A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Alaska: The Great Land II 2023

May 31-June 16, 2023 with Chris Benesh & Micah Riegner and Sam Wilson guiding

Yes, this was the group that spent nine days on Saint Paul Island. We were all checked into our Ravn flight off the island, bags weighed and boarding passes in hand, when we got word that the flight had been canceled. But why?? It was such a nice day for Saint Paul standards! Well, it turned out that the instrument measuring visibility in the NOA weather station had broken so it was no longer transmitting visibility data. Ravn, sticking to their stringent FAA regulations, wasn’t going to send the plane out even though it was a clear day with blue sky. And so began the waiting game. Day after day we had our hopes up that they were fixing the weather station, so we would pack our bags ready to leave, just to find out nothing was fixed, and the planes would not fly. This lasted 6 days until we decided to charter two Grant Aviation flights to get us off the island to Dutch Harbor, then to Anchorage. Chris went with the first half, then Sam and I followed, and we reunited in Nome eager to continue the next leg of the tour.

Now let’s backtrack and reflect on those cherished birding and wildlife moments from the foggy island in the Bering Sea. Northern Fur Seals were all over. Our visit in early June coincided with the beginning of their breeding cycle. Big males, known as beach masters, were beginning to stake out their turf on the black-sand beaches. Hormones were high and we watched several confrontations between the big-toothed brutes. Soon the females would arrive, give birth and mate before heading back out to the frigid waters for another year.

During our time on the island, we crossed paths with some cool Asian rarities, those being Gray Wagtail, Red-necked Stint, Hawfinch, Common Snipe, Olive-backed Pipit and Siberian Rubythroat. We also enjoyed multiple visits to the sea cliffs to see the nesting Crested, Least and Parakeet Auklets among droves of Thick-billed Murres, Tufted and Horned Puffins, Black-legged and Red-legged Kittiwakes, Red-faced Cormorants and Northern Fulmars. Along the rocky coastlines we were mesmerized by the abundant Harlequin Ducks diving in the frothy water with the occasional King Eider mixed in. A pair of Spectacled Eiders was an unexpected bonus!

As I mentioned earlier, we left Saint Paul in two installments via Dutch Harbor. In Dutch Harbor we enjoyed a morning of birding before our flights back to Anchorage and saw both Kittlitz’s and Marbled Murrelets, lots of Pigeon Guillemots, and Black Oystercatchers working the rocky shoreline. Once we were all reunited, we spent a jam-packed day in Nome. Tom Johnson, who was staging for his upcoming Nome tour, swooped in like an albatross and got us up to speed by helping with logistics and finding us some great birds including Stejneger’s Scoters, Arctic Loons, Eastern Yellow Wagtail and Bristle-thighed Curlews. Little did we know that those would be the last field days we'd spend with Tom, our Albatross, out on that glorious Kougarok tundra alive with buzzing Bluethroats and Arctic Warblers. Those days we spent with him will be dearly missed.

After dinner in Nome, we drove out to see a Gray-tailed Tattler, which was hanging out in an estuary—through the scope we could make out the pale unbarred underparts, distinguishing it from Wandering Tattler. The morning before our flight back to Anchorage, we drove out the Teller Highway where we saw good numbers of both Willow and Rock Ptarmigans and a super close American Dipper. Then we were off to Utqiagvik, land of the midnight sun and our final destination of the tour. Before flying there, we managed to squeeze in a morning of birding around Anchorage. We visited a burn area outside of town and tracked down some nesting Three-toed Woodpeckers. The White-winged Crossbills were cool, too! In Utqiagvik we were greeted by unseasonably balmy weather which lasted throughout our time there. We had great close views of Spectacled Eiders, lots of King Eiders and some distant Steller’s. The Snowy Owls showed well after a couple tries. One perched out on a snowbank close to the road. The jaegers were impressive as always. We had great looks at all three species and even watched a dark morph Parasitic chase a much larger Pomarine off its territory. What a show!

Despite the Saint Paul flight disruption, we managed to catch up and see a good deal of what we normally see in Alaska. We couldn’t do the Seward boat trip unfortunately, but our stopover in Dutch Harbor gave us the opportunity to scope both Marbled and Kittlitz’s Murrelets and Black Oystercatchers, which would have been the main targets in Seward. Lots of people helped us out with this tour. We’d like to thank Karen in our office for her hours and hours on the phone, arranging hotels and chartering flights for us to get us off Saint Paul, Sulli, Luis and Mariah, our outstanding guides on Saint Paul for taking such good care of us and keeping sprits high, and our dearly departed Tom, whose fieldcraft, friendship and booming voice will never be forgotten. Chris, Sam, and I would like to thank you all for joining us—we look forward to the next adventures.


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)

One flew by at a distance along the Council Road near Nome.

SNOW GOOSE (Anser caerulescens)

Good numbers streamed by around Utqiagvik.


Common around Utqiagvik. A few were along the Kougarok Road outside of Nome.

BRANT (BLACK) (Branta bernicla nigricans)

Seen around Nome.

CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)

CANADA GOOSE (Branta canadensis)

TRUMPETER SWAN (Cygnus buccinator)

The swan we saw at Westchester Lagoon.

TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)

Common around Nome and Utqiagvik.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)

We saw one at Antone Slew on Saint Paul our first afternoon there.

AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)

We saw a few on Saint Paul.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)


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

We saw a few of these, which lack the white mark on the side around Saint Paul Island.

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

CANVASBACK (Aythya valisineria)

Only at Westchester Lagoon.

REDHEAD (Aythya americana)

Also at Westchester Lagoon.

GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)

Both Lesser and Greater Scaup were seen around Anchorage. The remainder of the trip we just saw Greater Scaup.

LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)

STELLER'S EIDER (Polysticta stelleri)

We had distant views of a male in Barrow. It's interesting that most of them were already gone by the time we got there, probably off to nesting sites further inland.

SPECTACLED EIDER (Somateria fischeri)

Strangely enough we had already seen Spectacled Eiders both at Saint Paul and Nome before we made it to Utqiagvik. Once we were in Utqiagvik though, we had the best views ever.

KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)

The colors on those males is just ridiculous. We had great views at Saint Paul and Utqiagvik.

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

We scoped one at Saint Paul then saw an abundance in Nome.

HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)

I never got tired of watching these gorgeous ducks in the rough waters off Saint Paul Island.

SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)

We saw a few distant birds from Point Nome.

WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta deglandi)

These were flocking with Stejneger's Scoter in Nome.

STEJNEGER'S SCOTER (Melanitta stejnegeri)

Wow! Thanks to Tom we were able to scope several along the Nome/Council Road. Through the scope we could see that they had darker inky black flanks compared to the warm brown flanks of White-winged Scoter. Awesome comparison!

BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)

Abundant around Saint Paul Island.

LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)

We never tired of seeing these gaudy ducks around Saint Paul and Utqiagvik.

COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)

Both Common and Barrow's Goldeneyes were at the lake near our hotel in Anchorage.

BARROW'S GOLDENEYE (Bucephala islandica)

We few were on the lake outside our Anchorage hotel.

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)


Some flew past us at Marunich, Saint Paul Island.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)

We were blown away by how many there were around Nome especially along the Teller Road.

ROCK PTARMIGAN (Lagopus muta)

Seen along the Kougarok Road and the Teller Road.

SPRUCE GROUSE (Canachites canadensis)

Seen near the Anchorage Airport.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena)

A few were on the lake near our hotel in Anchorage.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

We saw a few along the Nome-Council road.

Haematopodidae (Oystercatchers)

BLACK OYSTERCATCHER (Haematopus bachmani)

Our stopover in Dutch Harbor permitted great views of these handsome shorebirds.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica)

These high tundra breeders we saw around Nome and Barrow. They tend to be farther inland than Pacific Golden-Plover.


It was a treat to watch these along the roads past Nome.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

Seen at several localities throughout the tour.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

BRISTLE-THIGHED CURLEW (Numenius tahitiensis)

Our day on the Kougarok Road culminated with point blank views of a pair of these trans-oceanic migrants. Thanks to Tom for spotting them for us.

WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)

RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)

We scoped one at Marunich on Saint Paul Island.

BLACK TURNSTONE (Arenaria melanocephala)

Seen along Safety Sound.

RED-NECKED STINT (Calidris ruficollis)

One in gorgeous brick red plumage was frolicking on a strip of mud our first afternoon on Saint Paul Island.

DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)

We enjoyed an abundance of these around Utqiagvik.

ROCK SANDPIPER (PTILOCNEMIS) (Calidris ptilocnemis ptilocnemis)

Seen every day on Saint Paul. We even found a nest with two eggs.

BAIRD'S SANDPIPER (Calidris bairdii)

Just a couple were along the edge of a pond in Utqiagvik.

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

We had great views of one foraging along Antone Slew on Saint Paul.

PECTORAL SANDPIPER (Calidris melanotos)

The enchanting hoots of Pectoral Sandpipers filled the Utqiagvik air. Watching them display is something I'll always remember.


The most abundant shorebird of the tour.

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus griseus)

The dowitchers we saw on Saint Paul.

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER (Limnodromus scolopaceus)

The dowitchers we saw at Utqiagvik.

COMMON SNIPE (Gallinago gallinago)

We flushed one from a pond on Saint Paul and we could see the broad white flash on the trailing edge of the secondaries.

WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

One of my favorite aspects of Alaska in spring is seeing the Phalaropes in their breeding attire. It never gets old!

RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)

GRAY-TAILED TATTLER (Tringa brevipes)

We caught up with this rarity just outside of Nome.


The tattlers we saw on Saint Paul. They showed the barred undertail coverts nicely.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS (Tringa melanoleuca)

Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)

POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)

It's always a treat to watch these lemming hunters sail over the Utqiagvik tundra. We saw both dark morphs and light morphs.

PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)

We were watching a Pomarine Jaeger in Utqiagvik, when suddenly a dark morph Parasitic appeared out of nowhere and dive-bombed the Pomarine, escorting it out of its hunting grounds.

LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)

Certainly the most abundant jaeger around Nome.

Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)

COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)

Getting the side-by-side comparison with Thick-billed Murre on the nesting cliffs at Saint Paul was quite an educational moment.


PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)

I was amazed at how abundant these were at Dutch Harbor.

MARBLED MURRELET (Brachyramphus marmoratus)

Our stop at Dutch Harbor gave us the opportunity to scope these diminutive alcids from shore.

KITTLITZ'S MURRELET (Brachyramphus brevirostris)

Seen too from Dutch Harbor. We could tell them apart from the Marbled Murrelets by the golden spangled plumage.

ANCIENT MURRELET (Synthliboramphus antiquus)

We scoped some from the harbor at Saint Paul Island.

PARAKEET AUKLET (Aethia psittacula)

Seeing all the alcids so close on their nesting cliffs at Saint Paul is an unforgetable experience. We had astonishing looks at all three auklets listed plus the two puffins.

LEAST AUKLET (Aethia pusilla)

CRESTED AUKLET (Aethia cristatella)

HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata)

TUFTED PUFFIN (Fratercula cirrhata)

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)


Common on Saint Paul and around Nome.

RED-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa brevirostris)

Saint Paul is the best place to see this adorable gull. We saw them during the nest construction phase. They would go out to the marshes pick up plant matter and fly it over to the nesting cliffs.

SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)

Distant views of a small flock along Safety Sound.

BONAPARTE'S GULL (Chroicocephalus philadelphia)

The gulls that were out on the mudflats at Westchester Lagoon.

BLACK-HEADED GULL (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

This scarce gull made a short stopover at Saint Paul and we were there to see it!

SHORT-BILLED GULL (Larus brachyrhynchus)

It's going to take me a while to get used to this new name. Common around Nome and Anchorage.


A confusing gull within the Lesser Black-backed complex turned up in Utqiagvik.

SLATY-BACKED GULL (Larus schistisagus)

A 3rd-cycle bird was at Cape Nome during our afternoon visit there.

GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)

The common big gulls at Saint Paul.

GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)

The common big gulls around Utqiagvik.

ALEUTIAN TERN (Onychoprion aleuticus)

We had some close fly-overs along Safety Sound.

ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)

These champion migrants were seen around Nome, Saint Paul and Anchorage.

Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

We had good close views at Utqiagvik.

ARCTIC LOON (Gavia arctica)

Wow! By far the best views I've ever had of this scarce loon.

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)

We were mesmerized by a close pair in peak breeding plumage on a pond in Utqiagvik.

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

At Westchester Lagoon.

YELLOW-BILLED LOON (Gavia adamsii)

Strangely absent from Utqiagvik, but we did see one from Saint Paul Island.

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

NORTHERN FULMAR (Fulmarus glacialis)

I was thrilled to watch both dark morphs and light morphs patrol the sea cliffs of Saint Paul Island.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)


These stoic cliff nesters filled our scopes on Saint Paul.

PELAGIC CORMORANT (Urile pelagicus)

Also seen on Saint Paul.

DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Nannopterum auritum)

Our third cormorant species seen on Saint Paul. This was a vagrant.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)

We saw one soaring high over the Kougarok Road.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

BALD EAGLE (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)

ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)

We saw a pair at a nest off the Kougarok Road.

Strigidae (Owls)

SNOWY OWL (Bubo scandiacus)

Getting a scope full of Snowy Owl at Utqiagvik was a definite highlight of the tour!

SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)

One fluttered over the tundra in Utqiagvik.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)


The nest outside of Anchorage was a popular stop for all the birding groups in Alaska this year.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus)

Scoped from the Kougarok Road.

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)

Seen outside of Anchorage and along the Kougarok Road.

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

Laniidae (Shrikes)

NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius borealis)

Watching the adult bring in food to feed its chicks at a nest in Nome was delightful to watch.

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

STELLER'S JAY (Cyanocitta stelleri)


AMERICAN CROW (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)

ARCTIC WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealis)

Our visit to Nome coincided with the arrival of these Old World warblers. We saw a few along the Kougarok Road.

Regulidae (Kinglets)

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Corthylio calendula)

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

RED-BREASTED NUTHATCH (Sitta canadensis)

Certhiidae (Treecreepers)

BROWN CREEPER (Certhia americana)

Seen in the Anchorage area.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

PACIFIC WREN (ALASCENSIS GROUP) (Troglodytes pacificus alascensis)

There was no shortage of these on Saint Paul. I was amazed at how tame they were!

Cinclidae (Dippers)

AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)

Seen at close proximity along the Teller Road.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

EUROPEAN STARLING (Sturnus vulgaris) [I]

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius)

Wow! Finding one along the Kougarok Road was a highlight of the trip.

GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)

The theme song of the Nome area. Just about everywhere you go they're singing.

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

EYEBROWED THRUSH (Turdus obscurus)

One of these vagrants was hanging out at Reef Point on Saint Paul.

Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

BLUETHROAT (Luscinia svecica)

This is always high on people's wish lists. We succeeded in finding them along the Kougarok Road.

SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT (Calliope calliope)

Another mega rarity from Saint Paul. We saw one at Hutch Hill.

NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)

Distant views from the Kougarok Road.

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

GRAY WAGTAIL (Motacilla cinerea)

Another rarity from Saint Paul. This one we saw our first afternoon at Antone Slew.

EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla tschutschensis)

Seen a couple times along the roads outside of Nome.

WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacilla alba)

We watched one attending a nest near the airport.

OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT (Anthus hodgsoni)

Brief views of a bird at Hutch Hill. Another rarity for Saint Paul.

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)

One was seen along the Teller Road.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

HAWFINCH (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)

After 9 days on Saint Paul we finally got good views of this impressive Asian vagrant.

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

I never tired of watching these bulky Rosy-Finches on Saint Paul.

COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)

Both Common and Hoary Redpolls were seen around Nome.

HOARY REDPOLL (Acanthis hornemanni)


We scoped some near Anchorage.

Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)

LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)

SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis)

A joyful presence around Saint Paul.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)

FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)

These richly colored birds were abundant around Nome.

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

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

GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

These handsome sparrows were around Nome.

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

SONG SPARROW (Melospiza melodia)

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

Seen off the road near Anchorage.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

RUSTY BLACKBIRD (Euphagus carolinus)

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)

Common along the creeks of Nome.

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)

Finding these around Nome is always a treat. It's incredible to think that these birds spend the winter with barbets and foliage-gleaners in Amazonia.

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

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)


PRIBILOF SHREW (Sorex hydrodromus)

After searching under many boards on Saint Paul, we finally turned up this endemic shrew.

SNOWSHOE HARE (Lepus americanus)

Common along the Kougarok Road.

ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)

These cold adapted rodents practically freeze during hibernation. Common throughout the tour.

BEAVER (Castor canadensis)

Our beaver encounter along the Kougarok Road was one I'll never forget. It crossed the road right in front of us then plunged into the water and swam away.

NEARCTIC BROWN LEMMING (Lemmus trimucronatus)

A couple were seen around Utqiagvik.

HARBOR PORPOISE (Phocoena phocoena)

We saw some from Dutch Harbor and Point Nome.

RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)

We saw one hunting along the road at Nome.

ARCTIC FOX (Vulpes lagopus)

Saint Paul Island is THE place to see Arctic Fox. I lost count of how many times we saw them.

POLAR BEAR (Ursus maritimus)

Despite hours of sea ice scanning, all we saw were tracks of these arctic ghosts.

SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)

Our stop at Dutch Harbor permitted us views of these cuddly creatures.

STELLER'S SEA LION (Eumetopias jubatus)

Just a few were hauled out amongst the droves of Northern Fur Seals along the Saint Paul Island coastline.

NORTHERN FUR SEAL (Callorhinus ursinus)

We never tired of watching fur-seal covered beaches of Saint Paul. We even spent an afternoon sketching them for close to an hour.

HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)

SPOTTED SEAL (Phoca largha)

MOOSE (Alces alces)

We had a couple good Moose encounters along the Kougarok Road, Nome.

REINDEER (Rangifer tarandus sibiricus) [I]

Our first afternoon on Saint Paul Island we saw a distant herd.

MUSKOX (Ovibos moschatus)

These colossal tundra tanks are always high on everyone's wish list. We came away with great views of several during our condensed visit to Nome.

Totals for the tour: 159 bird taxa and 17 mammal taxa