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Our only good views of Denali on this half of the tour came from the air as we passed over the famous mountain on our way to the North Slope. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
Our Nome, Seward, and Barrow adventures ran very smoothly this year, with plenty of adventure, scenery, birds, and mammals along the way. Though it rained during part of every day, we DID experience some excellent weather, and the atmospheric, er... variety helped underscore the vast beauty that is the essence of Alaska.
Our trip started in Anchorage, where some birding helped us find a flock of Hudsonian Godwits at Westchester Lagoon before we packed it in for the evening.
The next morning, we boarded our plane for Nome. After some delays in getting moved in to our hotels and finding our rental vehicles (part of the adventure), we headed out of town, where our luck improved dramatically and we were immediately surrounded by birds: scores of all three species of jaegers chasing legions of kittiwakes and other gulls along the beach, flocks of migrant ducks, geese, and shorebirds, and even an adult Gyrfalcon snuggling a young chick in a nest. We didn't even pop a flat tire - until we got back to town, that is.
After reconfiguring our transportation (thanks for your help, Kris!), an early morning start out the Kougarok Rd. led us to the land of Willow Ptarmigan and Bluethroats, those lovely Old World gems. After pauses to enjoy a Rusty Blackbird, flocks of Greater White-fronted Geese, and other wonderful arctic sights, we arrived near Coffee Dome, the arena for our search for Bristle-thighed Curlews. After a lengthy trudge across the tundra, we found breeding pairs of Whimbrel and our primary quarry, the Bristle-thighs. These range-restricted shorebirds called and paraded around in front of us, and we had a wonderful time watching them before we headed back down the road to Nome, pausing en route to scope another Gyrfalcon nest!
Our second full day involved an exploration of the Teller Rd., where we surveyed some rocky, upland tundra and found Rock Ptarmigan, Northern Wheatear, and a few species of stone-loving shorebirds. On the return trip, we had some great looks at bizarre Muskox near town. We left enough time for an afternoon jaunt out along the Council Rd., and we were in for a few wonderful surprises. In addition to some great views of Eastern Yellow Wagtail, we lucked into an immature Ivory Gull and also saw two Emperor Geese feeding on an island in Safety Sound - WOW! The jaeger show along the beach was truly remarkable, with all three species showing off nicely for us. This was a very rare event for Nome in spring, and we made sure to admire these pirates closely. Our return flight to Anchorage gave us time for dinner and a good night of sleep.
The Seward leg of our journey began with Varied Thrush in Anchorage and some lovely White-winged Crossbills and Pine Grosbeaks just outside of Seward - oh, and plenty of rain. We took a break in the afternoon to dry out and prepare for the next day's boat trip.
After a nice opportunity to sleep in, we boarded a boat to venture into Kenai Fjords National Park. In addition to the awesome sight and thundering rumble of the Northwestern Glacier, we found Fin and Humpback Whales (among other marine mammals), an astonishing 10 species of alcids (including Parakeet Auklet, Ancient Murrelet, and Kittlitz's Murrelet), Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, and Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters.
Our return drive to Anchorage went smoothly, interrupted only by American Dipper, Rufous Hummingbird, Trumpeter Swan, Common Loon, and Barrow's Goldeneye - good interruptions for sure.
Fortunately, the Anchorage to Barrow flight involved a stop in Deadhorse/ Prudhoe Bay, so the flight path took us right past Denali as it poked through the clouds. Upon arriving in Barrow and after checking into our hotel, we headed out into the tundra for an afternoon of birding none of us will ever forget. Spectacled, Steller's, and King Eiders, a flyover Yellow-billed Loon, courting Red-necked Stints, tons of breeding plumaged Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, a Snowy Owl, Sabine's Gull, and, oh yes - TWO ADULT ROSS'S GULLS that flew right past us in their pink-bodied, ring-necked splendor. Wow!
Though we found all of our Barrow targets on the first afternoon, the second day was perfect for savoring the shorebirds in their breeding plumage, enjoying more eiders and gulls, and we even stumbled upon a migrant Arctic Warbler, perhaps the northernmost ever for North America, while scoping Black Guillemots and a Semipalmated Plover out on Point Barrow. This was all the more sweet as we had missed this late spring migrant in Nome - they simply hadn't shown up yet.
Before leaving Barrow, we had time to study a shorebird that had caught Chris's eye - a super rare Common Ringed Plover, perhaps from Eurasia or maybe one of the very few that breed in North America. After a delay due to fog, our flight arrived back in Anchorage with enough time to enjoy a lovely final dinner near the airport. Barb and Ann kindly gave a lovely reading of a poem that they composed to document our trip, which was a perfect way to end our adventure. With their permission, I've reproduced it at the end of the trip list.
Thanks to everyone for making this adventure so special. I'm still pinching myself over the luck of seeing both Ivory and Ross's Gulls on a June tour in Alaska, in addition to everything else that we discovered along the way. Chris and I had a great time, appreciated your flexibility, and look forward to traveling with you again in the future.
Cheers, and good birding!
-- Tom Johnson
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons)
EMPEROR GOOSE (Chen canagica)
BRANT (BLACK) (Branta bernicla nigricans)
Probably in large part due to the amazing views we had of the individual pictured here, Spectacled Eider was voted the bird of the trip by our group. This one was dabbling in a roadside pool near Barrow. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis) [N]
TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator) [N]
TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)
GADWALL (Anas strepera)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Anas americana) [N]
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos) [N]
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Anas clypeata)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta) [N]
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
CANVASBACK (Aythya valisineria)
REDHEAD (Aythya americana)
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
A feisty Mew Gull did not appreciate the majesty and beauty of the adult Bald Eagle below it. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
STELLER'S EIDER (Polysticta stelleri)
SPECTACLED EIDER (Somateria fischeri)
KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)
COMMON EIDER (PACIFIC) (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum)
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)
SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)
WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (NORTH AMERICAN) (Melanitta fusca deglandi)
BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)
LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
This composite shows some of the shearwaters we observed during our boat trip out of Seward. The top bird is a fresh-plumaged Short-tailed Shearwater; below, we can compare the underwings of a Sooty Shearwater (left) and a Short-tailed Shearwater (right). Bill length and underwing pattern are two very helpful marks to zero in on with this rather confusing species pair, both migrants from the southern ocean. Photos by guide Tom Johnson.
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator)
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)
ROCK PTARMIGAN (Lagopus muta)
RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata) [N]
PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
YELLOW-BILLED LOON (Gavia adamsii)
RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena)
Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)
SOOTY SHEARWATER (Puffinus griseus)
SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER (Puffinus tenuirostris)
A Common Ringed Plover was a remarkable find on the Cake Eater Rd. in Barrow. Here we can see the bold white eyebrow, wide chest band, and slim bill that helped Chris Benesh pick it out from similar Semipalmated Plovers. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
FORK-TAILED STORM-PETREL (Oceanodroma furcata)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
RED-FACED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax urile) [N]
PELAGIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax pelagicus) [N]
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus cyaneus)
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) [N]
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)
SANDHILL CRANE (Grus canadensis)
BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus bachmani)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica) [N]
PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis fulva)
Bristle-thighed Curlews made us walk around in the tundra for quite a while before alerting us to their presence - but then we had great views of these rare and restricted shorebirds. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
COMMON RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius hiaticula)
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
WHIMBREL (AMERICAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus) [N]
BRISTLE-THIGHED CURLEW (Numenius tahitiensis) [N]
HUDSONIAN GODWIT (Limosa haemastica)
BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica)
Our excursion out the Teller Rd. from Nome led us to some rocky tundra that hosted breeding Red Knot and Rock Sandpiper (in addition to Rock Ptarmigan and Northern Wheatear). Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
RED KNOT (Calidris canutus)
SURFBIRD (Calidris virgata)
RED-NECKED STINT (Calidris ruficollis)
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina) [N]
ROCK SANDPIPER (Calidris ptilocnemis)
BAIRD'S SANDPIPER (Calidris bairdii)
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos) [N]
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (Calidris pusilla) [N]
This male Red-necked Stint displayed with wings up, trying to get the attention of the female in the foreground. These were some of the very first shorebirds we looked at closely in Barrow! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)
RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)
Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)
POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)
As you can see from the photos above, we certainly saw some rare shorebirds on this tour. However, part of the attraction of the Arctic is seeing common species in amazing plumages and in the context of breeding behavior that we just don't get to witness down south. This Red-necked Phalarope was one of hundreds that showed off for us in Nome and Barrow. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)
Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge) [N]
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia) [N]
BLACK GUILLEMOT (Cepphus grylle)
PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)
MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)
KITTLITZ'S MURRELET (Brachyramphus brevirostris)
ANCIENT MURRELET (Synthliboramphus antiquus)
PARAKEET AUKLET (Aethia psittacula)
We saw several Sabine's Gulls at very close range, both in Nome and in Barrow. It isn't often that you are close enough to see the contrast between the gray hood and black neck ring, red orbital, and the yellow bill tip all at once! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)
HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata) [N]
TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata) [N]
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla) [N]
IVORY GULL (Pagophila eburnea)
SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)
BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
The shouts that came out of our vehicles as the pair of Ross's Gulls flew past in Barrow must have broken some volume records. These rare Arctic stunners were completely unexpected on this tour. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
ROSS'S GULL (Rhodostethia rosea)
MEW GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) [N]
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
HERRING GULL (VEGA) (Larus argentatus vegae)
SLATY-BACKED GULL (Larus schistisagus)
GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)
GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus) [N]
ALEUTIAN TERN (Onychoprion aleuticus) [N]
Aleutian Terns gave us a nice opportunity for study in comparison with Arctic Terns just outside of Nome. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea) [N]
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
SNOWY OWL (Bubo scandiacus)
SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)
RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus)
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Picoides pubescens)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Picoides villosus)
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus) [N]
We had all but given up on seeing Arctic Warbler after missing it in Nome, when this little gem popped up while we were scoping waterbirds on Point Barrow. Hooray! This might be the northernmost record of the species in North America. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum) [*]
NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius excubitor)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)
BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica hudsonia)
NORTHWESTERN CROW (Corvus caurinus)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax) [N]
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor) [N]
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
Our explorations on the outskirts of Seward led us to several great opportunities to watch Pine Grosbeaks at close range. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) [N]
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE (Poecile rufescens)
BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonicus)
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)
PACIFIC WREN (Troglodytes pacificus)
AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus) [N]
GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus satrapa)
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula) [*]
As we drew near to Northwestern Glacier on our boat trip out of Seward, we had close views of many Harbor Seals dotting the small ice flows in the fjord. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
ARCTIC WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealis) [N]
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)
BLUETHROAT (Luscinia svecica)
NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe) [N]
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)
SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus)
HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)
EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla tschutschensis)
AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)
Huge, cannon-like spouts of water drew our attentions to this Fin Whale on our Seward boat trip. This is not a common mammal at all in this part of Alaska - indeed, the two we saw were the first that Chris has found in Alaska in many years of leading trips here. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)
LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus) [N]
SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis) [N]
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Oreothlypis celata)
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata) [*]
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (Setophaga coronata)
TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)
WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)
Emberizidae (Buntings and New World Sparrows)
AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizella arborea)
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
FOX SPARROW (SOOTY) (Passerella iliaca sinuosa)
FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)
Our experiences with Muskox in Nome were truly exciting. These massive critters fed alongside the road during our trip out along the Teller Rd. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (SLATE-COLORED) (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (OREGON) (Junco hyemalis oreganus)
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
RUSTY BLACKBIRD (Euphagus carolinus)
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator)
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL (Loxia leucoptera) [N]
COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)
HOARY REDPOLL (Acanthis hornemanni)
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)
ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)
RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) [*]
DALL'S PORPOISE (Phocoenoides dalli)
FIN WHALE (Balaenoptera physalus)
HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)
SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)
Our visit to Northwestern Glacier was capped off by a great show from tremendous chunks of ice calving off the face of the glacier. The visual display and the sound of tons of shards of ice hitting the water below was spectacular. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)
HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)
SPOTTED SEAL (Phoca largha)
MOOSE (Alces alces)
MOUNTAIN GOAT (Oreamnos americanus)
MUSKOX (Ovibos moschatus)
DALL'S SHEEP (Ovis dalli)
The "nesting" designation means that we saw some direct evidence of nesting on this tour.
Here's Ann and Barb's poem about the group and the tour:
Thirteen, they say, is supposed to be
Unlucky as a size of group.
But not in Alaska it would seem:
We knew we'd get the scoop.
Curlew, Eider, Bluethroat, Moose -
And don't forget that Emperor Goose!
One half the group had spent a week
On islands bare and forests rainy.
The rest at Anchorage did join up
Along with one more Field Guide brainy.
A single Jaeger seen at Nome …
But Tom grew ever feistier,
Finding dozens, hundreds more.
Now his nickname's Jaegermeister.
(Insert: Well, it's better than Ranger-bait.)
In Nome the vans just were not there.
With Ford Explorers we were stuck.
But Kris was there to drive the third.
For us that was a piece of luck.
'Twas up beside the Coffee Dome.
The winds were cold, the going rough.
But for Dan that big 600th bird
Made the hike so much less tough.
Denzil travels round the world
In his quests new birds to find.
From Australia to P-N-G.
Here Arctic birds were on his mind.
John surely loves the birds to see
But learning is his passion real.
History, culture, biology too –
We surely did admire his zeal.
Cameras abounded on our trip
To capture the birds and landscapes too.
With laptop, lenses, tripod ready,
Hugh was one who never missed a view.
Tom was another who took pride
In photos beautiful and bright.
Arctic Warbler, Eiders too –
He made them all look right.
Hennig has travelled the globe around
From desert to ice floe,
But till Seward did he find
His first Northwestern Crow.
Marian came new birds to see
But at mammal-spotting she did shine.
A goat! A sheep! And look, three moose!
They made those long drives mighty fine.
Leader Chris takes tours far and wide,
Flexibility is his key,
But a house on the road in Seward
Was something he thought he'd never see.
Ann travelled to the Arctic world
Lifers and rarities to see
But right out of her own backyard
Hopped a Chestnut-backed Chickadee.
Birding has taken Barb near and far,
By foot and plane, boat and car.
But her dream, ever since she was seven,
Was to experience the Barrow Three-Eider heaven.
Linda always travels well
With birding clothes for every season.
Even back-warmers she did bring
To ward off cold, it was her reason.
Our local guides were such a help
William, Marlow, Kyle and Cap'n Mark.
History, geology, birds and whales,
Their knowledge sure did add a spark.
Barrow, Barrow, what can we say?
A birthday warbler made my (Ann's) day.
Amazing eiders but what a delay!
Now our trip is nearly over,
Out of energy we've run.
Found the birds that we were seeking,
Well, NEARLY every one.
(Insert: Ann STILL wants to see that woodpecker!)
And so it's time to say goodbye
To friends both old and new.
We know we'll all keep birding on.
It's au revoir, but not adieu.
-poem by Ann Scarfe and Barb McLintock
Totals for the tour: 165 bird taxa and 13 mammal taxa