Alaska: My first trip to the top of the world
March 5th, 2015 by Pepe Rojas
When I received my first full-time tour schedule for Field Guides in 2012, there was one trip that immediately jumped off the page and caught my attention: Alaska. As a kid growing up in Peru, the image I had of Alaska was one of epic snow-covered mountains, never-ending empty forests, and of course wildlife: Orcas, seals, Walrus, Polar and Grizzly bears, Bald Eagles, Moose, and Wolves — all roaming wild across vast areas of land, ice, and sea at the “top of the world.” I also knew that many of the waders I saw every year during the austral summer on the Peruvian coast migrated to breed in Alaska. Later, while reading Scott’s Weidensaul’s book Living on the Wind, I learned about Spectacled Eiders and the discovery of their wintering grounds in the middle of the Bering Sea. Needless to say, by the time my invitation to guide in Alaska arrived, I was more than intrigued to visit. Reading the tour itinerary got me even more excited, and I remember barely sleeping the night before I left!
Our first stop was St. Paul Island, part of the Pribilof Islands off the southwestern coast of Alaska. What an amazing place — it is hard to imagine a better spot in the world to see (and photograph) alcids. On average, we can expect to see eight species. During the most recent tour, we also had great looks at Ancient Murrelet in the harbor. St. Paul is also well known for unexpected vagrants. We had Wood Sandpiper, Common Snipe, and Common Cuckoo during the first leg of the 2014 tour I co-led with Chris Benesh.
Our next destination was Denali National Park. As I’d always imagined it, I had the chance to see my first Moose and Grizzly — such an amazing experience! In addition to the many interesting things I learned about the birds of this region, I have a very vivid image of Lesser Yellowlegs perched in trees and Long-tailed Jaegers sitting on the tundra, birds which, until then, I’d only seen wading or flying at sea, respectively!
The second part of our tour began with a visit to coastal Seward, south of Anchorage, and the unforgettable experience of seeing a wild pod of Orcas (I refuse to call them Killer Whales). It was an incredible moment in nature for everyone on the tour, one I will never forget. The landscape of the fjords is breathtaking in this region, and we were thrilled to take in sightings of Kittlitz’s Murrelets around Aialik Glacier.
Leaving Seward, we flew to Nome, just below the Arctic Circle and the absolute best place on the continent to look for Bristle-thighed Curlew. This fascinating species covers around 5000 miles in a single flight to reach its wintering grounds in the South Pacific — amazing! Seeing this curlew on the tundra was one of the great birding highlights of this tour. Other noteworthy species for me (and our group) here were my first Gyrfalcon, a bird that remains on the tundra in winter, and Blackpoll Warblers. I had previously seen these warblers wintering in the Peruvian Amazon, and I’m fascinated that they can cover so much distance on migration. On a similar note, I was so pleased to see Arctic Warblers for the first time here, and a special mention also went to the Kougarok road for its spectacular scenery.
The last leg of our tour took us to Barrow, quite literally the “top of the world.” My first trip north of the Arctic Circle was nothing short of remarkable. I could never have imagined seeing with my own eyes (from a safe distance, of course) a Polar Bear feeding on whale blubber. As a result of our explorations around the roads of Barrow, we came across Common, Steller’s, King, and Spectacled eiders. This last species was of particular interest to me since its wintering grounds were a total mystery until the mid 1990s, when GPS tracking showed that they winter in the Bering sea, feeding on mollusks and other invertebrates, and help to maintain areas of open water among the sea ice with their movement and body heat. Wow! To top things off, we scored great views of Snowy Owls and also a male Ruff displaying among Pectoral Sandpipers.
My first trip to Alaska was incredible and exceeded my imagination in a big way. It has quickly become one of my favorite destinations, and I am lucky enough to have returned two more times with Field Guides since then. My next trip is this June, co-leading with Megan Edwards Crewe, and I can already feel my blood pumping with excitement for what’s to come. I hope you will join us!
Visit our Alaska tour page for full information on our upcoming 2015 Alaska departures (two tours, each in two parts, with the first tour beginning May 29 and the second June 5).
February 2015 newsletter
February 20th, 2015 by Field Guides
Our February newsletter is making its way to mailboxes of all of you on our mailing list. It features an article on our Galapagos tours, an Alaska feature page, reports on the latest from 8 of our stellar guides, 6 pages of exciting photos from recent tours in our Fresh From the Field section, plus the latest on our Upcoming Tours. You may also now see it online at this link.
And if you are intrigued by all those lovely Borneo photos on the back page, you can view them in larger format, along with their IDs, on our fieldguides.com/borneophotos page.
Enjoy the new issue!
February e-mailing & fresh photos
February 18th, 2015 by Field Guides
Our February 2015 e-mailing is online and includes birding news about Snowy Owls and flock cooperation, our 2017 schedule added to our website, last North American tour spots through June, a note on our 2015 Central Peru trip, a fresh collection of great images in our Recent Photos gallery, plus recently posted triplists and itineraries. Click below to see it all — and enjoy!
Central Peru’s High Andes: Adventure Awaits!
February 6th, 2015 by Dan Lane
Did you know our Central Peruvian Endemics: The High Andes tour will run this summer (Jun 5-21) and then not again until 2018? Guide Dan Lane takes us through the highlights below with some great images. Check out our tour page for more info and contact our office to hold a space.
Peru is a magical place. It combines so many climatic extremes into a remarkably small area. It has (as most Peruvians will proudly inform you) three main regions: the Coast, the Mountains, and the Rainforest.
This actually over-simplifies the variety of habitats, climates, and elevations you can find within the country. It is a place where, to understand it well as a birder, you will need to visit more than once—happily, we offer just such opportunities here at Field Guides!
Peru is home to a remarkable 100 (approximately) endemic species, many of which are located either on isolated ridges in the high Andes or in intermontane valleys separated from others by those ridges. More than a third of these endemics (and a few “waiting to happen”) are found in the area of Central Peru covered by our tour. What’s more, Peru is ranked in the top three countries worldwide for overall number of bird species!
With a little challenge to our hemoglobin count will come the rewards of high-elevation sites where fabulous birds such as White-cheeked Cotinga, Plain-tailed Warbling-Finch, and Striated Earthcreeper occur, not to mention the incredible panoramas of the valley at Huascaran National Park and its beautiful Polylepis forests where jewels such as Tit-like Dacnis and Giant Conebill play, or the windswept puna where White-bellied Cinclodes, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, and Olivaceous Thornbill eke out a living under challenging conditions.
To get the most out of our quest for the areas fabulous birds, our itinerary includes two nights of outfitted camping under the stars and the hunched mass of Unchog peak. It will be here that we’ll have an opportunity to encounter the legendary endemics of the region such as Golden-backed Mountain-Tanager, Bay-vented Cotinga, Pardusco, Large-footed Tapaculo, and several others.
At lower elevations, we’ll be looking for antpittas, tyrannulets, tanagers, hummingbirds, and other Andean gems on the Carpish Tunnel and Paty trails of the Carpish mountains, and even enjoy the oxygen cocktail at sealevel at coastal wetlands around Lima, where seabirds and shorebirds abound, and the unusual lomas habitats in the hills not far from the city, where endemics such as Thick-billed and Peruvian miners, and Cactus Canastero mingle with the likes of Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Mountain Parakeet, Burrowing Owl, the glowing Vermilion Flycatcher, the rude Croaking Ground-Dove, Least Seedsnipe, Tawny-bellied Dotterel, and others, forming a rather unlikely avifauna.
The birding on this tour offers many rewards as you can see! So, if you feel up to the high-elevation birding and a couple nights of outfitted camping to reap the benefits, contact our friendly Field Guides office and reserve your space on our tour for this year. The next opportunity isn’t scheduled until 2018… that’s a long time to wait to see these fabulous birds.
I look forward to seeing you there! –Dan
January e-mailing & fresh photos
January 14th, 2015 by Jan Pierson
Our January e-mailing is online and includes an added Guyana II departure for March 2015 with Dave Stejskal, birding news about some cool evolutionary insights, 2016 guide schedules, January to June tour openings, a fresh collection of great images in our Recent Photos gallery, plus recently posted triplists and itineraries. Click below to see it all — and enjoy!
The potoo sextet
December 3rd, 2014 by Field Guides
It’s been fun looking through recent tour reports and photos and realizing we have the full South American potoo sextet illustrated. We know there are a lot of nightbird fans out there, so we thought you might like to look through the images, too. Such fantastic birds — amazingly camouflaged, appearing like stumps on their dayroosts, with large eyes for great nocturnal vision (potoos hunt flying insects), and a huge gape that extends well past the eye so virtually the whole head opens wide during an insect capture. On top of it all, they have a great diversity of very cool vocalizations, each species very different from the next.
The Andean and Great potoos below are from our Mountains of Manu, Peru tour; the Common Potoo is from our Jaguar Spotting tour in Brazil; the Rufous and White-winged potoos are from our Rio Negro Paradise: Manaus, Brazil tour; and the Long-tailed Potoo is from our Peruvian Rainforests of the Tambopata tour.
NEW TRIPLISTS: Kenya, Machu Picchu & Abra Malaga I
October 28th, 2014 by Field Guides
We have two new illustrated triplists for these recent tours with guides Terry Stevenson and Dan Lane, respectively. Check them out at the links below, and enjoy!
October e-mailing & fresh photos
October 20th, 2014 by Field Guides
Our October e-mailing is online and includes an added Costa Rica: Rancho Naturalista departure for early December 2014, birding news about California Condors, the latest Clements world checklist update, November to February tour openings, a fresh collection of great images in our Recent Photos gallery, plus recently posted triplists and itineraries. Click below to see it all — and enjoy!
NEW TRIPLISTS: Ecuador, France, Brazil & Alaska
October 17th, 2014 by Field Guides
We have four new illustrated triplists for these recent tours with guides Rose Ann Rowlett, Megan Edwards Crewe & Jay VanderGaast, John Rowlett, and Eric Hynes & Tom Reed, respectively. Check them out at the links below, and enjoy!
NEW TRIPLISTS: China, Montane Ecuador, Newfoundland & Nova Scotia
October 3rd, 2014 by Field Guides
Our 2014 triplists, replete with photos and some video clips, are out for these three tours by guides Dave Stejskal & Jesper Hornskov, Mitch Lysinger, and Chris Benesh, respectively. Check them out at the links below, and enjoy!