A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Alaska II - Part One (Pribilofs & Denali) 2022

June 6-14, 2022 with Chris Benesh & Micah Riegner & Cory Gregory guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
Few places capture the wild essence of Alaska as much as the mountains of the Alaska Range, and here along the Denali Highway, one is completely surrounded by mountains with sweeping vistas. This duck pond is summer home to a variety of bird species. Photo by Kristen Finkbeiner.

Welcome to Alaska! The Grand Frontier! Get ready for a great time out on the…wait, what? We’re not going there? It’s closed? COVID rears its ugly head again. Let’s spin the wheel of fortune and see where it takes us. Fairbanks it is! Such was the start of the second 2022 Field Guides Tour to Alaska. Where’s Micah? Well about that. I’d like to introduce you all to Cory Gregory, who is stepping in for Micah until he feels better and can make it to Alaska. But seriously, Fairbanks turned out to pretty fine. Better than fine in some ways. That Boreal Owl was AMAZING! It had been so long since I had seen my last one, and it was a lifer for some of us. And along with it were a lot of fine birds. Willow Ptarmigan, Yellow-bellied and Hammond’s flycatchers. That Horned Grebe was stunning in breeding plumage, and wow, Rusty Blackbird, Townsend's Warbler, etc. Bohemian Waxwings were sweet too.

Once we had had our fill of Fairbanks and swapped out Cory for Micah, we headed south to Denali National Park and the Denali Highway. The scenic highway revealed a few marvelous birds including Northern Hawk Owl, Arctic Warbler, American Three-toed and Black-backed woodpeckers, Barrow’s Goldeneye, White-winged Scoters, etc. We also made a trek into Denali National Park on the wilderness tour bus, and saw a few interesting birds including Golden Eagle and Long-tailed Jaeger, and had smashing views of Caribou right alongside the bus! Alaska is such a place of splendor, and the views along the Denali Highway will stick in our memories.

On behalf of Micah and Cory, I want to thank you all for joining us on our little revamped Alaska Part One tour. All things considered, it turned out pretty well.

—Chris Benesh

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)

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The biggest benefit to our revamped tour itinerary was the good fortune to view this splendid Boreal Owl at a private residence in Fairbanks, one of the least commonly encountered species in North America. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.


CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)

TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)

A few sightings including a pair of birds right in Anchorage.

BLUE-WINGED TEAL (Spatula discors)

One was on a small tundra lake along the Denali Highway.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)

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We had some great views of Trumpeter Swan on the trip including this bird seen along the Denali Highway. Photo by Chris Benesh.


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

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)

LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)

WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta deglandi)

Great views of a pair of birds on the float plane lake on the Denali Highway.

BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)

BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)

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One of the highlights of the trip up the Steese Highway was this male Willow Ptarmigan spotted along the side of the road. Photo by Chris Benesh.

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)

One was hanging out along the Denali Highway that was seen by a few of us.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)

Great looks at one on the Steese Highway and then a few more quick looks in the park.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus)

This species is so stunning in breeding plumage.

RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena)

Great encounters with this species around Anchorage where many were nesting.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

A big flock of these were hanging out at Creamer's in Fairbanks.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)

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One of the birdiest spots in Fairbanks was Peat Ponds Wildlife Area. Some of the highlights included this stunning Horned Grebe and male Rusty Blackbird. Photos by Chris Benesh.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

A scattering of these were along the Denali Highway.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

SOLITARY SANDPIPER (Tringa solitaria)

Nice studies of three birds at Creamer's in Fairbanks.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)

Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)

LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)

A distant bird seen from the bus in Denali NP.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

SHORT-BILLED GULL (Larus brachyrhynchus)

HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)

ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)

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Peat Ponds also had these two warblers, the Myrtle form of Yellow-rumped Warbler (left) and male Townsend’s Warbler (right). Photos by Chris Benesh.
Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

One was on Lake Hood/Spenard in Anchorage.

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

A pair at Westchester was a nice treat right in Anchorage.

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

One was near Captain's Creek along the Steese Hwy.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)

A couple of these were seen while on the bus in the national park.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

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

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Kristen Finkbeiner photographed this striking Violet-green Swallow at the Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Sanctuary.
Strigidae (Owls)

NORTHERN HAWK OWL (Surnia ulula)

We all wondered how Micah ever spotted this owl as it was so far off of the road.

BOREAL OWL (Aegolius funereus)

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

Picidae (Woodpeckers)



HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

NORTHERN FLICKER (Colaptes auratus)

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

MERLIN (Falco columbarius)

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We had a trifecta of Empidonax flycatchers due to the revised itinerary. Normally, Alder Flycatcher (center) is the encountered species, but we also tracked down Hammond’s (left) and Yellow-billed (right). Photos by Chris Benesh.
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)


It seemed to take forever for us to locate the calling bird out in the bog along the Steese Highway, but we prevailed.

YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHER (Empidonax flaviventris)

The first stretch of the Steese Highway proved to a great place for this species, at the northern edge of its range here.

ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)

Several encounters with our best looks probably on Murphy Dome.

HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER (Empidonax hammondii)

Two of these were singing at Creamer's in Fairbanks. Another species not normally seen on our Alaska tours.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

CANADA JAY (Perisoreus canadensis)

Gray Jay is no more.


COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)

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With changing climate, the interior of Alaska is warming and drying out, and as a result, the spruce trees have been under attack from spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis). Currently hundreds of square miles of spruce woods have been killed by them. The only momentary bright spot in this news is that the bark-flaking species of three-toed woodpeckers have increased in numbers considerably. We had both American Three-toed Woodpeckers and Black-backed Woodpeckers well along the Denali Highway. Photos by Chris Benesh.

BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonicus)

Nice looks at the start of the Denali Highway.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)

ARCTIC WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealis)

Regulidae (Kinglets)

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)

One at Lynn Ary Park in Anchorage was a nice treat.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Our second run east along the Denali Highway brought us two of our most sought after species. First was the Northern Hawk Owl that Micah spotted from a huge distance away. Shortly thereafter, we found a couple of the first arriving Arctic Warblers (photographed by Chris Benesh here).
Cinclidae (Dippers)

AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris)

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)

We ended up seeing a few with our first on Murphy Dome

GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)

Several encountered with this species along the Denali Highway. The population has declined here but is still pretty conspicuous.

SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus)

This species was quite conspicuous throughout.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus) [*]

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

BOHEMIAN WAXWING (Bombycilla garrulus)

We had good studies of three birds in the boggy area of Captain's Creek along the Steese Highway.

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Seattle Creek once again had American Dipper in evidence along the Denali Highway. This miraculous bird is at home foraging in ice-cold, fast-moving waters. Photo by Chris Benesh.
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)


Two birds at Peat Ponds ended up being the only ones we encountered.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)

FOX SPARROW (SOOTY) (Passerella iliaca sinuosa)

Good views of a vocal bird at Kincaid Park in Anchorage on the first morning.

FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)

Several of these were seen around Fairbanks and Denali.

DARK-EYED JUNCO (Junco hyemalis)

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

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

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We also had some good views of Boreal Chickadee, an amazingly hardy species capable of living year round in the Alaskan climate. Photo by Chris Benesh.

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

RUSTY BLACKBIRD (Euphagus carolinus)

Amazing views of a pair of birds at Peat Ponds.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)

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

TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)

Eye-popping views of a singing male at Peat Ponds.

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Our best views of the Alaska Range came from our plane flights, as exemplified here on our return to Anchorage. Photo by Chris Benesh.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)


SNOWSHOE HARE (Lepus americanus)

ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)

RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)

One swam right up to us at Creamer's in the bog.


We saw one scramble off the road in Denali NP.

RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)

MOOSE (Alces alces)

CARIBOU (Rangifer tarandus granti)

Terrific views of some inside Denali NP.

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There is an app for that. The scenic Denali Highway just east of Cantwell, which would provide views of Denali on a clear (and smoke free) day. But thanks to PeakFinder, we could see where Denali was hiding out. Photo by Chris Benesh.

Totals for the tour: 90 bird taxa and 8 mammal taxa