The North Slope of Alaska in June is an enchanting place for birders—Steller’s, King and Spectacled Eiders float in shallow ponds among chunks of ice while Red Phalaropes in their dazzling breeding plumage stir up invertebrates in drainage ditches along mud roads and three species of jaeger patrol the thawing tundra for lemmings. This is where we kicked off Part 2 of our Alaska tour.
Shortly after landing we were shuffling through the Utqiagvik airport awaiting our bags and before long we were out on the tundra with Spectacled Eiders in the scope! The next morning, we did some sea watching from a point overlooking the frozen Chukchi Sea. Birds were on the move. We saw long strings of King Eiders flying low over the ice and a couple Yellow-billed Loons shot right overhead with their lanky feet trailing well behind their bodies.
After a full day filled with Pomarine, Long-tailed and Parasitic Jaegers, Pectoral, Baird’s, White-rumped and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Snowy Owls, Long-tailed Ducks, Eiders and lemmings, we decided to go out after dinner for a “night drive” with the sun still high in the sky. We pulled in to check some feeders that typically attract redpolls and Snow Buntings, and bam, a Redwing shot over us disappearing over the adjacent buildings. Chris managed a fabulous flight shot of the bird showing the red on the underwing.
The following day while searching for the Redwing, we stumbled upon another rarity. We had pulled over to watch a Short-eared Owl cruising low over the tundra when Chris yelled out “Little Stint!” We all turned around to find a gorgeous Little Stint in crisp breeding plumage foraging among some Semipalmated Sandpipers in a boggy area. This Eurasian species was a lifer for almost everyone in group! What a treat. With that, we were off to Anchorage again, for the next leg of our adventure: Nome.
Landing in Nome is always delightful—the rich green hills with fire red willows and angular patches of snow create some of the most dramatic landscapes in North America. After lunch and food shopping we drove deep into the tundra wilderness stopping to see Sandhill Cranes, Eastern Yellow Wagtails and a Gyrfalcon perched majestically on a rocky outcrop. On our return to Nome, Chris spotted a distant pair of Arctic Loons with their gleaming white bellies flashing us as they preened.
Bluethroat anticipation soared as we wound through the Kougarok Road the next morning. We pulled over at several spots but nothing, until finally we hit the jackpot. Not one, not two, but three Bluethroats came in, singing and pumping their rufous tails in perfect morning light! We couldn’t have asked for better views. Unfortunately, Covid threw a wrench in our trip, and I (Micah) tested positive that evening. Ruth, from our office thankfully stepped in to cover for the final leg of the tour in Seward, where Orcas, multiple murrelets and the glassy waters of the Kenai Fjords concluded our 2022 Alaska adventure. Chris, Ruth and I had a fabulous time with all of you and we look forward to seeing you 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)
A few flocks flew past us while we birded around Utqiagvik.
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons)
Scattered throughout the Utqiagvik tundra.
BRANT (BLACK) (Branta bernicla nigricans)
CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)
CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)
TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)
TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)
Hundreds were out in marshy habitat along Safety Sound. This included an Asian Bewick's Swan with extensive yellow on the bill.
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)
One flew through the field of view as we scoped out the swans at Safety Sound.
AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
A very common dabbling duck in the high Arctic region.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (AMERICAN) (Anas crecca carolinensis)
REDHEAD (Aythya americana)
RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)
Seen while driving on the Seward Hwy.
TUFTED DUCK (Aythya fuligula)
One was hanging out with a few scaup at Tern Lake of all places.
GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)
LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)
STELLER'S EIDER (Polysticta stelleri)
What a bird! We had super close looks at this high Arctic sea duck on Cake Eater Road. They were lined up with King, and Spectacled Eiders.
SPECTACLED EIDER (Somateria fischeri)
We had the privilege of watching these scarce and spectacular sea ducks out Cake Eater Road, Utqiagvik.
KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)
Long strings of these spectacular sea ducks were flying over the sea ice. We also had close views from Cake Eater Road.
COMMON EIDER (PACIFIC) (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum)
Lots of these contrasty ducks were along the coast road in Nome.
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)
Nome is a great place to see Harlequin Duck. We encountered several off the rocky coast.
SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)
We were lucky enough to see three species of Scoter in Nome: Surf, White-winged and Black.
WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta deglandi)
BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)
LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)
One of the most common ducks around Utqiagvik. They were in just about every pond.
BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)
Near the hotel in Anchorage.
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
Most memorable was the mother with chicks as we were returning to the harbor in Seward.
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator)
WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)
We encountered a few while driving out the Kougarok Road from Nome.
RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena)
More views of nesting birds in Anchorage.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus)
SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)
Big flocks were out in the flooded fields along the Safety Sound, Nome.
BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus bachmani)
A calling bird went ripping past our boat on the Kenai boat trip. This is one of our skipper Tanya's favorite birds.
AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica)
Nice views of this species out on the tundra of Utqiagvik and Nome.
PACIFIC GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis fulva)
We had superb views in the tundra out on the Kougarok Road.
SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)
We ran into this species a couple times around the ponds at Utqiagvik.
WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)
A few out on the hilly tundra around Nome.
BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica)
Whew, on our last check of the Nome River mudflats we finally connected with this species!
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)
RED-NECKED STINT (Calidris ruficollis)
We scoped one of these Eurasian shorebirds that was mixed in with other peeps on Safety Lagoon east of Nome.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
Three of these at Utqiagvik were notable.
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
We watched one in display mode at Utqiagvik.
BAIRD'S SANDPIPER (Calidris bairdii)
We saw a couple of these long-distance migrants scuttling around a pond at Utqiagvik.
LITTLE STINT (Calidris minuta)
Wow! What a delight to spend time watching a Little Stint and to compare it to the nearby Semipalmated Sandpipers! Great find, Chris!
WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER (Calidris fuscicollis)
What a treat to see this species repeatedly at Utqiagvik!
PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)
I'm always blown away by the booming display of Pectoral Sandpiper. We ran into some researchers who were studying the breeding biology of this species in Utqiagvik.
SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER (Calidris pusilla)
Definitely the most common shorebird at Utqiagvik.
WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)
SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)
Another save right at the end was the group of Short-billed Dowitchers found feeding in a boggy ditch at Westchester.
LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
One flew over us at the sea watch spot.
WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)
Common on the tour, especially around Nome.
RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)
In handsome breeding plumage around Utqiagvik and Nome.
RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)
Wow! What a treat to see them in their breeding plumage. Plentiful in the puddles around Utqiagvik.
SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)
GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)
A couple of territorial birds at Tern Lake.
LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)
POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)
These bulky Arctic breeders were plentiful around Utqiagvik. At one point we saw several streaming over the horizon with their characteristic spoon-shaped tails.
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)
The jaeger intermediate in size between Long-tailed and Pomarine. We watched one swoop down and swallow a lemming on the road in Nome.
LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)
Fairly common around Nome and Utqiagvik.
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia)
Doing pretty well at the moment; we had some good views of this species at the Chiswells.
PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)
There were good numbers of these on our Kenai boat trip.
MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)
KITTLITZ'S MURRELET (Brachyramphus brevirostris)
A trip up Aialik Bay to the glacier rewarded us with good views of this localized species. The glacier was pretty good too!
PARAKEET AUKLET (Aethia psittacula)
Great views of these in the unusually calm waters.
RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)
HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata)
TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla)
Masses of them breeding of sea cliffs.
SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)
We saw a small flock on a shallow pond in Utqiagvik. Like all the jaegers, these Arctic breeders spend the winter out on the open ocean.
HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)
SLATY-BACKED GULL (Larus schistisagus)
We had one first cycle gull in bleached plumage that was likely this species but a tough ID this time of year.
GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)
The common gull species around Seward.
GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)
The common gull in Utqiagvik, and also around Nome.
ALEUTIAN TERN (Onychoprion aleuticus)
Nome River mouth is a good place to see this range-restricted tern of the Bering Sea.
ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)
These migration champions fill the lakes and waterways of Alaska every summer. We saw plenty around Nome, Utqiagvik and Anchorage.
RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)
Nome and Utqiagvik are good areas to see these elegant loons.
ARCTIC LOON (Gavia arctica)
Chris picked some out that were way out from Cape Nome.
PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)
The most common of the loons we encountered in Alaska. They were in peak breeding plumage!
COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)
YELLOW-BILLED LOON (Gavia adamsii)
We were lucky this tour to have several close fly-overs of this magnificent loon at Utqiagvik.
RED-FACED CORMORANT (Urile urile)
A relief to see one of these on the boat trip after scanning through the Pelagics.
PELAGIC CORMORANT (Urile pelagicus)
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)
GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)
NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)
We encountered this a few times around Nome.
BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)
SNOWY OWL (Bubo scandiacus)
These icons of the Arctic were nesting right outside Utqiagvik.
SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)
Seen a couple times around Utqiagvik.
BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)
AMERICAN THREE-TOED WOODPECKER (Picoides dorsalis) [*]
DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)
HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)
GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus)
One of my personal highlights was seeing the Gyrfalcon sitting on a rocky outcropping in the middle of the tundra near Nome. What a special moment!
ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)
SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)
BLACK-BILLED MAGPIE (Pica hudsonia)
AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos caurinus)
Until recently known as Northwestern Crow.
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)
CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE (Poecile rufescens)
BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonicus)
TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)
VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)
CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
ARCTIC WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealis)
Watching one sing right out in the open from a telephone wire was something I wasn't expecting. We heard them singing all over the place around Nome.
RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)
PACIFIC WREN (Troglodytes pacificus)
Great study of one singing away just outside of Seward.
AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)
Great looks at birds hanging out at the salmon weir.
EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]
VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)
We did connect with one near Seward that was singing for us.
GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)
The theme song of Nome is the song of Gray-cheeked Thrush. We heard them most places we went and saw a few that popped out in the open.
HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)
REDWING (Turdus iliacus)
What an adrenaline rush! We jumped out of the van when suddenly a strange bird with bright rufous on the underwing sailed overhead. Chris snapped a photo and identified it as a Redwing as it cruised out of sight.
AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)
BLUETHROAT (Luscinia svecica)
Amazing! We couldn't have asked for a better Bluethroat experience out on the Kougarok Road. The birds came in right in front of us with perfect light on it.
NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)
With persistence we got some great looks at this mostly Old World species.
EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla tschutschensis)
One zipped around off the Nome-Council Road.
WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacilla alba)
One appeared for us in the Nome Harbor right on cue.
AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)
A couple seen in the rocky tundra of Nome.
PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator)
A few coming in to the feeders in Ava's yard in Seward.
COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)
Seen around Nome and Utqiagvik.
HOARY REDPOLL (Acanthis hornemanni)
The paler version of Common Redpoll seen around Utqiagvik.
PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)
LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)
SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis)
The most abundant passerine around Utqiagvik. They were at just about every street corner.
AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)
FOX SPARROW (SOOTY) (Passerella iliaca sinuosa)
FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)
The fox sparrows we saw in Nome.
DARK-EYED JUNCO (SLATE-COLORED) (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)
WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW (GAMBEL'S) (Zonotrichia leucophrys gambelii)
GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla)
Common in the tundra in Nome. We had nice close looks along the Kougarok Road.
SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)
SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)
NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)
ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)
We had some good views of this species around Nome. It's incredible to think that these birds will spend the winter in Mexico and Central America.
YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)
YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (MYRTLE) (Setophaga coronata coronata)
WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)
SNOWSHOE HARE (Lepus americanus)
Looking at our images it looks like the ones photographed were all Snowshoe rather than Alaskan.
ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)
Our best views were along the Kougarok Road, Nome.
NEARCTIC BROWN LEMMING (Lemmus trimucronatus)
Wow! Watching one trundle across the snow and boggy tundra was quite something.
NORTH AMERICAN PORCUPINE (Erethizon dorsatum)
We crossed paths with one on the Kougarok Road, Nome.
ORCA (Orcinus orca)
We encountered the AK6 pod on the boat trip.
HARBOR PORPOISE (Phocoena phocoena)
We spotted a few of these small cetaceans that were close to shore off of Point Nome.
DALL'S PORPOISE (Phocoenoides dalli)
A lot of them around on the boat trip with some decent bow riding.
HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)
A few wonderful encounters with these magical creatures.
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)
We saw a good number of these around Nome.
SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)
We saw a good number of these on the boat trip.
STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)
Great looks at some loafing out by the Chiswells.
HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)
Many of these were on ice around the Aialik Glacier.
SPOTTED SEAL (Phoca largha)
Seals seen at Utqiagvik were this or the next species.
RINGED SEAL (Phoca hispida)
MOOSE (Alces alces)
CARIBOU (Rangifer tarandus granti)
A few individuals were out on the tundra around Utqiagvik.
MOUNTAIN GOAT (Oreamnos americanus)
We spied some on the mountains near Tern Lake.
MUSKOX (Ovibos moschatus)
Multiple herds of these Arctic beasts roamed the tundra around off the Kougarok Road, Nome. We watched some clustering around the last patch of snow, probably to stay cool and avoid the mosquitoes.
Totals for the tour: 143 bird taxa and 18 mammal taxa