A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Alaska II - Part One (Homer & Denali) 2021

June 5-13, 2021 with Tom Johnson & Doug Gochfeld guiding

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The mountain! In south central Alaska, Denali is often just referred to thus, as it figures prominently in the horizon of points well over a hundred miles away. We were fortunate to have a crystal clear view of North America's tallest peak on our final morning in the area. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.

Ah, what a pleasure to be back in Alaska in the spring- one of the finest place and time combinations there is on this wonderful globe of ours! This year’s Alaska Part 1 tour was different than usual, due to the ongoing impact of the worldwide Covid-19 crisis. St. Paul Island was still closed to tourism this spring, so we substituted scenic Homer into our itinerary for the remote Pribilofs. Considered by many Alaskan residents to be the jewel of the Kenai Peninsula, we don’t usually have to opportunity to visit Homer on our tour. It turned out to be quite a treat to explore the Homer area, and especially fun to explore it from a pelagic vantage during our boat ride around Kachemak Bay with Karl Stoltzfus. We had two nights in the area to ensure that we had an opportunity to pick the best weather day for our boat trip, and wow, did that ever work out!

The wind was highly unfavorable for a boat trip on day one, so we birded terrestrially instead, getting a splendid introduction to the avifauna of this section of the Pacific Northwest. Townsend’s Warblers which had just returned to proclaim their territories were bopping around the same spruces being patrolled by the hardy year-round resident Boreal Chickadees, while an afternoon trip up in elevation provided a great singing Varied Thrush, and similarly cooperative Olive-sided Flycatcher and Canada Jay. Along the coast we got a taste of a few Cook Inlet-area seabirds, got a sense of just how abundant Bald Eagles were (twenty in view at one time!) here, and even got a bonus Short-tailed Weasel checking us out from the rocks. We were off to a great start!

Things would only improve from there- Kachemak Bay was as placid as a lake for our maritime excursion the next morning, and we piled in and set off from the famous Homer Spit. After enjoying the numbers of Pigeon Guillemots and Black-legged Kittiwakes close to shore, we motored out through the masses of charismatic Sea Otters towards Mud Bay. We started to see Marbled Murrelets, the small alcids with cryptic and astonishing breeding habits (more about this in the species list below). We got many good views of these, and had spotted over twenty before we began to head across the bay. As we left the area where the murrelets were concentrated, we saw one final murrelet close to the boat, and as we slowed down to take a look, it became apparent that we were looking at something really, really special!! The overall plumage, structure, and obvious pale eye-ring told us that we were looking at a LONG-BILLED MURRELET! This rarity from the remote seacoasts of East Asia had only been seen in Kachemak Bay a couple of times over the past decade, after a handful had been seen in the bay in 2011, so we didn’t dare hope that we would be so fortunate – yet fortunate we were! After a couple of minutes, the Long-billed Murrelet flew off, showing that timing really is everything in birding. This also released us to head across the bay to bear witness to the breeding bird spectacle around Gull Island, with its large numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common Murres, along with smaller numbers of Tufted Puffin and Pelagic Cormorant. We were even treated to a River Otter on a gravel bar, and were also able to pick a couple of locally scarce Thick-billed Murres out of the large flotilla of their more common cousins. After disembarking from this incredible trip, we started meandering our way up the Kenai towards Anchorage, getting bludgeoned by great scenery every step of the way.

The next day, after a bit of local birding, we made our way up towards legendary Denali National Park and Preserve. While still in the Anchorage area, we had some phenomenal views of Harlequin Ducks in a small stream, and watched a family of American Dippers in the middle of moving out of their nest at the stream’s waterfall. Our route then took us through the massive 2015 burn around Willow, which was still, six years after the fire, a woodpecker heaven. We made a few more stops on our way up the scenic (but what isn’t scenic in Alaska?!) Parks Highway, getting our first views of the mountain as we approached from the south.

Our two full days in the Denali area gave us the full spectrum of spectacles- a fantastic array of mammals, a long list of great birds (and great experiences with those birds), and, of course, breathtaking landscapes ad infinitum. Our mammal list there including several Grizzly (Brown) Bears, hundreds of Caribou, several Moose, Fox, Coyote, Dall’s Sheep, more Short-tailed Weasel fun, Beaver, and more. Some of the bird highlights included but were not limited to Willow Ptarmigan, Black-backed Woodpecker, more Canada Jays, lots of White-winged Crossbills, several Golden Eagles, Bohemian Waxwing, and a pair of Northern Hawk Owls – all with the backdrop of the the wild Taiga and Tundra landscape stretching as far as the eye could see, with the sounds of winnowing Wilson’s Snipes overhead, and the musical songs of Gray-cheeked and Swainson’s Thrush, Golden-crowned and Fox Sparrow, and a chorus of northern breeding warblers as our audio backdrop. On our final morning, as we started south, the mostly clear sky was a deep blue, and there was snow-encrusted Denali showing in its entirety, imposing even from over fifty miles away. Flushed with satisfaction at this final farewell from the mountain, we saw a few more fun birds on our way south, notably breeding-plumage Red-throated Loon and some stunning Bohemian Waxwings, before arriving back home to Anchorage.

It was beyond superlatives to be back in Alaska, and Tom and I both had a blast guiding this wonderful group around one of our favorite places in the world. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing this adventure with us, and we eagerly look forward to seeing you in the field somewhere else on this big orb of birds and wonder we all call home.


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)


Three in the marsh at Beluga Slough in Homer.

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LONG-BILLED MURRELET!! Talk about an unexpected bonus- this east Asian breeding species is a rare vagrant to this side of the Pacific Ocean, and even in its home range, there aren't many easily accessible places to see it. This bit of serendipity caused a great deal of excitement barely an hour into our boat exploration of Kachemak Bay. Photo by participant Eric Gustafson.

CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)

The geese around Anchorage are considered by authorities to fall into the smallest subspecies of Canada Goose, and we saw plenty of them at Westchester Lagoon.

TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)

We saw several pairs along our route, including at Potter Marsh and along the side of Cook Inlet.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

A surprise was a pair of these more southern ducks along the Denali Highway. This is close to as far north as the species occurs, though it has been becoming more common in recent years, as its range inches northward as the climate warms.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

Westchester Lagoon and the Denali area.

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

Fairly widespread in freshwater wetlands.

AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)

Common across the board, from Beluga Slough in Homer to the ponds along the Denali Highway.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)

Common and widespread.


Two were at Beluga Slough, and four were out on the flats along the Beluga Spit.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)

Seen on several days, with the largest single group being eighteen at Beluga Slough.

REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

Some (including some red-headed males) in a mixed flock with scaups in the distance beyond the mudflats off Westchester Lagoon.

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

Two at Bridge Creek Reservoir were a nice surprise, and then we also had the species at Westchester Lagoon.

GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)

The largest concentration was at and around Westchester Lagoon.

LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)

More widespread along our route than Greater Scaup. Very nice to compare these directly to Greater Scaup all over Westchester Lagoon.

HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)

Several encounters, but the most memorable was the close group at the fish hatchery which included several males performing some courtship head-bobbing.

SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)

Singles flying by Anchor River Mouth, and floating on Westchester Lagoon.

WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta deglandi)

The largest group was the flock on Kachemak Bay during our boat trip.

BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)

Kachemak Bay, in with the White-winged Scoters.

LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)

Two distant flybys during the boat trip on Kachemak Bay.

BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)

A couple on the Denali Highway and then heading south from Denali.

COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)

There was an immature male on the water during our first excursion to Westchester Lagoon.

BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)

Along the roadside as we went north from Homer to Anchorage.


Three seen from the Homer Spit.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

SPRUCE GROUSE (Falcipennis canadensis)

One definite roadside encounter for the second van along the Denali Highway. A female made its way onto the road bend in the time between when the first and second vans passed by. After a short time it flew off deep into the woods.

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Arctic Terns are a rarity in most of the US, so it's always a treat to be in a place where they are the default tern. We found them to be abundant, and particularly confiding, around Anchorage. This bold adult was photographed by participant Eric Gustafson.

WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)

A great male calling along the park road inside Denali National Park.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena)

Several locations, from Westchester Lagoon to Kachemak Bay. The birds on Westchester were on nests, allowing for very cool studies of these excellent looking breeding plumaged birds!

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Anchorage and Homer.

Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

Common, with a particularly memorable one walking around the street in Homer, and then staring and pecking at its reflection (or whatever was on the other side of the glass) in the glass door of a storefront for quite some time!

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Beluga Slough and Homer Spit.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

HUDSONIAN GODWIT (Limosa haemastica)

Seen at Westchester Lagoon twice: a distant group on the mid-tide flats, and then one bright male on of the more southern islands in the main lagoon on a subsequent visit.

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

On the flats off of Westchester Lagoon.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)

One flyby flock at Potter Marsh.

WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)

Winnowing birds in Homer and several along the scenic Denali Highway.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

A couple sneaking around at Potter Marsh, and then also some on wetlands along the Denali Highway.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

A couple around the Denali area.

SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)

A very cool experience with a displaying bird at a pond along the western part of the Denali Highway.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

A calling flyover at Beluga Slough was all we had for the big yellowlegs!

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)

Encountered at least four days, but only eyeballed on two trips to Westchester Lagoon.

Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)

COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)

The numbers around the Gull Island colony on Kachemak Bay were concentrated in large rafts nearby, rather than on the cliffs themselves. Driving through these rafts was quite an experience!

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Are Tufted Puffins the sharpest-dressed of all the world's alcids? The argument could certainly be made! This one was on the water near Gull Island in Kachemak Bay, amidst the clouds of Common Murres there. Photo by participant Eric Gustafson.


At least two slick adults were mixed into the masses of Common Murres around Gull Island in Kachemak Bay.

PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)

Plenty around Homer, with a few flying by Anchor River Mouth, and good numbers on our Kachemak Bay boat trip.

LONG-BILLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus perdix)

Definitely the rarity of the trip! A cousin of the American-breeding Marbled and Kittlitz's murrelets, this species is an Asian breeder, breeding primarily around the Sea of Okhotsk and the Kamchatka Peninsula. We were able to watch this bird on the water for over two minutes at close range before it flew off, noting the sharp demarcation between throat and the hind-neck/crown, the relatively robust bill, the mottled patches within the brown back of the head, and of course, the bold eye ring. It was an incredible rush to see such a rarity so close and so well- amazing!!

MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)

We saw over twenty of these enigmatic alcids during our Kachemak Bay boat trip. The word enigmatic fits because they were the last North American breeding bird species whose nest was undiscovered by humans. The first nest known to science was found in 1974, and this seabird is now known to rely on old growth conifer forests in the Pacific Northwest for the vast bulk of its breeding sites.

HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata)

We had one adult fly by offshore at Anchor River Mouth.

TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)

Very good views of this largest and showiest (which is saying something!) of the puffins around Gull Island in Kachemak Bay.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)


The birds on the flats off of Westchester Lagoon were a local scarcity, but we encountered clouds (storms?) of them in Homer all around Kachemak Bay, but especially at the breeding cliffs, which hosted several thousand.

BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

We all saw quite a few on the flats at Westchester Lagoon, and then some folks saw more around Wasilla.

MEW GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus canus brachyrhynchus)

This is the last time (for a while, anyway) that this taxon will show up as a subspecies, as at the timing of this writing, the American Mew Gull has been elevated to species status, and renamed "Short-billed Gull." We had them on every day of part one, including on nests and with fluffy youngsters.

HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)

We had one pure-looking adult at Homer Spit, and then some around Denali, but the rest of the Herring-like gulls that we saw (mostly around Cook Inlet) looked to have a mixture of Herring Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull genes. The birds in this hybrid swarm are commonly referred to as Cook Inlet Gull or Anchorage Gull.

GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)

The default large gull around Homer, where most of them do seem to be pure birds, unlike in Cook Inlet where almost all the large gulls show traits of mixed ancestry.

ALEUTIAN TERN (Onychoprion aleuticus)

The colony at Stariski came through for us on both of our visits, with a few terns making close passes right over our heads, and we also had a couple flying by at Anchor Point.

ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)

The default tern in Alaska, we had some amazing point blank views of these around nests at Westchester Lagoon and Potter Marsh.

Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

A stately-looking pair in their breeding finery on a lake close to the road along the Parks Highway was a real treat.

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)

At least five breeding plumaged birds flew by offshore at Anchor River Mouth, and we also had at least one nice flyby look from the boat.

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

Seen on three of our first four days, mostly during the Kenai Peninsula portion of our trip.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

PELAGIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)

Quite common around Kachemak Bay and Homer Spit.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)

Linda picked out a super distant Golden Eagle while we were along the Denali Highway, and then the next day we had at least three individuals at various points within Denali National Park.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

Best views of these incredible gliders were inside Denali NP.

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Very common on this tour, with an incredible concentration of at least twenty indiiduals at Anchor Point Beach!

RED-TAILED HAWK (HARLAN'S) (Buteo jamaicensis harlani)

A couple of brief flyovers while we were driving in various places, including one in Wasilla.

Strigidae (Owls)

NORTHERN HAWK OWL (Surnia ulula)

Tom pulled out a really distant bird along the Denali Highway, and after watching it for a while, we became aware that there were a pair there. What an incredibly cool bird!

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Bohemian Waxiwngs are nomadic, and can be especially difficult to track down in the summer, when they spread out sparsely over the vast Boreal forest. We counted ourselves fortunate to have multiple encounters in the Denali area. The last of these was an excellent, lengthy, point-blank experience at Byers Lake. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

We had several flyby encounters at Westchester Lagoon and Bridge Creek Reservoir.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)


We had at least three encounters with this conifer forest specialist, including two at the burn at Willow, and then singles at Byers Lake and Kincaid Park on our final day.


A great surprise was a male Black-backed Woodpecker showing exceptionally well alongside a lake on the Denali Highway. We got to really study this denizen of the Boreal forest, and got a good appreciation of how much bulkier and heavier-billed it was than its other six-toed cousin.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

One at Willow, where they have been reliable ever since the devastating burn of a few years ago.

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

One at Willow and then another the same day farther up the Parks Highway.

NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)

Tom and Kathy got eyes on one at the WIllow Burn, and then we heard one the next day in the Denali region.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

MERLIN (Falco columbarius)

We had several encounters over four different days, with the most notable being the pair nesting in a dense conifer across from our hotel in Homer. We were able to watch them perform nest switches multiple times, though we never got a proper look at the well-concealed nest.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)


A nice experience with a bird perched lower down than usual at Bridge Creek Reservoir, which then surprised us by flying way across the lake and out of sight. We also had one at Willow and heard a couple along the Denali Highway.

ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)

We heard them at several places, saw a distant one at a small roadside pond along the Parks Highway (which also featured a pair of Trumpeter Swans), and then got excellent leisurely looks at a singing bird at Byers Lake.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius borealis)

It was great fun to watch a territorial pair of these butchers of the taiga patrolling their domain along the Denali Highway, and we had another single along the highway as well.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

CANADA JAY (Perisoreus canadensis)

A banner year for them in the regions we explored! Often we will only have one or two encounters per tour, but they seemed to be absolutely everywhere this year, including many fledged juveniles. Some of the juveniles were still in association with a family group or at least one of their parents, but some seemed to be already independent.


Common and widespread in the habitat we covered, even out onto the tundra habitat of Denali NP. Seen every day.

NORTHWESTERN CROW (Corvus caurinus)

We still get to tick Northwestern Crow for now, though this will potentially change in the near future, if it lumped into American Crow. In any event, these are the northernmost (and therefore theoretically the most genetically pure) Northwestern Crows in the world, so it was neat to have the great views of and listens to them in Homer, as well as even farther north in Girdwood.

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

These charismatic, smart, and endlessly interesting corvids were a staple of the tour, from Homer all the way up trough the Denali section.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)

We had surprisingly missed this species until our final day, when we encountered it at Kincaid Park.

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We saw several groups of Caribou around Denali. The Denali herd is the only barren-ground caribou herd of its size (or larger) in North America that is not currently hunted (essentially the herd's entire range lies with the boundaries of the National Park), and so it is the subject of much research into the natural dynamics of Caribou populations. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.

BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonicus)

Our best views were of a couple of cooperative feeding birds along the trail at Diamond Creek Gulch, but we also had them at Teklanika and at Kincaid Park.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

Common and widespread, and seen on the majority of tour days, including occasionally in comparison with Violet-green Swallows, allowing for comparison of their disparate patterning, shapes, and flight styles.

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

Seen on almost every day of the tour, including some great views around buildings in which they were nesting on our way through the Kenai.

BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)

Seen on each of the first four days of the tour, including 60+ individuals on our second visit to Westchester Lagoon!

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

In several spots around appropriate habitat, which along our route tends to be road bridges over wet areas.

Regulidae (Kinglets)


We had a couple of cooperative ones, coming out into the open a bit more than usual at this season, at Diamond Creek Gulch.

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)

We recorded these tiny little sprites on every day of the tour, though on day one it was heard only, at a stop along Rt. 1. Their distinctive up and down songs were a common feature of the soundscape any time we were in forest.

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)

We heard these an awful lot, but perhaps the only place we eyeballed them was at Diamond Creek Gulch.

Certhiidae (Treecreepers)

BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)

One of these was sneaking up tree trunks during our excellent stop at Bridge Creek Reservoir outside Homer.

Cinclidae (Dippers)

AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)

A great family group at the fish hatchery in Anchorage, which included multiple fledged youngsters on a rock as well as at least one nestling still inside the only home it had to that point ever known!

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

They have gotten more and more common in Anchorage each year over the past decade, and they were common any time we were around Alaska's human hub.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)

Especially good views at Bridge Creek Reservoir and then at a rest area along the Parks Highway.

GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)

Several perched up singing along the Denali Highway.

SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus)

Several locations across at least four days, mostly around Anchorage and Denali.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)

Hermit Thrushes were serenading us with their ethereal song each morning at the hotel parking lot in Homer- a lovely way to start each day!

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

One of the few species which we saw on every day of the tour. Truly abundant.

Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

BOHEMIAN WAXWING (Bombycilla garrulus)

We had a group of four along the Denali Highway (or two separate groups of four seen twice). Then, a couple of days later, we had at least four at a lake along the Parks Highway, and then finally yet another group (of four birds once again, of course) were super duper cooperative at Byers Lake. It's always great to catch up with these wanderers of the Boreal, and a special bonus to have them perform as confidingly as some of these did!

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)

Encountered in many places along the route, and the only place where we didn't run into any was in the Homer area.

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Spring was in the air as this Varied Thrush provisioned a nearby unseen nest at the Bridge Creek Reservoir on the outskirts of Homer. Photo by participant Eric Gustafson.


They were fairly common around Denali, including several calling and singing birds around our hotel grounds most every time we came and went.

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

We didn't see many siskins on the northern section of our route, but there were a handful seen around Homer and Anchorage, including at Kincaid Park.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)

Nice views of these northern sparrows along the Denali Highway.

FOX SPARROW (SOOTY) (Passerella iliaca sinuosa)

Good experiences with one singing its heart out each morning on the hotel grounds in Homer.

FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)

Fairly common in the Denali area, with good views of them at multiple spots along the Parks Highway and the Denali Highway.

DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis)

Widespread, common, and seen on every day of the tour.

WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)

We ran into surprisingly few in the Homer area, but had plenty around Denali.

GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

A couple of males serenaded us with their sweet slurry songs during our flurry of sparrow diversity at Beluga Slough, where we had by far our best experiences with this northwestern breeder.

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

Very common in a variety of open habitats, from grasslands and marshes to tundra, and we had them commonly around both Homer and Denali.

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

We encountered them sporadically throughout, and our best experience was a male singing right across the path from a Golden-crowned Sparrow at Beluga Slough.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

This is actually the less numerous of the two breeding blackbirds in Alaska, but there were at least two males flying around and singing during our productive visit to Potter Marsh on the way south.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)

Several of these along the route, with especially good looks at a singing bird at the Elmendorf Fish Hatchery.

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

Perhaps the most common, widespread, and conspicuous warbler on this route.

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

This common Alaska breeder was most conspicuous at the Anchor River Mouth parking lot.

BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)

Quite a few males broadcasting their squeaky bike chain songs from the tippy top of spruce trees in the Denali area. One of the quintessential sounds of the North American Boreal Forest.

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)

Widespread and common.

TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)

Multiple cooperative males along the trail at Diamond Gulch Creek.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)

Encountered at least by sound every day of the tour, and seen on most days, often in proximity to other warblers (especially Orange-crowned).


SNOWSHOE HARE (Lepus americanus)

Several of these northern bunnies around Denali.

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Sea Otters were omnipresent in Kachemak Bay, and we saw quite a few adults cradling curious young ones. These largest of the mustelids are truly awesome critters! Photo by participant Eric Gustafson.

ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)

We had several of these in appropriate habitat inside Denali NP.

RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

These cute little voracious predators were fairly common in forested habitats throughout.

BEAVER (Castor canadensis)

One was frolicking in a river well below the overlook at Polychrome Path.

MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)

One seen briefly at Potter Marsh.


One of these was in the shoulder right alongside the road on our return trip along the Parks Highway. Luckily, it eventually sauntered off into the safety of the nearby forest.

RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)

Nice looks for up to a minute as it preened in a driveway alongside the road as we drove up the Parks Highway towards Denali.

COYOTE (Canis latrans)

A canid which generated some identification controversy in Denali NP as it loped along a stream-bed ended up being identifiable from photos as a Coyote rather than a Gray Wolf. Coyotes only arrived in Denali NP around the 1920s, but are still much scarcer in the park than wolves, so this was actually a notable sighting!


We had at least four encounters with Grizzly Bears on our trip through the national park, including a mother lounging with at least one cub on a distant ridge overlooking the Toklat River.


We had one really inquisitive animal in the rocks at Anchor River Mouth, and then 2-3 individuals on the morning of our Denali Highway trip. More than usual!


We saw one picking around Glacier Spit in Kachemak Bay while we were on the boat, and while Sea Otters were in view all around us as well. A very cool comparison!

SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)

Lots and lots around Homer, with really nice views of family groups on the boat trip.

HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)

At least one at Anchor River Mouth, and then several on our couple of days exploring Kachemak Bay, from both land and sea.

MOOSE (Alces alces)

An excellent trip for Moose viewing- we saw them on six of our seven days, including at least five on day two. The mother and two youngsters foraging behind the hotel in Homer during breakfast were among the most memorable. What an animal!

CARIBOU (Rangifer tarandus granti)

We saw some in the distance along the Denali Highway, and then saw hundreds in the park proper.

DALL'S SHEEP (Ovis dalli)

A very nice herd was on a hill near the Grizzly mama and cub along the Toklat River.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Here is that much-discussed Coyote that we watched trotting through a river bed in Denali. It has clearly been for a dip, as the hindparts are dark with wet, matted down fur. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.

Totals for the tour: 113 bird taxa and 16 mammal taxa