Birding the Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository
Return to the Main Index

Return to the North America Index
Return to the U.S.A. Index
Return to the Alaska Index




I have the pleasure of going to Alaska for a week, Feb 27 - Mar 5.  I was wondering if anyone knows of any birding I could do up there at this time.  I know, I know, it's winter and it's dark, but hey!  I thought I'd better ask first and be disappointed, then come back and find out I could have seen *something*!  I will be in the following cities: Fairbanks, Anchorage, Barrow, and Circle Hot Springs.  (small villages also, but unknown at this point) Any information (including "don't even bother bringing your binoculars!") is welcome.  I'll have a couple days around Anchorage and Fairbanks, so could even drive out to spots around there.  I'm even interested in "such-and-such an area is a nesting site in the spring".  I'd like to see areas like that, even without birds on them!  And I will definitely exercise caution - I'm very aware of etiquette in delicate areas.


Try looking at Lethaby, Nick, A Bird Finding Guide to Alaska although he doesn't even begin to list Feburary/March as a birding time in Alaska - particuarly are far north as you are going .  BRRR.....  For Barrow, Lethaby says "you should contract the resident bird biologist Robert Suydam either before or during your stay.  Rob works for the Department of Wildlife Management and is more than happy to share his knowledg eof the area's wildlife with you.  Dept. of Wildlife Mgt, is located adjacent to UIC NARL.  The telephone number is 907-852-0350.  We take our binoculars EVERYWHERE!


To the person interested in birding in Alaska (no E-mail address) in February and March.  I have no information on birding that far north, however the Petersburg area in Southeast Alaska has wonderful birding opportunities that time of year.  Several hundred Trumpeter Swans migrate through this area annually and between 50 and 75 swans spend the winter at Blind Slough.  Petersburg area is also host to several species of ducks.  The 1994 Christmas bird count revealed 53 species of birds with a record high of 9445 individuals.  Highlights: western grebe, northern shoveler, oldsquaw (2333) common murre, steller's jay, song sparrow.  You will be in Alaska to early to witness the spring migration of shorebirds and Bald eagles on the Stikine River but if you want information, Alaskan Scenic Waterways has a toll free number 1-800-ASW-1176.  Happy birding.


I am looking for information and recommendations for comfortable and reasonably priced LODGING (two adult birders) for 5 days in late May and early June 1997 in Nome, Alaska.  (Something other than the Nugget Hotel, please.) A smoke-free environment would be most appreciated.  Cost is a definite consideration.

I would also appreciate info and suggestions on a good CAR RENTAL in Nome (again two people only, and cost is a consideration), especially:

car vs.  pickup truck 2 wd vs 4 wd reliable rental company

Other tips on birding Nome??


I spent three weeks last summer in Nome, actually Pilgrim Springs, about 60 miles north of Nome.  What a place!  Went running each day and had jaegers dive bombing me all the time, at one point I had all three together.

I cannot give you much help on hotels.  I can get you the names of several people who might be able to offer suggestions.  However, I can tell you that you will not need a 4WD.  The roads are flat and hard gravel.  All the roads that I used and saw were good.  The rental cars are very expensive!  and they are junk.  One guy spent a day with us waiting for the rental owners to come out to Pilgrim and help him.  I hitch-hiked everywhere and that seems to be standard procedure.  There are only three roads out of town and there is a fair amount of traffic.  I would hitch most of the time and save rental costs for one or two day trips.

I know that the Bristle-thighed Curlew is a hot bird for people.  I saw it(them?) on the road into Pilgrim on several occasions.  It was in among alot of whimbrels about half way into Pilgrim from the road just after the reindeer corral.  Both Golden Plovers could be seen on that road also near the height of land.

Wish I was going back.  My son was a caretaker at Pilgrim for the summer.  Loved it.  Be sure to take a flyrod!  Salmon runs and grayling.  Also pike.


Stampede Apartments, run by the native corporation, are clean, quiet, spacious, with laundrey facilities, and reasonably priced, and have suites which should accommodate the needs of a small group.  Have fun!  I have numerous tips about Nome birding, but Bill Pratt now has them all--ask him.


I am attending a conference in the States in very late May, and thought I might fly up to Alaska for a week.  I need the predictable Alaska birds: Willow and Rock Ptarmigan,Emperor Goose,King,Spectacled and Steller's Eider, Black-legged and Red-legged Kittiwakes, Aleutian Tern,Gyrfalcon,Red-faced Cormorant,Arctic and Yellow-billed Loons, Smith's Longspur.  Plus most Murrelets,Auklets and Puffins.

Given that I'll have no more than a week, can any kind soul who is familiar with Alaskan birding suggest a few locations I could visit where I could hope to find as many of these birds as possible in early June?  I noted Nick Lethaby's article on Kodiak and Cordova in Birding Aug.1997, where he says that a lot of ducks and geese leave southern Alaska for northern parts in May.


I lived in Alaska for 6 years, so I'll jump in here.  Early June may be a bit too early, but you should plan to go to the Pribilof islands for your best chance at alcids and red-legged kittiwakes.  You can get black legged kittiwakes and red-faced cormorants in many places in southcentral Alaska (where I lived) - Seward or Homer are good choices - if you take a boat into Resurrection or Kachemak bays.  Fair chances for tufted puffins there, too.  Arctic terns start arriving May 10, so I suppose Aleutian terns will be out on the chain by the time you're there.  I saw many terns and all three species of jaeger working in Dutch Harbor - so many that I never bothered to learn their seasonal habits - and I made so many trips there that I can't remember when I saw the breeding plumage rock sandpipers at Izembek NWR.

Ptarmigan are like all grouse, where you find them, and cyclic in their population peaks.  Denali Nat'l Park is a sure thing for willow ptarmigan after July 4, but the road into the park will not be open in early June.  I'd suggest just driving or walking into Chugach State Park above Anchorage and hoping for the best.  I've seen many willows (but few white-tails) there, and you have an equal chance of getting spruce grouse there.  In fact, I saw more rock ptarmigan than white-tailed when I lived in Alaska.

I went to the Pribilofs (you go to St.  Paul Island, stay at the King Eider hotel, and rent an ATC to go to the rookeries if you're not on a tour) June 21, as that's when the female northern fur seals haul out to birth their pups.  The males are there much earlier setting up their territories.  So I can't say what's out there earlier.  By mid-June, the rookeries are filled with birds- thick-billed and common murres, 3 auklets, fulmars, both kittiwakes, both species of cormorants, both species of puffins (I think), and more.  I saw seven arctic foxes working the rookeries at one time!  There's always the chance for Asiatic wanderers (we saw black-headed gull, and missed one of the Asiatic thrushes), so I highly recommend you try it and let us know how you do.  Since you'll only be about 2 weeks ahead of the time I was there, I suspect you'll see most of the species that I saw.  I also picked up a snowy owl and rosy finches (common) there.

However, I don't remember any chicks- all the birds were brooding eggs then.  In fact, hundreds of kittiwakes (both species) were landing on the tundra apparently collecting grasses (they may have been feeding on something - it was quite a distance away even with a spotting scope).  But I do remember seeing paired red-legged kittiwakes on nesting sites, and I've seen black leggeds at rookeries at the end of May in southcentral Alaska.

All the eiders fly by the Homer spit at the end of the Kenai peninsula at certain times of the year, but I don't know if early June is one of those times.  I do remember seeing hundreds of harlequin ducks at Valdez harbor on Memorial Day one year, if that helps (I know it's totally unrelated...)


{name omitted) wrote in response to the RFI Alaska request:

>I lived in Alaska for 6 years, so I'll jump in here.  Early June may be a bit too early, but you should plan to go to the Pribilof
>islands for your best chance at alcids and red-legged kittiwakes.

Last year I was on the Pribilofs June 5-7, which was too early for the female fur seals' arrival but of course saw plenty of males.  All the usual alcids, kittiwakes, seabirds, etc.  were present in great numbers (fantastic views) and also Hawfinch and Red-throated Pipit.  The following week a few more rarities were seen by the tours, but so much is there in early June that it's well worth the trip.

>Arctic terns start arriving May 10, so I suppose Aleutian terns will be out on the chain by the
>time you're there.

Apparently the Aleutian Terns no longer are at the Homer spit by early June, or at least we looked hard for them with no success and were told by locals that only three had been seen flying by.  Would like to hear from those in the know if they are nest in other locations near to Homer.

>Denali Nat'l Park is a sure thing for willow ptarmigan after July 4, but the road into the park
>will not be open in early June.  I'd suggest just driving or walking into Chugach State Park
>above Anchorage and hoping for the best.  I've seen many willows (but few white-tails)
>there, and you have an equal chance of getting spruce grouse there.  In fact, I saw more rock
>ptarmigan than white-tailed when I lived in Alaska.

At the time of our visit to Denali on 6/1/97, the park was open and the shuttle ran to Eielson.  I think it had just opened, however.  Many willows but only one Rock Ptarmigan along the way, which we located by walking the road at the upper elevations.  Also were able to find Spruce Grouse lower.  This may have been an unusual year as to the timing of the park opening.  The weather was fantastic!

>All the eiders fly by the Homer spit at the end of the Kenai peninsula at certain times of the
>year, but I don't know if early June is one of those times.

Don't know either, but we had the Stellers in Anchorage on 5/25.

A splendid place to bird and travel.  Enjoy.


You have received some good ideas from birders who have visited AK - I would add only a few things from the Kenai Peninsula perspective.  If you have only one week to spend, I doubt if you would (should) take the time to travel to Dutch Harbor, St.  Paul (Pribilof Is.), to Gambell (St.  Lawrence Is.), or to Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope.  Each of these trips takes several days - and often weather delays both incoming and outgoing flights.  It seems to me you are left with two choices - bird the area around Denali National Park and/or the Kenai Peninsula.

Of course I have a prejudice for the Kenai as I have lived there for 13 years - and know the area pretty well.  The first week of May is a tough time.  The shorebirds have left (pass through May 1 - 10 in large numbers), and there are few remaining waterfowl.  Seabirds while arriving at the rookeries in March and April, don't get up on the cliffs and lay until June - sometimes as late as the end of June.  However, you can take two short (1/2 day) trips out of Homer and get great looks at (from your list) Black-legged Kittiwake, Red- faced Cormorant, Tufted and Horned Puffin, Common Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, and usually Aleutian Tern.  You may also find Red-necked Phalarope in large numbers, early arriving Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters, late Surfbird and Black Turnstone, Glaucous-winged, Mew, Bonapartes, and Herring Gulls, Arctic Terns, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel - and a few others in Kachemak Bay.  The two trips I would recommend are (1) Alaska Maritime Tours trip to Gull Island and Seldovia (call 907-235-2490 for reservations - sometimes the boat is full - othertimes almost empty - it holds over 40 people - has a good naturalist on board) - this takes you around the nesting islands and over to the south side of the Bay (no road to here) where you can find some land birds.  Trip (2) is a charter up the Bay to Glacier Spit and the mouth of Humpy Creek to find loads of Kittlitz's Murrelets, loons, grebes, eagles, eiders, Harlequin, scoters, etc and probably a few Aleutian Terns - go with Karl Stolzfus of Bay Excursions (907-235-7525).

It would be too early to find Ancient Murrelet in the Bay, but who knows.  We rarely have Yellow-billed Loon in summer, but again?  Ptarmigan are scarce on the Kenai - but you can try a bog from a gravel haul road at 19 mile East End Road - ask for directions at the Alaska Maritime NWR visitor center on the Sterling Highway as you enter Homer.  This is a nesting area also for Parasitic Jaeger, Arctic Tern, Least Sandpiper, Mew Gull, Golden-cr.  Sparrow, Wilson's Warbler, etc.

Your other choice would be to go to Seward and take a Resurrection Bay tour with one of the smaller outfits such as Mariah Tours or others to go into the Kenai Fjords NP and to the Chiswell Islands.  You would see about the same species there but might find also Rhinoceros Auklet, Parakeet Auklet, Northern Fulmar, and Thick-billed Murre.  All boat trips are weather dependent - sometimes it is great - but be prepared for rough seas, rain, and cold - or a caqncellation!

From the remainder of your list: Willow Ptarmigan are easy to find in Denali National Park - requires a bus trip in but you can get off and walk and then get on another bus.  Rocks are rarer and at higher elevations in summer.  Emperor Geese rarely hang around Homer in late Winter but not into summer - you have to go north and west for these.  Spectacled Eiders are only on the north coast and Steller's on the north and west coast.  Steller's is common in Homer in winter, but are gone by March-April .  As you have read, one female remained in Anchorage last summer for some reason - don't count on that again.  King Eider is also rare in summer this far east - you have to go out the Aleutians and to north and western AK.  Red-legged Kittiwakes nest on the Pribilofs in good numbers and are extremely rare away from their nesting colony.  Gyrfalcon could be anywhere but is rare in S AK in summer.  Arctic Loon is best found from St.  Lawrence Island and Nome north.  Smith's Longspur can be found along the Denali Highway between Paxson and Cantwell.

It is doubtful if you can fulfill your wishes for all the birds on your list in one week unless you have a lot of money or a private jet to cover all the areas where these birds breed!

If you have specific questions, please feel free to contact me.

[The usual disclaimers - I have no financial relationship with any of the tour operators listed above, etc.]


I've been to Alaska the first week in June the last two years and am going to Nome the same week this year.  The way to see the most birds and to have the least hassle is to go with one of the many professionally guided tours.  But they cost $2500 per week plus or minus $300 (not counting airfare to Anchorage).  That includes lodging and meals (expensive in Alaska) and internal airfares (also expensive in Alaska); if that sounds too expensive, consider what it would cost you to do it alone and you'll see that the tour part of the cost maybe isn't really too bad.  If you're interested, move quickly as they fill up early.  I can provide info on half a dozen well-known contacts if needed.

The birds you want are not all found in one area; thus the need to fly to different areas.  On the other hand, you could stay within driving range of Anchorage (cars are expensive, too) and see a lot of new birds and a whole lot of spectacular scenery (well, you can usually see it).

Seward is a 3 hour drive from Anchorage; there is a campground along the way which usually has Spruce Grouse and Varied Thrush in early June.  From Seward, you take an all-day boat trip to see glaciers calving into the sea and Bald Eagles, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Murrelets, Murres, Puffins (by the thousands), Auklets, pelagics, whales, etc.

It is a half-day drive to Denali in the other direction from Anchorage but you'll want to bird along the way, adding to the time required.  Last year in early June the Denali road was completely open, with very little residual snow.  A drive eastward along the Denali Highway is also good.  In Denali, you should see Willow and Rock Ptarmigan, Eagles, ducks, etc.  We saw a Trumpeter Swan , Gyrfalcon, and Northern Wheatear, although I doubt we would have seen the letter two without a guide.  Northern HawkOwl, White-winged Crossbill, etc., are there but spotty.  You cannot go in your own car into Denali Park .  You must take a bus.  You can get off and on where you want but its not like being in your own vehicle and pulling over for birds.  The tour I was on had their own vehicles because we stayed at a lodge 90 miles into the park (highly recommended).

St.  Paul on the Pribaloff Islands is super.  Its a 3 hour or so flight from Anchorage, including one stop.  The only hotel is comfortable but hardly deluxe.  Everyone eats all meals in a mess hall, several miles from the hotel.  You can go on your own and take small tour buses supplied by the hotel but there will be non-birders along.  You'll see the main spots and birds this way but little chance of seeing Asian vagrants unless you are on a bird tour.  The sea cliffs on St.  Paul are terrific: both Kittiwakes, both puffins, both murres, auklets, Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants, fulmars, etc.  at very close range.  Lots of Rock Sandpipers, Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs but your land bird list won't be long.  St.Paul is famous for vagrants from Asia, usually shorebirds.  Weather is usually cold and overcast to rainy but we had 3 sunny days (10% of the yearly average) and this cut down on the vagrants which weren't being blown in.

Barrow is a 2 hour flight from Anchorage (you have to return to Anchorage each time).  The list will be fairly short but special: all 4 eiders, all 3 jaegers, Snowy Owl, ducks, shorebirds, both redpolls, loons, gulls, etc.  You can, I guess, arrange your own transport there (although I'm not sure).  There are only about 15 miles of roads but you'll want to do them more than once.  In early June, the sea is still frozen but daytime temperatures are up to around freezing or better.  It snowed 2 inches one night.  If you are stalwart, you can bird 24 hours a day.

I've not yet been to Nome.  Its a 1 to 2 hour flight from Anchorage.  There are 60 or 80 miles of roads and I've heard that you can rent a vehicle.  Its famous for birds.  Eiders, loons, gulls, other seabirds, waterfowl, shorebirds (the premier target is Bristle-thighed Curlew, although we had a 50-foot closeup of a pair in St.  Paul), Asian land birds (e.g., Bluethroat), etc.  Weather cold and maybe miserable in early June, like St.  Paul and Barrow.

You can only do 2 or 3 of these places in a week.  If that was all the time I was ever going to have, I guess I'd go to St.Paul (2 nights, 3 days), Seward with boat trip (2 nights, 3 days), and a day in the Anchorage area.  Others may have other preferences, however.

Whatever place you choose, however, GO!  All the above is terrific and a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth every penny.


(Name omitted) had some very good tips on birding the Kenai Peninsula, but I would disagree with his recommendation not to travel to the Pribilofs.  The Pribilofs offer our Australian (and other interested birders) his best and likely only chances to see least, parakeet, and crested auklets, red-legged kittiwakes, and ancient murrelet, plus both puffins, both murres, fulmars, and more.  He can do the Kenai in 2 days from Anchorage, take 3 days for his Pribilof trip, and have a day or two to try for ptarmigan above Anchorage.

1997 must have been an abnormal year at Denali, as often the park road is only open to Savage River (12 miles in) until July 4.  July 4 is the annual official date the road will be open to Wonder Lake.  The best willow ptarmigan areas in my experience are in the area between Eielson Visitor Center and Wonder Lake, although they can be seen almost anywhere on the road.  Allow a full day for the bus ride to Wonder Lake and back, and figure that you can't get a pass for a bus ride until the day after you arrive, and Denali costs you three days for a chance at only one species on his list, the willow ptarmigan.  Sure, you might get northern hawk owl, gyrfalcon, long-tailed jaeger, oldsquaw, and others, but they're not sure things from a bus.  One thing that hasn't been mentioned, you can drive your car into Denali before July 4 (or after Labor Day), if the road is open, and if you get a camping permit for Wonder Lake.  With that camping permit, you can stop anywhere along the road, which offers marvelous opportunities for bear and caribou photography.

One other thing that was mentioned and should be emphasized, the weather in the Aleutians can be awful.  Any traveler there MUST be flexible and allow several days for bad weather.  Reeve Aleutian Airways will NOT take you out on Thursday if the Tuesday and Wednesday planes did not get in.  When the plane gets in on Thursday (or Friday), the Tuesday and Wednesday passengers will go out first, and Thursday people draw straws.

Similarly, the plane may never make it past Cold Bay on its way out the chain, or past Dillingham on its way to the Pribilofs.  I've had the marvelous experience of getting stranded in Cold Bay.  When I walked into the bar (the hotel office was closed - both are operated by Reeve AA) and asked for a room, the bartender tossed me a key, pointed to the guy on the barstool next to me, and said "you'll be rooming with him." I've heard of up to 13 strangers bunking together in one room (honest!), so be prepared to be _very_ flexible, and don't expect to room with your wife/husband/significant other, as communal rooms are same sex accomodations.  The guy I bunked with was traveling with a woman, and they separated them.

Reeve flies twin engine propellor planes in the Aleutians because of their low ceiling and short visibility takeoff and landing requirements.  They'll make it in when jets won't.  On the other hand, it's a 4 hour flight to Dutch Harbor/Unalaska on a Reeve YS-11, and only 1 hour 45 minutes in a Learjet (yes, I've done both).  The Pribilof flight goes through either Dillingham or Cold Bay for refueling before the flight to St.  Paul, as I caught it there (Dillingham, I'm pretty sure) instead of Anchorage, so if stranded, you'll have a choice of hotels and restaurants in Dillingham, at least.

Someone else mentioned the food is "miles" from the only hotel on St. Paul.  When I was there in 1983, the King Ko Inn operated the restaurant, which was one building away from the hotel - maybe 100 feet.  I'm sure you could walk (or more likely, could spread your arms and let the wind blow you) all the way across town, and it wouldn't be 1/2 mile from end to end.  Dress WARMLY!!!


I agree with you that St. Paul is worth the trip, but when I was there in last year all the food facilities had been moved to the airport which measures just over five miles from the village area.  I don't believe the King Ko Inn is still around.


Further to Darrell Lee's comment about eating on St. Paul (Pribaloff Islands): In June, 1997, the only place to eat was near the airport, several miles from town.  The place in town was closed.  Luckily, the so-called bar was open sometimes.


I will be heading to Fairbanks the first week of March to photograph the aurora and would love to see any birds, that might be there this time of year.


Good luck in Fairbanks in the first week in March.  Remember we are still in what most people would consider deep winter at that time.  Passerines you will find will include Common Redpolls (Hoary can occur but you'd need directions) B-C and Boreal Chickadees, and possibly the two Pines: Siskins and Grosbeaks.  And, of course, Ravens.  Everywhere.  You'll want to check the open portion of the Chena River for waterfowl, but you'll see no species there worth a trip.  You will want to visit the Alaska Bird Observatory at their new offices by the Wedgewood Resort (ask for directions); if you're nice to them they may help you out with locating owls and 3-T Woodpeckers.  Unfortunately, most of the best places for Woodpeckers is on the military base, and since 9/11.........

The best place for Willow Ptarmigan is atop Murphy Dome, a highly recommended short drive out of town.  That's great for aurora viewing, too!  But you can find Ptarms right in town at Creamer's Field

Now, if there only were another cooperative Eurasian Bullfinch, as occurred for many weeks last winter, you'd have a five-star trip.

Am curious about your timing.  Full moon is Feb.  27, so the following week is definitely NOT prime time for auroral photography.  Perhaps it was all that was open for you.

Audie Bakewell
Paxson Alpine Tours & Cabins
Paxson, AK 99737


As Audie already indicated, Redpolls will be abundant.  Unlike what he suggests, in my 7 years living and banding birds in Fairbanks I found Hoary's to be quite plentiful and not difficult to find.  They did seem more prevalent in the more open areas, and I always would see them at the feeders at Creamer's Field.  If you put out a makeshift feeder where you are staying you should attract Redpolls in short order.  Willow Ptarmigan are often right in town and easily seen along the scenic trail that parrallels the river and runs behind Alaskaland and the convention center in town.  Also as Audie mentions you are still in winter for the most part and the first migrants won't show until the end of the month, but the Owls will be courting and this is the best time to find these birds.  Boreal Owls can be found in any of the hills surrounding town and along the length of Chena Hot Springs road.

Northern Hawk Owls and Great Grays will be active as well, but these are generally not found in the Fairbanks area.  These are more common towards Audie's neck of the woods (the Delta Agricultural fields can be good).  I wouldn't be surprised at all if you here Boreals while you are photographing around town.  Spruce Grouse (and Ruffeds to a lesser degree) are often seen along the roadside (particularly in morning and evenings) picking at gravel.

Other species you should see include Gray Jays and Pine Grosbeaks in the hills around town.  White-winged Crossbills should be around, and Bohemian Waxwings can sometimes be seen where ever you find food.  Often in ornamental berry trees in the downtown section, or along the river.

Jeff Bouton
Port Charlotte, FL

Birding Top 500 Counter