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U.S.A. - ALASKA: South-Central

6 - 17 August 1999

by Francis Toldi

Part 1 (narrative, resources)

I recently returned from a trip to South-Central Alaska. Although it was primarily a family trip, there were still plenty of birds present. Nevertheless, I did not visit many of the traditional "bird" destinations, and so the list of Alaskan "specialties" is somewhat limited. What follows is a general description of the trip, a few words on resources, then (in Part 2) an annotated list of the bird highlights.

The trip was built around a 5 day boat trip on the Discovery, a 12 passenger boat that works primarily the northern and eastern portions of Prince William Sound. We arrived in Anchorage on August 6 to rainy skies. The morning of August 7 I birded briefly along the Coastal Trail in the Anchorage downtown area, then we took the train to Whittier where we met the boat.

We spent five days cruising in and out of various bays and inlets in the Prince William Sound, ending up in Cordova. The sightseeing was fantastic: huge glaciers, cascades, icebergs, majestic mountains, verdant forests and, yes, great birds. On the whole the seabirds were the ones I expect in Coastal Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, with a few welcome additions, such as Horned Puffin, Kittlitz's Murrelet, and much larger concentrations of species such as puffins and jaegers than I am used to seeing. We made frequent landings in various remote places. I was surprised at how still the forests were: few landbirds could be seen or heard.

An electrifying moment was south of Glacier Island in Prince William Sound when we came upon hundreds of birds of various species--jaegers, gulls, puffins, cormorants-- flying all over gorging themselves on what looked like large schools of herring.

Cordova is a charming little town, and a good base for exploring that portion of the coast and the Copper River Delta, which is what we did for the next 3 days. It must be spectacular in the Spring when millions of shorebirds pass through. As it was, it was again very scenic, with interesting mammals, but fairly limited for birds.

We flew back to Anchorage, again stuck in the mist and rain. The next morning we left for a four day driving loop up the Parks Highway, east on the Denali Highway, and back to Anchorage on the Richardson and Glenn Highways. We spent the first night at Mary's McKinley View Lodge in Peters Creek (great evening view of the south face of McKinley), then two nights at the lovely Tangle Lakes Lodge.

As a pure bird trip there was a lot wrong with this trip: we were way too late for many birds--either because migration had already begun or because hunting season had started and the birds were invisible; other than the Denali Highway we didn't go to locations with a high number of Alaskan "specialties" and my traveling companions were a group of friends and relatives who were for the most part casual birders and general appreciators of nature. Nevertheless, there were plenty of good birds to see, including 9 lifers for me and 92 species overall. I also saw a total of 16 mammal species. Besides, anyone who goes to Alaska only for birds is making a serious mistake. There are so many other wonderful features to this amazing state.

The flowers were still in high bloom in the Prince William Sound, but had faded in the high country. It felt like late fall along the Denali Highway. The Tangle Lakes Lodge owners said they would be closing for the winter within a few weeks, and the snows would begin before too long.

Discovery Voyages is a family operated small boat based in Cordova. Their trips aren't cheap but are money well spent: a perfect blend of comfort and adventure. They also run special birding oriented trips at the "right" time of year that would result in a much longer list of species than what we saw. Check out their website at

Unless you have a LOT of time, it would be tough to make a trip to Alaska cheap. It would be easy to make it expensive. It should also be possible to find a workable middle ground, especially if you are willing to camp and stay in rustic accommodations. Bear in mind that the super-terrific bird destinations (e.g. Pribiloffs, Nome, Gambel, Attu) will take a pretty big budget to reach . By not being greedy (always good advice) even a modestly set up birder can see many new and wonderful birds in Alaska. This is also a place to set aside the birding zeal from time to time and enjoy the spectacular view, the good food, the nice people, the gorgeous wildflowers…

Many thanks are due to the Birdchatters who provided very helpful information in response to my RFI.


Here are a few of the many excellent sources on Alaska. Some may be very hard to find outside of Alaska. Once there, Cook Inlet Books on 5th in Anchorage has a great selection including most listed below, as well as many additional titles on Natural History, fishing, hunting, indigenous Alaskans, history, etc. Also, while in Anchorage don't miss the Museum of History and Art.

Web Information is also readily available. Here are a just a few: Part 2 -BIRD HIGHLIGHTS

92 species total seen on this trip (93 if you split Fox Sparrow). Highlights are listed below. Send me an e-mail if you want a complete list with dates and locations.

MAMMAL HIGHLIGHTS: 16 species, including: Francis Toldi
Burlingame, CA
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