We also do Alaska (Yes, Alaska)
Don’t let our name fool you! We all have quite a bit of experience in Alaska. In fact, one of our guides calls Alaska home for nearly half the year. In 2019, we made out first BLV trip to Alaska, visiting two of the main Alaskan destinations, Nome and Seward. These two locations offer very different experiences, allowing us to see a variety of plant and animal communities in the Subarctic tundra and the coastal fjords.
Bountiful Nome and the Fjords of Seward
Nome is a major birding destination, best visited in June, and the primary destination for this trip. A sleepy fishing village once again, Nome came to fame once gold was found along the shorelines and braided rivers of the region. Most of the gold has been prospected far and away, but the area remains rich in bird life. Nome is the most accessible location for picking up birds of Eurasian persuasions.
There are three roads that lead from town, and each road provides opportunities to see waterfowl in breeding plumage, loons, ptarmigans, breeding and migrating shorebirds, songbirds that barely breed in North America, and, of course, the possibility to find something truly rare.
Targets include Red-throated, Pacific and Arctic Loons, Short-tailed Shearwater, Tundra Swan, Eurasian Wigeon, Common, Spectacled, and King Eiders, Gyrfalcon, Willow and Rock Ptarmigans, Pacific and American Golden-Plovers, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Red-necked Stint, Long-tailed Jaegers, Slaty-backed Gull, Aleutian and Arctic Terns, Thick-billed Murre, Northern Shrike, Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Blackpoll Warbler, American Tree Sparrow, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, Rusty Blackbird, and Common and Hoary Redpolls. Highlighted species are emphasized as they are range-restricted in Alaska or are difficult to get in the Lower 48.
Along with these target birds, we will be treated to shorebirds we may be familiar with doing unfamiliar things: singing and displaying in breeding plumage! Imagine species we usually see on mudflats or beaches singing on the tundra in full breeding plumage. We also expect to see Musk Ox and may see Caribou, Reindeer (introduced Caribou from Russia), Grizzly Bear, and other mammals, all in a spectacular setting. There’s no place like Nome.
SEWARD AND THE FJORDS
Already seemingly too scenic to be real, Seward is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, a park mostly accessed by boat. We will hop on a charter boat into the fjords in search of birds and sea mammals among the glaciers and dramatic coastline. The main goal of this excursion will be seabirds, staying keen for Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants, Black Oystercatcher, Glaucous-winged Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Common and Thick-billed Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Ancient, Marbled and Kittlitz’s Murrelets, Rhinoceros and Parakeet Auklets, and Tufted and Horned Puffins. This will be one of the best opportunities to get great looks at puffins. Sea mammals will be a focus of this portion of the trip as well; we expect to see Sea Otters, Harbor Seal, Steller’s Sea Lions, and Humpback Whales. This is an excellent time of year to have a shot at Orcas and the speediest of sea mammals, the Dall’s Porpoise. Black Bear and Mountain Goats are occasionally seen along the shore. We will be stopping to admire massive tidewater glaciers that pour out of the Harding Icefield, the largest icefield that exists exclusively in the United States.
Seward to Anchorage – On the last morning we will be making our way from Seward to Anchorage for those that need to catch flights out that night or the following morning, but we encourage the adventurous to stay and explore elsewhere in Alaska. We will be padding our trip list today and enjoying the Kenai Peninsula’s ponds and forested habitat for boreal species. We will make several stops for Trumpeter Swan, Bald Eagle, Spruce Grouse, Mew Gull, Arctic Tern, Northwestern Crow, Steller’s Jay, Black-billed Magpie, Boreal and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Pacific Wren, Varied Thrush, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Pine Grosbeak, and with some luck, White-winged Crossbill. We will have some chances to see Moose, Black Bear, and Dall Sheep.
Possible extensions for a different feel and, of course, different birds:
Denali National Park – mammals such as Grizzly Bear, Moose, Caribou, and Dall Sheep are usually seen, and wolves are seen occasionally. You’ll have opportunities to see Gyrfalcons and possibly Northern Hawk Owl. The tallest mountain in North America, Mount Denali (20,310 ft), doesn’t always show itself due to cloud cover, but the park does have sweeping, glacially carved valleys with boreal forest and open vast tundra.
Barrow – The farthest north of any town in North America, this is another other-worldly location for viewing birds at home in the northern tundra. You’ll look for breeding loons, eiders, and Snowy Owls among displaying shorebirds and Arctic Foxes.
Although it may be summer in “The Lower 48,” Alaska can still feel like winter to us. Expect temperatures to always be below 70°F during the day. At night, temperatures may be in the 40s or 50s. Seward, especially, can be rainy and overcast (it is in the temperate rainforest, afterall). Rain jackets and rain pants are a necessity. Waterproof hiking boots are required, and rubber boots are a good investment, though not necessary.
Much of our time in Alaska is spent birding or traveling by van. This is particularly the best way to bird Nome efficiently. Time permitting, we will walk roads or tundra in Nome to stretch the legs and get away from the van, but we have a lot of road to cover. Fortunately, it is scenic beyond belief, with rolling, lush tundra and clear, willow-lined rivers of snowmelt almost always in view. The trip to and from Seward and the Kenai Peninsula will be similar. Known as Alaska’s Playground, snow-capped mountains will always be in view and several glaciers can be seen along the way. We will make short stops for photographs, wildlife viewing, and birds, of course.
- Day 1: Arrival in Anchorage with a welcome dinner at accommodations near airport
- Day 2: Fly to Nome. Afternoon birding in Nome
- Day 3: Full day in Nome
- Day 4: Full day in Nome
- Day 5: Morning birding in Nome, followed by a flight to Anchorage and a drive to Seward (2.5-hr van trip)
- Day 6: Full day birding by boat in Kenai Fjords National Park
- Day 7: Leave Seward for Anchorage, birding along the way