A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Alaska I - Part Two (Nome, Seward & Barrow) 2021

June 5-15, 2021 with Chris Benesh & Jesse Fagan guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
This photo by guide Jesse Fagan screams, "Alaska!" Floatplanes are a common means of transportation in the state. This photo was taken at one of our lunch spots near Seward.

It would seem that to really know Alaska, you've got to go north. I mean, like way north. That's where the days are long (or short) and life struggles for most of the year to, well, stay alive. It starts to feel like you are on another planet, somewhere at the edge of the solar system. Pluto? This Part II of the Alaska tour has a lot of that. Nome has got that Wild Wild West edge while Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow) just feels downright harsh. Seward, on the other hand, is remarkably scenic and pleasant. Like a postcard; go figure. So, there is a lot to experience here, and that's exactly what we did.

We spent three nights in Nome, which for some, was plenty enough. The weather could have cooperated more as we battled blizzard conditions and soft roads throughout our trip, but, hey, it is Alaska! The birds didn't seem to mind, however, and we ended up doing well per target species and rarities. Indeed, Bluethroats were in and displaying (the highlight of the trip for many), a pair of Gyrfalcons were tending to a nest, we eventually found an Arctic Loon, and the less common (rare!) Bar-tailed Godwit, Red-necked Stint, and Emperor Geese all put in an appearance. Thousands of phalaropes in the surf and spinning Sabine's Gulls were also cool highlights. We also can't forget about the spicy ramen. Oh, and the Muskox (in keeping with our "other wordly" theme)! And, look, no mention of Jesse losing his phone...

In comparison, Seward was pretty relaxed. Again, Mother Nature felt it necessary to make our boat ride less than smooth, but (again), the birds didn't seem to mind. In fact, they probably loved the swells and stiff breeze. Puffins and Common Murres were seen in good numbers, while Kittlitz's Murrelets showed spectacularly well at the spectacular Aialik Glacier. Orcas and bubble-feeding Humpback Whales were also amazing to watch. And the views! Remember, most tourists take this trip just for the landscape watching. It is awesome country.

The last part of our wild ride through Alaska brought us to the edge of the Arctic Ocean, at Utqiagvik. There is only one reason to come this far north: EIDERS. This is the spot and time of year to potentially see three of the four species of eiders. We would not leave home disappointed. In fact, we were not satisfied with just seeing Steller's, Spectacled, and King, we threw in a fourth species, Common, which is rare at Utqiagvik.

What a fun group and a great trip. Chris and I enjoyed spending time with you and guiding you to some very unique places in the world. We wish you good birding in 2021 and beyond. We hope to see you all again soon.

—Jesse aka Motmot (from Lima, Peru)

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)

EMPEROR GOOSE (Anser canagicus)

Initially seen in flight while birding the Nome Coast Road, this rare goose (a pair) eventually settled down for us to scope them. Always a good find.

SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)

Lots around Nome.


Small numbers were seen around Nome, but better numbers were breeding on the tundra around Utqiagvik.

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What a beautiful photo by participant Linnet Tse. She captures the moment dramatically as a Bluethroat sits up for our group.

BRANT (BLACK) (Branta bernicla nigricans)

Common on the North Slope.

CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)

Small numbers seen in Nome. Based on our location, these were "Taverner's" Cackling Geese (subspecies taverneri). This is the largest subspecies of the several subspecies of Cackling Goose.

CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)

TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)

Just one on our drive back to Anchorage.

TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)

Definitely around in good numbers on the tundra.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

Small numbers in the Seward/Anchorage area.

AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)

Like Northern Shoveler and Northern Pintail, these species were the common dabbling ducks on the North Slope.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)


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

Small numbers seen throughout the tour.

CANVASBACK (Aythya valisineria)

Good finds were a couple of individuals along the Coast Road in Nome.

REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

Just one along the Coast Road in Nome.

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

Another Nome pick-up. Just one in the inner ponds along the Coast Road.

GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)

The common scaup on the North Slope. Seen most days.

LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)

STELLER'S EIDER (Polysticta stelleri)

Amazing, close views of this stunner in Utqiagvik. We saw all four eiders well on our trip north. This is why we come here!

Field Guides Birding Tours
Utqiagvik was the place for eiders. Steller's Eider is a lovely creature. This pair was photographed by participant Linnet Tse with a rare bit of warm sunlight.

SPECTACLED EIDER (Somateria fischeri)

KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)

A couple were seen in Nome, but better numbers were seen in Utqiagvik.

COMMON EIDER (PACIFIC) (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum)

Common in the Nome area, but only one at Utqiagvik, where it's not expected.

HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)

Always a treat to see this species on its breeding grounds. Lots in the Nome area.

SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)

WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta deglandi)

Hundreds were rafting offshore in Nome.

STEJNEGER'S SCOTER (Melanitta stejnegeri)

We picked out one in the White-winged Scoter flock in Nome. This species used to be considered a subspecies of White-winged, but has been recently split. It is the Old Word congener of White-winged; breeding in Siberia and wintering in the Western Pacific. A very few wander east to Alaska.

BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)

Good numbers in Nome.

LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)

Hard to believe there is a place where these are common, but Nome and Utqiagvik are those places!

COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)


Seen well in Nome.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)

We had small numbers in the Nome area.

ROCK PTARMIGAN (Lagopus muta)

Wow, desperate for one, we found it! It took some scanning, but we managed good scope views of a stoic bird on the Teller Road out of Nome.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus)

This species is rare in the Nome area where we saw two offshore on the Coast Road.

RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena)

Seen in the Seward/Anchorage areas.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus)

There were several visiting the feeders at Ava's place near Seward.

Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

Good numbers on the tundra out of Nome.

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Here is our group looking out at the ice pack on the Arctic Ocean. Photo by particiant Linnet Tse.
Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus bachmani)

Seen on our boat ride out of Seward.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica)

Several seen on the tundra in Utqiagvik, including doing their display flight.


This species mostly breeds in the far north of Siberia, but a small population breeds in Western Alaska. We saw them in Nome. This species does not overlap with American GP in Utqiagvik.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Good numbers in Nome. We were hoping for a Common!

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)

Flying around and calling in the blizzard, remember?

BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica)

One was seen in the inner ponds along the Coast Road. A good pick-up for us. Could easily be missed.

RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)

BLACK TURNSTONE (Arenaria melanocephala)

A pair in Nome and another one in Utqiagvik, where it was not expected.

SURFBIRD (Calidris virgata)

One in Nome was a good find.

STILT SANDPIPER (Calidris himantopus)

This was a rare find for us in Utqiagvik. Not present most years as the bulk of their population breeds further east.

RED-NECKED STINT (Calidris ruficollis)

Another awesome find was this rare Old World shorebird in Nome. We had amazing studies of it while it foraged along the beach at the Nome River mouth.

SANDERLING (Calidris alba)

DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)

Small numbers in Nome, but more common in Utqiagvik.

BAIRD'S SANDPIPER (Calidris bairdii)

We had one displaying over our head in Utqiagvik.

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (Calidris fuscicollis)

Yet another good find was this species, a local breeder, in Utqiagvik. It was quite responsive and showed well at our feet.

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This White-rumped Sandpiper seems to be waving hello to our group. This shorebird is a rare breeder in Utqiagvik where Linnet Tse photographed it.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)

Lots displaying with their inflated chests on the tundra of Utqiagvik. It certainly is special to be on their breeding grounds knowing the long migrations that they make each year.


The little whirring helicopters. This species was also a common tundra breeder in Nome and Utqiagvik.

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

Good numbers in Nome.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)

Small numbers of both dowitchers on this tour, though Long-billed are the more common of the two in Alaska.

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)

Lots winnowing and displaying in Nome.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

Good numbers in Nome, but super close and fun views in Utqiagvik. Literally, just a few feet away doing their vortexes, stirring up food.

RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)

The big surprise were hundreds in the surf in Nome where they are not always seen.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)


One in Nome during a stop on the Kougarok Rd. was our only one.

Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)

POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)

Small numbers in Nome and Utqiagvik. The least common of the three jaegers seen on this tour.

PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)

The dark-morphs seen in Utqiagvik were especially cool. Darth Jaeger!

LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)

It's not normally that you see so many jaegers. However, that's the case in Nome where this species is fairly common as a breeder.

Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)

COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)

Especially common on the Kenai Fjords boat ride.

BLACK GUILLEMOT (Cepphus grylle)

One was hanging out at Nome Point. A good pick-up for us.

PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)

Good numbers on the Kenai Fjords boat trip.

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A bull Steller's Sea Lion barks to his harem on a rocky island in the Kenai Fjords. Photo by guide Jesse Fagan.

MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)

The common murrelet out of Seward on the boat trip. We sifted through lots of variation in their plumage looking for the next species.

KITTLITZ'S MURRELET (Brachyramphus brevirostris)

We totaled around 17 individuals tucked in and around Aialak Glacier. It wasn't until we got into colder waters (near the glacier) that they became the dominant species.

PARAKEET AUKLET (Aethia psittacula)

One at Nome Point hanging out with the Black Guillemot.

RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)

Small groups in Aialak Bay. We tallied around 15 individuals.

HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata)

A few in Nome, then again on the Seward boat trip.

TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)

Mixed Horned and Tufted puffins were seen on the Kenai Fjords boat trip.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)


Large numbers seen in Nome. Just one in Utqiagvik, however.

SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)

Always a treat to watch this species. Several close birds put on a show at the Nome River mouth.

MEW GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus canus brachyrhynchus)

The common gull on the tour. This species has now been split as Short-billed Gull, the former subspecies that breeds in the Americas.

HERRING GULL (VEGA) (Larus argentatus vegae)

This subspecies breeds in the Old World, in NE Siberia, and winters south to Japan. A few stray individuals make their way over to Alaska each year. A couple of individuals were seen in Nome on the Council Road.

GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)

This was the common gull around Seward.

GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)

Replaced the previous species further north. Common in Nome and Utqiagvik.

ALEUTIAN TERN (Onychoprion aleuticus)

A wonderful group of them was at the Nome River mouth. Made for amazing photos and videos of standing and flying birds.

ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)

Lots! The common tern up here seen every day of the trip.

Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

Good numbers seen most days. A real treat to see them so close. An elegant looking bird.

ARCTIC LOON (Gavia arctica)

We finally spotted one offshore at mile 29 or so. Whew, this one took some work!

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Smashing photo of this rare and local Kittlitz's Murrelet by Linnet Tse at the Aialik Glacier.

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)

Seen well in Nome and Utqiagvik.

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

Small numbers, singles really, in Nome (where rare) and Seward area.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

PELAGIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)

Seen well on the Kenai Fjords boat trip. Singles in other places, including Utqiagvik!

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

This species is doing well in Alaska, especially so in the Seward area.

ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)

One was seen on the Kougarok Road.

Strigidae (Owls)

SNOWY OWL (Bubo scandiacus)

Oh, just another Snowy Owl! We had nice views of multiple individuals at Utqiagvik.

SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)

Distant, but diagnostic, as it flew over the tundra at Utqiagvik.

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

Just one in Seward.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)


We made some effort to find this bird, and it paid off with a bird at a cavity in Kincaid Park.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

We found both species on our return trip to Anchorage (from Seward).

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

MERLIN (Falco columbarius)

One dashed across the road as we were driving back from Seward.

GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus)

A pair tending a nest in Nome was lucky. We scoped the female sitting on the nest.

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

A dark juvenile was hunting along the Coast Road in Nome. We scoped it feeding on some poor shorebird in the middle of the road.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)


One seen at Ptarmigan Campground.

ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)

One was checking out a territory in Kincaid Park. However, it seemed unsettled and never showed well.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius borealis)

We finally stumbled across this low-density breeder near our hotel in Nome.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Another really good bird was this Red-necked Stint that we found at the Nome River Mouth. Photo by participant Linnet Tse.
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)

Just one on the outskirts of Seward.


NORTHWESTERN CROW (Corvus caurinus)

Unfortunately, looks like they are going to lump this one with American Crow. Seen in the Seward area.

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Thrives in cold, northern latitudes. One of the few year-round passerines in Utqiagvik.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)


Seen at Ava's feeders along with the previous species.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

Often mixed with the previous species. Both were common in the Seward area, but Tree Swallow was more widespread.

BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)

Small numbers in the Nome area.

Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)

ARCTIC WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealis)

An early arrival was curious to our group, but it didn't stay long. Seen on the Kougarok Road.

Regulidae (Kinglets)


Seen in the spruce forest near Seward. Their high-pitched song can be difficult to pick out.

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)

In the spruce forest around Seward, hanging out with the other species of kinglet. I wonder if they get along?

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)

Just a couple in the Seward area. One was visiting Ava's feeders.

Cinclidae (Dippers)

AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)

A pair was nesting under the bridge in Nome. Also, at the trout farm near Seward.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)

Very nice looks at one individual near Seward.

GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)

Lots in the Nome area where there was suitable vegetation. The Kougarok Road was especially good for this species.

SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus) [*]

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Our guide, Chris Benesh (middle back), seems to be thinking, "This isn't normally how I find Bristle-thighed Curlew," or "What the hell am I doing here?," or "I could sure use a cup of hot chocolate." Photo by participant Linnet Tse.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)

Fairly common (at least by voice) in the Seward Area.

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Pretty much everywhere EXCEPT Utqiagvik.

Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

BLUETHROAT (Luscinia svecica)

Good numbers were on territory (and displaying) in Nome. A real star of the show up here.

NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)

One was on the beach in Nome. A good pick-up for us.

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla tschutschensis)

Small numbers around Nome. Like Bluethroat and Northern Wheatear, this is a mostly Old World species that has a small breeding population in Alaska.

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)

A pair on the hillside while birding the Teller Road out of Nome.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator)

We made a quick, desperate stop for one coming back from Seward. It paid off big time!

HOARY REDPOLL (Acanthis hornemanni)

Small flocks, but the numbers added up, around Nome.

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)

LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)

A hardy passerine that breeds on the tundra in Nome and Utqiagvik.

SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis)

Probably our first new species upon arrival in Utqiagvik. Common here.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)

They breed in the brushy vegetation around Nome.

FOX SPARROW (SOOTY) (Passerella iliaca sinuosa)

The subspecies seen in the Seward/Anchorage area.

FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)

The subspecies encountered in Nome.

DARK-EYED JUNCO (SLATE-COLORED) (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)

Seen in the spruce forest around Seward.

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

Small numbers seen in Nome and Seward. More common by voice.

GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

A pleasant song that was heard often in Nome.

Dall’s Porpoises bow riding was just awesome. Here is a video by guide Jesse Fagan as we zipped along with our fun companions.

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

Distributed across most of the North Slope. Seen/heard nearly every day.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)

A common breeding warbler around Nome.

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

Also, heard/seen frequently in the Nome area as well as in Seward.

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

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

We saw a few on territory in the spruce forest near Seward.

TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)

A beautiful male responded to our pleas for a view.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)

Good numbers in Nome.


ALASKAN HARE (Lepus othus)

ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)

RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

BEAVER (Castor canadensis)

Nice looks by at least one van were had at a bridge crossing on the Coast Road in Nome (returning from our sighting of a Gyrfalcon).

MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)

Darn confusing sometimes separating this species from Beaver. You'd think the tail would be obvious enough!

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Okay, okay, you knew I had to include at least one photo of the phone moment. Here is Jesse celebrating with Linnet seconds after the amazing discovery by his intrepid team of investigators. Photo by guide Chris Benesh.

NEARCTIC BROWN LEMMING (Lemmus trimucronatus)

We saw several walking around the tundra in Utqiagvik.

ORCA (Orcinus orca)

Awesome to see the large dorsal fins of these ocean predators.

HARBOR PORPOISE (Phocoena phocoena)

One was seen breaking the water occasionally at Nome Point on our final morning in Nome.

DALL'S PORPOISE (Phocoenoides dalli)

Bow riding in Aialak Bay! Spectacular creatures.

HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Awesome experience and behavior from these gentle creatures. We got to watch them bubble-feeding, which the gulls also seemed to time well!

RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)

One walking the rocky cliffs along the Teller Road in Nome.

SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)

Lots (which is a good thing!) during our Kenai Fjords boat ride.

STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)

Good numbers on our Seward boat ride.

HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)

SPOTTED SEAL (Phoca largha)

Very similar to the previous species, and often best distinguished by range. We saw this species in Nome, the previous in Seward.

MOOSE (Alces alces)

One in Nome, but again in the Seward area.

MOUNTAIN GOAT (Oreamnos americanus)

MUSKOX (Ovibos moschatus)

The symbol of the Arctic and the North Slope tundra. What an amazing creature! It easily takes one back to another time, a looooong time ago.

Totals for the tour: 148 bird taxa and 18 mammal taxa