Grand Alaska: Nome & Gambell : May 29—Jun 08, 2019
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- May 23, 2019: Grand Alaska: Pribilofs & Anchorage Pre-Trip
- Jun 07, 2019: Grand Alaska Part I: Nome & Barrow
- Jun 16, 2019: Grand Alaska Part II: Anchorage, Denali Highway & Kenai Peninsula
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Exciting birding for Bering Sea specialties and Siberian vagrants at two of western Alaska’s outposts. Breeding Bluethroats, ptarmigan, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Gyrfalcon, and others, with Musk Ox, Grizzly, and Moose all possible at Nome. Witness spectacular daily movements of seabirds, along with excellent chances of Asiatic vagrants at Gambell.
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. Nome, situated where Norton Sound meets the Seward Peninsula, and the Yup’ik village of Gambell, at the northwest tip of St. Lawrence Island, are two such strategic points.
Our tour begins with three-and-a-half days of exciting birding out of Nome, where our time will be spent looking for the many breeding specialties of the area, such as Bristle-thighed Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Rock and Willow ptarmigan, Aleutian Tern, Gyrfalcon, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and others. Late May and very early June is also the prime time for many migrants that do not normally breed around Nome, including Emperor Goose, Black Turnstone, Red Phalarope, Rock Sandpiper, Pomarine Jaeger, Sabine’s Gull, and a variety of other waterfowl and shorebirds. There are usually a few Red-necked Stints and Slaty-backed Gulls hanging around, and, in past years, this has proven the best time for occasional Asiatic vagrants, particularly shorebirds (among them, Lesser Sandplover, Great Knot, Wood Sandpiper, Gray-tailed Tattler, and Terek Sandpiper). Nome also offers exciting mammals, with Musk Ox, Grizzly, and Moose all regularly seen.
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).
An optional pre-trip includes additional possibilities for Asiatic vagrants and up-close seabird viewing/photography (including Red-legged Kittiwake and Red-faced Cormorant) at St. Paul Island (the Pribilofs), as well as boreal forest birding around Anchorage.
Nome-Gambell may be taken alone or in combination with the Pribilofs/Anchorage Pre-Trip and/or Grand Alaska Part I for participants desiring a more comprehensive immersion into the tundra regions of western and northern Alaska.
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 30–50 degrees Fahrenheit at Nome; 25–40 degrees Fahrenheit at Gambell). 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.