Trip report: Alaska Photo Journey (June 2014) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Cameron Cox. This was a set departure tour.

For the nature photographer, or indeed, birdwatcher Alaska can be problematic. There is the problem of the towering snow-capped peaks, vast stretches of ocean pack ice, vast fields of blooming purple lupines, and other extraordinarily beautiful scenery, which is constantly trying to distract you from wildlife photography! For the bird photographer another problem is the other spectacular wildlife like moose, bears and fur seals that compete with the birds for time in front of your lens. Then the birds themselves pose a problem; which to shoot? Alaska hosts a number of specialty birds and you can only shoot one at a time; which to choose? The biggest problem with Alaska though is it’s a bucket list place, a place everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime. The reality with Alaska though is that once you’ve been it tends to be right back at the top of the list all over again. It must be one of the biggest repeat venues on the tour circuit, and if you’ve been, you’ll quickly understand why, it’s an addictive place that stands alone from anything else out there. Despite these seemingly insurmountable Alaska problems, we gathered a group of photographers ready and willing to try their luck to get a “few” good images. Over the course of fifteen days we managed to get more than a fewer keepers while having a fantastic time in the process! Tropical Birding had two groups in Alaska this year, and more than a few in the groups were already talking about returning to Alaska before the trip end.

The first leg of our Alaska adventure took us to Barrow; as near the top of the world as is possible in the US, deep within the Arctic tundra. Our targets on the edge of the Arctic Ocean were Spectacled, Steller’s and King Eiders and the iconic Snowy Owl, as well as many species of breeding shorebirds. Then we journeyed to Nome, a little town on the Seward Peninsula on the shores of the Bering Sea. Here we targeted a wide range of species: Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, Willow and Rock Ptarmigans, Gyrfalcon, Aleutian Tern, and many other species of waterbirds. After Nome we returned to Anchorage and worked our way to the town of Seward in the southeast. Breeding Red-necked Grebe, Boreal Chickadee, Arctic Tern, and many breeding ducks were found in the Anchorage area. In Seward we took a boat trip through beautiful fjords to seabird colonies and up to the edges of the Hardy Ice Field to view scenic glaciers of deep blue ice. Alcids were our main targets here: Horned and Tufted Puffins, Common Murre, Rhinoceros Auklet, Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled Murrelet, and the crowning jewel, Kittlitz’s Murrelet! Also enchanting Humpback Whales and other marine mammals like Sea Otter, Steller’s Sea Lions, and Dall’s Porpoise featured too.

Some of the group continued on to Brooks Falls, in Katmai National Park, for an extension photographing Brown Bears feasting on salmon. The show of bears and numbers of salmon at these famous falls is a wildlife spectacle beyond description. A segment of the group continued on further still, to St. Paul Island in the famed Pribilof chain. Here the photography of puffins, auklets, murres, and fur seals is the best in the world. Arctic Foxes and other specialty birds such as Red-legged Kittiwake and Red-faced Cormorant capped this off perfectly.

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