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The Ridge Wall vantage point on St. Paul Island makes for some spectacular eye-level viewing of seabirds like this Northern Fulmar. Check out its double-barrelled nasal tube! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
The first half of our two Alaska tours took us to some of the Last Frontier's most scenic and unique places with the company of mostly good weather (some rain, but we birded on through it!) and some truly fantastic birds and beasts.
We began with a bit of birding across the street from our airport hotel in Anchorage, finding Barrow's Goldeneye, Pacific and Common loons, and Bonaparte's Gulls on Lake Spenard. After flying out to St. Paul Island in the Pribilof Islands in the middle of the Bering Sea, we stashed our luggage at the hotel and headed straight out into the field. Conditions were lovely and we found our first Red-legged Kittiwakes and some Eurasian migrants with an Eastern Yellow Wagtail, a Wood Sandpiper, and a Common Snipe. The Common Snipe was actually in the same patch at Antone Slough as a Wilson's Snipe, and we even got to see them in flight in the same binocular view, allowing for nice comparison of these two very similar species.
Conditions weren't favorable for more Asian vagrants to arrive after our first evening on the island, but the nice weather meant that we spent the remainder of our Pribilof visit enjoying repeated experiences with the phenomenal numbers of breeding seabirds and mammals that call the island home. Our daily visits to the seabird cliffs found us eye-to-eye with Tufted and Horned puffins, Common and Thick-billed murres, and Crested, Parakeet, and Least auklets, as well as Red-faced Cormorants, Northern Fulmars, and kittiwakes of both species. Northern Fur Seals were around in numbers on the beaches and seal-eating Orcas patrolled just offshore. Island-endemic forms of Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch, Rock Sandpiper, and Pacific Wren kept us busy, too.
Flying back to Anchorage, we boarded vans and headed into Alaska's montane interior for some time around the famous Denali (officially renamed Denali from Mt. McKinley in 2015, though Alaskans have always preferred "Denali"). On the Denali Highway east of the national park, we found Bohemian Waxwings, Northern Hawk-Owl, Trumpeter Swans, and several Moose. Our day trip into Denali National Park was a bit rainy, but we still had some amazing, close encounters with Caribou and Grizzly Bears, including a female with two small cubs that had plopped down in the tundra right next to the road. Nesting Golden Eagles and Gyrfalcons made the birding pretty sweet as well!
On the drive back to Anchorage, Denali itself decided to peek (peak?) out from behind the shroud of dense clouds that it had been wrapped in for several days, and we pulled over to enjoy its splendor. While scanning the mountain and its 20,310 feet of vertical awesomeness, we spotted a Sandhill Crane flying past just over the mountain's summit in our view. Back in Anchorage, we stopped in for some shorebirding at Westchester Lagoon, finding 76 breeding plumage Hudsonian Godwits among breeding Arctic Terns and Red-necked Grebes.
Thanks to everyone for making this a fun and enjoyable tour -- we certainly had a great time exploring a lovely part of North America with you! Also, big thanks to Karen Turner in our Austin office for all of her organizational work behind the scenes.
-- Tom & Dave
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)
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)
This pair of Barrow's Goldeneye put on a close show just across the street from our hotel in Anchorage. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Anas americana)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Anas clypeata)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (EURASIAN) (Anas crecca nimia)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)
SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)
Caribou were keeping cool on a remnant patch of snow at Denali National Park during our visit. Photo by guide Dave Stejskal.
WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (NORTH AMERICAN) (Melanitta fusca deglandi)
LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)
BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)
BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator)
PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus)
RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena)
Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)
NORTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialis)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
RED-FACED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax urile)
PELAGIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos) [N]
Crested Auklets were in the middle of their courtship when we visited them on St. Paul Island this spring. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus cyaneus)
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
WHIMBREL (Numenius phaeopus) [*]
HUDSONIAN GODWIT (Limosa haemastica)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
ROCK SANDPIPER (PTILOCNEMIS) (Calidris ptilocnemis ptilocnemis)
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
Tufted Puffins were also on display on the rocky cliffs of St. Paul Island. The auk show here is nothing short of spectacular. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)
COMMON SNIPE (Gallinago gallinago)
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)
RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
WOOD SANDPIPER (Tringa glareola)
Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia)
PARAKEET AUKLET (Aethia psittacula)
This scene from the Denali Highway highlights the wet spruce flats and amazing mountains of the Alaska Range. Such landscapes are an every day sight on this tour! Photo by guide Dave Stejskal.
LEAST AUKLET (Aethia pusilla)
CRESTED AUKLET (Aethia cristatella)
HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata)
TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla)
RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa brevirostris)
BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
MEW GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus canus brachyrhynchus)
We were fortunate to have the sun at our backs when this Common Snipe flushed up in front of us on St. Paul Island. The optimal lighting helped us see the pale (thinly barred) underwing and the white trailing edge to the wing that help distinguish it from its very similar North American cousin, the Wilson's Snipe. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)
ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea) [N]
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
NORTHERN HAWK OWL (Surnia ulula)
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon) [*]
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Picoides pubescens)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Picoides villosus)
Their nest tree still charred from a recent burn, American Three-toed Woodpeckers were feeding young at the Sockeye Burn near Willow. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER (Picoides dorsalis) [N]
BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER (Picoides arcticus) [N]
NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus)
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER (Contopus cooperi)
ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
GRAY JAY (Perisoreus canadensis)
Our time with Toklat Grizzly Bears in Denali NP was nothing short of magical. This mother lounged alongside the park road with her two enthusiastic cubs. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica hudsonia)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
PACIFIC WREN (ALASCENSIS GROUP) (Troglodytes pacificus alascensis)
AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula) [*]
Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)
ARCTIC WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealis)
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)
In the same patch of forest as the American Three-toed Woodpeckers, we also found nesting Black-backed Woodpeckers. The recent fire brought on an outbreak of tree-loving beetles, so there were plenty of beetle larvae around for the woodpeckers to feast upon. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus) [*]
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)
Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)
EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla tschutschensis)
AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)
BOHEMIAN WAXWING (Bombycilla garrulus)
Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)
LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)
Dave's ear caught the grinding buzz of this male Arctic Warbler as we were driving along the Denali Highway. The group was rewarded a short time later with some top-notch views of this Trans-Beringian migrant. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Oreothlypis celata)
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia) [*]
BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)
WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)
Emberizidae (Buntings and New World Sparrows)
AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)
This adult gray morph Gyrfalcon was waiting for us at a memorable overlook along the road through Denali National Park. Photo by guide Dave Stejskal.
FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla)
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (PRIBILOF IS.) (Leucosticte tephrocotis umbrina)
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL (Loxia leucoptera)
COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)
SNOWSHOE HARE (Lepus americanus)
This Moose was munching its lunch when we finished our day on the park road through Denali NP. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)
RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)
KILLER WHALE (Orcinus orca)
ARCTIC FOX (Alopex lagopus)
BROWN (INCL. GRIZZLY) BEAR (Ursus arctos)
NORTHERN FUR SEAL (Callorhinus ursinus)
HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)
MOOSE (Alces alces)
When we arrived back in Anchorage after a great trip to Denali, we scanned Westchester Lagoon for a short while. Eventually, shorebirds started to drop in out of the sky, including these Hudsonian Godwits and Short-billed Dowitchers. Before long, there were 76 Hudsonian Godwits standing on the island shoreline right in front of us! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
CARIBOU (Rangifer tarandus granti)
REINDEER (Rangifer tarandus sibiricus) [I]
DALL'S SHEEP (Ovis dalli)
Totals for the tour: 109 bird taxa and 13 mammal taxa