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SAKHALIN, THE KURILS, THE COMMANDERS & KAMCHATKA

Sunday 20th June - Tuesday 6th July 2010

Mark Beaman

This was the latest tour in the late spring/early summer season that we had ever made to this extraordinarily remote and starkly beautiful part of the world, and it was fascinating to see the differences that resulted. Few migrants were present at this time of year, but bird breeding activity was more marked, cetaceans were even more numerous and the plantlife was far more advanced than between late May and mid-June, with rafts of glorious wildflowers a splendid feature during our cruise up the Kurils to Kamchatka and the Commanders. In spite of the later date we managed a higher bird list than last time I was here, totalling 153 species, plus an impressive 19 mammal species (predominantly marine mammals). 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 and Brünnich’s Guillemots (Common and Thick-billed Murres), 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 other seabirds included Laysan, Black-footed and Short-tailed Albatrosses, Fork-tailed and Leach’s Storm-Petrels, Temminck’s and Red-faced Cormorants, 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 Pacific Diver (or Pacific Loon), Emperor Goose, Falcated and Harlequin Ducks, Stejneger’s Scoter, Smew, Long-toed Stint, Rock Sandpiper, Latham’s Snipe, Red Phalarope, Northern Hawk Owl, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Pechora Pipit, the gorgeous Japanese Robin, Eyebrowed and Brown-headed Thrushes, Japanese Bush Warbler, Middendorff’s and Gray’s Grasshopper Warblers, Kamchatka Leaf Warbler, Grey-streaked and Narcissus Flycatchers, Grey-crowned Rosy Finch, Long-tailed Rosefinch, Grey-bellied Bullfinch, and Grey and Rustic Buntings. Mammals were very well represented, including Northern Fur Seal, Steller’s Sea-Lion, the cute Sea Otter, Arctic Fox, Brown Bear, Northern Minke Whale, Fin Whale, Great Sperm Whale, Humpback Whale, Baird’s Beaked Whale and Killer Whale!