Welcome to Birdquest


Monday 15th June - Wednesday 1st July 2009

Derek Scott

The Birdquest tour to the Kurils, the Commanders and Kamchatka in June 2009 was a great success. Although this was primarily a cruise, we began with a couple of days around Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to sample some of the riches of southern Sakhalin Island and ended with a day in the Petropavlovsk area to enjoy some of the magnificent scenery in the Kamchatka Peninsula. Our voyage of 1,858 nautical miles on board the Professor Khromov (Spirit of Enderby) from Korsakov near the southern tip of Sakhalin through the Kuril Islands to the Kamchatka coast and on to the Commander Islands gave us a wonderful opportunity to observe the multitude of sea-birds and cetaceans that frequent the rich waters of the Sea of Okhotsk and Bering Sea, and took us to a succession of beautiful, undisturbed islands that are seldom visited by anyone, let alone westerners. The Professor Khromov, with her sturdy build and superb Russian crew, was the ideal ship for our journey, and the competent Heritage Expeditions team made every effort to ensure that we saw as many of the splendours and as much of the wildlife as possible in our 12 days on board. The weather was generally kind, with very little rain and almost no rough seas, and although there were plenty of periods of fog, these seldom lasted for more than a few hours. As a consequence, we were able to make eight landings and two zodiac cruises at seven islands in the Kurils chain, two landings on the Kamchatka coast, and two landings and a zodiac cruise at Bering and Medny in the Commander Islands. Our total bird list of 159 species was very good, and included all three possible albatrosses and no fewer than 14 species of auks, some in enormous numbers. Highlights included Siberian Blue Robin, Sakhalin Grasshopper Warbler and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler in Sakhalin; Long-billed Murrelet, Whiskered Auklet (in their thousands), Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Eastern Crowned Warbler and Pine Grosbeak in the Kurils; Steller’s Sea Eagle, Aleutian Tern and Kittlitz’s Murrelet in Kamchatka; Rock Sandpiper, Red-legged Kittiwake, Parakeet Auklet, Pechora Pipit and Grey-crowned Rosy Finch in the Commanders; and Black-footed Albatross, Short-tailed Albatross and Mottled Petrel at sea. The mammals were also outstanding: we recorded nine species of cetaceans including a Blue Whale, six Humpback Whales, 15 Great Sperm Whales, 17 Baird’s Beaked Whales and over 80 Killer Whales (Orcas), had great views of dozens of Sea Otters, and encountered four Brown Bears.