A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Alaska: The Great Land I 2023

May 24-June 9, 2023 with Tom Johnson & Doug Gochfeld guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
These "Pacific" Common Eiders passed in front of snowy mountains at Safety Sound Lagoon in Nome. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.

There's no doubt about it—for numerous reasons, Alaska is the most spectacular part of North America, and we always look forward to our spring adventures in The Great Land. Despite weather issues that blocked our planned visit to St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, we had a truly wonderful visit, birding the greater Anchorage area, Nome, Seward, and Barrow (Utqiagvik). Along the way we admired a dizzying array of birds, mammals, and landscapes.

Weather and a cascade of airline issues meant that we would not make it to St. Paul Island this time. This possibility is one of the challenging realities of air travel around this remote corner of the world. With a few days to play with, we put together a very successful backup plan of target birding around the greater Anchorage area, the Mat-Su Valley, and the Glenn Highway. During these days of exploration, we tracked down Spruce Grouse, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Hudsonian Godwit, Rufous Hummingbird, Black-backed and American Three-toed woodpeckers, Pine Grosbeak, Hammond's Flycatcher, Boreal Chickadee, Northern Shrike, White-winged and Red crossbills, and more. Mammals were also great in the Anchorage area with Hoary Marmot, Dall's Sheep, and both Black and Brown bears.

We headed to Nome next, finding the Norton Sound coast gripped by a lingering winter that wouldn't fully let go. Large shelves of ice were still connected to shore, and the upland tundra was covered in 3+ feet of snow in places. Bird migration, however, was in full swing, and we had a busy visit as we traversed the major roads out of Nome in pursuit of northwestern Alaska's specialties. Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, and both Eastern Yellow and White wagtails performed nicely, representing a suite of Trans-Beringian songbird migrants from the Old World. A boom season for ptarmigan here meant that we found many dozens of Willow and 10+ Rock ptarmigan. We also saw plenty of exciting shorebirds including Bar-tailed Godwits, Red-necked Stints, a vagrant Gray-tailed Tattler, Surfbirds, Black Turnstones, and more. We were gobsmacked by the close Stejneger's Scoters mixed in with White-winged Scoters at Cape Nome, and also enjoyed sightings of "Bewick's" Tundra Swan, Steller's Eider, Emperor Geese, Yellow-billed Loon, Sabine's Gull, Aleutian Tern, Gyrfalcon, and more.

From Nome, we repositioned to Seward for a boat trip out of Resurrection Bay to the Chiswell Islands and Kenai Fjords National Park. On a beautiful weather day, Captain Tanya Shober took us on a smooth ride around Cape Aialik, and we found 10 species of alcids (including Kittlitz's Murrelet, Ancient Murrelet, and Parakeet Auklet), Red-faced Cormorants, Sooty Shearwater, Black Oystercatchers, Mountain Goats, a Black Bear, Humpback Whales, and close Killer Whales. The big colonies of Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common and Thick-billed murres at the Chiswell Islands were impressive to behold. Our visit to Seward was also marked by some excellent seafood dinners enjoyed in the evenings alongside the small boat harbor.

The final phase of our Alaskan experience was a trip above the Arctic Circle to the North Slope outpost of Barrow (Utqiagvik). Here we admired all four species of eiders (including 3 in one binocular view - check out Doug's photo below!), squabbling Slaty-backed Gulls, displaying shorebirds including Red Phalaropes and Pectoral Sandpipers, Snowy Owls, out-of-place Varied Thrushes, and even some Brown Lemmings. The ice of the Arctic Ocean was still locked in to the shore, giving the place a very northern feel, indeed, but the birds were active 24 hours a day during this well-lit summer season.

Thanks for joining Doug and me for this birding and mammalwatching extravaganza in the far north. We both truly love Alaska, and we hope you hold on to some life long memories from our trip together. Hopefully our paths will cross in the field again soon.

Good birding, and thanks!


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)

On a late evening near Solomon, we picked out three Emperor Geese. Eventually these lovely and rare waterfowl got up and flew toward us, landing near the eastern end of Safety Sound Lagoon.

SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)

About 90 fed in a flock at Safety Sound Lagoon; additional small flocks were on the move at Barrow.


Quite common on the tundra at Barrow.

BRANT (BLACK) (Branta bernicla nigricans)

About 325 were scattered across Safety Sound Lagoon on one of our Nome outings; later we would see smaller numbers on the tundra at Barrow.

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On our boat trip from Seward, we enjoyed close views of Ancient Murrelets on the water. Typically these small alcids are just seen as gray, black, and white blurs flying directly away from the boat. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)

Small numbers of the local breeding subspecies taverneri around Nome.

CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)

We saw dozens of the odd, small "Canada" Geese around the Anchorage area. In some respects, this population appears intermediate between Canada and Cackling.

TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)

We saw these huge waterbirds regularly between Anchorage and Seward, with a max count of 19 (mostly subadults) at Jim Lake.

TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)

Hundreds were swimming and foraging at Safety Sound Lagoon. We also saw small numbers on the tundra at Barrow.

TUNDRA SWAN (BEWICK'S) (Cygnus columbianus bewickii)

This Asian subspecies of Tundra Swan was represented by a single individual with extra yellow on its bill, mixed in with American "Whistling" Tundra Swans at Safety Sound Lagoon.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

These dabblers were common in the Anchorage-Seward area; we also saw a few around Nome.

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

One of the standard dabblers in the Anchorage-Seward area.

AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)

A common dabbler at most major sites we visited; we even saw two fly over during a seawatch at Barrow.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)

Rather common in the Anchorage-Seward area. We also saw a few around Safety Sound Lagoon out of Nome.


The most common dabbling duck at Nome and Barrow.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL (EURASIAN) (Anas crecca crecca)

One was with other ducks at Safety Sound Lagoon. This male showed a horizontal white bar on its body but lacked the vertical white shoulder bar of an American Green-winged Teal.

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We took advantage of our extra time around Anchorage to explore some of the extremely scenic Glenn Highway. Photo by group member Suzi Cole.

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

The common American subspecies that we expect in mainland Alaska.

CANVASBACK (Aythya valisineria)

One was at Westchester Lagoon

REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

A male was with Greater Scaup at Westchester Lagoon.

RING-NECKED DUCK (Aythya collaris)

Small numbers on freshwater between Seward, Anchorage, and the Mat-Su.

GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)

The most common scaup we saw (and the only scaup we found at Nome and Barrow).

LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)

Dozens in the Mat Su-Anchorage-Seward area.

STELLER'S EIDER (Polysticta stelleri)

We saw a high number of this rare duck on this tour. We started off with three pairs at Safety Sound Lagoon near Nome, and later saw a pair offshore while seawatching from Cape Nome. Then, at Barrow we encountered large courting flocks that included a max count of 31 individuals.

SPECTACLED EIDER (Somateria fischeri)

We enjoyed great views of up to three pairs of these superb ducks on tundra melt ponds just outside of Barrow.

KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)

Though we saw some sizeable flocks offshore at Nome, our best views were of courting pairs on tundra ponds outside of Barrow.

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On one remarkable outing at Barrow, we saw three species of Arctic eiders lined up—wow! Spectacled, Steller's, and King here. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.

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

Up to 130 on our Nome outings. We also saw three as flyovers while watching other eiders in Barrow. This is the distinctive Pacific subspecies that could be recognized at the full species level someday.

HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)

We enjoyed close views of some pairs on beaver ponds below Hatcher Pass, and then regularly encountered flocks and pairs in the Nome area.

SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)

Just a few small groups near Cape Nome.

WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta deglandi)

Good numbers were offshore between Nome and Safety Sound this spring—likely a few hundred birds. We carefully picked through the flocks in search of the recently split Stejneger's Scoter from Asia, and this helped us become more familiar with the particulars of our American White-wing, too!

STEJNEGER'S SCOTER (Melanitta stejnegeri)

Wow, wow, wow. We carefully checked all of the scoter flocks in Nome, and we were rewarded with some incredibly good sightings of this recently recognized species. This is the Asian counterpart to our American White-winged Scoter, and it has only recently become clear that they are regular visitors to western Alaska. During our Nome outings, we logged up to 5 individual males, mostly in the Cape Nome area. The two males that were very close to the tip of Cape Nome offered us the best views including some easy, direct comparisons with White-winged Scoter. Check out the photos below for more details.

BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)

We saw numerous flocks at Nome that maxed out around 90 individuals.

LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)

A fairly common (though still very beautiful) diving duck in Nome and Barrow.

BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)

Small numbers in the Mat Su-Anchorage region, plus a few around Nome.

COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)

We saw these divers nicely between Anchorage and Jim Lake (plus one at Nome), though they were outnumbered by Barrow's Goldeneye.

BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)

Regular sightings near our hotel in Anchorage (up to 12), plus more in the Mat Su-Anchorage region.

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In Anchorage, we visited a recently burned patch of forest that hosted this handsome male Black-backed Woodpecker. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

HOODED MERGANSER (Lophodytes cucullatus)

A rare male was at the Eklutna Tailrace.

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)

More sightings than normal. We found these big divers commonly on freshwater in the Mat Su-Anchorage-Seward region. It was interesting to see marine Common Mergansers both at Nome and offshore from Resurrection Bay.


Very common at Nome (both on the coast and up the rivers well inland).

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)


With our extra time in Anchorage, we targeted this species near Independence Mine and were successful in scoping three mostly white individuals on the snowy slopes, albeit at considerable distance.

WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)

Though we were plenty happy with the close bird feeding in a tree near Hatcher Pass, we were blown away by the high numbers in the Nome area (50+ on one outing on the Nome-Teller Highway, for example). This was clearly a local boom year for ptarmigan around Nome.

ROCK PTARMIGAN (Lagopus muta)

We had several great sightings on the Nome-Teller Highway, and then also scoped several at great distance on the Kenai Peninsula.

SPRUCE GROUSE (Canachites canadensis)

Two in the Anchorage area. We had a dramatic experience with a territorial male near the Anchorage airport, and later came across a female gritting on the road at Arctic Valley.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus)

One was seen in a roadside marsh along the Seward Highway during a road construction stop.

RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena)

These impressive waterbirds were nesting on many lakes and marshes in the Mat Su-Anchorage region, with a few others around Nome.

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We had some close flybys from Black Oystercatchers near the Aialik Glacier. Photo by group member Donna Cooper.
Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Common only in bigger towns in the Mat Su-Anchorage-Seward region.

Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD (Selasphorus rufus)

These colorful hummers were displaying near Alyeska and visiting feeders at Seward.

Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

We saw small numbers nesting around the Mat Su-Anchorage region; birds around Safety Sound Lagoon near Nome may have been late migrants. These are the smaller "Lesser" Sandhill Cranes.

Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus bachmani)

We found two pairs of these marine shoreline specialists during the Seward boat trip.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica)

Most common on the tundra around Barrow but we did see a few interacting with Pacific G-Ps near town at Nome, too.


This was the common golden-plover in coastal tundra at Nome; we also had a close study of a handsome male on the tundra at Barrow where the species is rare.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Common on beaches and drier tundra at Nome and Barrow, where they breed.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)

One was on the Cook Inlet flats at Westchester Lagoon; we saw another along the Nome-Teller Highway.

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During our visit to Nome, we had the surprising opportunity to study Stejneger's Scoter on multiple occasions. This male swam and flew laps around the tip of Cape Nome, cementing our world class experience with this recently split seaduck. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica)

These champion migrants were seen regularly at Nome as they fed on the flats of the Nome River Mouth. We also saw a few pairs staking out snow-covered territories on the Nome-Teller Highway.

HUDSONIAN GODWIT (Limosa haemastica)

We scoped a couple of very distant birds on the mudflats of Cook Inlet at Anchorage.

RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)

We found one close bird at the Nome River Mouth and a few others near the coast at Barrow.

BLACK TURNSTONE (Arenaria melanocephala)

We found up to three of these snazzy shorebirds along the beach at Safety Sound outside of Nome.

RED KNOT (Calidris canutus)

Up to four of these chunky sandpipers fed with other shorebirds at the Nome River Mouth. The prevailing theory was that these birds were waiting for their snowbound breeding habitat to clear before moving inland.

SURFBIRD (Calidris virgata)

We had above average numbers on the beaches around Nome with up to 8 in a flock at the Nome River Mouth.

RED-NECKED STINT (Calidris ruficollis)

These colorful Asian peeps were found regularly at Nome and also once at Barrow. Some years we see none! This year we had six different sightings of 1-2 birds including two that walked right up to us one evening on the beach at the Nome River Mouth.

SANDERLING (Calidris alba)

We saw a few cinnamon-frosted breeding plumage birds at Nome and Barrow.

DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)

Dozens were in migrant flocks around Nome; we also saw low numbers on the tundra at Barrow.

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

Small numbers were scattered around wet patches of tundra in the Nome area.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)

A few migrants were around Nome, but most of ours were on the tundra at Barrow where they nest. We were captivated by the slow-motion, hooting display flights of the territorial males.

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Another view of one of our Stejneger's Scoters, here at left with a White-winged Scoter. Stejneger's Scoters show black flanks (compared to brown on White-winged), a llong white eye "swoosh" (shorter on White-winged), a prominent sharp bill knob (smoother and more sloping on White-winged), and a red above yellow bill color combo that looks orange at a distance (more pinkish on White-winged). We also noted the different postures that these seaducks assume on the water, with Stejneger's showing an odd leaned-back posture with the chest shaped like a bowling pin. This was a super chance to compare these two closely related birds. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.


These gray-and-brown peeps were starting to hold breeding territories on coastal tundra around Nome and Barrow. It was great to see them performing their helicopter display flights over their turf.

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

We saw especially large numbers of migrants around Nome with up to 215 counted on the flats at the Nome River Mouth.

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)

These caurinus (Pacific subspecies) birds were at Westchester Lagoon and Potter Marsh in Anchorage.

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

Small numbers of these orange, high contrast dowitchers were near the coast at Nome and Barrow.

WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)

The hooting sounds of winnowing snipe followed us around the Mat Su-Anchorage-Seward region as well as the river valleys of Nome.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

We found larger-than-normal numbers along the coast at Nome, where migrant flocks fed with Red Phalaropes in the surf. Dozens were also arriving on the melting tundra ponds at Barrow.

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At Barrow, we were able to watch some actively hunting Snowy Owls on the coastal tundra. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.

RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)

We saw small numbers of migrants around Nome and many dozens on the ponds at Barrow where they nest. Seeing this beautiful species in breeding plumage is one of the highlights of any spring visit to remote western and northern Alaska

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

The most memorable sighting was at the frozen Kougarok Road "magic pond" where four of these familiar shorebirds foraged for insects.

GRAY-TAILED TATTLER (Tringa brevipes)

While birding near Nome, we received word from the VENT group that they'd found a Gray-tailed Tattler on the town beach. We hastily made tracks back to town and had some nice views of this rare Asian migrant along the edge of Norton Sound, making sure to admire its large white belly and sparse belly barring to clinch the ID.


On our visit to Nome, we found at least 7 of these snazzy shorebirds along the area's rivers and outer beaches.

LESSER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa flavipes)

We saw about five birds scattered around various Anchorage locations.

Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)

POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)

We saw some large migrant flocks of 12 and 22 birds moving along the ice-dotted coast at Nome. Later at Barrow, we saw lots of these big jaegers setting up breeding territories.

PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)

Moderate numbers over coastal tundra at Nome and Barrow. We saw several mixed pairs of light and dark morph individuals.

LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)

This was the most common jaeger seen over land at Nome, as usual. These elegant birds hovered like streamer-tailed kestrels as they pursued small rodents, and some were even starting to nest during our visit.

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This North American Porcupine put on a roadside show for us near Hatcher Pass. Check out those orange teeth! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)

COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)

We saw small numbers offshore at Nome, and then hundreds were around breeding colonies in the Chiswell Islands during our Seward boat trip.


Doug counted a remarkable 148 individuals on the walls at Beehive in the Chiswell Islands. There has been a marked increase in the species at this location at the same time the Common Murre numbers have dropped over the past few years.

BLACK GUILLEMOT (Cepphus grylle)

A pair of these Arctic alcids snuggled together on ice on a lagoon at Barrow while a third foraged in the water nearby.

PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)

These nearshore alcids were common during our Seward boat trip.

MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)

Unlike in most years, the bulk of our sightings were in upper Resurrection Bay just south of Seward, where 85 birds were concentrated. There must have been lots of small fish in that area during our visit.

KITTLITZ'S MURRELET (Brachyramphus brevirostris)

As we carefully picked our way through chunks of ice flowing off the Aialik Glacier, we cruised up close to eight of these small, gravel-colored auks. This is one of the world's most habitat-specific seabirds and we were pleased to see them in such a spectacular setting as the Kenai Fjords.

ANCIENT MURRELET (Synthliboramphus antiquus)

We tallied 33 of these lovely alcids during our Seward boat trip. One pair in particular bobbed casually as we approached, giving us some unusually good views on the water and then in flight.

PARAKEET AUKLET (Aethia psittacula)

In the Chiswell Islands, we came close to a noisily chittering group of 25 courting birds. Later, we spotted a group of 18 more in Aialik Bay where they are uncommon.

RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)

Over 100 of these chunky puffin relatives bobbed in the waters of Aialik Bay.

HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata)

We found hundreds of these attractive alcids during our Seward boat trip. They were about 3x as common as Tufted Puffins on our route.

TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)

The large, all-black puffins we saw on our Seward boat trip. We ended up seeing over 100 of these striking auks.

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Urchins must taste really good to be worth dealing with all those spines! This Sea Otter seemed to find the endeavor worthwhile. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)


Dozens were in flocks along the coast at Nome, but they were dramatically overshadowed by the 7000+ we tallied in the Chiswell Islands during our Seward boat trip.

SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)

We noted five beautiful individuals of this highly desired species: 4 migrants at Nome and 1 at Barrow (where they nest).

BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

We saw these small, hooded gulls on the flats of Cook Inlet and also during our Seward boat trip.

SHORT-BILLED GULL (Larus brachyrhynchus)

Formerly called "Mew Gull." This noisy species is very common around Anchorage and Nome.

HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)

At least a few were along the Glenn Highway.

HERRING GULL (VEGA) (Larus argentatus vegae)

We enjoyed several nice sightings of these Asian Herring Gulls along the coast at Nome.

SLATY-BACKED GULL (Larus schistisagus)

We found three classic dark-mantled adults with the large flock of Glaucous Gulls at the landfill outside Barrow. These Asian gulls are regular summer visitors to western and northern Alaska.

GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)

This was the common large gull we observed in the Seward area.

HERRING X GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (HYBRID) (Larus argentatus x glaucescens)

Most of the large gulls we saw in Cook Inlet near Anchorage were part of this variable hybrid swarm.

GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)

These were the common large gulls with pure white wingtips that we saw at Nome and Barrow.

ALEUTIAN TERN (Onychoprion aleuticus)

We found these attractive, mysterious terns at a few spots along the coast at Nome. The best views of this rare specialty species came at the Nome River Mouth.

ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)

This was the regular tern species we observed in most major birding locations we visited.

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On a late evening outing, we waited on the beach at the Nome River Mouth and this confiding Surfbird walked right up to us—within inches! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

This slim waterbird was the most common loon we observed in the Nome area.

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)

Dozens, mostly at Nome but also a few during our Seward boat trip and also flying over the coastal strip at Barrow. Simply gorgeous in breeding plumage.

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

Several pairs floated on lakes in the Mat Su-Anchorage region.

YELLOW-BILLED LOON (Gavia adamsii)

We saw several flybys of breeding plumage adults at Nome and Barrow plus one very distant bird swimming on the ocean off Safety Sound Lagoon.

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

SOOTY SHEARWATER (Ardenna grisea)

A molting bird gave us a close show near Cape Aialik during the Seward boat trip.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)


We saw eight of these range-restricted cormorants around Spire Cove and the Chiswell Islands during the Seward boat trip.

PELAGIC CORMORANT (Urile pelagicus)

These slim cormorants were quite common around Seward and offshore at Nome. At Nome, where sea ice persisted late this spring, many of these cormorants were seen standing on big ice chunks floating offshore.

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

Surprisingly few were seen during the Seward boat trip.

Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (Pandion haliaetus)

One flew over us at the Campbell Park burn as we started our woodpecker search.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)

We saw single birds in flight at Independence Mine and Moose Pass.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

One coursed over the tundra along the Nome-Teller Highway.

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On an evening outing at Nome, this Yellow-billed Loon shot right over the group. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.

SHARP-SHINNED HAWK (Accipiter striatus)

While we were scanning for bears at Eagle River, one of these small forest hawks cruised by over the road cut.

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

Very common in the Mat Su-Anchorage-Seward region.

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

A dark morph adult flew right over our heads at Gunsight Mountain on the Glenn Highway.

ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)

We saw about five individual light morph birds during our time in Nome.

Strigidae (Owls)

SNOWY OWL (Bubo scandiacus)

Repeat sightings of two or three individuals near the airport in Barrow. It was challenging to spot these iconic birds because there was so much snow and ice on the ground this spring.

SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)

We saw one in dense fog on the tundra on our arrival day in Barrow.

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)

BELTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle alcyon)

Several sightings in the Eagle River-Palmer area.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)


A male-female pair offered close views in the Campbell Park burn; later, we saw another male in a residential neighborhood in Alyeska.


A fearless male showed off at close range on charred trees in the Campbell Park burn in Anchorage.

DOWNY WOODPECKER (Dryobates pubescens)

One fed low to the ground at Tern Lake near Seward.

HAIRY WOODPECKER (Dryobates villosus)

A few sightings near Palmer plus a few attending Ava's feeders near Seward.

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These adult Slaty-backed Gulls interacted at the Barrow landfill, leading us to wonder if they were considering nesting nearby. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.
Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus)

A stout gray morph bird quickened our pulses with an exciting flyby along the Nome-Teller Highway.

PEREGRINE FALCON (Falco peregrinus)

A dark bird flew by at Gunsight Mountain, and we saw adults around a nest site near Nome, too.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)


One perched up in a treetop on the ridge above us at Gunsight Mountain.

WESTERN WOOD-PEWEE (Contopus sordidulus)

One foraged close to the railroad tracks at Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage.

ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)

Our best view was along the road to Arctic Valley. "Free beer!"

HAMMOND'S FLYCATCHER (Empidonax hammondii)

A singing bird was at an unusual location at the Moose Creek Trail along the Glenn Highway.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius borealis)

While searching for hawk owls on the Glenn Highway, we came across this predatory songbird perched up in a treetop.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

CANADA JAY (Perisoreus canadensis)

These bold, curious corvids approached and checked us out at the Campbell Creek burn and Arctic Valley.

STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)

Our finest sighting was of the confiding bird moving along the Anchorage coast at Westchester Lagoon. This is the short-crested coastal form with blue facial accents.


These handsome corvids were quite common in the Mat Su-Anchorage-Seward region.

AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

Formerly split as "Northwestern Crow," but now lumped. We saw these small marine crows at Girdwood and then commonly in the Seward and Kenai Fjords areas.

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We marveled at breeding plumage Red-faced Cormorants during our boat trip in the Chiswell Islands near Kenai Fjords. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Widespread in small numbers, with the biggest concentration at the landfill in Nome.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE (Poecile atricapillus)

This was the most common chickadee we encountered in mixed forest in the Mat Su-Anchorage-Seward region.


These handsome chickadees of the Pacific coast were in spruce forest at Alyeska and Seward.

BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonicus)

These retiring chickadees showed nicely in boreal forest habitat along Bird Trail.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

We saw these widespread swallows commonly, with up to 80 over Lake Hood in Anchorage.

VIOLET-GREEN SWALLOW (Tachycineta thalassina)

Much less common than Tree Swallow on our route, but we did see them regularly, especially at slightly higher elevations (like the ~10 at Moose Pass).

BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)

On two separate occasions during cold & dreary weather, we estimated 700 birds in a large feeding flock at Lake Hood in Anchorage.

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Small numbers were seen in the Mat Su-Anchorage area and in Nome, too.

Regulidae (Kinglets)

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)

These tiny songbirds were singing at many forest sites in the Mat Su-Anchorage-Seward region.


A few were in tall spruces around Seward.

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While we were at Barrow, this beautiful Varied Thrush flew in off the frozen Arctic Ocean and began hopping around a yard in town. Mindblowing. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.
Sittidae (Nuthatches)

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)

These conifer specialists were at a few sites around Alyeska and Seward.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

PACIFIC WREN (Troglodytes pacificus)

We heard one singing at Bear Lake, but it didn't put in an appearance.

Cinclidae (Dippers)

AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)

We saw these charismatic aquatic songbirds at a few different locations, but by far the best experience was with the family at the small bridge at Tern Lake. We watched as both adults fed insects and tiny fish to a nest full of hungry chicks.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Most of our sightings were right around Anchorage.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)

We bumped into these fine songbirds several times in the expected habitat of tall conifer-dominated forest around Anchorage and Seward, but we didn't have any knockout looks until we arrived in... Barrow!? That's right—on one day in Barrow, we actually found six individual overshoot migrant Varied Thrushes, including one that flew in off the ice of the Arctic Ocean and then hopped around foraging in a beachside yard.

GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)

These long distance migrants were on territory at many locations around the Nome area. In fact, this species is positively common at Nome.

SWAINSON'S THRUSH (Catharus ustulatus)

These spiral-voiced thrushes were common in forest in the greater Anchorage area.

HERMIT THRUSH (Catharus guttatus)

We found these widespread thrushes at many locations in the Anchorage-Seward area, with peak abundance around Seward.

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This male Spruce Grouse closely inspected us when we visited his territory in the woods of Anchorage. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Common around Anchorage, Seward, and Nome.

Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

BLUETHROAT (Luscinia svecica)

One of the all-time great songbirds of the world. During our time in Nome, we enjoyed the flight displays and mimicry of a few different males along the Nome-Teller Highway. These exquisite songbirds are Trans-Beringian migrants that winter in the Old World.

NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)

We enjoyed a few different individuals in rocky upland tundra during our exploration of the Nome-Teller Highway. Another Trans-Beringian migrant.

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla tschutschensis)

Common around Nome on this visit; we saw them primarily as calling flyover migrants heading East as if they were just arriving to Alaska from the Bering Sea (this is another Trans-Beringian migrant). Fortunately, we also caught up to a couple individuals on the ground for some more convincing views.

WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacilla alba)

It took us a little while to dial in on the routine, but we eventually all tracked down a pair of birds near their nest site in Nome in a dilapidated building near the harbor. A Trans-Beringian migrant.

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)

We found small numbers scattered around the upland tundra outside of Nome.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

PINE GROSBEAK (Pinicola enucleator)

These big, impressive finches were an excellent feature of our feeder-watching excursion in Alyeska.

GRAY-CROWNED ROSY-FINCH (PRIBILOF IS.) (Leucosticte tephrocotis umbrina)

Doug picked out these large finches with a scope in the rocky alpine zone above Independence Mine. Very distant!

COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)

We bumped into a few around Anchorage (mostly as flyovers). More of these active finches were on the ground at Nome.

HOARY REDPOLL (Acanthis hornemanni)

More common than Common Redpolls around Nome on this visit, and the only redpoll we saw in Barrow. These frosty finches were fun to study up close.

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We were fortunate to see several rare Red-necked Stints during our visits to Nome and Barrow. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.

RED CROSSBILL (Loxia curvirostra)

The two birds that we saw in the scopes and heard calling in the treetops at Alyeska could be classified as "Type 1" or "Appalachian" Red Crossbills by their clipped, downward-inflected flight calls (which Tom recorded and analyzed to confirm the ID).


About seven were in small flocks in the spruces along Bird Trail.

PINE SISKIN (Spinus pinus)

These small, streaked finches were seen regularly in the Anchorage and Seward areas.

Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)

LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)

These holarctic songbirds flight-displayed and foraged at many tundra sites in Nome and Barrow.

SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis)

These were some of the most conspicuous birds around town in Barrow. They were nesting in birdboxes and even holes in the sides of buildings.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)

Around the Nome area, we heard the warbler-like songs of these lovely sparrows and saw them teed up atop shrubs on many occasions.

FOX SPARROW (SOOTY) (Passerella iliaca sinuosa)

The default Fox Sparrow in the Seward and Kenai Fjords areas. Around Anchorage, we saw these chunky dark sparrows in a few spots as well, though the birds there interbreed with brighter Red Fox Sparrows.

FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)

Around Nome, we saw and heard this gray-headed, rusty sparrow commonly in the river valleys outside town.

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The nesting American Dippers at Tern Lake were a real highlight. Fabulous, close views... and the birds completely ignored us! This adult is delivering a mixed mouthful of insects and tiny fish to its hungry nestlings. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.

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

Most of our sightings of this widespread northern sparrow were in the greater Anchorage area.

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

An abundant breeding bird at most sites we visited. It was interesting to find a few singing birds around town in Barrow, too.

GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

These mournful-sounding sparrows were holding territories at many upland sites outside of Anchorage and in the Nome area.

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

The hissing, highly stereotyped song of this widespread sparrow rang out at many of our open-land birding sites across the state.

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

These large, dark, coast-adapted Song Sparrows were at Jim Lake and in the Seward area. Visitors unfamiliar with this local variety often mistake them for Fox Sparrows.

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

These crisply streaked sparrows sang their bright, buzzy songs from forest and edge habitats in the Mat Su-Anchorage-Seward region.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (Agelaius phoeniceus)

We saw just a few of these blackbirds as we were driving past a marsh outside of Anchorage along Cook Inlet.

RUSTY BLACKBIRD (Euphagus carolinus)

Our best sighting was of a territorial, singing male along the Nome River on the Kougarok Road.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)

Plenty common in forest and shrubby habitats, particularly around Anchorage and along river corridors at Nome.

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

Very common in the Anchorage-Seward corridor; less common around Nome.

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

These migrants were widespread in shrubby edge habitats.

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The small but stable boat we charter for our Kenai Fjords trip allows us to stealthily approach Kittlitz's Murrelets for killer looks! Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)

These long distance migrants were still arriving back in Alaska during our tour; we found just one near Gunsight Mountain on the Glenn Highway.

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

This familiar warbler was seen and heard frequently in forest in the Anchorage-Seward corridor.

TOWNSEND'S WARBLER (Setophaga townsendi)

Most of our sightings of this attractive warbler were in the towering conifer forest along Turnagain Arm and in Seward.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)

These capped warblers were singing in thickets in the uplands around Anchorage and in the river corridors of Nome.


SNOWSHOE HARE (Lepus americanus)

Just a few individuals were along the road at Arctic Valley.

HOARY MARMOT (Marmota caligata)

Quite common on the slopes near Independence Mine. We even saw some youngsters hanging out near their dens.

ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)

These squirrels were in the uplands outside of Anchorage and also on the tundra in the Nome area.

RED SQUIRREL (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus)

These squirrels were heard and seen several times in conifer forest in the Mat Su-Anchorage-Seward region.

BEAVER (Castor canadensis)

A couple of sightings around Nome. We also saw some spectacular dams and lodges in the river corridors around Nome and below Hatcher Pass.

TUNDRA RED-BACKED VOLE (Clethrionomys rutilus)

Also called Northern Red-backed Vole. One was seen briefly at Bear Lake.

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Even in remote outposts like Barrow, we enjoyed some great meals at places like Osaka, a tasty Japanese spot. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

MUSKRAT (Ondatra zibethica)

Several good sightings of swimming animals carrying vegetation at Lake Hood.

NEARCTIC BROWN LEMMING (Lemmus trimucronatus)

These chunky rodents scampered over the tundra around Barrow.


The roadside animal below Hatcher Pass posed wonderfully for us and even showed off its orange-y teeth! These northern animals look a lot more fluffy than their southern counterparts though they still have plenty of spines.

KILLER WHALE (Orcinus orca)

We enjoyed multiple sightings that involved perhaps seven animals during our Seward boat trip. Seeing that big male's dorsal fin rise out of the water and wobble slightly back and forth was truly memorable.

HUMPBACK WHALE (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Several were active at the surface during our Seward boat trip.

RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)

A few of these large, fluffy foxes were in the Nome area.

ARCTIC FOX (Vulpes lagopus)

One on the prowl near Safety Sound Lagoon was our only sighting of the tour. This animal is pretty scarce around Nome (far outnumbered by Red Fox there).

BLACK BEAR (Ursus americanus)

Several sightings of these forest-dwelling carnivores. We saw one animal on two occasions in Arctic Valley, spotted one on a steep slope at Kenai Fjords from the boat, and enjoyed others along the roadside at Eagle River.

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The amazing Bluethroat was one of our top songbird sightings in Nome. Photo by guide Doug Gochfeld.


After a long search, we scoped two animals—a mother with a yearling cub—on the alpine slopes above Eagle River.


One scampered between camp shacks along the Nome coast.


Two really nice sightings in the Nome area. One caught a fish near the Bonanza bridge and another slipped in and out of the water several times at the very active "Magic Pond" on the Kougarok Road.

SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)

Quite common in the protected waters of Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords during our Seward boat trip. The one animal that was juggling urchins was particularly fun to watch.

STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)

These large pinnipeds were hauled out on rocks near Cape Aialik during our Seward boat trip.

HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)

These "true seals" were on many ice chunks around Slate Island and the Aialik Glacier.

SPOTTED SEAL (Phoca largha)

A few were hauled out on the ice shelf at town in Nome (in direct comparison to the next species).

RINGED SEAL (Phoca hispida)

We eventually had some great, convincing views of the distinctive rings on these compact ice seals at Nome.

MOOSE (Alces alces)

Our extra time in the Anchorage area led to many sightings of these massive deer. We also saw plenty in the river corridors and coastal tundra around Nome.

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We scanned many a slope in pursuit of ptarmigan—and we found all three species: Willow, Rock, and the rare White-tailed. Photo by guide Tom Johnson.

MOUNTAIN GOAT (Oreamnos americanus)

Great sightings of nannies with kids on the steep slopes of Resurrection Bay plus a few at great distance above Turnagain Arm. We ended up seeing lots!

MUSKOX (Ovibos moschatus)

These massive beasts were in large groups in the Nome area (even lounging along the roadsides in town itself). One of the iconic animals of the far north.

DALL'S SHEEP (Ovis dalli)

On the steep cliffs along Turnagain Arm, we saw these surefooted mammals several times.

Totals for the tour: 183 bird taxa and 26 mammal taxa