Our tour took us to the subarctic wilderness of the Seward Peninsula around Nome, the coastal rainforest and glacier-studded fjords of the Gulf of Alaska, and the shorelines, alpine tundra, and forests around Anchorage and Cook Inlet. Unfortunately, our flight to Utqiagvik/ Barrow did not land due to foggy conditions on the Arctic coast, so we improvised searches for some challenging species we hadn't yet seen in the greater Anchorage-Wasilla area. Though Steller's Eiders and Snowy Owls will have to wait for another trip to The Great Land, we did enjoy some superb views of White-tailed Ptarmigan, Spruce Grouse, and even an American Marten (a furry marten, not a feathered martin).
The vastness of the landscape around Nome welcomed us with many exquisite bird and mammal sightings. During our four days of exploring the major roadways outside of Nome, we found territorial Bristle-thighed Curlews, flight-singing Bluethroats, chattering Arctic Warblers, wary Arctic Loons, and well-camouflaged Rock and Willow ptarmigan. Muskox dotted the remote slopes and also strolled past our lodging in town (!), and the Grizzly Bear that wandered a hillside on the Kougarok Road allowed us to watch it at length—and from a good length, too! We didn't know it at the time, but the Yellow-billed Loon and Spectacled Eider we found would later serve as salve for the cancelled Arctic section of the tour.
After a short flight back to Anchorage, we drove through the spectacular scenery of the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet and the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula on our way to Seward. Seward served as our base for an excellent coastal boat trip to Kenai Fjords National Park. Along the way, we found nine species of alcids including such highlights as Parakeet Auklet, Horned and Tufted puffins, and the curious, glacier-loving Kittlitz's Murrelet (24 of those, actually!). Mammals also held up their end of the bargain and we had some exciting moments with Steller's Sea Lions, Dall's Porpoises, Humpback Whales, and even three Killer Whales cruising in front of Aialik Glacier. The day after our boat trip, we visited the famed Alaska Sealife Center in Seward and enjoyed the beautiful, immersive exhibits that detail the region's marine life. The walk-in aviary with the Red-legged Kittiwakes and King Eiders was quite memorable! Land explorations around the Seward area helped us find nesting American Dipper, Townsend's Warbler, Sooty Fox Sparrow, and a hefty run of Sockeye (Red) Salmon.
Returning to Anchorage, we prepared ourselves for the journey north across the Arctic Circle to Barrow/ Utqiagvik, but as previously discussed, the weather simply wouldn't allow our plane to land this time, so we returned to Anchorage by way of a wait-and-see stop in Fairbanks. As a back-up plan, we pivoted to some of our so-far-unseen target birds in the greater Anchorage area and set our sights on them for our final two days in the field. The road to Hatcher Pass above Wasilla got us up into beautiful alpine tundra, and after a brief search, we found a handsome, territorial White-tailed Ptarmigan. The Hoary Marmot and flight-singing Wandering Tattler were pretty neat, too! By this point in the tour (part II for most of the group following a Homer-Denali jaunt on part I), finding an elusive, phantom Spruce Grouse had become a bit of a running joke, but Doug and I consulted with our Anchorage resident friend Brad Benter and came up with a grouse plan for our final day. We drove to some accessible wilderness near the Palmer area and searched high and low (mostly low - Spruce Grouse like to be on the ground) through thicket and forest. One walk took us to a patch of mossy spruce forest where we stumbled upon a rare mammal at close range - an American Marten! Shortly after this, as most of us had turned around to head back toward the vans, Doug called us on the phone - "Spruce Grouse!" He had stayed behind on a hunch and checked behind one more hill, and voila! Good hunch, Doug: a female Spruce Grouse with a brood of tiny chicks. We retraced our steps and joined Doug to admire this beautifully camouflaged family of grouse at close range for a while.
Thank you all for joining Doug and me on this exploration of wild Alaska - we had a great time traveling with you, and we appreciated your patience and trust as we sorted out the unexpected travel changes toward the end of the tour.
Good birding, and we hope to see you in the field again soon!
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
SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)
We found a flock of 48 at Safety Sound Lagoon near Nome.
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons)
One was with other geese at Safety Sound Lagoon near Nome.
BRANT (BLACK) (Branta bernicla nigricans)
Generally the common goose at Safety Sound Lagoon near Nome. This is the Pacific subspecies.
CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)
We saw birds on or near breeding territories a few times around the Nome area (presumably "Taverner's" subspecies). A small Cackler was also mixed in with the unusual-looking Anchorage Canada Geese at Westchester Lagoon.
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
The small white-cheeked geese around Anchorage are mostly thought to be Canada Geese, though they are small and compact compared to most other populations of "Canada Geese".
TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)
These large swans were on freshwater marshes during our drive to Seward and also in the Jim Lake area.
TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)
Common around Safety Sound Lagoon near Nome.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
A few were around Nome; more common in the Anchorage area.
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
Found at Safety Sound Lagoon near Nome and also commonly in the Anchorage area.
AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)
Common around Nome and Anchorage.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
Ours were in the Anchorage area.
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
These elegant ducks were scattered around the Nome area.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
Seen regularly near Nome and also in the Anchorage area.
CANVASBACK (Aythya valisineria)
A flock of five was an uncommon sighting on Lake Hood near our Anchorage hotel.
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
The large flock of 110 in the Jim Lake area was particularly impressive.
TUFTED DUCK (Aythya fuligula)
One of these fancy Asian Aythya ducks found by other birders stuck around for us to enjoy on a coastal lagoon outside of Nome. Even with that outrageous ponytail, he was challenging to pick out from the other ducks at times.
GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)
The only scaup we identified in the Nome area (where Lesser is uncommon); we also compared these round-headed scaup to Lessers around the Anchorage area.
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
Seen next to Greater Scaup around Anchorage, especially at Westchester Lagoon.
SPECTACLED EIDER (Somateria fischeri)
Yip yip! We were fortunate to scope up a male off the coast of Nome on a few occasions while examining scoter flocks.
KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)
We saw these sea ducks on a few occasions in small groups along the coast of Nome.
COMMON EIDER (PACIFIC) (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum)
This is the common species of eider around Nome; the males of this Pacific subspecies have carrot orange bills. The subspecies name v-nigrum refers to the black V-shaped mark under the chin of the males.
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)
Great views on several occasions around Nome plus a flock on our boat trip out of Seward.
SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)
Large flocks during the Seward boat trip plus other scattered sightings around Nome and Anchorage (inc. 1 on Lake Hood where uncommon).
WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta deglandi)
Several hundred were viewed at distance off the coast of Nome. Stejneger's Scoter (the Asian taxon recently split from White-winged Scoter) was present in the flock, too, but as a group we couldn't easily dial in on one due to distance and flock movements.
BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)
We saw a few dozen in scattered groups in the Safety Sound area.
LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)
Large flocks (totaling 325 during one observation) were moving along the coast of Nome. We also saw scattered individuals and pairs on inland ponds.
BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)
One was with Greater Scaup on the Safety Sound Lagoon.
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
We saw at least four in comparison to Barrow's Goldeneye at Jim Lake.
BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)
One flew a few laps over Ava's Place near Seward, and we saw others at Jim Lake, too.
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
A flock of four flew over us along the Kougarok Road outside of Nome; another flew over while we watched the feeders at Ava's Place near Seward.
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator)
Common in the Nome area.
SPRUCE GROUSE (Falcipennis canadensis)
On this planned Nome-Seward-Barrow route, we usually hope to find Spruce Grouse on the Seward leg of the trip. No dice this time. Due to the flight not being able to land at Barrow, however, we used some of the extra time around Anchorage to search again for this "Chicken of the Woods." With some extensive searching, tips from a local friend, and a healthy dose of luck, we found them! Doug magically rounded up a female with a group of tiny chicks during one of our walks in the Palmer area, and we were then lucky to enjoy the female at length while spotting tiny chicks perched in small trees (like one of those "Magic Eye" puzzles). This was just around the corner from the section of trail where we had a good look at an American Marten!
WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)
We found ten of these fine grouse along the side of the Nome-Teller Highway on our final morning in the Nome area.
ROCK PTARMIGAN (Lagopus muta)
Our concerted search on the final morning around Nome turned up a handsome male that was starting to get quite a bit of black and brown on his back. After finding him, we enjoyed scope views for a while as he pretended to be a rock.
WHITE-TAILED PTARMIGAN (Lagopus leucura)
Wow! Like Spruce Grouse, this was a bonus species afforded to us by the otherwise unfortunate cancellation of the Barrow leg of our journey. At Hatcher Pass, a vocal male showed off incredibly well for us on the snow-dotted slopes. This is not a species that we usually encounter on the tour.
RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena)
Just a few of these stately waterbirds were around Nome, but we saw LOTS in the Anchorage area. On one visit, we counted 26 around Westchester Lagoon including quite a few attending floating nests.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
Scattered around the urban areas of Anchorage and Seward.
RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus)
Three were buzzing around the feeders at Ava's Place near Seward.
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)
Scattered sightings around the Nome area and along the shoreline of Cook Inlet at Anchorage.
BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus bachmani)
We found three of these rock-loving shorebirds during our boat trip to Kenai Fjords National Park.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
We found one along the coast near Nome on our first evening there - an uncommon bird around Nome in June.
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica)
We found a few of these beautiful plovers on the upland hills north of Nome.
PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis fulva)
These striking plovers were on nesting territories around Nome, mostly along the coastal plain. Their long legs, stout bills, extra white on the flanks, short wingtips, and unique calls helped us distinguish them from American Golden-Plovers.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
Several close encounters along the coast at Nome, including at least one very territorial nesting pair.
BRISTLE-THIGHED CURLEW (Numenius tahitiensis)
Spectacular! This is one of the species that people dream about seeing in Nome since it's the only accessible site to find these long distance migrants during the breeding season. These two buff-rumped beauties were acting territorial along the Kougarok Road, and our tundra tromp was rewarded pretty quickly. We really enjoyed seeing and hearing ("teeee-uh-wit!") these legendary shorebirds up close.
WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)
We found these vigilant curlews in good numbers around the tundra of Nome.
BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica)
We found groups of these shorebirds at the Nome River Mouth and at Safety Sound Lagoon. This population (subspecies baueri) breeds here along the coast of western Alaska and migrates across the Pacific to spend the winter in New Zealand/ Australia.
HUDSONIAN GODWIT (Limosa haemastica)
On our stops at Westchester Lagoon, we found groups of 5 and 6 individuals. These large, colorful shorebirds breed across Cook Inlet from Anchorage in the Beluga area and visit the tidal flats of the inlet to feed (and the islands in the lagoon to rest).
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
We found just a couple of these calico-patterned shorebirds along the Nome road system.
BLACK TURNSTONE (Arenaria melanocephala)
We found a couple of these striking, boldly patterned sandpipers feeding along the coast in Nome - the one at the Nome River Mouth walked right up to us.
RED KNOT (Calidris canutus)
Ours were on rocky tundra above the Nome-Teller Highway. These gray-and-salmon beauties are amazingly tough to spot on the complex tundra backdrop where they breed.
SURFBIRD (Calidris virgata)
One of these odd sandpipers fed along the water's edge near Safety Sound. Surfbirds do breed on mountain tundra near Nome, usually in tough-to-access spots.
LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)
These small shorebirds were along the Kougarok Road outside of Nome and also at Potter Marsh in Anchorage.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (Calidris pusilla)
A fairly common breeding bird on the coastal tundra at Nome - we saw a few hovering over their breeding territories near Safety Sound.
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
Fairly common at Nome, where they overlap with Semipalmated Sandpipers. We had some particularly close views on the cobble at the Nome River Mouth.
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
One was with other shorebirds at Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage.
WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)
A fairly common breeder in the Nome area, especially conspicuous along the river bottoms of the Kougarok Road on this visit.
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)
These delightful shorebirds were swimming and spinning at quite a few of our birding stops in the Nome area.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
We saw this familiar sandpiper teetering at the edge of the water on at least four occasions, including at Nome, Anchorage, and Seward.
WANDERING TATTLER (Tringa incana)
One flew over singing during our Ptarmigan hunt at Hatcher Pass; the next day, a calling bird flew past at Beluga Point on Turnagain Arm near Anchorage.
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
Two were at Westchester Lagoon.
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)
We saw these medium-sized jaegers regularly around Nome, but they were outnumbered by Long-tailed Jaegers there. At Anchorage, the three we saw flying over Cook Inlet from the mouth of Ship Creek were unusual for the date and location.
LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)
An amazing bird, and one that we saw regularly in the Nome area. On our first evening around Nome, we found over 30 during our drive out to Safety Sound Lagoon. One of the signature species of a spring/ summer visit to Nome.
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)
A few were moving offshore at Nome; we also saw hundreds around the Chiswell Islands during our Kenai Fjords boat trip.
PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)
Over 50 during the Kenai Fjords boat trip.
MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)
We saw plenty of these small alcids during our boat trip to Kenai Fjords; studying the very dark coloration and bill projection helped us prepare to look for Kittlitz's Murrelets.
KITTLITZ'S MURRELET (Brachyramphus brevirostris)
A highlight of the boat trip to Kenai Fjords NP. We found about 24 individuals, most in milky, icy water quite close to Aialik Glacier. Though most were in groups of 1 or 2, we did see a large group of 9 together.
ANCIENT MURRELET (Synthliboramphus antiquus)
Brief views of ~3 individuals that flushed off the water and flew away during our boat trip near the Chiswell Islands.
PARAKEET AUKLET (Aethia psittacula)
Around the Chiswell Islands, we found nearly 40 of these locally uncommon auks during our Kenai Fjords boat trip.
RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)
Dozens of these chunky, flat-headed alcids were on the water at the mouth of Aialik Bay on our boat trip. More puffin-like than the other "auklets."
HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata)
We found nearly 100 of these fine alcids during the Kenai Fjords boat trip.
TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)
80 seen during our Kenai Fjords boat trip, with the majority around the Chiswell Islands.
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla)
We saw hundreds of these medium-sized gulls at Nome and thousands around Seward and Kenai Fjords.
SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)
Up to two dozen along the coast east of Nome, where they are migrants. We enjoyed excellent views of these striking gulls at the Nome River Mouth.
BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)
A couple of individuals loafed around on the mudflats offshore from Anchorage.
MEW GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus canus brachyrhynchus)
The most widespread gull of our travels; we found them commonly at Nome, Anchorage, and Seward. The AOS recently decided to split the "Mew Gull" complex based on published genetic studies, so this American taxon will now be referred to as Short-billed Gull.
HERRING GULL (Larus argentatus)
At least one immature bird along the coast at Nome.
GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)
A few were mixed in with Glaucous Gulls around Nome, but hundreds were around the Seward/ Kenai Fjords area. We also saw many Herring x Glaucous-winged Gull hybrids in the Anchorage area.
GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)
This was the common large gull that we saw around Nome. Pure white wingtips.
ALEUTIAN TERN (Onychoprion aleuticus)
This elegant species is a real treat for any spring or summer trip to Nome. These Bering Sea specialties were seen regularly at the Nome River Mouth and Safety Sound. Their songbird-like chirps give them away from long distances as they commute between river deltas and the offshore waters of Norton Sound where they feed on small fish.
ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)
We saw hundreds at Nome (top count of 400 at the Nome River Mouth), dozens at Anchorage, and a handful at Seward.
RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)
This was the most common loon in the Nome area. These slim loons were frequently seen at close range in roadside pools, and we also got to enjoy them sailing overhead and passing by over the sea at regular intervals, too.
ARCTIC LOON (Gavia arctica)
We were very fortunate to enjoy two pairs of breeding adults at length on the Safety Sound Lagoon near Nome. The slaty gray hindneck, white "hip" patch, and bold neck stripes combine with the larger-than-Pacific size to create a distinctive look for this species. One of North America's rarest breeding waterbirds.
PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)
We saw these beautiful waterbirds regularly around Nome and once at Jim Lake near the end of the tour.
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
Seen several times on Safety Sound Lagoon near Nome and also at Jim Lake.
YELLOW-BILLED LOON (Gavia adamsii)
The breeding plumage adult that we scoped from the bridge at the mouth of Safety Sound marked the fifth species of loon we found on that fantastic estuary during our visit. This species, the largest of the loons, is rare but regular in the Nome area in spring.
RED-FACED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax urile)
Though it took quite a bit of vigilance and patience, we saw one immature and two adults mixed with Pelagic Cormorants at the Chiswell Islands during our Kenai Fjords boat trip.
PELAGIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)
Though we did see a few along the coast at Nome, there were hundreds of these skinny cormorants around Seward and the Kenai Fjords area.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
We found these widespread comorants around Seward, where several dozen were present.
OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)
One was soaring over a river crossing along the Kougarok Road out of Nome.
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)
Two adults were near a nest outside of Nome, and we saw another near Safety Sound Lagoon, too.
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
These low-flying, slim raptors coursed low over the tundra outside of Nome.
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
These massive birds were a common sight in the Anchorage-Seward corridor.
RED-TAILED HAWK (Buteo jamaicensis)
A dark immature bird was perched up behind Ava's Place near Seward.
SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)
One flew up along the side of the Kougarok Road during our curlew expedition.
AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER (Picoides dorsalis)
We found a pair of these charming woodpeckers attending a noisy, active nest near Jim Lake.
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)
One was visiting the feeders at Ava's Place near Seward.
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)
We saw these mid-sized woodpeckers a few times in the Anchorage and Seward areas.
MERLIN (Falco columbarius)
We found a surprising four individuals during our Nome area travels, plus a calling, territorial bird at Granite Creek Campground.
GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus)
Phew! We didn't see the species at a nest this year, but gray morph adult was perched up on a ridgeline outside of Nome and offered us some decent scope views.
OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHER (Contopus cooperi) [*]
We heard one singing "Quick Three Beers!" along the Arctic Valley Road.
ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)
We found these "Free Beer!"-ing Empidonax flycatchers at several locations in the Anchorage area including Westchester Lagoon, Arctic Valley, and Jim Lake.
NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius borealis)
We found one of these predatory songbirds along the Kougarok Road out of Nome.
CANADA JAY (Perisoreus canadensis)
We had a few sightings, but our best was the family group that flew right up to us along the Arctic Valley Road.
BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica hudsonia)
A common sight in the Anchorage-Seward corridor.
NORTHWESTERN CROW (Corvus caurinus)
Farewell to Northwestern Crow! This one was lumped with American Crow by the AOS following a genetic study of the contact zone. That being said, we saw some great Northwestern American Crows around Girdwood and Seward.
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
A common bird through most of our travels.
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
Ours were at Ava's Place near Seward and Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage.
CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE (Poecile rufescens)
We saw these chickadees of humid conifer forest in the tall trees around Bear Lake near Seward.
BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonicus)
We saw these brown-capped chickadees at Granite Creek Campground and near Jim Lake.
HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris) [*]
We heard one calling during our second visit to the Teller Road outside of Nome.
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
Fairly common around Nome, Anchorage, and Seward.
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)
These small, handsome swallows showed very nicely for us around Summit Lake Lodge (where we ate a tasty pizza lunch) and other areas between Anchorage and Seward.
BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)
A few sightings along the riverbanks in the Nome area.
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) [N]
Nesting under a few of the bridges we crossed on the Kougarok and Teller roads out of Nome.
ARCTIC WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealis)
These Old World warblers were decidedly "in" at Nome during our visit - common and seen several times, especially along the Teller and Kougarok roads. This is one of several Trans-Beringian migrants that breeds in western Alaska and migrates across the Bering Sea to winter in Asia.
GOLDEN-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus satrapa) [*]
Heard calling a few times, but we couldn't see them this time.
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)
Several sightings in the Seward and Palmer areas.
RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)
These were at a few sites in Seward and Anchorage - we even saw them attending the feeders at Ava's Place.
BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)
The best sighting was of the individual climbing a big trunk at the Jim Lake boat launch.
PACIFIC WREN (Troglodytes pacificus) [*]
We heard this tiny songster a few times in the Seward area, but couldn't lay eyes on it this time.
AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)
We found these fantastic aquatic songbirds nesting along the Nome-Teller Highway and also at the Bear Lake Weir outside of Seward.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
Fairly common around Anchorage.
VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)
These gorgeous thrushes are most common on our route in the tall, humid forest in the Seward area - but we also heard them singing at Arctic Valley and even along the Kougarok Rd. outside of Nome (where scarce).
GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)
Nome is perhaps the best place to see and hear these long distance migrant thrushes - they are quite common along the rivers there, and they even perch up on utility lines!
SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus)
Several sightings in the Seward-Anchorage-Palmer corridor, especially in the Jim Lake area.
HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)
We found a few of these widespread thrushes in the Anchorage and Seward areas (even heard them during our Kenai Fjords boat trip).
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
Common in each of the areas we visited on the tour, even along the shores of the Bering Sea at Nome.
BLUETHROAT (Luscinia svecica)
Yowza - this one was a big target for many in our group. We had some good sightings of singing males in the river valleys outside of Nome. Seeing these Old World flycatchers slowly circling while singing in their flight displays is a truly special experience. A Trans-Beringian migrant.
NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Super views of these chunky, terrestrial songbirds on our final morning expedition into rocky tundra along the Nome-Teller Highway. A Trans-Beringian migrant.
EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla tschutschensis)
These slender, active songbirds were defending a nesting territory near the coast east of Nome - they called frequently and circled us for some very nice flight views (and occasional perched views) before we slipped away. A Trans-Beringian migrant.
AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)
These songbirds like to nest in rocky tundra, and that's where we found them in the uplands outside of Nome and also at Hatcher Pass.
PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator)
One put in a very brief show at Granite Creek Campground, but our best encounter was clearly the singing "russet" individual we found along the Arctic Valley Road.
COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)
Common in the Anchorage area, and very common around Nome.
HOARY REDPOLL (Acanthis hornemanni)
We found a good number of these frosty redpolls mixed in with Common Redpolls in the Nome area. It's possible that Common and Hoary redpolls will be lumped as a single species at some point in the future due to their extreme genetic similarities, so enjoy this one while you can!
RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra) [*]
Heard calling in flight a few times in the Seward area.
WHITE-WINGED CROSSBILL (Loxia leucoptera)
A flock of 11 flew over us calling during our morning outing on the Arctic Valley Road.
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)
These small, streaky finches were seen repeatedly in the Seward area.
LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)
A very common roadside songbird in the Nome area, especially in the coastal tundra near Safety Sound.
AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)
These northern sparrows sang for us and showed off regularly in the Nome area, especially along the Kougarok Road.
FOX SPARROW (SOOTY) (Passerella iliaca sinuosa)
The Fox Sparrows we found near Seward were of this dark, coastal subspecies group.
FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)
The Fox Sparrows of Nome were of this zaboria subspecies (part of the "Red" group of Fox Sparrows); we also saw and heard a likely intergrade Sooty x Red Fox Sparrow at Arctic Valley.
DARK-EYED JUNCO (SLATE-COLORED) (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)
Common in forests in the Anchorage-Seward corridor.
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)
Quite common in the Nome area; we also saw a few at Arctic Valley and the Palmer area.
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla)
Usually at slightly higher elevations than White-crowned Sparrows, though we saw them overlapping at several sites. Plenty near Nome, and a few at Arctic Valley and Hatcher Pass, too.
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
A common breeding sparrow in the Nome and Anchorage areas.
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
These large, dark Song Sparrows were interesting to study at Seward and Jim Lake ("THOSE are Song Sparrows?!").
LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)
We found these tidy, streaky sparrows singing their effervescent songs at Arctic Valley and Jim Lake.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)
At least two perched up at Potter Marsh near Anchorage.
RUSTY BLACKBIRD (Euphagus carolinus)
A very confiding pair posed beautifully for us along the Kougarok Road on our return drive from Curlew Hill.
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
A common breeding warbler along rivers and other wetland habitats in the Nome, Seward, and Anchorage areas.
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)
These small, relatively plain warblers were common almost everywhere we went with trees or tall shrubs.
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
This is another widespread Alaskan warbler that we found around Nome, Seward, and Anchorage.
BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)
We found at least 15 of these fine warblers along the Kougarok Road outside of Nome.
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)
A plentiful breeder in the Anchorage and Seward areas.
TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)
It took a bit of looking, but we ended up with several nice sightings of singing birds in the coastal rainforest of the Seward area. With a stunning combination of black, white, yellow, and green, this is surely one of our best-dressed wood-warblers.
WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)
A very common warbler of riparian corridors and shrublands, especially in the Nome area.
SNOWSHOE HARE (Lepus americanus)
Fairly common in upland areas outside of Nome, especially along the Kougarok Road (where we scrutinized members of this species in search of Alaskan Hare).
HOARY MARMOT (Marmota caligata)
Good views of this stout, silvery beast during the drive down from Hatcher Pass.
ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)
These large, grizzled squirrels were fairly common around Nome and also around Hatcher Pass.
RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)
Our best views were during our Spruce Grouse hunt in the Palmer area.
TUNDRA RED-BACKED VOLE (Clethrionomys rutilus)
A few of us watched one scampering along in the alpine tundra at our ptarmigan hotspot at Hatcher Pass.
ORCA (Orcinus orca)
Wow! A group of three including a large male cruised past the edge of the floating ice below Aialik Glacier during our boat trip.
DALL'S PORPOISE (Phocoenoides dalli)
These small, fast, black-and-white cetaceans were throwing rooster tail plumes as they rushed alongside our boat near the head of Resurrection Bay. Affectionately referred to as "Panda Tuna."
HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Good views of this "long-winged" whale during the Kenai Fjords boat trip out of Seward.
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)
One scampered around and foraged in rocky tundra above the Teller Road.
BLACK BEAR (Ursus americanus)
We saw one briefly along the shores of Aialik Bay during our boat trip from Seward, but this was overshadowed by the very large individual that we watched from ten meters away as it ate dandelions along the side of the Arctic Valley Road. Dandelion hunting is serious business, and this bruin completely ignored us as he went about his meal. Untold thousands of dandelions fell that day.
BROWN (INCL. GRIZZLY) BEAR (Ursus arctos)
We enjoyed one blonde individual meandering along a hillside on the Kougarok Road on the return from our curlew expedition. From its scars and limping gait, it seemed like it had seen a few battles in the recent past, so may have been an older male.
AMERICAN PINE MARTEN (Martes americana)
Perhaps the most shocking mammal sighting of our tour - this one was relaxed and posing in a mossy spruce forest outside of Palmer. Also known as American Marten.
NORTH AMERICAN RIVER OTTER (Lontra canadensis)
Three were scampering around on the ice at Salmon Lake along the Kougarok Road.
SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)
Several "Northern Sea Otters" seen during the Kenai Fjords boat trip (including in Seward harbor).
STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)
These bear-like eared seals were loafing on rocks in the sea near Cape Aialik during our boat trip to Kenai Fjords.
HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)
This was the common pinniped around the ice at Kenai Fjords NP.
SPOTTED SEAL (Phoca largha)
At least one bobbed in the surf near Safety Sound Lagoon at Nome.
MOOSE (Alces alces)
A few in the Nome area plus three in freshwater wetlands in the Palmer area.
MOUNTAIN GOAT (Oreamnos americanus)
We found at least four on the slopes above Resurrection Bay south of Seward.
MUSKOX (Ovibos moschatus)
These fantastic woolly beasts were a daily sighting during our stay in Nome. Muskox disappeared from the North American landscape in the 1920s; a group of muskox from Greenland was brought to Alaska and reintroduced to several widely spaced areas, and now there's an Alaskan population in the low thousands.
DALL'S SHEEP (Ovis dalli)
These cliff-loving white sheep were on the slope above Beluga Point along Turnagain Arm.
Totals for the tour: 157 bird taxa and 21 mammal taxa