurely, near-shore nature cruise, not like a deep sea pelagic trip. We spend much of our time in close-shore habitats viewing seabird cliffs, glaciers, shoreline scenery and islands. We'll have a continental breakfast and lunch aboard the boat and return to Seward in time for an evening walk before a fresh seafood dinner overlooking the harbour. Night in Seward.
Day 12 Seward - Denali National Park
Today you'll bird amid large Sitka Spruce forests near Seward and these incredibly large trees have an aura all their own. Most of the birds we encounter will be familiar from our trip down the Kenai Peninsula just a few days prior but we'll have a chance to walk trails under immense trees listening to the sounds of Varied Thrushes, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Townsend's Warblers singing from the shadows which is reason enough to spend our morning doing just that. We may revisit many of the same areas of two days ago on our drive from Anchorage, enjoy a hike to the face of the Exit Glacier, try one more search for any of the birds we may have missed, find another chance for photographs of some of the more scenic areas and spend time enjoying the quiet beauty of the Kenai Peninsula. Let's hope for an American Black-backed Woodpecker somewhere today, along with Golden-crowned Kinglet, Bohemian Waxwing, Grey Jay, Sooty Fox Sparrow and some decent chances to find a Black Bear. We aim to arrive at our lodging in time to do a bit of exploring along some of the more remote side roads for Northern Hawk Owl, Spruce Grouse and other woodlands species. Night near Denali.
Day 13 Denali National Park
After breakfast, we'll catch our bus that takes us across Denali's amazing landscape. While we'll still look for birds, it's usually mammals that steal the show. Moose, Caribou, Wolf and Grizzly Bear are likely subjects and even Lynx and Wolverine have been seen on previous tours. From stark cliffs to rolling tundra we'll cover Denali's acres with our entire day devoted to exploring and experiencing all the park has to offer. Hope for clear weather around Mount McKinley (6195m) that will allow photography of North America's tallest peak, a rarity in the month of June. Night near Denali.
Day 14 Denali Highway
Our morning will be spent travelling along the Denali Highway. The simple east-west route of the Denali Highway belies the birding and wildlife potential of this spectacular region minus the continual traffic of tour buses and rank commercialization that has come to dominate the open-to-the-public portions of Denali National Park itself. We'll explore boreal forest, taiga, subalpine and alpine habitats for Alaskan breeding birds such as Trumpeter Swan, Barrow's Goldeneye, Surf and White-winged Scoters, Horned and Red-necked Grebes, Spruce and Ruffed Grouse, Rock and Willow Ptarmigans, Upland Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Golden Eagle, Northern Hawk-Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Northern Shrike, Boreal Chickadee, Bohemian Waxwing, Grey-cheeked, Hermit & Swainson's Thrushes, Rusty Blackbird, Arctic Warbler, White-winged Crossbills, Pine Grosbeaks, and more. Mammals aren't to be forgotten and Moose, Caribou, Dall Sheep, Grizzly Bear, Red Fox and Beaver are all possible. Night Denali Highway.
Day 15 Denali Highway - Anchorage - End of Tour - 16th June
Our final morning of birding Alaska's wilderness along the Denali Highway. One last chance for the rare Smith's Longspur, Bohemian Waxwing, Arctic Warbler and the other birds we've come to know. We'll bird our way slowly back to Anchorage where we expect to arrive about 5:00pm, where our tour ends. We have a day room reserved to allow everyone to shower, change clothes and prepare for their flights home. Folks whose flights are later in the day on June 16th or are continuing on to the Pribiloff's extension will be overnight in Anchorage.
PRIBILOFFS EXTENSION: 17th - 21st June
Days 16 - 18 Anchorage - St Paul
This morning we will fly to the island of St Paul situated some 800 miles from Anchorage in the Pribiloffs and all the excitement and thrill of the awesome seabird colonies here. In fact, there are an estimated three million seabirds nesting here! Here, we can observe numerous alcids at very close quarters in many cases, such as Tufted and Horned Puffins, Crested, Parakeet and Least Auklets, and Brunnich's Guillemots (Thick-billed Murre). The extremely localised Red-faced Cormorant should also pose very well for our cameras, along with Rock Sandpiper, Red-legged Kittiwake and Glaucous-winged Gull. There aren't many breeding passerines but what there is should keep us occupied, such as Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch, Pacific Wren, and both Snow and Lapland Buntings. Numerous lakes and lagoons host breeding shorebirds and wildfowl that should give us some great photo opportunities of species such as Harlequin and Long-tailed Ducks, Rock Sandpiper, Glaucous-winged Gull, and even rarer gulls such as Vega or Slaty-backed, but we also need to keep an eye out for Asiatic vagrants as this is prime time for something truly rare to show up. But we'll have to be extremely lucky to catch a lingering McKay's Bunting. Overall photo opportunities should be excellent (weather permitting) and we can also see Arctic Foxes here as well.
Day 19 St Paul - Anchorage
We have a final morning's birding here before flying back to Anchorage, where we will transfer to a motel for a rest, pack and enjy a final meal together. Night in Anchorage.
Day 20 End of Tour - 21st June Departing international flights and the end of an extraordinary Alaskan adventure.
Group size:Minimum for tour to go ahead 6 and maximum 12 with 2 leaders.
Included in cost:Accommodation in twin rooms en-suite, all meals, bottled water, all local transport including domestic flights and overland travel, all park entrance fees, and services of leaders.
Not included: International airfare, insurance, ESTA fee, meals, drinks, tips, and items of a personal nature.
Meal Costs: Only meals indicated in the itinerary are included in the cost of this tour (included hotel breakfasts.) Because a person can eat quite well for as little as $35 per day or they can choose to spend three or four times that amount for a single day, depending upon your choices - we do not include meals where we cannot control the costs. Zoothera Birding has a policy of NOT overcharging one person to cover another’s POTENTIAL meal choices - which we would have to do if all meals were budgeted into the cost of this tour.
Accommodation: Our lodging, for the most part, consists of standard hotel rooms close to our birding destinations. These hotels are uniformly clean, comfortable with the standard hotel amenities (two bedded rooms, private bathroom facilities, hot water, phone, etc.). Our stays in outposts of Nome, Barrow and the Denali Highway are in lodging that is more simple and basic. While the lodging may be serviceable, the experiences one encounters in remote Alaska are some of the best we have ever found...Anywhere! While the lodging may not be as high a quality as we would normally use, it's perfect for our needs and goes a long way in making our trip an enjoyable one.
Tour Code: At Nome, as is typical with most birding tours, most days consist of early starts with a quick breakfast. Lunches are often picnic style when we are far from civilization, such as birding along the Kougarok Road or at conveniently located restaurants. Dinner is our most relaxing meal of the day, usually at a restaurant close to our hotel. Dinner often begins with a 'cocktail hour' as we complete a checklist of the days bird sightings. On Nome, each day may have fog, rain, snow and the ever-present wind, or any combination of these. The terrain makes the days of walking seem a bit long. Conditions range from loose, rounded gravel on the beaches to snow, slush, puddles, hummocks and boggy tundra that may have difficult (at best) walking.
A few words about remote portions of Alaska: Birding here is always an amazing time, more like a camp for birders than anything else. And, after you see some of the conditions, particularly at Barrow, I'm sure you'll agree! With numbers of birders scouring every square inch of land for rare birds, the stark landscape and unpredictable weather, the atmosphere here is truly extraordinary. We'll use our experience from past visits to help you enjoy this one-of-a-kind adventure. Remember, we are there to look for rare birds, experience life on the edge of the Bering Strait and to make it through our visit with a minimum amount of discomfort. There is decidedly an emphasis placed upon seeing all of the special birds found in the areas we visit. We have only a few long drives on our route and these are broken up by birding breaks or meals so they shouldn't prove to be too difficult. For the driver OR participants!
It is important for every traveller on this tour to carry a credit card in case of flight delays and missed motel bookings. It is the individuals responsibility to pay for any extra motels caused by flight delays due to bad weather. This is the case with EVERY tour to Alaska and although this will not be mentioned in other tour itineraries published on the internet, this is most definitely the case!
CLIMATE: As one might expect, Alaska in Spring has an incredibly varied climate. Near Nome, coastal weather is normally cool to cold with much wind. Inland, temperatures are often slightly warmer and the wind may be reduced...maybe! Each year, Nome experiences freezing temperatures into late June. At Nome, our expected daytime maximums are generally in the low 40s - high 50s, while in Barrow in early June temperatures range between 25° and 40°F. You WILL encounter wind, rain and snow during your time in Alaska. All occur frequently, sometimes in rapidly changing combinations or even all at once!
It is important to keep in mind that during our stay at Barrow, you are a visitor to a Iñupiat village. With only about 4,000 people, this isolated settlement on the northern coast of Alaska is a unique experience. We are allowed to travel across open ground only with permission of the native corporation (who has the authority to control access to their lands and will issue the land crossing permits that allow us to bird on the open tundra).