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Salmon Lake, near Nome, provided a beautiful backdrop for Bluethroats, Hoary Redpolls, Long-tailed Jaegers, Arctic Ground Squirrels, and much more. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
From the lush coniferous forests blanketing Seward to the icy landscape of Utqiagvik, this 2nd part of the Alaska tour has a lot of offer, a lot of ground to cover, and a most-impressive collection of Alaskan specialties. We enjoyed decent weather, impressive scenery, a great mix of birds and mammals, as well as a great group of birders.
Our tour got under way when we flew to the south side of the Seward Peninsula where the city of Nome is situated 500+ miles to the northwest of Anchorage. Upon arriving in Nome, it didn't take long for highlights to start materializing: a Pomarine Jaeger was waiting for us on the beach, a Gyrfalcon chick was spied in a nest, Pacific Golden-Plovers dotted the moist tundra, and Aleutian Terns swooped overhead.
One of the attractions of birding in Nome in June is the scenic Teller Highway and the following day we ventured out some 50+ miles in search of wildlife. The Willow Ptarmigan dotted the roadsides, Long-tailed Jaegers cruised the hillsides, a beautiful pair of Northern Wheatears posed on roadside rocks, a Bohemian Waxwing was building a nest out of Muskox hair, and we even got to watch a White Wagtail at a nest. Meanwhile, songbirds were present in good numbers too with species like Golden-crowned Sparrow, Arctic Warbler, and Wilson's Warblers projecting their songs on the landscape. The barren portions of the road yielded Red Knots on their breeding grounds and a couple of Rock Ptarmigan that dust bathed right in front of us! That evening at the river mouth, Pete even found us a Surfbird. A great first day!
The next day in Nome found us exploring a different road, the Kougarok Road. A new suite of species was seen and it included highlights like a Wandering Tattler resting in a stream, an Eastern Yellow Wagtail foraging along the road, time spent with a nesting pair of Whimbrel up on the Curlew Hill, and a whole lot more Arctic Warblers in their creekside hideaways. Without a doubt, one of the highlights were the Bluethroats that were seen/heard as they gave their flight displays overhead. That evening we added another shorebird to our list, a lone Black Turnstone.
We woke up to our final morning in Nome. We made good use of our time though and we birded our way out the Council Road to Safety Sound. A distant Spectacled Eider was our first, a rare Double-crested Cormorant was offshore, and we tallied 3 Common Loons (not the common loon there!). Before long, however, it was time to say goodbye to Nome and we departed back to Anchorage. Upon landing and gathering our belongings, we drove straight on down to Seward where the habitat changed markedly.
Our boat trip out on Resurrection Bay, a highlight for many, was a great way to see some of the seabirds up close and personal. We had nice looks at both Marbled and Kittlitz's murrelets, a swarm of Rhinoceros Auklets, both Red-faced and Pelagic cormorants, and a good collection of marine mammals. Even at dinner that night, the largest mustelid species in the world, the Sea Otter, was spotted from the restaurant!
The next day in Seward started out with a visit to the famous feeders at Ava's house. Pine Grosbeaks and Red Crossbills fed side-by-side, Pine Siskins jockeyed for position, a Rufous Hummingbird displayed overhead, and some familiar Black-capped Chickadees and Downy Woodpeckers visited. Nearby, the marsh on Nash Road was hosting Trumpeter Swans, a few Ring-necked Ducks, and a nice drake Common Merganser. Meanwhile, the rich coniferous forests were busy with Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Varied Thrushes, Townsend's Warblers, Pacific Wrens, and a nice variety of kinglets and creepers. As we drove north back towards Anchorage, Tern Lake was busy with Arctic Terns, Mew Gulls, a couple of Greater Yellowlegs, and a distant Mountain Goat. A quick check of Potter Marsh and Westchester Lagoon yielded Barrow's Goldeneye, Hudsonian Godwit, and lots of fluffy gull and tern chicks.
Our flight up to Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow) the next morning delivered us to a completely different landscape and bird community. We had left the trees and bushes well to the south, the mountains and forests had given way to a marshy landscape still in the throes of a late spring; ponds and lakes were ice-covered and giant snow banks lined the roads. Still, despite the harsh surroundings, the area was teeming with wildlife. Fresh Water Lake Road was hosting an impressive variety of waterbirds like Brant, Greater White-fronted Geese, Long-tailed Ducks, and three of the most impressive sea ducks; King, Spectacled, and Steller's eiders! Pomarine Jaegers cruised by with their ever-impressive spoon-shaped tail streamers, a couple of Snowy Owls kept a watchful eye on the tundra, and, amazingly, even some Ross's Gulls had set up camp! Later that day, other open water was found hosting Yellow-billed Loon and Snow Goose while shorebirds worked the exposed patches of tundra. Semipalmated and Baird's sandpipers chased each other, a Ruddy Turnstone worked a salt lagoon, and both Red-necked and Red phalaropes were commonplace as they spun in circles.
Utqiagvik provided some birds that were a complete surprise. For example, a Gray-tailed Tattler appeared in a puddle in the middle of town, a Varied Thrush hopped on the tundra far, far away from its preferred conifer forests, an out-of-season Sanderling and Red Knot were found near town, and even a Cliff and Barn swallow were spotted catching insects. What wasn't a surprise was the good time we had in the far north! Whether it was standing on the sea ice scoping Ross's Gulls, or watching the local traditional Nalukataq (blanket toss) happen right outside our hotel, Utqiagvik actually had a lot to offer.
Tom and I sincerely hope that you had a fun time birding the many corners of Alaska and that these memories will last a lifetime. A major shout-out to the tour manager, Karen, for all her hard work and preparation for this tour. And lastly, thanks to you all for making this a fun bunch of birders!
Until we meet again, good birding!
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)
BRANT (BLACK) (Branta bernicla nigricans)
CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)
TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
A most-stunning image, this Red-throated Loon in Anchorage was beautifully photographed by participant Don Faulkner.
EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)
AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
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)
Of all the Rock Ptarmigans we saw, quite a few were photogenic! Photo by participant Becky Hansen.
WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (NORTH AMERICAN) (Melanitta fusca deglandi)
BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)
LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)
BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator)
Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)
WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)
ROCK PTARMIGAN (Lagopus muta)
RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)
PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
YELLOW-BILLED LOON (Gavia adamsii)
RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena) [N]
Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)
SOOTY SHEARWATER (Ardenna grisea)
Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)
RED-FACED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax urile)
PELAGIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
The boat trip out on Resurrection Bay near Seward really delivered! We had great looks at a slew of seabirds and gorgeous glaciers. Photo by participant Bonnie Schwartz.
Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) [N]
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)
BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus bachmani)
Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica)
PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis fulva)
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus) [N]
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus) [N]
One of the scarcest shorebirds on the trip was Surfbird. This one we saw in Nome was a stunner though! Photo by participant Becky Hansen.
BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica)
HUDSONIAN GODWIT (Limosa haemastica)
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
BLACK TURNSTONE (Arenaria melanocephala)
RED KNOT (Calidris canutus)
SURFBIRD (Calidris virgata)
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
BAIRD'S SANDPIPER (Calidris bairdii)
We were treated to a fine diversity of gulls on this tour. One of the highlights was the sharp pair of Sabine's Gulls in Utqiagvik. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (Calidris pusilla) [N]
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)
RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)
All three species of jaegers were seen well on tour including this dark Parasitic Jaeger in Utqiagvik. Photo by participant Don Faulkner.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
GRAY-TAILED TATTLER (Tringa brevipes)
WANDERING TATTLER (Tringa incana)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)
POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)
LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)
Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia)
PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)
MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)
KITTLITZ'S MURRELET (Brachyramphus brevirostris)
RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)
HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata)
TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)
Perhaps the most popular birds during our stay in Utqiagvik were these two Ross's Gulls that had set up camp near Fresh Water Lake! By the end of our stay, up to three were being seen together. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla) [N]
SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)
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)
These Kittlitz's Murrelets were a star of the show during our Resurrection Bay boat trip out of Seward. Photo by participant Pete Peterman.
ALEUTIAN TERN (Onychoprion aleuticus)
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)
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Picoides pubescens)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Picoides villosus)
This Gyrfalcon was nesting near Nome and, from a respectable distance, we got to enjoy extended views as it passed overhead and soared high above the Arctic landscape. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus) [N]
PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)
Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)
ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)
NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius borealis)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)
BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica hudsonia)
NORTHWESTERN CROW (Corvus caurinus)
Participant Bonnie Schwartz had a good eye for dramatic landscapes. She beautifully captured this image from the Resurrection Bay boat trip.
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax) [N]
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia) [N]
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE (Poecile rufescens)
The mature forests around Seward hosted a variety of chickadees, kinglets, and warblers. Here's a Chestnut-backed Chickadee photographed by guide Cory Gregory.
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)
BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)
PACIFIC WREN (Troglodytes pacificus)
GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus satrapa)
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)
Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)
ARCTIC WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealis)
Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)
BLUETHROAT (Luscinia svecica)
NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)
One of the highlights in Nome was watching this White Wagtail visiting a nest. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)
GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)
HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)
Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)
EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla tschutschensis)
WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacilla alba) [N]
AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)
BOHEMIAN WAXWING (Bombycilla garrulus) [N]
Bohemian Waxwing is a rare bird on this tour. Despite this, we saw several and participant Don Faulkner captured this image of one near a nest!
Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)
LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)
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 (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)
TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)
WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)
Passerellidae (New World Buntings and Sparrows)
AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)
FOX SPARROW (SOOTY) (Passerella iliaca sinuosa)
FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)
This Red Crossbill was being kept company by Pine Siskins and Pine Grosbeaks at Ava's feeders near Seward. Photo by participant Becky Hansen.
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla)
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)
Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)
PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator)
COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)
HOARY REDPOLL (Acanthis hornemanni)
RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra)
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)
SNOWSHOE HARE (Lepus americanus)
ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)
RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)
NEARCTIC BROWN LEMMING (Lemmus trimucronatus)
DALL'S PORPOISE (Phocoenoides dalli)
HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)
There are mammals and then there are BIG mammals. This Muskox near Nome definitely qualified as the latter. Photo by participant Pete Peterman.
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)
BROWN (INCL. GRIZZLY) BEAR (Ursus arctos)
SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)
STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)
HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)
SPOTTED SEAL (Phoca largha)
Whether it was the birds, mammals, or scenery, this Alaska tour had it all. Here's a view the group enjoyed as we birded near Seward. Photo by guide Cory Gregory.
RINGED SEAL (Phoca hispida)
MOOSE (Alces alces)
MOUNTAIN GOAT (Oreamnos americanus)
MUSKOX (Ovibos moschatus)
Totals for the tour: 155 bird taxa and 17 mammal taxa