Alaska is a stunning holiday destination, with unforgettable wildlife and scenery. It has to be said that it is extremely expensive to do a trip which covers the full range of Alaskan wildlife, but it is a price well worth paying. This report details what we saw on our trip, and includes some advice to help anyone visiting Alaska to get the most out of the trip. We have aimed the trip report at British (and other European) birders who want to see a long list of Alaskan birds and mammals, concentrating on the Alaskan specialities, and who have already done some background reading of guidebooks and birding info.
We spent three and a half weeks in Alaska. We wanted to arrive in late May to ensure seeing Northern Saw-whet and Boreal Owls still in the nest-boxes. We extended our stay until 19 June in order to take the Alaska Marine Highway along the Aleutian Chain, with a chance of Whiskered Auklet.
Timing is critical at Barrow where the ice on the tundra pools melts rapidly - too early and there is no open water and no eiders, too late and you have to find the eiders in a landscape which is 80% lake! Our visit, 11 - 14 June, was perfectly timed. Optimal timing at Nome is probably very similar, though on balance it is probably better to visit Nome before Barrow and hope that there has been no late snow and the highways have been opened up.
It is important to book everything well in advance, even down to the buses into Denali National Park. There is fairly limited capacity for tourists at some of these places, so plane tickets, hire cars and hotel rooms can and do get booked up, and the cheap deals go first! We started booking travel and accommodation before Christmas, but were still piecing bits of our itinerary together into March. Thanks to the world-wide web, we did most of it ourselves. We ran up about £20 worth of phone calls booking hire cars and accommodation.
Weather and Clothing
Be prepared for anything and everything! Over such a large area as Alaska, the weather is extremely variable. We arrived in Anchorage to find a lovely English Summer - bright sun, clear skies, balmy nights and temperatures requiring T-shirts and sandals. Even when there is a cool breeze, the sun is deceptively strong, so pack the sunscreen. We experienced this kind of weather over southern and interior Alaska. However, as you move north into Denali, warm, sunny days give way to sub-zero nights, so fellow campers, don’t be surprised if you spend all day sweating and then have to get up and put all your clothes on inside your sleeping bag in the early hours of the morning! Sudden heavy rain can also occur frequently around mountainous areas like Denali. Moving further west to Nome, weather is very variable - we experienced both clear sun and thick fog, but all with a cold wind requiring many layers - pack your winter birding gear. There was also quite a lot of snow cover - so wet underfoot. In the Arctic at Barrow, don’t be surprised by snow showers in June and have plenty of layers and those thermal undies - the sea is still frozen up here! We were lucky enough to have a couple of bright sunny days also, so with all that snow around, sunglasses come in handy. Wellies would have been useful at Barrow, though if you don’t mind looking ridiculous, you can tie bin-bags round your legs for short walks across the Barrow tundra. Otherwise, you are pretty much confined to the roads.
As vegetarians, we thought we’d struggle to find anything to eat, but it was OK. In fact, we ate really well in some of the more remote places like St Paul, Dutch Harbor and Barrow. We also cooked a lot of packet noodles and soups, which was dull, but cheap. Food prices might shock you initially -expect to pay up to $4 for a loaf of bread in more remote places. Much food has to be imported as there is no agricultural industry to speak of.
You will need to hire a car almost everywhere you go, though we spent our time at Dutch Harbor/ Unalaska just birding by foot. We hired a pick-up at Nome, and that was the only place where we needed the extra clearance. Everywhere else, we hired the smallest, cheapest car available, which was usually quite big by British standards, and perfectly adequate, even on the Denali Highway. UK drivers licences were no problem. Most Americans receive third-party accident cover on hire cars through their credit card companies. We always had to pay extra for this, except in Barrow where there was no insurance available.
We took seven internal flights, three return and one single. Fortunately, none of these were delayed, though fog is a perpetual problem for Alaskan plane journeys. In fact, when we left St Paul island, the plane failed to make its scheduled landing at neighbouring St George because of fog, pulling up suddenly and causing some passengers to adopt the brace position in fear for their lives. St Paul and Dutch Harbor are most prone to fog, followed by Nome and then Barrow. You will need a back-up plan when trying to fly to or from these places. For scheduled internal flights we used Alaska Airlines’ Airpass, which saves you a lot of money.
Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula
There is a lot of really great birding to be done in this area, and it is by far the cheapest and warmest part of Alaska in which to do it. We actually spent only four days in this area, three at the beginning and one at the very end, which was not quite enough, although we did well in that short time.
Highlight of the Kenai Peninsula is a boat trip into the Kenai Fjords National Park. Everyone should do this in their lifetime! We booked a 10-hour cruise with Mariah Tours (a subsidiary of Kenai Fjords Tours who operate small boats (up to 16 passengers)). It is crucial to take the 10-hour tour to the Northwestern Fjord if you want to see the full range of seabirds here. Presumably the small boats get weathered out more easily than the larger, so you may be well advised to allow two days for this trip, or even just do it twice! We had fabulous views of Killer Whale, Humpback, Dall’s Porpoise, Black Bear, Mountain Goat, Red-faced Cormorant and our only Rhinoceros Auklets and Kittlitz’s Murrelets of the trip.
Another undoubted highlight is the owl trip. Bob Dittrick and Lisa Moorehead (Tel. (907) 694 7442) are a husband and wife team who run Wilderness Tours. Separate from their tour business, they also co-ordinate an owl nest-box monitoring scheme using volunteers. They will take birders to see Northern Saw-whet and Boreal Owls for a donation of $25 per person to the project. Because they don’t do this on a commercial basis, it is done at their convenience. We got in touch with Lisa months in advance and gave her several suitable dates, so she could match us up with other groups and take us all in at once. We didn’t confirm a date, time and place until a week before we left, but eventually got out to the owls on our first morning. Unfortunately, due to an unforeseen emergency, Lisa only had time to show us a Saw-whet Owl before returning to company business.
Homer is also on the Kenai Peninsula and it is worth spending some time here – we spent less than a day around Homer, which wasn’t nearly enough. The town and spit lie in an incredible panorama of mountains, glaciers and Kachemak Bay. The spruce forests around Homer have reasonably good birding and the tidal flats are valuable shore-bird habitat.
The Anchorage Guest House at 2001 Hillcrest Drive was a great discovery, and we came and went from there many times during the three and a half weeks. It was (relatively) cheap, well-run, relaxed and luxurious - book in there if you possibly can. We camped at Seward in the Waterfront Campground, which has fantastic views of Resurrection Bay and all for $6.
There are many options for car hire in Anchorage. Some companies are still hiring at off-season prices in late May, but prices go up from the beginning of June. We used Thrifty in late May for 3 days, Avis in early June for 5 days, and Hertz for a one-way hire from Homer airport to Anchorage airport.
St Paul, Pribilof Islands
We took a 3-day tour to St. Paul with Grayline of Alaska (a subsidiary of Holland America Tours) at a cost of $1139 each, including accommodation at the King Eider Hotel. Although expensive, this is the only realistic way to do the Pribilofs. A fantastic experience. This was the only place where we saw Arctic Fox, Northern Fur Seal and Red-legged Kittiwake. We had already seen Red-faced Cormorant well in Kenai Fjords, and later saw a single Rock Sandpiper at Nome. It also provided excellent views of many seabirds, including the only tickable views of Crested Auklet. We hit a good spell for Asiatic vagrants with Far Eastern Curlew, longipennis Common Tern, Wood Sandpiper, Greenshank and Rustic Bunting. Steller’s Eider and Hoary Redpoll were also unusual birds for the island. St. Paul does not seem to be a reliable site for MacKay’s Bunting any more.
Meals aren’t included in the tour price. The hotel has a deal with the canteen in the local canning factory, so that you have the option of eating there for a fixed price. This is a good deal as the food is excellent and you can eat as much as you like. On our visit the standard costs were $8 for breakfast, $12 for lunch, $15 for dinner - all meals are multi-course. The downside is that you have to eat at set times, which can be restrictive. There is a well-stocked store on the island, so DIY meals, particularly at lunchtime, are another option.
We gave ourselves quite a lot of time in the interior (5 full days) because we wanted to experience the wilderness of Denali National Park. Denali NP is a very popular destination, both for tourists just wanting to see Grizzly Bear and hikers wanting the back-woods wilderness experience. Birding in Denali can only be done either on foot or on the park shuttle buses. Hiking can be very strenuous - Denali is a trail-less park - and it can be difficult finding birds in wilderness of this scale, but is great for scenery and the anticipation of bumping into some big mammals. The buses are busy, but you will get good views of large mammals. If all you want to do is see Grizzly, it is enough just to get a bus to the Eielson Visitor Centre and back, which would guarantee Grizzly Bear, and probably Gyrfalcon and Hoary Marmot too. With those species under the belt, you are better off birding the highways.
In retrospect, we would have spent more time touring the Glenn, Richardson, Denali and George Parks Highways - except for the stretch around Glenallen which was mosquito hell! In particular, the area around Tangle Lakes off the Denali Highway deserves a day or two and is great for wildflowers. We camped throughout.
We spent four nights at Nome, which was quite a long stay - possibly too long. It is a memorable place, very much a frontier town which in some respects has had its day. Its gold-rush history is evident and pervades the present with a lingering feeling of the wild west (Wyatt Earp even had a bar here!). Many of the bars are open all night and do good business. We hired a four-wheel drive pick-up - a car would be impractical on these roads. There had been heavy late snowfalls at Nome, which meant that 2 of the 3 roads out of town were still blocked by snowdrifts and impassable washouts. Consequently, the birding options were more limited than normal. Our visit was timed to coincide with the period when Bristle-thighed Curlews are displaying, but in the event, we were unable to get to their breeding area (though we could have chartered a 3-passenger helicopter at $375/hour, or attempted a 37-mile round-trip hike!) A few days after we left, the Kougarok Highway was opened up and Bristle-thighed Curlew was seen by birders.
Touring the Highways around Nome is a must to see Muskox – this fantastic animal looks like it just stepped out of the ice-age.
Calling in at the Nome Visitor Centre is also recommended – as well as a source of information on all aspects of natural and cultural history of Nome, there is a gen board which is regularly updated
We stayed at ‘An Ocean View’ B&B, which was clean but a smokers household, so we didn’t like it much. We would recommend searching for somewhere else to stay in Nome - there are a few similarly-priced B&B’s.
Stampede Auto Rentals on Front Street seems to be the only option for vehicle hire in Nome.
Barrow was well worth visiting just to fly in and see Arctic tundra and pack-ice from the air. It is bigger than Nome, with less of the wild-west frontier feel about it. Barrow appears to have a flourishing community and is ‘dry’ i.e. no alcohol. A four-wheel drive vehicle is not a necessity, which is easier on the budget. Our main target here was to see All The Eiders, which we did within a few hours of arrival, as well as the tundra waders, Pomarine Jaegers and Snowy Owls. Others were not so lucky with the eiders, and part of the problem is shooting. Native Inupiat have subsistence rights to hunt any and all wildlife - only Bowhead Whale has a quota. For some, perhaps only a minority, this is just an excuse for indiscriminate recreational shooting. The eiders we saw were very wary and unapproachable. One of the three Spectacled Eiders we saw had been shot and injured, and could hardly fly or swim. There are road signs discouraging shooting of Steller's Eider. Try birding the Gas Well Road during the ‘night’ (in full daylight!) to get a little peace from hunters, and to increase your chances of connecting with the birds. Note that although everyone refers to the ‘Gas Well Road’, the road sign calls it ‘Cake-eater Road’!
Barrow’s other speciality, Polar Bear, suffers from similar hunting problems - they are hunted by some Inupiat (reportedly, at least 14 being shot during winter 2000/01), and are scared away by everybody else. However, the piles of Bowhead bones and waste whale-meat on Point Barrow are an irresistible draw to the bears. To get out to the point and look for them, you must go on a tour: John Tidwell brought the idea of Polar Bear tours to Barrow and runs Alaskan Arctic Adventures. A trip with John is an experience highly recommended! A c. 3 hour trip out to the point costs $60 per person. Midnight and early morning trips (when there are fewer hunters about) have a better success rate, but it does get harder to see them as the pack-ice thaws. Two individuals were seen during our stay, but not on our trips to the point.
Staff at the local college in Barrow have recently started up a gen board in the college bookshop, but it is not yet well-used by visiting birders – mostly by students taking the ornithology class.
The Airport Inn was the cheapest in town, and a great place to stay. We hired our car from the native corporation: (907) 852 2700.
The MV Tustumena, Alaska Marine Highway - Aleutian Chain
The ferry travels once a month on the return journey from Homer to Dutch Harbor/Unalaska, calling in at various islands along the way. This is a unique opportunity to see the Aleutians and their sea-life. We chose to fly out to Dutch Harbor the day before the ferry arrived, and then travel one-way to Homer. Like the flight into Barrow, the flight into Dutch Harbor is pretty amazing - dropping out of cloud to a low approach over the sea, before banking around the coastal cliffs a wing-tip away. Unalaska is quite a pleasant little place, but if you want to see Bald Eagles in numbers, head for the dump! We stayed at Carl’s Bayview Inn, where everyone is very friendly and helpful.
It was a big disappointment that the ferry did not pass to the south of Akutan Island, on leaving the port of Dutch Harbor. This meant that we did not pass near the Whiskered Auklet colony on the Baby Islands. There must be some way of ascertaining in advance what route the ship is going to take. It may even be possible to persuade the captain to take the route via the Baby Islands. Despite this, the three days aboard the ferry were pretty rewarding, including the only albatrosses, Pterodroma, shearwaters, storm-petrels and Ancient Murrelets of the trip. In addition, we saw the only transient Killer Whales, Fin Whales and Alaskan Brown Bear of the trip, as well as good views of Humpback and Dall’s Porpoise. Undoubtedly the highlight was our encounter with a pod of Killer Whales attacking some Fin Whales. Be warned that this is hard-core birding - long hours on a small ferry, trying to find somewhere to stand out of the wind and study those distant alcids scattering away from the approaching ship. (A good book can come in handy!)
When you board the ship, make it your priority to bag a good place to sleep. We pitched a tent in the solarium on the top deck (this is common practice on the ferry), but it is extremely noisy there, being next to the funnel. We ended up sleeping in the observation lounge, also a common practice. There are some very comfortable places to sleep, without taking your own cabin. The ferry tends to be at it’s fullest from Kodiak to Homer, so the observation lounge gets busy for the last night of the journey. We took a cabin for this stretch only, which proved a shrewd move.
It is possible to take a tour out to Round Island to see the Walrus colony, but this will cost about $1000 per person. There does not seem to be any cheaper way of seeing Walrus in Alaska at this time of year.
Although we saw Beluga from the plane, this was only on one of the 9 occasions we flew into or out of Anchorage airport. It must be possible to get views from a lower altitude by chartering a flightseeing plane. With a small group, it might be possible to do this for c. $150 per person. Unfortunately, we hadn’t left enough flexibility in our itinerary to give it a go. We were possibly a little early to see Beluga following the salmon runs up the Turnagain Arm, despite repeated stints watching the incoming tides from Beluga Point.
An extremely popular destination with North American birders. Although the main lure is Asiatic vagrants, it might still be worth a visit by European birders - during the first week of June 2001 it held MacKay’s Bunting, Emperor Goose and All The Eiders. The wildfowl were seen only by seawatching, but that shouldn’t put anyone off - seawatching in this area (at least at Nome) involves a staggering diversity of seabirds, waders and wildfowl in massive numbers, round-the-clock, whatever the weather.
26-May dep. Gatwick 11.15, arr. Newark (NY) 14.00 (approx. 6.5hrs). Dep. Newark 17.10, arr. Seattle 20.19 (approx. 5hrs). dep. Seattle 21.20, arr. Anchorage 23.51, (approx. 2.5hrs). Gained 9 hours in total. Night at Anchorage Guest House.
27-May Anchorage & Kenai Peninsula Pick up hire car. Owl Trip. Birding Anchorage area. Night at Anchorage Guest House.
28-May Anchorage & Kenai Peninsula Drive Anchorage to Seward (129 miles), with roadside birding stops. Night in Seward camping.
29-May Anchorage & Kenai Peninsula Kenai Fjords boat trip 08.00 - 18.00. Evening drive Seward to Anchorage. Night at Anchorage Guest House.
30-May Pribilofs Return hire car. Fly Anchorage to St. Paul (approx. 3 hrs) - Pribilof tour. Night on St. Paul at King Eider Hotel.
31-May Pribilofs Night on St. Paul at King Eider Hotel.
01-Jun Pribilofs Morning on St. Paul. Return flight to Anchorage. Night at Anchorage Guest House.
02-Jun Interior Hwys Pick up hire car. Drive into the interior. Glenn/ Richardson/ Denali Hwys. Camp near Glenallen on Richardson Hwy.
03-Jun Interior Hwys/Denali NP Bird Tangle Lakes area, travel west on the Denali Hwy to Denali NP. Drive in to Teklanika campground and pitch camp.
04-Jun Denali NP 07.30 bus to Eielson Visitor Centre (dep. Tek 08.30-08.45). Day-hike from Eielson. Return bus. Night at Teklanika campground.
05-Jun Denali NP All day trekking around the Teklanika area. Night at Teklanika campground.
06-Jun Denali NP/Interior Hwys Check out campground. Bird Savage River and return to Anchorage down the George Parks Hwy. Night at Anchorage Guest House.
07-Jun Nome Return hire car. Fly Anchorage to Nome (approx. 1.5hrs). Collect 'regular pick-up'. Bird in and around Nome. Night at 'An Ocean View B&B'.
08-Jun Nome Birding in and around Nome. Night at 'An Ocean View B&B'.
09-Jun Nome Birding in and around Nome. Night at 'An Ocean View B&B'.
10-Jun Nome Birding in and around Nome. Night at 'An Ocean View B&B'.
11-Jun Nome - Barrow Morning birding Nome. Return pick-up. Return flight to Anchorage. Transfer to Barrow flight (via Fairbanks) (approx. 3hrs). Collect hire car. Late evening birding Barrow. Night at Airport Inn, Barrow.
12-Jun Barrow All day Barrow. Night at Airport Inn, Barrow.
13-Jun Barrow All day Barrow. Night at Airport Inn, Barrow.
14-Jun Barrow All day Barrow. Return hire car and fly to Anchorage. Night at Anchorage Guest House.
15-Jun Unalaska/Marine Highway Fly Anchorage to Dutch Harbor/Unalaska (approx. 2hrs10mins). Afternoon birding Unalaska (by foot): 100's Bald Eagles. Night on Unalaska at Carl's Bayview Inn.
16-Jun Marine Highway Board MV Tustumena. Tens of thousands of seabirds in the Akutan Pass.
17-Jun Marine Highway All day on the MV Tustumena.
18-Jun Marine Highway Ferry arr. Kodiak Island and dep. for Homer late evening. We take a 2-berth cabin for the last night.
19-Jun Marine Highway/ Kenai peninsula Arrive Homer. Collect hire car and drive one-way to Anchorage (225 miles), birding, Beluga-spotting. Return car at airport. Fly Anchorage to Newark at 19.35 (non-stop) (approx. 6.5hrs).
20-Jun Arr. Newark 06.19, dep. Newark 10.00, arr. Gatwick 21.50 (approx. 6.5hrs).
We have used the names in Sibley’s North America guide.
1. Red-throated Loon
Common at Nome.
2. Pacific Loon
Pair at Potter Marsh, c. 17 Kenai Fjords, common at Nome and Barrow. Pair on Weiner Lake (mile 88, Glenn Hwy).
3. Arctic Loon
Pair offshore from Safety Lagoon at Nome, plus 1 offshore from Teller (at the end of the Teller Hwy from Nome).
4. Common Loon
Pair at Tern Lake (Anchorage to Seward). One offshore at Nome. Tangle Lakes.
5. Yellow-billed Loon
One flew east off Nome on 7 June. One flew over Gas Well Road, Barrow on 14 June.
6. Red-necked Grebe
Common on Westchester Lagoon, Anchorage. One on a nest at Potter Marsh. 5 east at Nome in 3 ½ hours seawatching on 8/9 June. Two offshore at St Paul on 31 May.
Can be seen at Westchester Lagoon and Potter Marsh.
7. Laysan Albatross
Can only be seen at sea – easiest from the MV Tustumena between Dutch Harbor and Kodiak. We saw c. 12 on 16 June between Dutch Harbor and Akutan and between Akutan and Cold Bay.
8. Black-footed Albatross
One from the MV Tustumena between Akutan and Cold Bay on 16 June.
9. Northern Fulmar
Seen nesting on cliffs at St Paul, where c. 5% were blue phase. Common from the MV Tustumena where c. 90% were blue phase.
10. Cook’s Petrel
One from the MV Tustumena between Akutan and Cold Bay on 16 June. Although we thought Mottled Petrel was the only Pterodroma likely to be seen in these waters, this bird clearly showed all-white underparts. Cook’s Petrel has been recorded south of Adak Island in the Aleutians and this is most likely what we saw (Roberson and Bailey, 1991).
11. Short-tailed Shearwater
Roughly 50,000 from the MV Tustumena. Between Dutch Harbor and Akutan the sea was swarming with them. Numbers dwindled eastwards.
12. Sooty Shearwater
One stood out from the hordes of Short-tailed Shearwaters from the MV Tustumena between Dutch Harbor and Akutan, 16 June.
13. Fork-tailed Storm-petrel
See from the MV Tustumena only. One on 17 June. Common on 18 June all morning.
14. Double-crested Cormorant
One over Westchester Lagoon on 28 May. Several in Kenai Fjords. Several around Sand Point from the MV Tustumena on 17 June.
15. Red-faced Cormorant
C. 40 in Kenai Fjords (commoner there than Pelagic Cormorant). Common on St Paul (again commoner than Pelagic).
16. Pelagic Cormorant
Several in Kenai Fjords, on St Paul, around Nome and Teller, and from the MV Tustumena.
17. Trumpeter Swan
Pair on a small pond next to Nash Road, Seward. Pair at mile 176 Glenn Hwy, 2 June.
18. Tundra Swan
Pair at Tangle Lakes, 3 June. Pair from the George Parks Hwy. C. 200 on the Safety Lagoon, Nome, 7 June. Other unidentified swans were seen more distantly in these areas.
19. Canada Goose
‘Cackling Goose’ - a few on St Paul, 31 May.
‘Lesser Canada Goose’ - seen elsewhere, including at Westchester Lagoon, Potter Marsh and Nome.
A few flocks in Kenai Fjords. Common as a migrant at Nome, including c. 500 on Safety Lagoon on 11 June.
21. Greater White-fronted Goose
Fairly common at Barrow.
22. Emperor Goose
Three together at Safety Lagoon, Nome, on 11 June were not associating with Brants. The species had also been recorded at Nome on 3 June, and on other occasions prior to our arrival, amongst Brant flocks during seawatches. Also recorded on the Safety Lagoon on 10 June.
Small numbers at various sites, including one on St Paul, Nome, one at mile 176 Glenn Hwy, one Tangle Lakes.
Male at Potter Marsh. Pair on Safety Lagoon, Nome.
25. Northern Pintail
Common at St Paul, Nome, Barrow, Westchester Lagoon, Potter Marsh, Denali Hwy, one at mile 176 Glenn Hwy.
26. American Wigeon
A few on St Paul and at Barrow. Fairly common at Nome, and also seen at Westchester Lagoon and Gulkana River (Richardson Hwy).
27. Eurasian Wigeon
Male on St Paul, 30 May. Male on Safety Lagoon, Nome, 11 June.
28. Northern Shoveler
Two Potter Marsh. Two at mile 120 Glenn Hwy. Also seen at Teklanika campground, Denali NP, and Nome.
29. Green-winged Teal
Small numbers seen in all parts of the state, including Barrow and St Paul.
30. Eurasian Teal
Several on St Paul. One male at Dutch Harbor on 15 June with an intergrade male.
Only seen at the south end of Potter Marsh: 27 May, two males and a female.
32. Ring-necked Duck
A pair at Potter Marsh on 27 May, where it is unusual. Elsewhere seen only at mile 176 on Glenn Hwy where there were c. 15.
33. Greater Scaup
Common or fairly common in every area of the state.
34. Common Eider
Seen only at Nome, where it is by far the commonest eider, and Barrow, where it was the third commonest.
35. King Eider
Common at St Paul, though only one or two adult males seen. One adult male at Nome Safety Lagoon, 8 June. Three east in 3 ½ hours seawatching off Nome on 8/9 June. One or two pairs along Gas Well Road, Barrow. Pair on pool at Point Barrow, 14 June. Two flocks of 8 and c. 50 over Piqnik, Barrow on 14 June in c. 1 ½ hours.
36. Spectacled Eider
A pair from Gas Well Road at c. mile 8 on 12 June. Also a severely injured female on the sewage waste lagoon, Barrow, 12 June - wildfowling is pretty indiscriminate at Barrow. Incredibly, a pair flew close past us, heading down the Sinuk River, Teller Hwy, Nome on 10 June. Although Spectacled Eider can be seen, with luck, by seawatching off Nome, to my knowledge, this record is completely unprecedented!
37. Steller’s Eider
A female on St Paul. The commonest eider at Barrow with up to 50 seen in a day, mostly on the Gas Well Road.
38. Harlequin Duck
Common at all coastal sites except Barrow where none were seen. Also recorded inland on Savage River, Denali NP.
39. Long-tailed Duck
Common on St Paul, at Nome and at Barrow. Three in Kenai Fjords, one at mile 120 Glenn Hwy.
40. Surf Scoter
50 - 60 seen in Kenai Fjords on 29 May. Pair at Tangle Lakes. Four off Nome.
41. Black Scoter
Common at Nome.
42. White-winged Scoter
C. 40 over Anchorage on 28 May. One over Tangle Lakes. Several off Nome.
43. Common Goldeneye
The only Goldeneye seen on St Paul where rather scarce. Also at Safety Lagoon, Nome.
44. Barrow’s Goldeneye
Two pairs seen on Tern Lake (Anchorage - Seward Hwy), plus another pair nearby. Three at mile 176 on Glenn Hwy.
Scarce on St Paul. One male at mile 176 on Glenn Hwy. One male at One Mile Creek on Richardson Hwy.
46. Common Merganser
Nome and Barrow. Not common at either site. Pair at One Mile Creek on Richardson Hwy.
47. Red-breasted Merganser
Common at Nome, Dutch Harbor, one from the MV Tustumena, two from St Paul.
48. Northern Harrier
Seen most days at Nome. Also at mile 120 on Glenn Hwy, and mile 12 on Denali Hwy.
49. Sharp-shinned Hawk
One at mile 3 of the Denali Hwy, and at Tangle Lakes.
50. Red-tailed Hawk
Three at mile 120 on the Glenn Hwy were Red-tailed/ Harlan’s intermediates. One at Homer on 19 June, and two on the Sterling Hwy, were pure Harlan’s.
51. Rough-legged Hawk
Several seen at Nome.
52. Golden Eagle
Cooper Landing, Nome and mile 38 Denali Hwy.
53. Bald Eagle
Common in Kenai Fjords, at every port along the Alaska Marine Highway especially Dutch Harbor/Unalaska where we saw c.100 at the Unalaska dump. A few seen from the Glenn Highway, to mile 176 and on the George Parks Hwy. Frequent around Homer, Seward and the highways on the Kenai Peninsula.
54. American Kestrel
One at mile 115 on the Glenn Hwy.
Was seen at nests at Polychrome Pass, Denali NP and on the Kougarok Hwy, Nome, though we didn’t check either site.
55. Peregrine Falcon
One at Cape Nome and one at Point Barrow sitting out on the pack ice.
56. Willow Ptarmigan
Seen fairly commonly on Denali Hwy, in Denali NP and around Nome, often on the road.
57. Rock Ptarmigan
Fairly common around Nome.
58. Sandhill Crane
Pair at Potter Marsh. One seen at very close range on saltmarsh seaward of Westchester Lagoon. Several around Nome, especially at the dump on Kougarok Hwy.
59. Black-bellied Plover
One from the road between the Teller Hwy and Wooley Lagoon, Nome.
60. Pacific Golden Plover
Two groups of three on St. Paul. Several seen at Nome, where it was commoner than American Golden Plover. The ‘pee-POOWEE’ flight song was entertaining and very distinctive.
61. American Golden Plover
A few at Nome and Barrow.
62. Semi-palmated Plover
Seen in small numbers at most sites: Nome, St. Paul, Denali Hwy, Barrow.
[Mongolian Plover (= Lesser Sand Plover)]
One was at Barrow for a day during our stay but we didn’t see it.
63. Black Oystercatcher
Several along Seward seafront, plus a few in Kenai Fjords seen well and a few seen distantly from the MV Tustumena.
64. Lesser Yellowlegs
Eight at Potter Marsh, about six at Westchester Lagoon, one at mile 176, Glenn Hwy, Richardson Hwy.
65. Wood Sandpiper
Two on St. Paul.
66. Common Greenshank
One on St. Paul.
67. Spotted Sandpiper
A few at Westchester Lagoon, Gulkana River, Richardson Hwy, Savage River in Denali NP and on the Kougarok Hwy, Nome.
A few on the Glenn and Denali Hwys, plus several around Nome.
You must reach mile 72 on the Kougarok Hwy to walk in to the ‘Coffee Dome’ for this species. During our time at Nome, the Kougarok was still opening up and we couldn’t get nearer than mile 60. A few days after we left, birders made it to mile 72 and saw B-t Curlew.
69. Far Eastern Curlew
One on St. Paul.
70. Bar-tailed Godwit
Up to 13 at St. Paul on the Salt Lagoon. Four at Nome River mouth on 7 June, 26 on Safety Lagoon, Nome, 9 June.
71. Hudsonian Godwit
Only seen on the mudflats off Westchester Lagoon: four on 28 May.
72. Ruddy Turnstone
Three around Nome River mouth. Six on St. Paul.
73. Black Turnstone
Four on the beach near Nome River mouth 7 June. One on the Safety Lagoon, 9 June.
74. Wandering Tattler
Several seen on St. Paul. One at the river, Tangle Lakes, Denali Hwy. A few on the hwys around Nome. Two on Seward Harbour breakwater. One in Northwestern Fjord, Kenai Fjords.
75. Rock Sandpiper
Common on St. Paul. One on the beach at Nome River mouth 7 June.
Two on the beach at the base of Nome breakwater on 7 June only. One at Piqnik, Barrow 14 June.
Two on St. Paul, several at Nome (Safety Lagoon, etc.) and Barrow. All the birds are very smart: subspecies sakhalina or pacifica.
78. Pectoral Sandpiper
Common at Barrow.
79 White-rumped Sandpiper
A few at Barrow.
80. Baird’s Sandpiper
One on the pools at the base of Point Barrow, beyond the ‘Danger Polar Bears’ sign. Only seen distantly.
81. Western Sandpiper
Common at Nome.
82. Semi-palmated Sandpiper
Common at Nome and Barrow.
83. Least Sandpiper
Several at Nome and on St. Paul. One Tangle Lakes.
84. Red-necked Stint
One with Semi-p and Western Sandpipers on Safety Lagoon, Nome on 9 June.
85. Long-billed Dowitcher
A few at Barrow, and also at Potter Marsh. Two at Nome River mouth on 7 June. C.6 Dowitcher sp. on mudflats off Westchester Lagoon, 28 May.
86. Buff-breasted Sandpiper
Scarce at Barrow; one seen on higher ground on the outskirts of Barrow near the base of Gas Well Road.
87. Common Snipe
Seen throughout Alaska.
88. Red Phalarope
Common at Barrow, more so than Red-necked Phalarope. At Nome, five east in 3 ½ hours on 8/9 June, three east on 9 June.
89. Red-necked Phalarope
Three late migrants at Potter Marsh 27 May. Three on the sea in Kenai Fjords on 29 May. Common on St. Paul and at Nome and Barrow. Pair at Tangle Lakes, Denali Hwy.
90. Long-tailed Jaeger
Pair at mile 12 on the Denali Hwy. One at mile 120, Glenn Hwy. Numerous pairs on territory at Nome. One from the MV Tustumena. One on St. Paul.
91. Parasitic Jaeger
Seven in 3 ½ hours sea watching at Nome, 8/9 June. One on slopes of Anvil Mountain, Nome. Two at Barrow.
92. Pomarine Jaeger
Common at Barrow. Nome: one west on 7 June, one west 9 June. Pair at Teller Spit 10 June. Four from MV Tustumena.
Two were seen at Safety Bridge, Nome on 9 June. Two had been at Nome River mouth on 2 June.
93. Bonaparte’s Gull
Six at Westchester Lagoon on 27 May. Several adults at Gulkana River, Richardson Hwy.
Singles were seen on St. Paul and Safety Bridge, Nome during our visit.
94. Mew Gull
95a. American Herring Gull
Westchester Lagoon. A few along rivers in the interior (e.g. Matanuska River, Glenn Hwy; Gulkana River, Richardson Hwy; Tangle Lakes). One at Homer.
95b. Vega Gull
Of nine Herring Gulls seen at Nome and Teller, the diagnostic orange-red eye-ring was seen on two. Best spots are the dump near the start of the Kougarok Hwy (best for close views), Safety Bridge and Teller Spit.
- Glaucous-winged x Herring Gull hybrids
Several at Seward.
96. Glaucous Gull
Two on St. Paul. By far the commonest large gull at Nome. The only large gull at Barrow.
97. Glaucous-winged Gull
Common in Kenai Fjords and at Homer. Also around Seward, but with hybrids common there too. A few second cal-yr Glaucous-winged type gulls at Nome. Surprisingly few seen at Dutch Harbor.
98. Slaty-backed Gull
A second cal-yr bird on St. Paul. Adult and second cal-yr bird at Kougarok Hwy dump on 7 June. Adult and two second cal-yr birds at Safety Bridge 8 June. One second cal-yr still there on 9 June. Two others seen off-shore.
99. Sabine’s Gull
One flew by at Nome breakwater on 7 June. Three at Safety Bridge briefly, 8 June. Three on Gas Well Road, Barrow, 11 June only.
100. Black-legged Kittiwake
Seward, Kenai Fjords, common on St. Paul, common at Nome. A few at Barrow on 14 June, as the shore-fast pack ice started to melt a little. Frequent from the MV Tustumena, though often not seen for long periods.
101. Red-legged Kittiwake
Seen only on St Paul, where it is scarcer than Black-legged.
102. Common Tern
One of the east Asian race, S. h. longipennis seen on St Paul on 30 May.
103. Arctic Tern
Common on all coasts and also in the interior (Tern Lake, Seward Hwy, Glenn Hwy, etc.).
104. Aleutian Tern
At least 7, probably twice that number amongst an Arctic Tern colony at Nome River mouth, upriver from the bridge.
105. Common Murre
Kenai Fjords, St Paul, a few seawatching off Nome, common from MV Tustumena.
106. Thick-billed Murre
Seen well at Kenai Fjords (where much rarer than Common Murre) and on St Paul. Also from Nome and the MV Tustumena.
107. Pigeon Guillemot
Fairly common inshore at Seward, and from the MV Tustumena. Not seen at Nome itself, but common at Teller (where we wished we had checked more carefully that they weren’t Black Guillemots).
One was seen off Cape Nome during our visit. Apparently also common at Teller, where we must have overlooked them.
108. Ancient Murrelet
Common during the first two days on the MV Tustumena. Not seen elsewhere, though it is a possibility in Kenai Fjords.
109. Kittlitz’s Murrelet
Only definitely seen in Kenai Fjords, in Northwestern Fjord, where the boat passed over a shallow bar formed by a terminal moraine. C. 20 here on 29 May, with a similar number of Marbled Murrelets. At this time of year at least, both Marbled and Kittlitz’s Murrelets show white undertail-coverts. Kittlitz’s is best distinguished by the white face, with isolated dark eye and golden body plumage, contrastingly paler than upperwings in flight.
110. Marbled Murrelet
Fairly common off Seward and in Northwestern Fjord. Birds seen from the MV Tustumena were probably mostly this species, though there could have been Kittlitz’s too.
- Long-billed Murrelet
The only Brachyramphus seen off Nome (in flight, swimming, and climbing out onto driftwood) was all dark, with a conspicuous pale throat and thus, may have been Long-billed Murrelet.
- Cassin’s Auklet
A few possibles seen from the MV Tustumena on 18 June.
111. Parakeet Auklet
Two in Kenai Fjords. Common and seen very well on St Paul. At least 20 from the MV Tustumena, including reasonable views in Raspberry Strait, Kodiak Island.
112. Least Auklet
Common and seen well on St Paul (where the Aleuts call them ‘choochkies’). Fairly common from the MV Tustumena, mostly on 17 June, though never seen well.
600 were seen on a small boat charter from Dutch Harbor to the Baby Islands on 15 June, including one which landed on deck. In June 2001, the MV Tustumena did not pass through the Whiskered Auklet colony in daylight.
113. Crested Auklet
Common and seen well on St Paul. One seen very badly from the MV Tustumena.
114. Rhinoceros Auklet
Only seen in Kenai Fjords, where c. 40 were seen.
115. Tufted Puffin
Common in Kenai Fjords, St Paul, MV Tustumena. One off Nome.
116. Horned Puffin
Common, Kenai Fjords, St Paul, MV Tustumena. Six off Nome, common at Teller.
117. Feral Pigeon
118. Short-eared Owl
One on St Paul. Five at Nome, mostly on the Teller Hwy. Barrow.
119. Snowy Owl
At least two along the Gas Well Road, Barrow, and one at Piqnik, Barrow. Two rehabilitated birds have been released along the Gas Well Road.
120. Northern Saw-whet Owl
One seen looking down at us from its nest-box on 27 May, after the tree trunk had been tapped.
121. Northern Hawk Owl
Two heard, but not seen, at mile 120 Glenn Hwy, 2 June. On 3 June, we saw one hovering high, then swooping down to land right on top of a spruce at mile 172 on the Richardson Hwy.
122. Rufous Hummingbird
One along the Seward Hwy, 28 May. Stunning views of a displaying male and at least one female at a feeder on Nash Road, Seward, 29 May.
123. Belted Kingfisher
Potter Marsh and Beluga Point, Turnagain Arm.
124. Hairy Woodpecker
Pair nesting at the Matanuska River viewpoint on the Glenn Hwy (less than 60 miles from Anchorage).
125. Three-toed Woodpecker
One seen peering from its nest-hole behind the Benny Benson school, off Campbell Airway Road, south off Tudor. In previous years, this has been a site for Black-backed Woodpecker. One along the George Parks Hwy. A few probables seen in flight across the road in spruce areas.
126. Northern Flicker
One seen flying up from the verge of the Richardson Hwy.
127. Olive-sided Flycatcher
One seen 19 June in spruce forest c. 10 miles out of Homer on East End Road.
128. Western Wood-peewee
One heard at Teklanika campground, Denali NP, 4 June.
129. Alder Flycatcher
One seen 19 June in spruce forest c. 10 miles out of Homer on East End Road.
130. Say’s Phoebe
One holding territory around the Teller Hwy bridge over the Feather River, Nome on 10 June.
131. Northern Shrike
A pair on the outskirts of Nome.
132. Gray Jay
Mile 120 of the Glenn Hwy, Richardson Hwy, Teklanika campground, Denali NP, and the Sterling Hwy from Homer.
133. American Magpie
Common in Anchorage on the Kenai Peninsula and at Kodiak. Also seen at Cold Bay airport.
134. Common Raven
135. Northwestern Crow
136. Bank Swallow
Common Nome and Dutch Harbor. One at Barrow and one on St Paul. C.6 at Potter Marsh, 27 May. Matanuska River viewpoint, Glenn Hwy.
137. Violet-green Swallow
Anchorage, Beluga Point, Turnagain Arm, Kenai Fjords, Richardson Hwy.
138. Tree Swallow
Anchorage. Excellent views at Potter Marsh from boardwalk – there are a number of occupied nest-boxes on poles near the boardwalk. Nome.
139. Cliff Swallow
A few at Nome including a colony under the Sinuk River bridge on Teller Hwy. One at Potter Marsh. Weiner Lake (mile 88 Glenn Hwy), Richardson Hwy, Tangle Lakes.
140. Black-capped Chickadee
Westchester Lagoon, Potter Marsh.
141. Boreal Chickadee
Dry Creek State Recreation Area, 3 miles N of Glenallen. Teklanika campground, Denali NP. Spruce forest c. 10 miles out of Homer on the East End Road.
142. Red-breasted Nuthatch
Although only mapped for SE Alaska in Sibley, we recorded this species in and around Anchorage: at 2001 Hillcrest Drive, Benny Benson school, and on Arctic Valley Road at The Hill Golf Course.
143. Winter Wren
Only seen on St Paul.
144. American Dipper
Only seen at Dutch Harbor nesting under the bridge on Whittern Lane.
145. Ruby-crowned Kinglet
First seen at Quartz Creek campground on the Sterling Hwy, singing from the very tops of spruces. The distinctive song was then heard at Hillcrest Drive, Anchorage; at several stops between mile 162 and mile 172 on the Richardson Hwy; and in spruce forests c. 10 miles out of Homer on the East End Road.
146. Arctic Warbler
Only seen at Nome. First recorded 8 June. Four along the road up Anvil Mtn 9 June.
Only at Nome. Males in song-flight along the road up Anvil Mtn and on the Teller Hwy between mile 50 and 51, and at mile 56.
148. Varied Thrush
Seen on the Seward Hwy, and in spruce forest c. 10 miles out of Homer on East End Road.
149. American Robin
150. Swainson’s Thrush
Seen between Hillcrest Drive, Anchorage and Westchester Lagoon. Dry Creek State Recreation Area, 3 miles N of Glenallen.
151. Gray-cheeked Thrush
Benny Benson school; Teklanika campground, Denali NP; mile 172, Richardson Hwy; Nome.
152. Hermit Thrush
Common in Seward. Seen on the Seward Hwy, Denali Hwy, Teklanika campground, and Nome.
153. Yellow Wagtail
Scarce on St Paul, where 4 seen. Common at Nome in a wide range of habitats.
154. American Pipit
One migrant on St Paul. Several at Nome on higher ground, e.g. Anvil Mtn. Also at Dutch Harbor, foraging along the pavement.
155. Bohemian Waxwing
Four from Glenn Hwy at mile 120. Also at Dry Creek State Recreation Area, 3 miles N of Glenallen, and around the Visitor Access Centre at Denali NP.
156. Orange-crowned Warbler
Probably the commonest parulid, seen widely around Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula and throughout the interior. Also in low scrub at Nome.
157. Yellow Warbler
Seen only at Nome, around the outskirts of town and on the road up Anvil Mtn. Also seen by other birders along Arctic Valley Road, while we were visiting owl nest-boxes.
158. Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common throughout the Anchorage area, Kenai Peninsula and the interior, though not seen in the very low scrub patches on the tundra where Wilson’s and Orange-crowned Warblers could still be found.
159. Townsend’s Warbler
Seward Hwy and in spruce forests c. 10 miles out of Homer on the East End Road.
160. Blackpoll Warbler
Mile 112.5 of the Glenn Hwy, and many places in the interior. Also in spruce forests c. 10 miles out of Homer on the East End Road.
161. Northern Waterthrush
Westchester Lagoon. Seen or heard at many places in the interior.
162. Wilson’s Warbler
Seen widely around Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula and throughout the interior, even in patches of waist-high scrub. Also in low scrub at Nome.
163. American Tree Sparrow
Mile 125 of the Glenn Hwy; Tangle Lakes, Denali Hwy; Eielson Visitor Centre, Denali NP; in dense Salix scrub in a few places around Nome.
164. Savannah Sparrow
Probably the most widespread sparrow, heard at most places from Westchester Lagoon to the tundra of Barrow and on the high passes of the highways around Nome.
165. Golden-crowned Sparrow
Listen out for the descending ‘oh-dear-me’ song. We recorded this bird in river-side scrub at Tangle Lakes; in the scrub on the escarpment below the Eielson Visitor Centre, Denali NP; Kodiak; in spruce forests c. 10 miles out of Homer on the East End Road; Quartz Creek campground on the Sterling Hwy; and fairly commonly around Nome. Sibley describes birds in the Canadian Rockies as having a song variation ‘seeoo tooo teee tetetetete’. Birds around Nome had a similar song.
166. White-crowned Sparrow
Common everywhere though not recorded on St Paul or at Dutch Harbor. Only one at Barrow.
167. Fox Sparrow
‘Red taiga’ form seen along the Kougarok Hwy and elsewhere around Nome. One at Mile 120 of the Glenn Hwy.
168. Song Sparrow
Only seen at Dutch Harbor and at Kodiak.
169. Lincoln Sparrow
One at roadside c. 10 miles out of Homer on the East End Road.
170. Dark-eyed Junco
Slate-colored race only. Seen at Beluga Point, Homer, Westchester Lagoon, Benny Benson school, mile 120 of the Glenn Hwy, Dry Creek State Recreation Area, mile 172 of the Richardson Hwy, and Teklanika campground.
- Rustic Bunting
Flight views only of a bird that had been staked out on St Paul.
We had a good look for this species at Tangle Lakes after asking for directions at Tangle Lakes Lodge. However, we didn’t find any and met several other birders who had also dipped. To see this bird, contact Tangle Lakes Lodge in advance and arrange for a guide to take you to see it. When searching for it, be aware that the song is apparently similar to American Tree Sparrow.
171. Lapland Longspur
A constant presence in tundra: St Paul, Barrow, Nome, Dutch Harbor.
The chances of seeing this species on St Paul are very slim. The talus slopes (old lava flows) above West Reef have a lot of Snow Buntings, with mantles ranging from all black to greyish with white fringes in the males. St Paul Island Tours are unlikely to give you more than a couple of hours here, but you could arrange to be dropped off and picked up later in order to search the area properly. If MacKay’s Bunting is a high priority for you, investigate the option of a trip to Gambel on St Lawrence Island off Nome.
172. Snow Bunting
A few on St Paul, especially on the talus slopes above West Reef. Common around Barrow and Dutch Harbor, singing from rooftops, etc.
173. Pine Grosbeak
Pulled a fantastic male out of the bag from the Sterling Hwy on our way to the airport on 19 June. It was feeding on the gravel of a roadside lay-by.
174. Gray-crowned Rosy-finch
Common on St Paul and at Dutch Harbor.
175. White-winged Crossbill
A male seen at mile 162 on the Richardson Hwy. After stopping for views of this bird, we saw the only Porcupine of the trip, ambling towards us along the road.
176. Common Redpoll
Anchorage, Dutch Harbor, mile 120 of the Glenn Hwy.
177. Hoary Redpoll
Three birds on St Paul were Hoary, though apparently Common is the more usual species here. Common at Nome where it was the only redpoll species, contrary to info on the Nome bird list. Also common at Barrow.
178. Pine Siskin
In spruce areas of the Kenai Peninsula and the interior, including over Hillcrest Drive Anchorage and the Benny Benson school.
We have followed Burt & Grossenheider (1980), the third edition of the Peterson Field Guide to North American Mammals.
- Pribilof Shrew
A dead one seen on St Paul, where it is endemic.
1. Black Bear
Seen only from the boat in Kenai Fjords. Three singles, two seen very well. Bear scats were always in evidence in the woods around Anchorage, Seward and Homer.
2a. Grizzly Bear
Only seen in Denali NP on 4 June, where 5 were seen on the return trip from Teklanika campground to Eielson Visitor Centre. Two of those were seen right by the side of the road, just a few metres away. That evening, we saw a sow and calf on a walk near Teklanika campground, foraging for roots on the other side of the river. Seen from the Kougarok Hwy, Nome during our stay, but not by us.
2b. Alaskan Brown Bear
One seen at long range from the MV Tustumena, somewhere before Kodiak. Coastal bears are treated as a distinct species by Burt & Grossenheider.
Recorded at Point Barrow on 11 June and two during the night of 12/13 June. All sightings were by John Tidwell’s Arctic Adventures tour. Though guaranteed here during the winter, sightings are increasingly sporadic as the pack ice starts to break up.
3. River Otter
One seen in Kenai Fjords.
4. Sea Otter
Three off Seward harbour, and 3+ in Northwestern Fjord. Many seen towards the Kodiak end of the MV Tustumena ferry journey.
Not seen by us, but some exceptionally fortunate American birders saw one crossing the Richardson Hwy at night.
5. Gray Wolf
One seen beside the George Parks Hwy at mile 109 during the day, hung around long enough for us to turn back and take some very shaky photos, before it crossed the road and disappeared into spruce forest, 6 June. A pack had taken up residence near to Teklanika campground in Igloo forest. They had been through the campground itself a few days before our arrival. We saw many fresh prints along the river.
6. Red Fox
One seen on Anvil Mountain, Nome.
7. Arctic Fox
Only seen on St Paul, where it is amazingly common and confiding. They are almost constantly on view, to the extent that any landscape photo taken on St Paul is likely to have a fox in it somewhere! Most were in dark brown summer coats, but a few were in moult, and we saw one in full winter coat, albeit very dirty. Some of the foxes in town are very approachable. Seen on Gas Well Road, Barrow during our stay but not by us.
8. Steller’s Sea-lion (Northern Sea-lion)
A haul-out of about 100 in Kenai Fjords, and also seen in Seward harbour. Seen around St Paul. Three seen at sea in the Akutan Pass, from the MV Tustumena.
9. Northern Fur Seal (Alaska Fur Seal)
Only seen on St Paul; there were several beaches where the beachmaster bulls had hauled out to stake out their territories. The bulls arrive earlier than the cows, so if you want to see the seal rookeries at their busiest, you will need to visit St. Paul later in the summer.
The only way to see Walrus is with a trip to Round Island. You fly over Round Island en route to St Paul, but unfortunately the Walrus are 20,000 feet below!
10. Harbor Seal
Seen in Kenai Fjords, where c. 100 were resting on icebergs around the glacier in Northwestern Fjord. Also seen on St Paul.
11. Ringed Seal
A few seals were usually visible at range on the pack ice off Barrow, especially from the base of Point Barrow. Our guess is that these were Ringed Seals.
12. Bearded Seal
A single seen in the tide-race off Cape Nome was probably this species, floating (as they supposedly do) with its head and back clear of the water.
13. Hoary Marmot
Unexpectedly, this was one of the best mammals of the trip! From the car park at the Savage River bridge in Denali NP, hike up to the top of the first rocky outcrop on the east flank of the valley. We found a superb and very tame Marmot here. May also be seen in Polychrome Pass.
14. Arctic Ground Squirrel
First seen on the Denali Hwy, these squirrels were very common in Denali NP, and at Nome and Dutch Harbor.
Although we saw dams in many places, including a fantastic structure along the George Parks Hwy, we only saw beaver at Safety Bridge, Nome, where one performed two days running, 8 and 9 June.
16. Brown Lemming
Seen only at Barrow, including a few breaking cover as we walked across the tundra, and one very confiding animal which we watched in town.
- Tundra/Alaska Vole
On the high tundra of the Teller Hwy, Nome, voles (and Short-eared Owls) were fairly common. Because of the permafrost, the voles were living in barely concealed surface runs, and would scatter as we walked across the tundra. We also saw vole sp. at Denali NP.
Only seen at Westchester Lagoon early morning 27 and 28 May.
A single seen at mile 162 of the Richardson Hwy approached us fairly closely seeming oblivious to our presence and more concerned with trying to dislodge a rival’s quill from the tip of its nose.
Occurs amongst the jumble of boulders next to the car park at the Savage River bridge, Denali NP. We saw signs of their presence beneath the boulders.
One was reported from the Teller Hwy, Nome, shortly before we arrived.
19. Snowshoe Hare
First seen after a stop on the Glenn Hwy. Very common in Denali NP, including a very approachable, resident one in Teklanika campground.
Four in gardens behind Potter Marsh on 27 May, including two calves. One at Benny Benson school in the early morning of 2 June, which we had to give way to. Singles at mile 120 and mile 176 of the Glenn Hwy on 2 June. A cow and calf from the Richardson Hwy on 3 June. In Denali NP, three on 4 June. One from a taxi to Anchorage airport in the early morning of 7 June. In Nome, one at mile 12.1 of the Kougarok Hwy on 7 June, a cow and calf from the Council Hwy on 9 June, and four from the Teller Hwy on 10 June (one at mile 10, a cow and calf at mile 11, and a single crossing the River Sinuk). Four seen from the short taxi ride from Homer ferry terminal to the airport on 18 June. A total of 24! You won’t see males with antlers at this time of year as they have already shed them.
21a. (Barren Ground) Caribou
Four seen at mile 120 on the Glenn Hwy in the valley bottom. Also seen from the Denali Hwy, and several small groups seen in Denali NP, including some very good views. Two seen at very long range from the MV Tustumena before Kodiak Island.
Domesticated animals introduced from Siberia appear little different to the native Caribou. Very common at Nome on the Kougarok and Teller Highways, and a herd seen on St Paul near the volcano crater.
22. Mountain Goat
One seen at Cooper Landing from the road alongside Kenai Lake in craggier terrain than the Dall’s Sheep. A few dozen seen from the Kenai Fjords trip, including some excellent views of nannies and kids.
Two at about mile 10 on the Teller Hwy on 8 June, and 9 near the Teller Dump (including one very young calf) on 10 June. They are a re-introduced population at Nome, but who cares, they are fantastic!
24. Dall’s Sheep (White Sheep)
Easily seen from Beluga Point on the Seward Hwy along the Turnagain Arm, by ‘scoping the mountain-side above the road. Likewise at Cooper Landing on the Sterling Hwy, where Mountain Goat was also seen. Also commonly seen on mountain-sides in Denali NP, and giving very close views at Polychrome Pass.
25. Beluga (White Whale)
About 4 seen in the Cook Inlet from high altitude when taking off from Anchorage airport to fly to Nome on 7 June.
26. Killer Whale
Two pods in Kenai Fjords, were both seen travelling purposefully in a straight line, close past the boat. We later heard hunting Killer Whales on a hydrophone. These were ‘resident’ pods, which largely feed on fish. From the MV Tustumena, we saw a ‘transient’ pod – those which attack seals and cetaceans. They were attacking Fin Whales as we watched.
27. Dall’s Porpoise
One seen bow-riding in the Kenai Fjords. One probable seen just out of Dutch Harbour, and about 15 seen in several small pods on 18 June from the MV Tustumena.
28. Humpback Whale
Three seen extremely well in Kenai Fjords, including a medium-sized aroused male repeatedly swimming on its back and slapping its flippers down on the water surface. Five more from the MV Tustumena, including two flipper-slapping.
29. Fin Whale
4 - 6 seen near Sand Point from the MV Tustumena, including two very large animals seen very close, one of which appeared to have had its dorsal fin sheared off at the base. Ten in Raspberry Strait, Kodiak Island, with attacking Killer Whales.
A part-breaching animal seen at distance from the MV Tustumena in the Akutan Pass was thought to be this species.
There is an excellent flora of Alaska by Hulten and Fries, which we consulted before and after our trip. Unfortunately, it was far too big and heavy to take. The timing of our trip was rather early from a botanical perspective, and the following brief list is just the few species we were able to identify at the time, or subsequently from descriptions or photographs.
Echinopanax horridum Devil’s Club Arctic Valley Road, etc. The very sharp and dense spines on this shrub are worth avoiding.
Polemonium acutiflorum/boreale Jacob’s-ladder St Paul
Pteridium aquilinum Bracken St Paul
Cochlearia officinalis ssp. oblongifolia St Paul
Draba hyperborea St Paul
Salix arctica/reticulata/cyclophylla St Paul
Empetrum nigrum ssp. nigrum St Paul
Primula tschuktschorum var. arctica Chukchi Primrose St Paul
Androsace chamaejasme ssp. lehmanniana St Paul
Lupinus nootkatensis Nootka Lupin St Paul, etc
Papaver maconnii/alaskanum St Paul
Mertensia maritima Oysterplant St Paul
Chrysosplenium wrightii St Paul
Calypso bulbosa Calypso Orchid Dry Creek campground
Anemone narcissiflora ssp. interior Tangle Lakes
Dryas octopetala/integrifolia Tangle Lakes
Salix ?arctica Tangle Lakes
Diapensia lapponica Tangle Lakes, Denali, Nome
Lloydia serotina Snowdon Lily common at Denali in open turf – not just on inaccessible rock ledges!
Anemone parviflora Denali
?Rhododendron lapponicum Denali
Dryopteris fragrans Denali
Saxifraga oppositifolia Nome
Pulsatilla patens Nome
Eritrichium aretioides Nome
Loiseleuria procumbens Nome
?Cassiope tetragona Nome
Zostera marina Eelgrass Safety Lagoon, Nome, in the beaks of Emperor Geese!
Geum glaciale Woolley Lagoon, Nome
Pedicularis kanei ssp. kanei Woolley Lagoon, Nome
Bellis perennis Daisy Dutch Harbor
Claytonia sibirica Dutch Harbor, Akutan
Cornus suecica/canadensis Dutch Harbor
Dactylorhiza aristata Dutch Harbor
?Platanthera convallariaefolia Dutch Harbor
Viola langsdorffi Dutch Harbor
Senecio pseudo-arnica Dutch Harbor
Fritillaria camschatcensis Akutan, Aleutians
Barbarea orthoceras Akutan, Aleutians
Roberson, D. and Bailey, S.F. (1991) Cookilaria petrels in the eastern Pacific Ocean: part II of a two-part series. American Birds, 45, 1067 - 1081.
Many thanks to Graeme Cresswell and Andrew Raine for helping us to plan this trip.