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. Most notable among these are Red-faced Cormorant, Trumpeter Swan, Emperor Goose, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Spectacled Eider, Gyr Falcon, Spruce Grouse, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Red-legged Kittiwake, Aleutian Tern, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Crested, Parakeet, Rhinoceros and Least Auklets, Ancient, Marbled and Kittlitz’s Murrelets, Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk-Owl, Northwestern Crow, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Varied Thrush, American Tree and Golden-crowned Sparrows, Smith’s Longspur and Rusty Blackbird. There is even a slim chance for McKay’s Bunting.
Friday 1st June —
Thursday 14th June 2018
Pribilofs Extension: Tuesday 29th May — Friday 1st June (4 days)
Barrow Extension: Thursday 14th June — Sunday 17th June (4 days)
Leaders: Craig Robson and a second Birdquest leader
Group Size Limit: 12
Tour Category: Easy walking almost throughout and comfortable accommodations
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, Red-necked Stint, Vega and Slaty-backed Gulls, Aleutian Tern, Sandhill Crane, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Arctic Warbler 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, 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 both Humpback and Killer Whales. Other good birds of the area include Spruce Grouse, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Varied Thrush and Northwestern Crow.
Next we will visit the spectacular Denali region, situated to the east of Mount McKinley (or Mount Denali), North America’s highest peak. Visiting several different habitats, we will be looking for specialities such as Trumpeter Swan, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Northern Hawk-Owl and the localized Smith’s Longspur.
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 Rock Sandpiper and Grey-crowned Rosy Finch. There is even a very slim chance 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, Sabine’s Gull and the stunning Snowy Owl.
Birdquest has operated tours to Alaska since 1999.
Important: The Birdquest Alaska tour is two days longer than many Alaska tours, so we have significantly more time to find some special birds and we also make the tour logistics more secure.
We have four nights rather than two or three at Nome, providing more time for such difficult but key species as Emperor Goose and Bristle-thighed Curlew, and in addition we stay at Paxson far down the Denali Highway, making our chances for Smith’s Longspur (and probably also Northern Hawk-Owl) much improved.
Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels/motels are of good or medium 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 predominantly easy (indeed surprisingly so when one is used to thinking of Alaska as a ‘wilderness area’). There are only two walks in the entire tour that are more demanding, and even then we would rate them as no more than moderate grade for anyone who is fairly fit and with a good sense of balance. These are the walks for Bristle-thighed Curlew and Smith’s Longspur, both across ‘hummocky’ tundra that is only quite difficult if you have poor balance or strength in your legs (the former also involves an uphill climb of around 100m/330ft gain in altitude, the latter is largely over flat ground). We would strongly recommend bringing a telescopic lightweight ‘Leki’ walking stick or equivalent if you are not confident you can cope easily with such 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.
These are provisional prices
Tour Price: £4680, €5520, $6130 Anchorage/Anchorage. Pribilofs Extension: £2280, €2690, $2990. Barrow Extension: £1680, €1980, $2200.
Price includes all transportation (including the very expensive 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: £936, €1105, $1226. Pribilofs Extension: £189, €223, $248. Barrow Extension: £255, €301, $334.
Single rooms are in short supply on St Paul Island: anyone having to share unexpectedly will receive an appropriate refund.
Deposit: £600, €720, $780. Pribilofs Extension: £300, €360, $390. Barrow Extension: £200, €240, $260.
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.
Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate
Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QYtop of page
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