Alaskom Lakes, Glenn Highway Brown Bears Denali NP Gang Having Picnic Prudhoe Bay, AK by John Hanna Great Gray Owl Glenn Highway, AK Group at Tolsona, AK Harlequin Duck (m) Nome, AK Hikers Denali NP King Eider (m) Barrow, AK by John Hanna Long-tailed Duck (m) Nome, AK Orca Seward, AK by John Hanna Ringed Plover by John Hanna
  • Alaskom Lakes, Glenn Highway
  • Brown Bears Denali NP
  • Gang Having Picnic Prudhoe Bay, AK by John Hanna
  • Great Gray Owl Glenn Highway, AK
  • Group at Tolsona, AK
  • Harlequin Duck (m) Nome, AK
  • Hikers Denali NP
  • King Eider (m) Barrow, AK by John Hanna
  • Long-tailed Duck (m) Nome, AK
  • Orca Seward, AK by John Hanna
  • Ringed Plover by John Hanna

 

Trip Report


 

Alaska Trip Report

May 30 – June 15, 2015

Leader: Simon Thompson

 

Great Gray Owl Glenn Highway, AK

    It’s always impressive to fly into Anchorage. The snow-capped mountains stretch away into the distance and tower above the city. Our first stop is always nearby Lake Hood, the largest floatplane airport in the world. As well as the constant taking offs and landings all around the lake, it’s usually a great place for waterfowl: Pacific and Common Loons, Red-necked Grebe, Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye- the list goes on and the makeup changes daily. Aside from a quick trip to Westchester Lagoon for Snow Goose and Hudsonian Godwit, our first location was Hillside Park in the afternoon. Birding was slow die to the warm conditions, but we did get great views of an immature White-winged Crossbill – the first of many on this tour. We also had the pleasure to bird with Lynn Barber who had recently moved up to Alaska.

Harlequin Duck (m) Nome, AK

 

    With a wide range of inland and coastal habitats, Nome is one of my favorite places to bird in Alaska. In past years the ice has been quite considerable, but this year was different. Much of the willow scrub was leafed out and all of the sea ice had melted. Not quite what I expect here in the Alaskan north country. There were many highlights during our 4 days in Nome, but who could forget the large flocks of Black-legged Kittiwakes feeding on capelin in the offshore waters. Each flock had its attendant Jaeger or 2, mostly Pomarine and it was a common sight to see high speed chases before the Kittiwake finally gave up its last meal. There were good numbers of Tundra Swans and other waterfowl along Safety Sound, but we could never find the single Emperor Goose that was hiding in the flocks of Brant. Bluethroats seem to have been late this year, but a drive down a side road produced at least 3 feeding in the recently dug roadside ditches including 1 spectacular male. What a relief! Other highlights had to be the Gyrfalcon on her nest, a sparkling-plumaged Red-necked Stint and migrating Yellow Wagtails.

King Eider (m) Barrow, AK by John Hanna    We picked up Claudia on our return to Anchorage and drove towards rainy Seward. Thankfully the rain held off for our boat trip to Northwestern Glacier, which was spectacular. The recent bad weather had forced hundreds of Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters into the bays, which gave us great opportunities to compare these confusing species. As well as birds, a nice surprise was a Black Bear walking along the shore, a pod of Orcas alongside the boat and several Humpbacks. Add this to a lingering Yellow-billed Loon, multiple Bald Eagles and a nice variety of alcids, and yes, great views of glaciers, snow-capped mountains. All in all, a great trip out on the water. Sheep Mountain Lodge was our destination the next evening, so we slowly birded our way north, finding Trumpeter Swan, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and White-winged Crossbills along the way. Watching salmon trying to leap a salmon ladder was also fascinating, although we could never figure out if they could ever get to the top!

Long-tailed Duck (m) Nome, AK

    

     Sheep Mountain Lodge is set in spectacular surroundings and together with the great food made for a very nice, if brief, stay. A couple of stops along the Glenn Highway produced both Great Gray and Northern-Hawk Owls – always great to see these birds, as both were missed on our last tour. Another rare sight was a family of Otters very curious of our presence before they eventually lost interest and swam away. An American Dipper eventually showed itself (at last!) along the first mile of the Denali Highway, but the ever-elusive Smith’s Longspurs never appeared. This attractive bird is getting tougher and tougher to find, especially in the more heavily birded areas of Alaska. The lakes around Tangle River Inn are dotted with waterfowl. Pintail, Shoveler and American Wigeon are the most abundant, but we also found Green-winged Teal, Long-tailed Duck and both Tundra and Trumpeter Swans.

 

Orca Seward, AK by John Hanna

    At this time of the year it seemed as if every traveler along the road was a birder and it was good to swap tales and exchange information with other birding groups and folks along the way. With very little traffic and scenery stretching seemingly forever, the Denali Highway is a beautiful drive. A few lodges dot the way, but business is fleeting and most seem to be for sale. A Wilson’s Phalarope was a nice surprise on a roadside pool, as was a Townsend’s Solitaire that appeared in the center of the road! No trip to Alaska is complete without a trip into Denali National Park. While the clouds prevented us seeing more than a glimpse of Mt McKinley, the bus tour through the park as far as Eielson Visitor Center was magnificent. While we never saw a Wolf today, we were treated to a family of Brown Bears finishing off the remainder of a Caribou, all that was leftover from a recent Wolf kill. Several Golden Eagle were also seen along the roadside and we hopped off the bus and were lucky enough to see the Gyrfalcon at Marmot Rock.

 

Ringed Plover by John Hanna

    The following morning it was raining again but this was really a travel day as we drove north towards Fairbanks. An exploration of a recent burn along the roadside produced several woodpeckers, and eventually a female Three-toed feeding her chicks at a nest cavity – very cool indeed! A stop at the Airport Ponds in Fairbanks is always worthwhile and today’s surprise was a male Eurasian Wigeon feeding amongst its American counterparts! After some local birding we took the late morning flight to Barrow for the final few days of the trip. A picnic lunch in the middle of the Prudhoe Bay Oilfields was somewhat surreal, but very profitable- we had our only Stilt Sandpiper and Killdeer of the tour. The latter was way north of its regular breeding range. Birds were everywhere with the highlight being a pair of Spectacled Eiders swimming under some metal pipes – oh well, so much for aesthetics!
Barrow is an odd town and it seems as if every piece of machinery ever purchased is still there, slowly rusting into the ground. Despite this being mid-June, the sea ice is still piled high along the shore and the temperature hovers in the high 30’s, but the birding is always excellent. The 4 Eiders (Spectacled, Steller’s, King and Common) are always the highlights and we saw all of these, along with Snowy Owl, Slaty-backed Gull and several Yellow-billed Loons. Also seeing all of the shorebirds in their breeding finery is a plus. How often do we get to see Red Phalaropes actually Red or American Golden-Plovers with gold feathers? A couple of surprises were a Common-Ringed Plover and Curlew Sandpiper, both from Eurasia and both allowed us to enjoy them and take plenty of photographs – very nice too.

When I am asked about Alaska, I always say the birds are good, mammals great and scenery is simply spectacular!

It was a great trip and thank you.

    

Simon Thompson

 

May 30        Arrived in Anchorage & walked around Lake Hood
May 31        Lake Hood, Westchester Lagoon & Coastal Trail, Hillside Park
June 1         Lake Hood; Flight to Nome; Anvil Mountain, Teller Road & Harbor
June 2         Council Road and Harbor
June 3         Kougarok Road, Harbor and Teller Road (MP 17)
June 4         Harbor, Teller Road & Woolley Lagoon; Council Road (MP 19)
June 5         Council Road (MP 20), Flight to Anchorage, Westchester Lagoon drive to Seward
June 6         Kenai Fjords boat trip to Northwestern Glacier
June 7         Benson Memorial Park, Nash Road, Exit Glacier, Bear Lake, Anchorage and drive to Sheep Mountain Lodge
June 8         Sheep Mountain Lodge, Alaskom Lakes, Tolsona, Glenallen and drive to Tangle River Inn
June 9         Denali Highway, drive to Healey
June 10       Denali National Park
June 11       Parks Highway, drive to Fairbanks
June 12       Olnes Pond, flight to Prudhoe Bay and Barrow
June 13       Barrow (all roads)
June 14       Barrow (all roads); flight to Anchorage

June 15       Arctic Valley, Potter Marsh and Kincaid Park

Birds and Mammals seen on our Alaska Tour

May 30 – June 15, 2015

 

Red-throated Loon
Pacific Loon
Common Loon
Yellow-billed Loon
Red-necked Grebe
Horned Grebe
Sooty Shearwater
Short-tailed Shearwater
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic  Cormorant
Trumpeter Swan
Tundra Swan
Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Brant
Canada Goose
Cackling Goose
Eurasian Wigeon
American Wigeon
Gadwall
Green-winged Teal
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Canvasback
Ring-necked Duck
Greater Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Common Eider
King Eider
Spectacled Eider
Steller’s Eider
Harlequin Duck
Long-tailed Duck
Black Scoter
Surf Scoter
White-winged Scoter
Common Goldeneye
Barrow’s Goldeneye
Bufflehead
Red-breasted Merganser
Common Merganser
Osprey
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Red-tailed Hawk
Rough-legged Hawk
Golden Eagle
American Kestrel
Merlin
Gyrfalcon
Willow Ptarmigan
Rock Ptarmigan
Sandhill Crane
Black Oystercatcher
Pacific Golden-Plover
American Golden-Plover

Black-bellied Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Common Ringed-Plover
Killdeer
Wilson’s Snipe
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Hudsonian Godwit
Bar-tailed Godwit
Whimbrel
Lesser Yellowlegs
Solitary Sandpiper
Spotted Sandpiper
Wandering Tattler
Ruddy Turnstone
Black Turnstone
Surfbird
Red Knot
Semipalmated Sandpiper
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Red-necked Stint
Baird’s Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper
Curlew Sandpiper
Dunlin
Stilt Sandpiper
Wilson’s Phalarope
Red-necked Phalarope
Red Phalarope
Pomarine Jaeger
Parasitic Jaeger
Long-tailed Jaeger
Mew Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Glaucous Gull
“Vega” Herring Gull
American Herring Gull
Slaty-backed Gull
Bonaparte’s Gull
Sabine’s Gull
Black-legged Kittiwake
Arctic Tern
Aleutian Tern
Common Murre
Thick-billed Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Marbled Murrelet
Kittlitz’s Murrelet
Rhinoceros Auklet
Horned Puffin
Tufted Puffin
Rock Pigeon
Snowy Owl
Great Gray Owl
Northern Hawk-Owl
Short-eared Owl

Rufous Hummingbird

 

Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
American Three-toed Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Alder Flycatcher
Say’s Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Bank Swallow
Cliff Swallow
Eastern Yellow Wagtail
American Pipit
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Pacific Wren
American Dipper
Townsend’s Solitaire
Gray-cheeked Thrush
Swainson’s Thrush
Hermit Thrush
Varied Thrush
American Robin
Bluethroat
Northern Wheatear
Black-capped Chickadee
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Boreal Chickadee
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Northern Shrike
Gray Jay
Black-billed Magpie
Northwestern Crow
Common Raven
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Northern Waterthrush
Wilson’s Warbler
American Tree Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Lapland Longspur
Snow Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Rusty Blackbird
Hoary Redpoll
Common Redpoll
White-winged Crossbill

Pine Siskin

 

Mammals:

Arctic Ground Squirrel Hoary Marmot Lemming Vole sp Red Squirrel Sea Otter River Otter Harbor Seal Hooded Seal Steller’s Sea Lion Orca Humpback Whale Dall Porpoise Habor Porpoise Moose Caribou Mountain Goat Dall Sheep Musk Ox Muskrat Red Fox Arctic Fox Gray Wolf Brown (Grizzly) Bear Black Bear

Butterflies:

Old World Swallowtail Mustard White Freija Fritillary

Other Species:

Sockeye Salmon Coho Salmon