18 June–1 July 2017
Pre-tour extension 15–18 June
Post-tour extension to 4 July
Amid stunning scenery we will look for many speciality birds including Bristle-thighed Curlew, Kittlitz’s and Ancient Murrelets, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Slaty-backed Gull, Aleutian Tern, Varied Thrush and Golden-crowned Sparrow, plus Grizzly Bear. The pre-tour extension will concentrate on finding Spectacled Eider and Snowy Owl; the post-tour extension will focus on Rock Sandpiper and a whole suite of Bering Sea seabirds.
Day 1 The tour will begin with a flight from London to Anchorage via another US city. Night in Anchorage.
Days 2–3 We will take a morning flight from Anchorage over the magnificent Alaskan taiga and tundra to Barrow. Immediately we will start our quest for the increasingly rare Spectacled Eider. During our searches on the tundra ponds we may also see King and Steller’s Eiders as well as Red Phalarope, the females resplendent in their summer plumage. Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers should be displaying while there is a good possibility of finding Pomarine Jaeger and that tundra specialist, Snowy Owl. We may also see Yellow-billed Loon as we make the best of the twenty-four-hour daylight. Two nights in Barrow.
Day 4 After a last look around the area we will make the return flight to Anchorage to meet the rest of the group to start the main tour.
Day 1 The tour begins with a flight from London to Anchorage via another US city. Night in Anchorage.
Day 2 Around Anchorage we will look for American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers, Boreal Chickadee and White-winged Crossbill, then visit Westchester Lagoon to search for Mew Gull, late migrant waders, perhaps including Hudsonian Godwit, and ducks. Our journey through the wonderful mountain scenery of the Kenai Peninsula will end in Seward where we will explore a forest of huge Sitka Spruces. Many Pacific Northwest species just reach south eastern Alaska here; some we will search for are Rufous Hummingbird, Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Brown Creeper, Varied Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, Pine Grosbeak and ‘Sooty’ Fox Sparrow, which is a potential split. Two nights in Seward.
Day 3 Today we will visit Resurrection Bay and Blying Sound south of Seward where Harlequin Duck, Wandering Tattler and Northwestern Crow can all be found. The scenery is spectacular and we should see at least one magnificent glacier. During our boat trip to visit several large seabird colonies we should find Pelagic Cormorant, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Thick-billed Murres and Pigeon Guillemots. Marbled Murrelets occur nearby in good numbers and we will also search for Rhinoceros Auklet and Ancient and Kittlitz’s Murrelets. At the farthest point of our boat trip we will be in deep water, where we could see Short-tailed Shearwater and even Fork-tailed Storm-petrel. Numerous marine mammals will be present and we can expect to see Steller’s Sea Lion, Sea Otter and several whale species, hopefully including the magnificent Orca.
Day 4 At Resurrection Bay we will look for any species we may have missed before returning to Anchorage; en route we will search for Trumpeter Swan, Steller’s Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Olive-sided Flycatcher and Golden-crowned Sparrow and check Potter’s Marsh for any interesting waterfowl, such as breeding Canvasback. Night in Anchorage.
Day 5 Cloud permitting, the long, spectacular drive north to Denali National Park will offer some of our best views of Mount McKinley, North America’s highest mountain. Once north of Talkeetna we will enter vast areas of black spruce and willow and stay alert to the possibility of Spruce Grouse along the road and Bohemian Waxwings perched on tops of trees. Two nights in Denali National Park.
Day 6 Denali National Park is closed to most vehicles but shuttle buses run about every half-hour to points within the park, with a complete out-and-back trip taking about eight hours. We will use these buses to visit areas which hold our main target species: Gyrfalcon, Golden Eagle, Ruffed and Spruce Grouse, Rock and Willow Ptarmigans, Long-tailed Jaeger, Northern Shrike, Horned Lark, Hermit and Swainson’s Thrushes and Lapland Longspur. We will also enjoy the scenery and see large mammals possibly including Grizzly Bear, Dall’s Sheep, Moose and Caribou.
Day 7 All day will be spent birding the superb Denali Highway, a well-graded dirt road running for 130 miles through virtual wilderness. We will look for a variety of birds including Trumpeter Swan, Northern Hawk-owl, Alder Flycatcher, Say’s Phoebe, Grey Jay and Rusty Blackbird. The scenery along this road is stunning as we switch from boreal forest to tundra against the backdrop of the Alaskan mountains. The undulating tundra at the eastern end of the highway is the best area for the declining Smith’s Longspur. Finally we will reach Tangle Lakes Lodge, where we may find Barrow’s Goldeneye and where the eerie calls of Common Loons can be heard from our cabins.
Day 8 This morning we will search for breeding species, including Grey-cheeked Thrush and Fox Sparrow, before returning to Anchorage, birding en route. Driving through miles of black spruce we will watch out for forest species we may have missed and this will be our best chance for Northern Hawk-owl. This will be another day of spectacular scenery with views over the mighty Wrangell Mountains. Night in Anchorage.
Days 9–11 We will fly to Nome, on the Bering Sea, for three full days of exploring the many exciting birding areas around town and elsewhere on the Seward Peninsula. We should see a number of waterbirds, including Red-throated and Pacific Loons and Cackling Goose, and we might even find Emperor Goose. Aleutian Terns breed at Safety Lagoon and we may watch them being harassed by Parasitic Jaegers. The two roads out of Nome go to Teller and Taylor; both pass through tundra rich in breeding waders including American and Pacific Golden-plovers. In the surrounding hills and along willow-lined rivers we may find Gyrfalcon, Rock and Willow Ptarmigans, Eastern Yellow and White Wagtails, American Pipit, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Arctic Warbler, American Tree Sparrow and Hoary and Common Redpolls. We will make a special trip to look for the near-mythical Bristle-thighed Curlew, a few pairs of which nest in the remote mountainous landscape north of Nome. Other birds we may see include Rough-legged Hawk, Sandhill Crane and Slaty-backed Gull. Three nights in Nome.
Day 12 After a final day in the Nome area we’ll take an early evening flight back to Anchorage. Night in Anchorage.
Day 13 This morning we will return to the airport for either the overnight flight to London, arriving on Day 14, or, for those taking the extension, the flight to St Paul, one of the Pribilof Islands.
Days 13–14 On St Paul Island we will discover the full richness of a Bering Sea seabird colony. This is home to numerous members of the auk family, with huge numbers of Thick-billed Murres, Least, Parakeet and Crested Auklets and Horned and Tufted Puffins. The highly localised Red-faced Cormorant and Red-legged Kittiwake will be present, as will Rock Sandpiper and Glaucous-winged Gull. The island’s very few breeding passerines include Grey-crowned Rosy-finch, Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting. Although it is often cloudy here, photographic opportunities will be excellent as we can get very close to the birds. Our visit to St Paul will be mainly for the nesting species, but early July can still be a good time for Asian vagrants and anything is possible! There are Arctic Foxes and herds of Northern Fur Seals here, so there will be some non-avian distractions! Two nights on St Paul Island.
Day 15 We will have most of the day on St Paul before taking an early evening flight back to Anchorage. Night in Anchorage.
Day 16 After a final morning in Anchorage, we will catch an overnight flight, via, another US city, back to London, arriving on Day 17.
General Information The climate can vary from cold and wet to quite warm. There will be a moderate amount of walking and sometimes this will be in hilly and wet terrain. There are no special medical requirements. Visas are required. Accommodation standards are good with most motel rooms having two beds, en-suite shower and WC (except in Denali and on St Paul, where there are shared facilities). Food is excluded from the tour price; allow about £30 per day depending on your requirements.
Group size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 9 with 1 leader, 16 with 2 leaders.