Welcome to Birdquest
Birdquest's Alaska birding tour is a classic North American birdwatching trip. Our Alaska tour features a comprehensive itinerary (including the Pribilofs, Seward, Nome, Denali and Barrow) and records a remarkable number of Alaska specialities.
Monday 2nd June —
Saturday 14th June 2014
Pribilofs Extension: Thursday 29th May — Monday 2nd June (5 days)
Barrow Extension: Saturday 14th June — Tuesday 17th June (4 days)
Leaders: Craig Robson and assistant
Group Size Limit: 12
Tour Category: Easy at times, but mostly Moderate owing to the long days
Alaska is the true ‘Last Frontier’ of North America, an immense peninsula of over 570,000 square miles (over 1,478,000 square kms) that taunted early explorers and still defies modern day researchers. Originally named ‘Alyeska’ by its first native inhabitants, this literally translates to ‘Great White Land’, a fair description of this harsh, yet fascinating place.
This remote state is the largest and most northerly of the United States of America. It boasts scenery that is amongst the most spectacular in the world, a challenging climate, a unique culture and some of the richest wildlife to be found anywhere on the globe. Alaska also lays claim to statistics that stretch the imagination. It encompasses four time zones, houses Mt McKinley (20,320ft or 6195m), by far the highest peak in North America, and has almost three million lakes and over five thousand glaciers! During the winter, temperatures of 40 degrees below freezing are commonplace. The summers are short, the snow remaining until well into May, but the short arctic summer is a busy one as literally millions of birds move north to breed, taking advantage of the abundant food supplies. Alaska is a world of crisp, pure air, snow-capped mountains and icy blue fjords, a true wilderness where it is still possible to tread on ground that has never known a human footprint.
The history of Alaska is short but interesting. After the sealing industry had become unprofitable, the Russians sold this ‘worthless land’ to the American Congress in 1867 for just 7.2 million dollars (not a lot, even at 1867 values). Shortly afterwards gold was found, attracting gold diggers from all over the United States. Previously uninhabited areas became populated almost overnight, with whole towns rising in some of the most remote corners of the world. The biggest discovery was yet to come, however, as in 1964 oil was found and the Alaska pipeline was built, changing the face of Alaska forever. At the time Alaska was discovered by Vitus Bering in 1741, native people were well distributed throughout. Although there is still some disagreement about their origins, most people now believe that they migrated across the Bering Strait from Asia. The Aleuts and the Inuit used to live in complete harmony with their wild surroundings in well defined regions, their ways of life dictated by the seasonal abundance of food. Today we can see that the 20th Century has brought many changes to all of the native people. Although some Inuit and Indians still live as their ancestors did, most have adjusted to the ‘modern’ way of life.
Alaska is a place that has to be one of the wildest and most exciting birding places on earth, yet the wonderful birds and mammals of Arctic North America can all be enjoyed whilst experiencing the level of comfort one would expect when travelling in the United States of America. During our visit we will cover this marvellous state from east to west and south to north in order to try and find as many of the most sought-after avian specialities (some of which have extremely limited distributions) as possible.
We will begin our journey in Anchorage where our first foray into the field will take us to one of the many wetland areas which surround this modern city.
For a complete contrast to forested southern Alaska, we travel far to the northwest to Nome, a tundra town not far from the Bering Strait that came into being as people flocked to the area in search of gold. It is now well known as the finishing point for the most famous dog sledging race in the world, the Iditarod Trail. The Nome area is one of the best places in the world to see the rare and elusive Bristle-thighed Curlew. We will devote much of our time to looking for these birds and for other specialities such as the uncommon Emperor Goose, Gyr Falcon, Slaty-backed Gull, Aleutian Tern, Sandhill Crane and Golden-crowned Sparrow. At this time of year migration should be in full swing with large numbers of wildfowl and waders heading back north to their breeding grounds.
After returning to Anchorage we will make the scenic drive south to Seward which will be our base for the next couple of days. From here we will take a spectacular cruise into the Kenai Fjords National Park where thousands of seabirds, including Ancient, Marbled and Kittlitz’s Murrelets, Parakeet and Rhinoceros Auklets, and Horned and Tufted Puffins breed, whilst the surrounding seas also provide rich feeding grounds for numerous Sea Otters, Steller’s Sealions and Humpback Whales.
Next we will visit the spectacular Denali National Park, one of the world’s finest bird and wildlife sanctuaries, centred around Mount McKinley, North America’s highest peak. Visiting the many different habitats we will be looking for specialities such as Trumpeter Swan, Barrow’s Goldeneye and Northern Hawk-Owl. This is also a superb area for mammals and we have an excellent chance of encountering species such as Brown (or ‘Grizzly’) Bear, Moose, Dall’s Sheep and Caribou, whilst American Beavers can sometimes be found.
During the optional pre-tour extension we will visit the remote Pribilof Islands. St Paul Island is home to one of the most outstanding marine wildlife spectacles in North America. Here, far out in the Bering Sea, we will enjoy the excitements of one of the world’s greatest seabird gatherings, including the highly localized Red-legged Kittiwake as well as more widespread North Pacific endemics such as Red-faced Cormorant, Horned and Tufted Puffins, and Crested, Parakeet and Least Auklets. We will also search the rocky tundra of the interior for the extremely rare McKay’s Bunting, which sometimes lingers here into late spring.
During the optional post-tour extension a spectacular flight will take us well north of the Arctic Circle to the small settlement of Barrow on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. From here we will explore the arctic tundra which at this time of year should be alive with breeding birds including the rare and highly sought-after Spectacled Eider, Steller’s Eider, Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers, Red Phalarope and the stunning Snowy Owl.
Birdquest has operated tours to Alaska since 1999.
(Note: The above is a summary of the tour. For more information please download the detailed, day-by-day itinerary. The button is at the top right of the page.)
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/motels are of normal Birdquest standard almost throughout. On St Paul Island in the Pribilofs the hotel is comfortable but bathroom facilities are shared. Road transport is by minibus and roads are mostly good (but unsurfaced and sometimes rough in remote areas).
Walking etc: The walking effort is easy to moderate (with some fairly long walks, sometimes over uneven terrain). The long daylight hours tend to result in regular long days in the field.
Climate: The weather at this season in Alaska is notoriously unpredictable. Conditions may range from warm and sunny particularly in the south to cool or cold (even very cold) in other areas. Dry and sunny periods will be interspersed with overcast and rainy weather (or even some snow). Fog is also likely, especially in the Pribilofs.
Bird Photography: Opportunities are good.
Important: The Birdquest Alaska tour is two days longer than some Alaska tours, so we have significantly more time to find some special birds. In particular, we have three nights rather than two in the Pribilofs, where fog can cause flight delays and interfere with birding, in order to have a better chance of good conditions for observing the amazing seabird colonies, have more time to find Asian wanderers and maximize our chances for McKay’s Bunting. We also have three nights rather than two at Nome, providing more time for rarities and Bristle-thighed Curlew, and we stay at Paxson far down the Denali Highway, making our chances for Smith’s Longspur (and probably also Northern Hawk-Owl) much improved.
Tour Price: $5300 Anchorage/Anchorage. Pribilofs Extension: $2720. Barrow Extension: $1880.
Price includes all transportation (including Anchorage-Pribilofs, Anchorage-Nome and Anchorage-Barrow return flights), all accommodations, all meals, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants, leader services.
Single Room Supplement: $1113. Pribilofs Extension: $268. Barrow Extension: $319. (Single rooms are in short supply on St Paul Island: anyone having to share unexpectedly will receive an appropriate refund.)
Deposit: $610. Pre-Tour Extension: $270. Post-Tour Extension: $200.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency can arrange your air travel in connection with the tour from a departure point anywhere in the world, or you may arrange your own air travel if you prefer. We can tailor-make your itinerary to your personal requirements, so if you would like to travel in advance of the tour (and spend a night in an hotel so you will feel fresh when the tour starts), or return later than the end of the tour, or make a side trip to some other destination, or travel business class rather than economy, we will be happy to assist. Please contact us about your air travel requirements.