I have birded the Southern States over the last seven years i.e. Texas 6 times at Easter, plus California and Arizona twice and Florida once, many years ago, where my birding was very limited due to family commitments…1 day in the Everglades!. Over this period I have amassed an ABA total of 550, not bad for a Brit.
The idea of visiting Alaska was obviously to try and boost my total towards the 600 mark as well as to see some quality birds and have a great time! I have listed all species seen and ABA ticks for me are in bold. Common species are not repeated from various sites. I have included more information on certain species as I feel appropriate.
I realize that this was not the optimum time to visit Alaska but I am tied to fixed (but long!) holidays. So this report might be of particular use to other birders in a similar situation.
I find it’s pointless regurgitating site guide information (all of which can be found in George West’s book), as any birder worth his salt can soon find out what they need to know through books and trip reports.
July 24th – Anchorage/Palmer Area
Arranged to meet Georgia Conti who took us to look for White-tailed Ptarmigan. We meet up with Cecily Fritz in Palmer and drove up to the Hatcher Pass area. We didn’t find any but had a nice walk. Thanks to both of you for trying so hard.
Golden Eagle – 2 birds seen distantly
Mew Gull – common gull!
Glaucous-winged Gull - common
Arctic Tern – fairly common
Red-breasted Nuthatch – surprise find
Mud and Jim Lakes – east of Palmer
Target here was Rusty Blackbird but no luck.
Red-necked Grebe – common. Great views of adults and young
Common Loon – haunting calls
Nelson road - which is on the northern side of the Palmer to Anchorage road (sorry I can’t be more specific).
Again looking for Rusty Blackbird. Fared better this time.
Eurasian Starling – not expected here?
Rusty Blackbird – only 2 birds seen. This bird is apparently becoming much harder to find.
Elmendorf Fish Hatchery, Anchorage
Bald Eagle – still great to see for a Brit!
American Dipper – breeding, 2 young seen being fed
July 25th – 28th Barrow
An amazing place!!! You have to be there, as they say.
Red-throated Loon – fairly common but had to look for them.
Pacific Loon – fairly common but had to look for them
*Yellow-billed Loon – one of the highlights. Last afternoon with 5 mins to go. We were stood at Hunters camp watching Eider’s moving and unfortunately being shot at!, when over the spit flew a magnificent summer plumage bird…MAGIC!
Greater White-fronted Goose – 2 birds seen near the dump!
Steller's Eider – seen at the point only on a trip with the unforgettable Northernmost tours (not recommended to go on your own)
Spectacled Eider – looked long and hard for this bird. Thought I had missed it as most had left. Finally found a female on Freshwater Lake road on the last day!
King Eider – the commonest Eider!
Common Eider – far from common but you will see them
American Golden Plover
Red Phalarope - Everywhere
Pomaerine Jaeger – fairly common
Parasitic Jaeger – fairly common
Long-tailed Jaeger – great views down Freshwater Lake rd
Glaucous Gull – ubiquitous
Black Guillemot – lucked onto 2 birds at the point while bouncing along in the tour bus!!
Snowy Owl – spent a memorable 3 hours studying these magnificent birds down Gaswell rd. We saw 20 birds and obtained some fantastic photos.
Snowy Owl © Alan Whitehead
Lapland Longspur – common
Snow Bunting – Arctic sparrows?
Snow Bunting © Alan Whitehead
Common Redpoll – Only birds seen were found around the NARL buildings. No sign of any Hoary’s.
July 29th – Girdwood Area
Spent the day looking for White-tailed Ptarmigan again…no joy, but great scenery and exercise in the Girdwood area! Many thanks to Dave Sonnerburn who took us on a superb if exhausting hike up to Bear Pass south of Anchorage. Does this bird really exist?!
Northwestern Crow – 1 seen in the car park of the gas station by Dave at Girdwood.
Wandering Tattler – 1 seen well at Bear Pass
Black Bear - seen distantly for c10 minutes on decent
30th July - Nome
Another fascinating experience. Spent the first afternoon driving down to Safety Lagoon.
Sandhill Crane – 2 seen feeding in river mouth from Nome river bridge
Black-legged Kittiwake - common
Bluethroat – one bird seen briefly in Nome itself by the eastern end of the by-pass. Very lucky!
Yellow Wagtail – common. Obviously lots of young birds.
American Tree SparroW
Gambell’s White-crowned Sparrow
31st July – Nome
Spent the day driving the Teller road.
White-winged Scoter – only bird seen was in flight from our bedroom at the Nugget Inn early am
Northern Harrier – 3/4 seen
Rough-legged Hawk – probably saw 4. Best views at M13
*Gyr Falcon – another definite highlight of the trip. This was a life bird for me. I have dipped on this bird in Britain on several occasions. I was given some help by Petre Bente (for which I am obviously extremely grateful) who told me to be aware this was a site for this species. No sign on the outward journey but on return, as if on demand at M55 I flushed a magnificent grey phase bird from the side of the road right by the truck! If that wasn’t good enough it flew into a bush not 30 yards from me and stayed there for a good 5 minutes while I took some decent photos…FANTASTIC!
Gyrfalcon © Alan Whitehead
Pacific Golden Plover – saw 2/3 birds well.
Northern Shrike – a single record around M10.
Northern Wheatear – surprisingly abundant in suitable habitat especially around m33-35. Obviously lots of young birds.
On the outward journey we had spotted a large dark animal briefly about a mile away but it disappeared into a valley. On the return journey in the same area we drove over a brow in the hill to be confronted with this magnificent beast on the road in front of us. A Musk Ox!
Musk Ox © Alan Whitehead
1st August - Nome
Drove the Council Road.
*Arctic Loon – managed to find and confidently identify (seen plenty of Black-throated Divers in the UK) a bird on Safety Lagoon. Definitely in the hoped for but not expected category.
Harlequin Duck – only saw 2 birds at Cape Nome
???Northern Goshawk – a single record near M55. Not listed as likely in West’s book but it sure looked like one to me? Any comments.
(Vega Herring Gull) – managed to ID some examples of this Siberian sub-species.
*Slaty-backed Gull – seen intermittently along beach in first few miles of road. At least 5 seen.
Aleutian Tern – common but local around the Solomon bridge
(Red-throated Pipit) – site at M53. Car park on left and obvious domed hill. Looked for an hour but no luck. Birds had been reliably seen earlier in July.
2nd August - Nome
Drove part of the Kougarok Rd up to Salmon Lake.
Black Scoter – almost given up but my wonderful woman drove me up to the lake were I managed to find a single bird. Then shot back to Nome to catch the evening flight back to Anchorage.
Willow Ptarmigan – At last. Had looked forever for this bird, then sods law applied, we find a family group on the road in front of us while chasing another species!
*Slaty-backed Gull – at least 10 seen by river at junction of Dexter and Kougarok roads
American Tree Sparrow
3rd August – Anchorage to Denali Highway
Drove from Anchorage to the Tangle River Inn at mile 20 of the Denali Highway stopping many times to look for the enigmatic Hawk Owl…no luck. Spectaculer Glaciers though!
4th August – Denali Highway
Tried for Smith’s Longspur at Mile 12.Trudged around for 3 hours but no joy. Had reliable info’ from Georgia Conti who had seen one a few weeks earlier. My dilemma was I couldn’t be everywhere first on my trip! The area was south of the road nearer to mile 13. There is a pond viewable from the road, the area is typical tundra, very uneven and wet! I would try again later however. Drove west along the full length of the highway (easily passable in our compact hire car).
Bohemian Waxwing – Birds seen infrequently in the treetops alond the length of the highway. At least 30 birds seen.
Arctic Warbler – seen at east end of highway
Trumpeter Swan – at last a Swan! Was beginning to think they had migrated. 2 at M39, 3 more at M78. Pointed border and straighter edge to gape apparent on these two birds.
Tundra Swan – seen at a few locations along highway
5th August – Cantwell to Fairbanks and back
Tried various areas looking for Grouse and Owls of various species with no luck whatsoever!
6th August – Denali National Park
This was our day in the park on the shuttle bus (no public access). Unfortunately the weather was horrendous. Cold and wet with the windows continually being covered in mud! The driver did his best to show us some stuff however and stopped when something good appeared.
Rock Ptarmigan – BIG bonus! Seen well by the road from the bus.
2 Grizzly Bears - seen well and photographed.
Wolf - seen distantly but well. We were very lucky to see this animal apparently
Dall Sheep – very distant and taken in foul weather.
7th August – Steese Highway
Tried another site for Hawk Owl with no luck…must have looked at treetops and wires forever!
Boreal Chickadee – finally took the time to see this species well
Gray Jay – seen at a few places along the highway
Note: (Ruffed Grouse) – searched thoroughly for this bird in the Fairbanks area with no success
8th August – Delta Junction
Out at dawn to drive the Delta Agricultural Project. The main quarry here was:-
Sharp-tailed Grouse – more luck here as I flushed a bird from the side of the road at the SE end of Barley rd.
Moose – had some fantastic views and got some great photos of this magnificent animal here.
I was going to try again for Smith’s Longspur but on reaching the site the weather closed in badly, so we moved south towards Anchorage. I was very disappointed to miss this bird but I was soon to become a lot happier!
We stopped at Glennallen for gas and then started down the Glenn highway towards Anchorage, We had just got up to speed when Louise shouted “What’s that on the wire?” Now, we had been looking at trees and wires for a looooong time…but there, at long last was a
*Northern Hawk Owl – we watched and photographed this bird for at least 45 minutes. Definitely a major highlight…what a fantastic bird! M185
Northern Hawk Owl © Alan Whitehead
9th August – Westchester Lagoon and Arctic Valley, Anchorage
Hudsonian Godwit – found 4 on the mudflats as the tide was out. Still, birds were seen well through the ’scope.
Yes, you guessed it, a third and final attempt for the mythical White-tailed Ptarmigan. After clambering up to the northern ridge from the top car park we were met by the military who told us we were trespassing!…not happy as there were no signs to warn us…definitely a bird I was just not meant to see!!
10th August – Mariah Tours (part of the Kenai Fjords group) pelagic from Seward
This was a fantastic trip. Great weather, scenery, birds and mammals…brilliant. The crew were excellent, very knowledgable and helpful.
Red-faced Cormorant – taken close in for positive ID
Thick-billed Murre – taken right to the cliff face where they were breeding, so I could see the bills!
Killitz Murrelet – Seen well by the tidewater glacier
Ancient Murrelet – only 1 seen
Parakeet Auklet – only 1 seen
Great close views of hundreds of Puffins of both species
Killer Whale – 2 seen right by the boat! Arguably the highlight of the trip. The crew had never seen
them that close.
Killer Whale © Alan Whitehead
Incredible tidewater glaciers
11th August – Seward to Homer
Looked for Spruce Grouse, Barrow’s Goldeneye and Crossbills at various locations en route…no luck.
12th August - Homer
Out early to look for the above. Drove an area recommended in West’s book for Grouse and Crossbill. Tried Diamond ridge road (West p293) and drove the forest tracks for quite a while. Then there it was…
Spruce Grouse – feeding quietly at the side of the road, allowing me a good photo.
Returned to the main rd and parked at the viewpoint at the top of Baycrest Hill. Got the ‘scope out to view the ponds below…bingo
Barrow’s Goldeneye – I had looked a long time for this bird. Definitely NOT common.
Short-tailed Shearwater – claiming this bird on probability! If it’s good enough for Alaskan birders then it’s good enough for me! Lots of birds floating around Homer of which some had to be this species!
Fork-tailed Storm Petrel – a few birds flicking around the spit
Drove back to Anchorage enjoying some more magnificent scenery, including two incredible volcanoes to the west.
Varied Thrush - seen well at first light…superb bird
13th August – Home
What can I say. Great birding, scenery and wildlife. Met some kind and helpful people to which I say thank you. A special thank you to my fiancé Louise. We have only recently become “an item” as they say, even though we have worked at the same school for 19 years. I never thought I could pursue my hobby in such a relaxed, satisfying way whilst in a relationship. I now realize I was wrong and I can. Thank you my wonderful lady. My target was to break the ABA600 mark…I DID IT…JUST!
ABA TOTAL 600. Alaska Total 134
Anchorage – Stayed at two B&B places. Both reasonable and clean with excellent food.
General link Anchorage Alaska Bed and Breakfast Club
The Teddy Bear House Bed and Breakfast http://www.teddybearbnb.com/
Chickadee B&B www.1chickadee.com
Barrow – Airport Inn (907) 852-2525. Clean and reasonable with good breakfast (c$115)
Pepe’s Restaurant the best place to eat out
Nome – Nugget Inn (907) 443-2323. Perfectly adequate, some rooms have sea view. Breakfast next door at Fat Freddies, food and surroundings distinctly average, but convenient!
Airport Pizza is an excellent place to eat and drink…Pizzas are superb.
Denali Highway – Tangle River Inn at M20. http://www.tangleriverinn.com
Cabin style rooms OK (Noisy generator noise all night). Breakfast good. Very convenient for birding sites.
Denali National Park – Denali RV Park situated 8 miles north of the park entrance www.denalirvpark.com Cabin style rooms very comfortale and quiet. Breakfast place a few miles further north (can’t remember the name but the will tell you at the RV Park)
Fairbanks - Moose in the Garden B&B. INCREDIBLE! Luxury large open plan log cabin with various rooms. Excellent choice of breakfast and reasonable with it.
Delta Junction Motel – Very large, clean motel room at reasonable price
Seward – Raven’s Haven (907) 224-3627 email@example.com
is run by a keen birder named Joe Stabb and his wife Mary. Very friendly and helpful people. The room was clean and comfortable and we had an excellent breakfast.
Homer – Anchor River Inn 907-235-8531 marketing@AnchorRiverInn.com
is situated a few miles north of Homer in an excellent birding area. Large clean motel style room with an excellent cafe for breakfast overlooking the river.
The MILEPOST - Invaluable resource in planning your trip. All you need for the south and central areas of Alaska.
Barrow - Chamber of Commerce, PO Box 629, Barrow, Alaska 99723. Phone: 907-852-5211 http://www.2chambers.com/barrow.htm
Nome - Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 240, Nome, AK. 99762
Old Federal Building, 110 W. Front Street, Suite 211.
Phone: (907) 443-3879
A Birder’s Guide to Alaska by George C West
Sibley guide to the Birds of Western North America
Birding Contacts (apologies if I miss you out!)
Peter J Bente, Fish and Wildlife firstname.lastname@example.org Nome
Georgia Conti email@example.com
Lana Creer-Harris? firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken Russell Ken_Russell@FWS.GOV – Fairbanks RBA
David Nelson email@example.com
Ed Clark Fairbanks firstname.lastname@example.org
Judie Gumm email@example.com Ester/Denali 10mi west of Fairbanks
Joanna, Anchorage Jmh_tk@yahoo.com
Blair Marlowe Anchorage firstname.lastname@example.org
Cathy Foerster Anchorage email@example.com
Dave Sonneborn, Anchorage firstname.lastname@example.org 907 243 0412
Steve Zimmerman email@example.com
All photos took with point and shoot Panasonic Lumix camera.
Many thanks to all these people for their help. Do not hesitate to contact me for further information or to point out my mistakes! Good Birding.
Alan Whitehead, York, England firstname.lastname@example.org