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Tuesday 5th June - Friday 22nd June 2007

Mark Beaman

It had been a very long time since our pioneering and ‘one-and-only’ tour to the Kuril Islands, the Commander Islands and Kamchatka back in 1993, but it was wonderful to see that this part of the world remains, to a very large degree, an untouched and starkly beautiful wilderness. The alcids are surely the crowning avian glory of this part of the world. We saw no less than 13 species, all of those possible on this itinerary, including Common, Brünnich’s, Pigeon and Spectacled Guillemots, Long-billed and Ancient Murrelets, Crested, Least, Parakeet and Rhinoceros Auklets, and Horned and Tufted Puffins. The star of stars, Whiskered Auklet, was seen by the thousand, and we even visited a colony and saw the birds just a few metres away! A great supporting cast of marine species included Pacific and Yellow-billed Divers, Laysan Albatross, Mottled Petrel, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Temminck’s and Red-faced Cormorants, Harlequin Duck, Stejneger’s Scoter, Black-tailed, Kamchatka and Slaty-backed Gulls, Red-legged Kittiwake and Aleutian Tern. Landbirds also included some highly sought-after species, notably the extraordinary Steller’s Sea Eagle, not to mention Falcated Duck, Rock Sandpiper, Latham’s Snipe, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Pechora Pipit, the gorgeous Japanese Robin, Rufous-tailed Robin, Siberian and Brown-headed Thrushes, Japanese Bush Warbler, Middendorff’s and Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers, Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Narcissus Flycatcher, Long-tailed Rosefinch, Grey-bellied Bullfinch, and Grey and Rustic Buntings. A total of 149 bird species was recorded. We also observed 16 species of mammal: seals and cetaceans were very well represented, the latter including Great Sperm Whale, Northern Minke Whale, Sei Whale, Fin Whale and Killer Whale!