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Denali National Park is a must-see destination. Even if it weren't for the birds and mammals, the scenery alone was breathtaking. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
Alaska. Just that word alone brings to mind sky-scraping mountains, rocky shorelines, endless spruce forests, and expansive tundra. The state is so huge, in fact, that our tours divide it up into two parts. This part, Part I, visited some of the most remote islands in the state, the famed Pribilof Islands, and ventured north to the breathtaking Denali region.
We kicked things off in Anchorage where, even across the street from our hotel, we found ourselves ticking off species like Canvasback, Barrow's Goldeneye, Common Loon, and our first Bald Eagles. But our flight out to St. Paul Island was when the landscape really started to change for us. We dropped out of the clouds to find ourselves on a volcanic island several hundred miles from mainland Alaska. We donned our coats and hit the ground running, seeing several rare birds that first afternoon. Goodies like Black-headed Gull and even an Eyebrowed Thrush were waiting for us!
Our time on St. Paul Island was spent witnessing several eye-opening spectacles. From the cliff faces hosting hundreds of nesting seabirds, to the rugged beaches and quaint little town, St. Paul really is one of the most unique spots in the state. Cliffs like Ridge Wall and Reef Point put us face-to-face with Tufted Puffins, Horned Puffins, Parakeet Auklets, a variety of murres, and even the striking Crested Auklets. King Eiders and Ancient Murrelets were seen offshore, marshes hid rare Wood Sandpipers, and even a couple of displaying Red-necked Stints were found at Antone Slough! St. Paul Island is lucky to have several nice ponds and they hosted bathing Red-legged Kittiwakes, Cackling Geese, a Snow Goose, and even a mini-flock of Eurasian Wigeon. The beaches were home to the bellowing Northern Fur Seals, the cliffside vegetation hid Pacific Wrens, and the skies over the island provided some of the most exciting moments of the tour... a crippling view of the mega-rare White-tailed Eagle in the last hour or two we had on the island! What a send-off!
Back on mainland, we shifted gears, readjusted to having trees around, and visited Potter Marsh where we lucked into the continuing Falcated Duck, a very rare vagrant from Asia! As we drove north towards Denali, we stopped at the Sockeye Burn which delivered Western Wood-Pewee, Olive-sided Flycatcher, and even a nest of American Three-toed Woodpeckers! Farther north, even the highway yielded some awesome sightings like a Northern Goshawk overhead and a Spruce Grouse that somehow found us.
We spent a couple of days in the Denali region which was filled with a wealth of birds, some incredible mega-fauna, and scenery that was hard to beat. The Denali Highway took us into the land of Willow Ptarmigan, White-winged Crossbills, and lakes that hosted Red-throated Loons, Surf Scoters, and White-winged Scoters. Gray-cheeked Thrushes sang along the roadsides, Wilson's Warblers teed-up in trees, and yellowlegs perched on the tops of spruces! The following day we took the bus into the famed Denali National Park where we connected with a couple of the classic mammals of Alaska: Grizzly Bear, Caribou, Dall's Sheep, and Moose. Meanwhile, Golden Eagles kept us company, circling overhead.
As we drove back towards Anchorage, we birded near Denali State Park which continued to provide new and fascinating sightings. A singing Alder Flycatcher showed well, a Northern Waterthrush perched in a spruce, a Varied Thrush skipped through the shadows, and a stunning Black-backed Woodpecker perched at eye-level. Back in Anchorage, we connected with American Dipper, Harlequin Ducks, and even a kingfisher at Elmendorf Fish Hatchery. Westchester Lagoon was also very birdy and we added Hudsonian Godwit, some sharp Bonaparte's Gulls, and even the tiny Red-breasted Nuthatch.
It was a whirlwind of mountains, tundra, oceans, cliff-faces, puffins, fur seals, auklets, moose, and bears! But after a few days, Part I sadly concluded. However, on behalf of Field Guides, we sincerely hope you made memories that you'll remember forever. Tom and I had a blast and we hoped you did too! A huge shout-out to Karen in Austin who helped this tour run smoothly. Thanks so much for making this a fun trip and maybe we'll see you again on another tour.
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)
SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons)
CACKLING GOOSE (ALEUTIAN) (Branta hutchinsii leucopareia)
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)
TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)
Any visit to Alaska could produce a rarity from Asia. This time, our tour coincided with the presence of some incredible vagrants including this Falcated Duck near Anchorage! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
FALCATED DUCK (Mareca falcata)
EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (EURASIAN) (Anas crecca nimia)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
Even though rarities in far-flung parts of the country can be fun, the real joy of visiting the cliffs on St. Paul Island revolved around awesome views of alcids including Horned Puffins. Photo by participant Eileen Wheeler.
CANVASBACK (Aythya valisineria)
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)
SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)
WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (NORTH AMERICAN) (Melanitta deglandi deglandi)
Another reason to visit the remote Pribilof Islands is this cute little gull, the Red-legged Kittiwake. This species is one of the most range-restricted gulls in the world. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)
BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator)
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
SPRUCE GROUSE (Falcipennis canadensis)
WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)
On the mainland, the roadsides were repeatedly visited by this classic Alaskan species, the Willow Ptarmigan. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena) [N]
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica)
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus) [N]
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
HUDSONIAN GODWIT (Limosa haemastica)
RED-NECKED STINT (Calidris ruficollis)
Seeing a rare shorebird on a speck of land in the Bering Sea might seem out of reach but visiting St. Paul Island might just fulfill that goal! For us, not only did we get views of the Red-necked Stint, we even got to watch as they displayed in flight, something very few people have seen here in North America. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
ROCK SANDPIPER (PTILOCNEMIS) (Calidris ptilocnemis ptilocnemis) [N]
WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)
RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
WOOD SANDPIPER (Tringa glareola)
Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)
LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)
Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge) [N]
We lucked out and managed to see the top of the often-obscured Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. Photo by participant Eileen Wheeler.
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia) [N]
PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)
ANCIENT MURRELET (Synthliboramphus antiquus)
PARAKEET AUKLET (Aethia psittacula)
LEAST AUKLET (Aethia pusilla)
CRESTED AUKLET (Aethia cristatella)
RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)
HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata)
One of the stars of the show on St. Paul Island was this regal Tufted Puffin. This tour allows us to get within mere feet away from these stunners. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla) [N]
RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa brevirostris) [N]
BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
BLACK-HEADED GULL (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
MEW GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus canus brachyrhynchus) [N]
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)
This alcid, the Parakeet Auklet, is found only in the Bering Sea region. We all enjoyed point blank views along the cliffs of St. Paul Island. Photo by participant Eileen Wheeler.
GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)
ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea) [N]
RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)
NORTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialis) [N]
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
RED-FACED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax urile)
PELAGIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
NORTHERN GOSHAWK (Accipiter gentilis)
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
WHITE-TAILED EAGLE (Haliaeetus albicilla)
RED-TAILED HAWK (HARLAN'S) (Buteo jamaicensis harlani)
Visiting the remote islands in western Alaska is a little bit like playing the lottery. On our trip to the Pribilofs, we connected with several rarities like Eyebrowed Thrush, Wood Sandpiper, and this White-tailed Eagle! It was an epic chase and, just in the nick of time, we caught up to this sought-after raptor. We were able to appreciate the subtle fieldmarks between the White-tailed (bottom) and the Bald Eagle (top); the broader-tipped wings of the White-tailed, the slightly smaller size of the Bald, and the less-extensive white underneath on the White-tailed. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER (Picoides dorsalis) [N]
BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER (Picoides arcticus)
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER (Contopus cooperi)
WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus sordidulus)
ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)
It's hard not to love the Crested Auklet, an alcid with a distinctive tuft springing from its forehead! Views of these from St. Paul Island were superb. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
CANADA JAY (Perisoreus canadensis)
BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica hudsonia)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
The Alaska tour often connects with some quality woodpeckers. One such species this year was Black-backed Woodpecker; here's a male photographed by guide Tom Johnson.
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) [N]
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonicus)
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)
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)
VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)
Another rarity from Asia we connected with on St. Paul Island was not one, or two, but at least three different Wood Sandpipers! Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)
SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus)
HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus) [*]
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
EYEBROWED THRUSH (Turdus obscurus)
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (PRIBILOF IS.) (Leucosticte tephrocotis umbrina) [N]
COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL (Loxia leucoptera)
We were able to bird along the Denali Highway where we encountered ptarmigan, a variety of shorebirds, and attractive songbirds like Wilson's Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, and Gray-cheeked Thrush. The scenery was top-notch! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus) [*]
Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)
LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)
SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)
AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)
FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)
DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla) [*]
Usually not seen in North America, this sneaky Eyebrowed Thrush had gotten lost over the ocean and ended up in the USA! We got distant looks at Polovina Hill on St. Paul Island. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)
RUSTY BLACKBIRD (Euphagus carolinus)
Parulidae (New World Warblers)
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
When you stick your thumb out, there usually isn't a Tufted Puffin at the end of your finger! Here's Jan at Reef Point, St. Paul Island. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
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)
SNOWSHOE HARE (Lepus americanus)
HOARY MARMOT (Marmota caligata)
ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)
RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)
NORTH AMERICAN PORCUPINE (Erethizon dorsatum)
GRAY WHALE (Eschrichtius robustus)
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)
ARCTIC FOX (Alopex lagopus)
BROWN (INCL. GRIZZLY) BEAR (Ursus arctos)
STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)
From Black Diamond Hill on St. Paul Island, with Salt Lagoon and crab pots in the background, our group was all smiles! Photo by our local guide with participant Eileen Wheeler's camera.
NORTHERN FUR SEAL (Callorhinus ursinus)
HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)
MOOSE (Alces alces)
CARIBOU (Rangifer tarandus granti)
REINDEER (Rangifer tarandus sibiricus) [I]
DALL'S SHEEP (Ovis dalli)
Totals for the tour: 130 bird taxa and 17 mammal taxa