A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

There's No Place Like Nome 2021

June 26-July 3, 2021 with Tom Johnson guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
In the Nome area, mountains, pond-pocked tundra, rivers, and the coast all meet. This sprawling scene was photographed along the Kougarok Road by group member Gregg Recer.

After years of making brief visits to Nome during our spring Alaska tours, I wanted to offer a more leisurely Field Guides experience in this fabled North American birding destination. This 2021 tour was the first departure of "There's No Place Like Nome," and it was a true delight. During our seven nights in Nome based out of one comfortable hotel, we had plenty of time to explore the entire length of the three road systems that radiate across the Seward Peninsula: the Council Road which runs from the coast to the interior ends in a belt of boreal spruce forest; the Kougarok Road that meanders along river valleys and then climbs into hills covered in tussock tundra; and the Nome-Teller Highway that winds through high rocky tundra en route to the fishing town of Teller.

Of course, we focused on finding as many of the specialty birds of the Nome area as possible, with displaying Bluethroat, Arctic Warbler, Arctic Loon, Gyrfalcon, White and Eastern Yellow wagtails, Northern Wheatear, Long-tailed Jaeger, and Willow and Rock ptarmigans ranking high on our dream bird lists.

We also had plenty of time to make repeated visits to the coastal migrant hotspots of the Nome harbor, Nome River Mouth, Cape Nome, and the Safety Sound Lagoon, finding and spending time watching such gems as Bar-tailed Godwits, Short-tailed Shearwater, Spectacled Eider, Surfbirds, Black Turnstone, and more.

Beyond the birds, the mammals of this area are also truly fascinating, and we had the pleasure of observing a prowling Grizzly Bear, grazing Muskox, lounging Spotted Seal, Moose, and more during our travels.

Thank you for joining me on this inaugural No Place Like Nome tour - I look forward to many returns to my favorite birding area in Alaska, The Great Land, as well as birding adventures with you to many other great lands around this planet.

Good birding,


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)

BRANT (BLACK) (Branta bernicla nigricans)

We saw dozens of this Pacific subspecies during our ventures along the Council Road, especially in the area of Safety Sound.

CACKLING GOOSE (Branta hutchinsii)

Several pairs and flyover flocks along the Teller Highway and the Kougarok Road. The Cackling Geese that breed here are generally considered to be the taverneri or "Taverner's" subspecies.

TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)

Common along the coastal plain, especially at Safety Sound where we tallied up to 120 of these massive waterfowl.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

We saw a flock of seven on two occasions at Safety Sound.

AMERICAN WIGEON (Mareca americana)

Most common along the coastal plain, especially at Safety Sound (though numbers were lower than average).

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)

We saw a male at Safety Sound - this widespread duck is scarce during summer at Nome.


A widespread and common dabbler around Nome, especially near the coast.

Guide Tom Johnson selected a few highlights from the week around Nome to include in this reel. In order of appearance: Bluethroat, Parasitic Jaeger, Common Raven, Bar-tailed Godwits, Red-throated Loon, American Wigeon with chicks, Arctic Warbler, Tundra Swans, Aleutian Tern, Red Fox, Black Turnstone, Surfbird, Semipalmated Plover, Northern Wheatear, Northern Shrikes at nest, Slaty-backed Gull, Grizzly Bear, Gyrfalcon, White Wagtail with Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Long-tailed Jaeger, Short-tailed Shearwater, Muskox.

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

We found small numbers of these tiny dabblers with a max of 5 at Safety Sound.

GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)

90+ at Safety Sound. This is by far the more common scaup at Nome.

LESSER SCAUP (Aythya affinis)

We picked out a single male with the Greater Scaup at Safety Sound.

SPECTACLED EIDER (Somateria fischeri)

We saw a spectacular molting male on two occasions at Safety Sound. The first time we found him offshore from Cape Nome; later we spotted him mixed in with Common Eiders in the Safety Sound Lagoon.

KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)

We saw a single female flyby at Cape Nome and later spotted a young male at great distance from the Teller waterfront.

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

The males of this Pacific subspecies show a carrot orange bill and a black "V" under the chin. This is the most common eider at Nome in summer.

HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)

Small groups were offshore rocky coastal spots like Cape Nome, and we also found a few along fast-flowing rivers along the Kougarok Road and Teller Highway.

SURF SCOTER (Melanitta perspicillata)

A flock of 37 flew by quite high over the town of Teller.

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We had plenty of time to "enjoy" identifying summer gulls along the coast. One of the easiest ones to identify at this season was this American Mew Gull, now called "Short-billed Gull" after a split of the Mew Gull complex. Photo by group member Gregg Recer.

WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta deglandi)

Distant flocks off the coastline were too far away to scrutinize for the rare Stejneger's Scoter on this trip.

BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)

A few individuals hung around Safety Sound.

LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)

These attractive diving ducks were found in low numbers at many locations throughout our week.

BUFFLEHEAD (Bucephala albeola)

A single female flew west past Safety Sound with a flock of Red-breasted Mergansers.

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)

A female swam underneath us (we were on a bridge) in the Cripple River along the Kougarok Road.


A very common duck, seen both along the coast and along the fast-flowing rivers of the Nome area.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

WILLOW PTARMIGAN (Lagopus lagopus)

Nice views of these tundra chickens on the Teller Highway and the Kougarok Road. A pair on the Kougarok Road was attending a group of tiny chicks.

ROCK PTARMIGAN (Lagopus muta)

We found cooperative males in a few spots along the Teller Highway. In summer, these ptarmigan are restricted to dry, rocky tundra around Nome and are generally harder to find than Willow Ptarmigan here.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena)

Just a few sightings in ponds near the town of Nome and along the Teller Highway.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

Lounging around a neighborhood along the base of the Teller Highway.

Gruidae (Cranes)

SANDHILL CRANE (Antigone canadensis)

Fairly common on the flats surrounding Safety Sound, where we found up to 32.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

AMERICAN GOLDEN-PLOVER (Pluvialis dominica)

We saw just a few of these upland tundra-loving plovers along the outer reaches of the Kougarok Road.


These plovers were frequently found along coastal areas, including performing flight displays overhead at our hotel on the outskirts of Nome!

Field Guides Birding Tours
Several Trans-Beringian migrant songbirds graced us with their presence during the week, but none were as vocally conspicuous as the Arctic Warblers. This one was photographed nicely by group member Marc Ribaudo.

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER (Charadrius semipalmatus)

A common nesting shorebird here - we even found a pair attending to two chicks along the beach near Nome harbor.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

WHIMBREL (HUDSONIAN) (Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus)

We found small numbers of these large shorebirds along the coastal plain and also out the Kougarok and Teller roads.

BAR-TAILED GODWIT (Limosa lapponica)

Most of our sightings were at the Nome River Mouth. We found up to 10 individuals here on one visit.

RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres)

One was feeding along the water's edge at the Nome River Mouth.

BLACK TURNSTONE (Arenaria melanocephala)

Regularly found feeding along the gravel at the Nome River Mouth, where they were quite approachable.

SURFBIRD (Calidris virgata)

15 of these strange sandpipers trotted right past us on the beach near the Nome harbor.

LEAST SANDPIPER (Calidris minutilla)

Three at Nome harbor on one visit.


Fairly common along the coast between the Nome River Mouth and Safety Sound, though high water levels meant lower-than-normal numbers of peeps.

WESTERN SANDPIPER (Calidris mauri)

Found here and there along the coast and even on inland tundra. High count of 85 at the Nome River Mouth.

WILSON'S SNIPE (Gallinago delicata)

Commonly found displaying over inland ponds and river valleys.

RED-NECKED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus lobatus)

Small numbers were scattered around the coastal areas; they were reliably seen at the Nome River Mouth on our visits there.

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To maximize our time in the field, we routinely enjoyed lunch picnics out of the back of our trusty van. Photo by group member Scott Stoner.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER (Actitis macularius)

These familiar shorebirds were seen along the Teller Highway and also at Council.


Seen a few times, with our best sighting coming at the Cripple River crossing on the Teller Highway.

Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)

POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)

About 5 birds in total, with great views of one subadult cruising overhead in the town of Teller.

PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)

Fairly common along the coastal plain, where they regularly interacted with Long-tailed Jaegers.

LONG-TAILED JAEGER (Stercorarius longicaudus)

The most common summer jaeger around Nome; scattered all over the tundra including right across the street from our hotel! Phenomenal, graceful birds.

Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)

COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)

A fairly common flyby alcid along the coast, especially during our seawatches from Cape Nome. Max count of 25 during one seawatch period.

PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)

Two seen on the water at Teller, with two more flying past the Nome River Mouth.

HORNED PUFFIN (Fratercula corniculata)

A few flybys at Cape Nome plus two on the water at Teller.

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)


We saw hundreds of these widespread coastal gulls, mostly at the Nome harbor, Nome River Mouth, Safety Sound, and in Teller.

MEW GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus canus brachyrhynchus)

Dozens, mostly along the coast of the Council Road, though we did see them inland along rivers, too. Now called "Short-billed Gull" after a split of the Mew Gull complex.

HERRING GULL (AMERICAN) (Larus argentatus smithsonianus)

Several sightings of immatures with wide dark tail bands were likely this subspecies.

HERRING GULL (VEGA) (Larus argentatus vegae)

A few immatures that we saw had very limited tail bands and strongly checkered plumage. Assigning Herring Gulls to subspecies in summer can be quite difficult.

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This immature Slaty-backed Gull was one of two that we kept bumping into along the coast near the Nome River Mouth. This Asian species is a scarce but regular visitor to the Nome area in summertime. Photo by group member Cindy Hamilton.

SLATY-BACKED GULL (Larus schistisagus)

We saw two immature birds (2nd or 3rd cycle) on a few occasions along the coast between the Nome harbor and Cape Nome. One was frequently in the vicinity of a walrus carcass along the beach.

GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)

Regular in small numbers, though dramatically outnumbered here by Glaucous Gulls.

GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)

The common large species of gull here at Nome. Pure white wingtips.

ALEUTIAN TERN (Onychoprion aleuticus)

This Bering Sea specialty was nesting in the Nome River delta, and we regularly saw flocks of up to 25 lounging on the gravel bar at the river mouth in between foraging trips out to sea. Spectacular!

ARCTIC TERN (Sterna paradisaea)

A common breeder here, often seen on gravel beaches along the coast and feeding along rivers well inland.

Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

The most common loon at Nome in summer, with dozens seen on most days. We saw these moving offshore as well as lounging around on small tundra ponds where they nest.

ARCTIC LOON (Gavia arctica)

We saw single adults on two separate days at Safety Sound. We separated them from Pacific Loon by their blocky heads, lead gray hindnecks, boldly striped necks, and white upper leg patches. This area of western Alaska is the only area where Arctic Loon breeds in North America, and it always makes me feel lucky to spot one here.

PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)

Less abundant than Red-throated Loon, but still a regular sight on the coastal waterways of the Nome area. Especially common at Cape Nome and the Safey Sound area.

COMMON LOON (Gavia immer)

Scarce here at Nome in summer; we saw up to 3 in one visit to Safety Sound.

Procellariidae (Shearwaters and Petrels)

SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER (Ardenna tenuirostris)

We saw singles on four occasions from the shoreline east of the town of Nome; the final bird was cruising right along the surfline near the Nome River Mouth and offered some nice views. During the summer and fall, millions of these tubenoses gather in the Bering Sea before heading back to their Southern Hemisphere breeding grounds, but they are usually tough to spot from shore in Nome in June and July.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

PELAGIC CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax pelagicus)

Most common around Teller, though we did see small numbers passing along the coast between Nome and Cape Nome, too.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

GOLDEN EAGLE (Aquila chrysaetos)

Just a couple of sightings of this huge raptor along the Kougarok Road.

NORTHERN HARRIER (Circus hudsonius)

Several sightings along the Kougarok Road and in Council, too.

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This immature Pomarine Jaeger (note the blunt tail projections and the checked underwing that help with species ID and age) made a close overhead pass as we watched two species of wagtails and scanned for puffins and eiders along the waterfront in Teller. Photo by group member Scott Stoner.

ROUGH-LEGGED HAWK (Buteo lagopus)

The vocal birds near the end of the Kougarok Road seemed to be defending a breeding territory.

Strigidae (Owls)

SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)

While driving along the Kougarok Road, we flushed a single Short-eared Owl off the side of the road - our only one of the week.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

MERLIN (Falco columbarius)

One perched atop the spruces in the boreal forest belt near Council.

GYRFALCON (Falco rusticolus)

Wow - the gray bird we saw perched on a signpost along the Teller Highway in the rain was truly awesome (one of my closest experiences with this species to date in Alaska).

Tyrannidae (Tyrant Flycatchers)

ALDER FLYCATCHER (Empidonax alnorum)

Heard singing "free beer!" at a few spots, and we eventually saw one nicely at a river crossing near Council.

SAY'S PHOEBE (Sayornis saya)

One was moving quickly along the Kougarok Road near the Kuzitrim River bridge.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

NORTHERN SHRIKE (Lanius borealis)

We saw at least 4 individuals along the Teller Highway on one day, including one that tail-chased a Lapland Longspur wayyyyy up into the sky. The nest with both adults in attendance was particularly interesting to see up close (check out the video above for a view).

Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

CANADA JAY (Perisoreus canadensis)

Three were ghosting around the boreal forest belt near Council.

COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)

Common, especially near humans and along the coast. We saw up to 30 at the landfill on the outskirts of Nome.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

BOREAL CHICKADEE (Poecile hudsonicus)

Two of these spruce-loving chickadees were along the last river crossing before we reached the town of Council.

Alaudidae (Larks)

HORNED LARK (Eremophila alpestris)

Just a few shuffled along the rocky tundra atop a ridge above the Teller Highway during our search for knots and Rock Ptarmigan.

Hirundinidae (Swallows)

TREE SWALLOW (Tachycineta bicolor)

A fairly widespread swallow, especially in town and along the river valleys.

BANK SWALLOW (Riparia riparia)

Seen close to riverbanks and road cuts where they nest colonially.

Field Guides Birding Tours
In the breeding season and on migration, shorebirds will occasional ignore human observers and approach quite closely. That was certainly the case with this Surfbird, part of a small gang that was foraging along the beach near the Nome harbor. Photo by group member Gregg Recer.

CLIFF SWALLOW (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota)

Nesting under a few bridges along the Kougarok Road and Teller Highway.

Phylloscopidae (Leaf Warblers)

ARCTIC WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealis)

These Old World Warblers are Trans-Beringian migrants that winter in Asia. We heard them regularly and saw them well on several occasions, usually in thickets close to rivers or ponds.

Regulidae (Kinglets)

RUBY-CROWNED KINGLET (Regulus calendula)

One was in boreal forest habitat near the town of Council.

Cinclidae (Dippers)

AMERICAN DIPPER (Cinclus mexicanus)

Two adults were bringing food (including small fish) to a nest under the Penny River bridge along the Teller Highway outside Nome.

Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

VARIED THRUSH (Ixoreus naevius) [*]

One sang unseen from a slope near the road at Council.

GRAY-CHEEKED THRUSH (Catharus minimus)

Dozens were heard and seen along the river corridors leading out from Nome, and we even saw a few perched on utility lines in town. This long-distance migrant is more common here in summer than anywhere else I've visited.

AMERICAN ROBIN (Turdus migratorius)

Fairly common, especially in well-vegetated river corridors.

Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

BLUETHROAT (Luscinia svecica)

Absolutely fantastic - we had to be patient, but we eventually found a singing male along the Kougarok Road that was perched up and singing away - as is common in this spectacular species, he imitated the vocalizations of several other birds including Gray-cheeked Thrush, Arctic Warbler, Wilson's Warbler, Wandering Tattler, Semipalmated Plover, and Least Sandpiper. We also found a few other males singing during our travels. During our final evening's scientific poll, this species was voted the top bird of the tour.

NORTHERN WHEATEAR (Oenanthe oenanthe)

At least three individuals showed off along the Teller Highway in rocky tundra. Like Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, and the wagtails, this species is a Trans-Beringian migrant that winters in the Old World.

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

EASTERN YELLOW WAGTAIL (Motacilla tschutschensis)

A few nice sightings of birds on or near nesting territories, including a wonderful comparison of a Yellow Wagtail foraging next to a White Wagtail in the town of Teller.

WHITE WAGTAIL (Motacilla alba)

Wow - we were fortunate to find this locally scarce species in two sites during our travels. One was foraging between the airport and the harbor. The next day we found two in the town of Teller and got to watch one foraging side-by-side with an Eastern Yellow Wagtail. Amazing!

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Arctic Terns were constant companions along the coast as well as at many river crossings on the road system. Photo by group member Marc Ribaudo.

AMERICAN PIPIT (Anthus rubescens)

These tail-bobbing songbirds were busy collecting insect prey to feed their chicks in several rocky tundra locations outside of Nome.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)

Abundant in thickets along rivers outside of Nome. These were the darker-streaked redpolls that we saw. Recent research suggests that Common and Hoary redpolls may be one species with pigmentation and bill size controlled by a single "supergene."

HOARY REDPOLL (Acanthis hornemanni)

These were the whiter, less-streaked redpolls we saw; though they are not as abundant in Nome as Common Redpolls, they're still pretty easy to find here. These two finch species may end up being lumped in the future.

Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)

LAPLAND LONGSPUR (Calcarius lapponicus)

A common tundra nesting songbird, with several nest sites found during the tour.

Passerellidae (New World Sparrows)

AMERICAN TREE SPARROW (Spizelloides arborea)

Heard or seen on every day of the tour - this is a common sparrow of shrubby tundra and riverine thickets.

FOX SPARROW (RED) (Passerella iliaca zaboria)

If you're used to seeing Red Fox Sparrows in the winter in eastern North America, you might find the Fox Sparrows of Nome a bit odd-looking. This subspecies zaboria is quite a bit grayer than the Red Fox Sparrows farther east, but it's still in the "Red" group. A common songster along river corridors outside of Nome.

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

A very common sparrow in any habitat with small shrubs or thickets around Nome.

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Group member Scott Stoner photographed this Long-tailed Jaeger beautifully against a green tundra background.

GOLDEN-CROWNED SPARROW (Zonotrichia atricapilla)

We heard the mournful songs and saw these striking sparrows regularly, usually at higher elevation than White-crowned Sparrow (though they do broadly overlap here).

SAVANNAH SPARROW (Passerculus sandwichensis)

An abundant sparrow of many different tundra habitats.

LINCOLN'S SPARROW (Melospiza lincolnii)

We enjoyed a spectacular show from a singing bird at the Fox River Bridge near Council. This boreal forest species is scarce in the Nome area.

Icteridae (Troupials and Allies)

RUSTY BLACKBIRD (Euphagus carolinus)

A cooperative pair posed along the Kougarok Road. This species has declined across its range but can still be found around Nome in summertime.

Parulidae (New World Warblers)

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH (Parkesia noveboracensis)

The bubbly songs of this widespread boreal forest breeder rang out at many riverine sites we visited through the week. The best views were probably along the Kougarok Road and near Council.

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER (Leiothlypis celata)

Fairly common in thickets near water, with especially good views along the Teller Highway and near Council.

YELLOW WARBLER (Setophaga petechia)

Probably the most widespread warbler in North America - we saw them commonly in almost any habitat with tall vegetation.

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This stunning Gyrfalcon was a roadside surprise on a rainy day along the Nome-Teller Highway. Photo by group member Cindy Hamilton.

BLACKPOLL WARBLER (Setophaga striata)

Our best views of this striking boreal warbler were near the town of Council.

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

Only seen near Council in the spruce belt.

WILSON'S WARBLER (Cardellina pusilla)

Abundant in riverine thickets - the chattering song can be mixed up with Arctic Warbler at a distance, but the bright yellow plumage leaves no doubt!


SNOWSHOE HARE (Lepus americanus)

Super views along the Kougarok Road and along the Fox River near Council. We couldn't find any Alaskan Hares on the journey this time.

ARCTIC GROUND SQUIRREL (Spermophilus parryii)

Seen every day - one of the most common and widespread mammals around Nome.

BEAVER (Castor canadensis)

Most lodges and dams, but we did see the animal itself near Council.

HARBOR PORPOISE (Phocoena phocoena)

We saw small, dark gray dorsal fins of these tiny cetaceans slipping through the calm waters offshore on a few occasions, primarily from Cape Nome.

RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)

Seen almost every day; many of the individuals here have a grayish cast to their pelage.


Wow! After thinking about them all week, we enjoyed watching a big beautiful blonde bear foraging across a river from us along the Council Road. She was really moving fast, flipping through rocks and vegetation in pursuit of nourishment.

SPOTTED SEAL (Phoca largha)

A few sightings offshore plus one young well-spotted individual that was hauled out near the harbor.

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Majestic and bizarre, this muskox was one of many that we enjoyed along the Nome road system during our travels. Photo by group member Scott Stoner.

MOOSE (Alces alces)

At least four sightings of America's largest deer along the river valleys outside of Nome.

MUSKOX (Ovibos moschatus)

This was the most unusual mammal we encountered - once extirpated from North America, these fabulous animals were reintroduced to Alaska from Greenland in the 1930s, and now they are thriving around the Nome area. We saw them on every day of the trip, with dozens some days. The bulls that were standing close to the road near the town of Solomon were truly mesmerizing.

Totals for the tour: 105 bird taxa and 9 mammal taxa