13 – 25 JUNE 2022
By Jacob Roalef
This 13-day set departure tour of Alaska commenced in Anchorage, Alaska, on the 13th of June 2022 and concluded back in Anchorage on the 25th of June 2022. The tour traveled throughout this massive state, including the Kenai Peninsula, the Denali region, and the old gold rush town of Nome. Numerous fantastic birding locations were visited including Resurrection Bay, Kincaid Park, the Seward Mudflats, West Chester Lagoon, Potter Marsh, Denali National Park, the Denali Highway and Nome.
It was a treat to see this Arctic Tern, one of the world’s greatest migrating species.
This tour connected with some fantastic species including some true Alaskan specials and many allowed us ample views to really study and appreciate each species. Visiting so many diverse habitats yielded a high-quality list for our 13 days in this Arctic state. Avian highlights included Horned and Tufted Puffins, Red-faced Cormorant, Emperor Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Goshawk, Golden Eagle, Willow Ptarmigan, Arctic and Aleutian Terns, Long-tailed Jaeger, Arctic Warbler, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Bohemian Waxwing, Boreal Chickadee, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Gyrfalcon and many more.
A total of 140 bird species were seen with zero being heard only species, so the total recorded was 140. In addition to the birds, there were some amazing mammal highlights including Canada Lynx, Moose, Humpback Whale, Sea Otter, Collared Pika, Steller Sea Lion and Mountain Goat. Full bird and mammal checklists can be found at the end of the report.
This Canada Lynx was certainly the highlight mammal of the trip!
Day 1, 13th June 2022. Arrival and Anchorage birding
Today marked our first day of what was sure to be an amazing adventure in the wilderness that is Alaska. Everyone on the tour had arrived early so we spent the morning meeting up and then headed to some local Anchorage parks for a bit of birding. First up was Conner’s Bog and although a small area, some nice birds were seen here including Alder Flycatcher, Orange-crowned Warbler and Black-billed Magpie, giving us our first taste of Alaskan birding. Down by the water of the bog we watched a pair of Red-necked Grebes building a nest and a Pacific Loon diving and foraging in the deeper waters. On our way out, we got our first look at a huge Moose. After lunch we visited another great Anchorage location, Kincaid Park. We went for a pleasant hike in perfect weather. Birding was good, with species like Swainson’s Thrush, White-crowned Sparrow and Bald Eagle. There was a telephone pole along the trail with an American Three-toed Woodpecker nest, so we hung out there and watched mom and dad bring food to the begging young. As we were coming up to the end of the trail we got into a little mixed flock with Boreal Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos. This was a fantastic start to our birding journey.
We enjoyed this gorgeous, singing, Orange-crowned Warbler.
Day 2, 14th June 2022. Resurrection Bay pelagic
An early start was needed as we headed off to Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. We grabbed some coffee and breakfast along the way because we needed to be at the docks to meet our captain at 9am. Possible rain had been forecast, so we were prepared and also very excited to see what the waters of Resurrection Bay had to offer. Before the boat departed, we birded the harbor area and saw a few of the more common species here like Black-legged Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Glaucous-winged Gull and, of course, the mighty Bald Eagle. After some safety instructions, we set sail in the relatively calm waters in the bay. We cruised around the eastern shores of the bay, picking up several nice species including Harlequin Duck, Pelagic and Double-crested Cormorants and Marbled Murrelet. We made our way to Emerald Cove, which had cliffs that were absolutely loaded with breeding birds. Black-legged Kittiwake, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Red-faced Cormorant, Pigeon Guillemot and Common Murre were some of the highlights here. The sheer number of birds was an impressive sight. After a few loops around the cove we headed out across the open water, with the wind picking up a bit. Unfortunately, there were huge swells outside the bay, making it unsafe for our boat to leave the area. We therefore spent more time looking for wildlife in the bay instead. We crossed the bay safely and noted some great mammal sightings, including Dall’s Porpoise, Humpback Whale, Sea Otter and even some Mountain Goats seen from the boat. Birding on the west side of the bay was also excellent and produced new species such as White-winged and Surf Scoters, Common Goldeneye, Black Oystercatcher, Belted Kingfisher and Common Merganser. We returned to the harbor, tired but satisfied and then headed for dinner and some much-needed rest.
This Pigeon Guillemot was showing off its full breeding plumage.
Day 3, 15th June 2022. Kenai Peninsula birding
We headed off to the Seward mudflats at low tide. The scenic mountains and gorgeous bay were strikingly beautiful. Right away we were onto a few species like Savannah Sparrow and American Crow. We counted at least ten Bald Eagles during our hour or so here, with a good mix of all ages. Closer to the water we picked up Arctic Tern, Northern Pintail, Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Gull and Least Sandpiper. Returning to our van, we birded along the tree line and saw Sooty Fox Sparrow, Hermit Thrush and Lincoln’s Sparrow. Then we headed off to some nearby bird feeders. Not much was happening there, but we managed American Yellow Warbler, Hairy Woodpecker and Tree Swallow.
After a delicious local lunch next to the water, the afternoon was spent exploring the temperate rainforest habitat that creeps up into the Kenai Peninsula. This was our only opportunity to bird in this type of habitat, so we searched for targets usually found in this ecosystem. It wasn’t long before we heard the echoing call of a Varied Thrush amongst the trees and then got good views. We continued walking up and came across a gorgeous, singing, Townsend’s Warbler and a very curious Chestnut-backed Chickadee. A quick lap around Two Lakes Park produced a pair of American Dippers that were probably breeding nearby. We then returned to the mudflats for high tide. This time there was more waterfowl action, with Greater White-fronted Goose, Gadwall, American Wigeon and Northern Shoveler.
Day 4, 16th June 2022. Seward and back to Anchorage
After our breakfast and coffee, we made another quick loop around Two Lakes Park and the temperate rainforest. We saw Townsend’s Warbler, Chestnut-backed Chickadee and Bald Eagle. We then began our journey north, heading towards the town of Palmer. Our first stop along the drive was at a rest area known as Tern Lake. Here we enjoyed many great species including Trumpeter Swan, Lesser and Greater Scaups, Common Loon and, of course, many Arctic Terns flying around. Continuing our journey, we stopped several times along the huge Potter Marsh. This marsh habitat with impressive mountains in the background was a fantastic place to bird and we saw many species such as Sandhill Crane and Red-necked Phalarope and even a Moose in the distance. We walked a small boardwalk trail leading onto the marsh. A hilarious Lesser Yellowlegs was calling loudly and proudly from its favorite stump, making itself known to all who walked by. We also enjoyed some baby Short-billed Dowitchers, with parents lingering in the area to keep watch.
We moved on to Westchester Lagoon, a park located in the heart of Anchorage and popular with locals as well as birds. The star highlight had to be a breeding plumage Hudsonian Godwit and there were also many Red-necked Grebes, Short-billed Gulls and Ring-necked Ducks. A peaceful hike along the Eagle River yielded American Robin. After a bit of a scramble uphill, we soaked in the views of a Northern Goshawk on its nest. Fortunately, we were far enough away not to cause any disturbances or attacks. We left the park, ate a tasty Mexican dinner and went to our hotel for the evening.
It was a real treat to see this singing Townsend’s Warbler in the sun.
Day 5, 17th June 2022. From Palmer to Healy
This was another full day of driving as we worked our way further north towards Healy and Denali National Park, with several nice stops planned along the way. The morning was overcast with pleasant temperatures, in contrast to the unpleasant mosquitoes at our first stop, the Palmer Hay Flats. In the parking area, we were enthralled with Blackpoll, Orange-crowned and Myrtle Warblers, White-crowned Sparrow, Two-barred Crossbill and Dark-eyed Junco. As we ventured along the boardwalk trail we observed great species including Western Wood-Pewee, Olive-sided Flycatcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Rusty Blackbird and Northern Flicker. This was certainly a fantastic morning of birding.
Our next stop was for lunch at Montana Lake. We went down to the lake where a lone Bonaparte’s Gull was making its rounds and a Common Redpoll was foraging in the grasses. We made quick stops at Byers Lake and along the park highway. Notable species included Northern Waterthrush, Barrow’s Goldeneye and Red Fox Sparrow. We also had our first views of Mount Denali, although somewhat obscured by the clouds. When we arrived in Healy we ate dinner and then went to bed after a long day of birding and driving.
Day 6, 18th June 2022. Denali National Park
We enjoyed breakfast and birding around Otto Lake, where typical suspects like Lesser Scaup and Short-billed Gull were seen.We prepared lunches to take with us and then headed to Denali National Park. We watched a brief demonstration of the impressive sled-dog rescue team that works for Denali National Park. Then we went to the bus station to catch our bus that would take us into the tundra of Denali for the next four hours or so.
Unfortunately, the park road suffered some extreme damage around mile marker 44, so we couldn’t go as far into the park as we would normally like to. It wasn’t long before we spotted our first impressive mammal of the trip, a Caribou resting in snow on a distant ledge. The scenery was incredible, with an occasional Golden Eagle or Northern Harrier cutting across the tundra. Mammals were a bit sparse, with some Dall’s Sheep making an appearance every once in a while. Even a slower day in Denali was spectacular, with pristine and preserved wilderness unmatched in the United States. On our return journey, we finally spotted another bird, Willow Ptarmigan! This female was quietly foraging along the side of the road giving us all a nice view. We visited the impressive nature center and did a small amount of shopping at the local shops before heading off to dinner and back to the hotel.
This female Willow Ptarmigan had impressive camouflage against the tundra.
Day 7, 19th June 2022. Denali Highway
With some delicious breakfast and coffee in our stomachs, we began our journey along the 125-mile Denali Highway. When we stopped, we enjoyed some nice birds including Green-winged Teal, Dark-eyed Junco and Myrtle Warbler. We continued our drive through the impressive scenery before eventually arriving at some small lakes where we picked up White-winged Scoter and Horned Grebe. A little further on we pulled over to scan a riverbed and we rolled right up next to a Semipalmated Plover and her nest. She gave us her whole broken-wing performance as we watched and we then moved away to scan from a different vantage point. Our scanning produced Lesser Yellowlegs, Ring-necked Duck and Lesser Scaup before a few Bohemian Waxwings dropped in from seemingly nowhere. We drove further and pulled over at a spectacular overlook, where we enjoyed our lunches.
While we were eating, we spotted a Grey-cheeked Thrush singing atop a pine tree. Just as we were finishing up, the skies began to darken, and rain followed shortly after. Just after this, we heard our first Arctic Warbler. The remainder of the day was mostly spent scanning through the many bodies of water along the road. We observed Long-tailed Duck, Common and Red-breasted Merganser, Lesser Scaup, Trumpeter Swan, Ring-necked Duck, Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall and more during our scans. We made it to the lodge along the Maclaren River where we had dinner and enjoyed the many nesting American Cliff Swallows outside of our mini cabins.
This Semipalmated Plover decided to nest on the side of the gravel highway.
Day 8, 20th June 2022. Finishing the Denali Highway and back to Anchorage
At the lodge we enjoyed American Cliff Swallow, as well as a Tundra Swan out on the water and a Lesser Yellowlegs working the shoreline. We then packed our bags and hit the road. The plan for the day was to get back to Anchorage at a reasonable hour, with some birding along the way to break up the drive. We still had about 42 miles to go on the Denali Highway, so we soaked up the scenery and birds of this amazing road. A small pond right next to the road held a stunning breeding plumage Red-throated Loon, a first for our trip. While we were enjoying killer views of this bird, we noticed an athlete running up the road in the middle of nowhere. How strange! It turned out that today was a big race called the Denali-125, where folks would run the entire 125 miles of the Denali Highway. This led to some interesting discussion in our van.
The remainder of the morning was spent hiking into the tundra wilderness. This type of terrain can be difficult to handle, but everyone managed without any issues. We picked up Bufflehead, Red-necked Grebe and an adorable Least Sandpiper that hunkered down into the tundra floor. After a few hours of driving, we stopped to eat lunch and stretch our legs. The return journey was full of amazing scenery, a little rain and too much time wasted waiting for construction vehicles. We made one final stop, to enjoy a glacier, before making our way back to Anchorage for dinner and to get some rest before our trip to Nome.
This Red-throated Loon was striking in breeding plumage.
Day 9, 21st June 2022. Flight to Nome
We managed to catch up on some sleep and have a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before taking the shuttle to the Anchorage airport for our flight. The views from the plane were incredible as we got above the cloud line and had amazing views of Mount Denali. After landing in Nome, we sorted out our vehicle and lodging before heading out for some birding along the Nome-Council Road. The weather wasn’t cooperating however, with spits of rain and wind making visibility poor and birding tough. We didn’t let that stop us though, as we quickly found some great species like Cackling Goose, Lapland Longspur, Arctic Redpoll, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers, Long-tailed and Parasitic Jaegers and Hudsonian Whimbrel. We worked our way further along the road, stopping frequently to scan the waters on both sides of us. We saw many new species for the trip including Common Eider, Tundra Swan and Black Scoter. After turning and heading further into the tundra habitat, birding slowed because of the weather issues. We did manage to pick up an Eastern Yellow Wagtail near some houses. It was raining a little harder by the time we made it to a bridge and turnaround section. We made a quick check under the bridge to pick up Say’s Phoebe and then boom! A huge Gyrfalcon came busting out of there and turned out to be on a nest with recently hatched young. What a shock that was and a fantastic sighting. We quickly backed away and scoped the parent bird on the far hill, but the conditions didn’t allow for much of view. We then headed back to dry off, warm up and fill our stomachs with some much-deserved dinner.
Day 10, 22nd June 2022. Teller Road and Cape Nome
The next two days were spent exploring the wonders of Nome and the birds on offer. Unfortunately, the weather was less than ideal, with misting rain and highs around 45° F (7° C). On our first day, we began our adventure down the Teller Highway, heading west out of Nome. Long-tailed Jaegers were seen throughout, either perched on nesting locations or hunting over the tundra. Through the rain and mist we managed to spot an American Golden Plover which blended in with the background amazingly well. As we progressed slowly down the road conditions worsened and the road became a muddy mess. The group decided it was best to turn back to avoid getting stuck. On our way back, we noted White-crowned Sparrow, Arctic Warbler and Arctic Redpoll.
It is truly special seeing species like Lapland Longspur in their full breeding beauty.
After lunch we headed back to Cape Nome and the Nome River mouth. This time we ventured out onto the sandspit, where we linked up with a single Aleutian Tern mixed in with the many Arctic Terns hunting the area. There was an impressive breeding plumage Long-tailed Duck along with Glaucous Gull and Red-throated Loon. At the cape, we scanned the waters and picked through the sea ducks despite the bouncing waves. After a while we picked out both King and Spectacled Eiders amongst the Common Eiders, Black and White-winged Scoters and Harlequin Ducks. Red-throated and Pacific Loons were seen flying by every so often. It was then time for dinner. Late in the evening we ventured out in search of mammals down the Kougarok Road. It never got dark in Nome and it was a strange feeling to be out searching for wildlife at nearly 11pm. Our efforts yielded a single Moose and a herd of Muskoxen as well as some Common Mergansers along the river.
Day 11, 23rd June 2022. Kougarok Road and the tundra
This day was spent along the impressive Kougarok Road. More Long-tailed Jaegers, something one could never tire of, started our day off. Bird activity was fairly quiet due to the weather conditions, until a Northern Wheatear surprisingly flew by in front of the vehicle. Unfortunately, it only offered a few of us a brief glimpse. The real excitement came when Dave and Paul both shouted, “Stop!” They had just spotted a Canada Lynx hunting along the nearby riverbed! We all got out and watched quietly as this gorgeous cat crossed the river slowly and then worked its way through the brush. That was a truly incredible sighting. We then hiked up a mountain in the tundra, which was quite an adventure. A few Hudsonian Whimbrels were spotted flying around. Near the top we came across a herd of Muskoxen, so we changed our course a bit. Further on, we stumbled upon a nesting American Golden Plover which lured us away with its broken wing performance, before heading back to its nest and eggs.
After conquering the mountain and tundra, we worked our way back down the Kougarok Road, taking in the amazing scenery along the way. Our birding efforts were set back by a very cold, whipping wind which made getting out nearly impossible. Instead, we simply took time to enjoy being out in this remote wilderness. We checked out the local Nome dump where a few species were standing around, including Vega and Glaucous Gulls, Northern Raven and Northern Shrike. We checked the Nome River mouth again and turned some of the usual suspects, like Cackling Goose, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers and Bank Swallow. We then went to eat, get dry and warm up.
Day 12, 24th June 2022. Morning in Nome and back to Anchorage
On our final day in Nome we still had the morning available to venture out for some birding. We checked out the Nome-Council Road and came across some of the same species we had seen along this road before, like Long-tailed Jaeger, Lapland Longspur and Short-eared Owl. At Cape Nome the usual large flocks of White-winged and Black Scoters and Harlequin Ducks were hanging out. After some scanning we spotted a Thick-billed Murre taking a quick rest on the rocky shore of the spit. Venturing further along, we scoped the waters inside the more protected Safety Sound. We picked through the large flocks of ducks, with major highlights being Spectacled Eider and Eurasian Wigeon. As we were finishing birding, we passed another group of birders who alerted us to a fantastic sighting further up the road. We packed into the car and buzzed there as quickly as possible. Thankfully it didn’t take long for us to relocate the two Emperor Geese that had dropped in! This was a fantastic species to close out our time in Nome.
We headed back to the hotel to gather our things, return the car, check out and head to the airport. After our short flight to Anchorage, we left our things at the hotel and went out for our final dinner together. Participants were asked to name their top five sightings of the trip. One mammal was allowed for this tour because Alaska hosts so many amazing mammals. The winners for the group, in no particular order, were Gyrfalcon, Bohemian Waxwing, Northern Goshawk, Horned Puffin and Canada Lynx.
Day 13, 25th June 2022. Departure
There was no birding on our final day as everyone was departing very early. We used the hotel’s shuttle service to take us back to the Anchorage airport, concluding our amazing tour of Alaska.
Despite singing frequently, it was tricky to get a visual of Arctic Warbler.
Bird List – Following IOC (12.1)
Birds ‘heard only’ are marked with (H) after the common name, all other species were seen. Species seen only on the pre-trip day of this trip are marked with (+) after the common name.
The following notation after species names is used to show conservation status following BirdLife International: CE = Critically Endangered, EN = Endangered, VU = Vulnerable, NT = Near Threatened.
|Ducks, Geese, Swans (Anatidae)
|Greater White-fronted Goose
|Long-tailed Duck – VU
|Pheasants & Allies (Phasianidae)
|Horned Grebe – VU
|Pigeons, Doves (Columbidae)
|Rock Pigeon (Introduced)
|Pacific Golden Plover
|American Golden Plover
|Sandpipers, Snipes (Scolopacidae)
|Gulls, Terns, Skimmers (Laridae)
|Black-legged Kittiwake – VU
|Short-billed (Mew) Gull
|American Herring Gull
|Aleutian Tern – VU
|Marbled Murrelet – EN
|Cormorants and Shags (Phalacrocoracidae)
|Kites, Hawks, Eagles (Accipitridae)
|Rough-legged Buzzard (Hawk)
|American Three-toed Woodpecker
|Caracaras, Falcons (Falconidae)
|Tyrant Flycatchers (Tyrannidae)
|Western Wood Pewee
|Crows, Jays, and Magpies (Corvidae)
|Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice (Paridae)
|Sand Martin (Bank Swallow)
|American Cliff Swallow
|Leaf Warblers & Allies (Phylloscopidae)
|European Starling (Introduced)
|Thrushes and Allies (Turdidae)
|Chats, Old World Flycatchers (Muscicapidae)
|Wagtails and Pipits (Motacillidae)
|Eastern Yellow Wagtail
|Buff-bellied (American) Pipit
|Finches, Euphonias, and Allies (Fringillidae)
|Longspurs and Snow Buntings (Calcariidae)
|New World Sparrows (Passerellidae)
|Sooty Fox Sparrow
|Red Fox Sparrow
|American Tree Sparrow
|Oropendolas, Orioles, Blackbirds (Icteridae)
|Rusty Blackbird – VU
|New World Warblers (Parulidae)
|American Yellow Warbler
|Rabbits and Hares (Leporidae)
|Porcupines and Allies (Erethizontidae)
|North American Porcupine
|Squirrels and Allies (Sciuridae)
|North American Red Squirrel
|Arctic Ground Squirrel
|Eared Seals (Otariidae)
|Steller Sea Lion
|Earless Seals (Phocidae)
|Weasels, Badgers and Allies (Mustelidae)
|Sea Otter – EN
|True Deer (Cervidae)
|Caribou – VU
|Cloven-hoofed Mammals (Bovidae)
|Cloven-hoofed Mammals (Bovidae)