Grand Alaska: Gambell/Nome Pre-trip: May 27—Jun 04, 2007

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Departs: Anchorage
Tour Limit: 16
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Bristle-thighed Curlew

Bristle-thighed Curlew— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Exciting birding for Bering Sea specialties and Siberian vagrants at two of western Alaska’s outposts. Witness spectacular movements of seabirds, along with good chances of Asiatic rarities at Gambell; breeding Bluethroats, ptarmigan, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Gyrfalcon, and others, with Musk Ox, Grizzly, and Moose all possible at Nome.

When spring arrives on the shores of Alaska and Siberia and thousands of birds rush northward to claim their nesting territories, some of these small navigators make big mistakes. Every year a number of Asian migrants end up on North American soil. Birders have learned that they can intercept some of these strays by positioning themselves at strategic points in western Alaska. The Yup’ik village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island is one such strategic point.

Gambell birding can be quite fabulous; remarkable strays that have occurred here include White-tailed Eagle, Black-tailed Gull, Oriental Pratincole, Green Sandpiper, Jack Snipe, Taiga Flycatcher, Stonechat, Siberian Rubythroat, Dusky Thrush, Eurasian Bullfinch, and many others. Our 2012 tour discovered and documented a Siberian Chiffchaff, a first record for North America! Our 1989 tour discovered a Little Curlew here—a first record for Alaska and only the third ever for North America—and our 1995 tour found a Tree Pipit, only the second ever for North America. Regular here are Common Ringed Plover, Red-necked Stint, Bluethroat, and Red-throated Pipit. Even on days when no vagrants show up, the birding is exceptional. Tens of thousands of murres, puffins, and auklets that nest east of the village are constantly moving just offshore, as are smaller flocks of loons, eiders, and Harlequin Ducks. Migrants passing the point often include Arctic, Pacific, and Yellow-billed loons, Emperor Goose, and Ivory Gull (now rare).

Red-necked Stint

Red-necked Stint— Photo: Kevin Zimmer


We’ll also have three days to explore the area around Nome, looking for Bristle-thighed Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Gyrfalcon, Rock and Willow ptarmigan, Aleutian Tern, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Eastern Yellow Wagtail and others, as well as a variety of large mammals including Moose, Musk Ox, Reindeer, and Grizzly (Brown Bear).

This trip may be taken alone or may be combined with Grand Alaska. Grand Alaska participants desiring more time in Alaska should consider joining the Barrow Extension.

At Gambell, simple accommodations with shared bathrooms; lots of hiking (some of it through loose gravel—as of 2011, a network of hard-packed gravel roads through the village makes hiking to birding sites much faster and easier than in the past), but on flat terrain; ATV rides to and from birding sites are always available and are easily arranged on a pay-as-you-go basis at each participant’s discretion for shorter excursions where others (including the leaders) may elect to walk (this option is much more flexible and less expensive to participants than including daily ATV rental in the cost of the tour); some longer excursions (e.g. to the far end of Troutman Lake and beyond) will require the entire group to ride in ATV-drawn carts, and the cost of these will be covered by VENT) at Nome, good accommodations; most birding in-and-out of vans and along lightly-traveled gravel roads, with short hikes onto tundra; one optional long hike over difficult terrain for Bristle-thighed Curlew; long birding days, with optional evening birding in this land of nearly 24-hour daylight; generally cold climate (temperatures usually 25-40 degrees Fahrenheit at Gambell, and 30-50 degrees at Nome).