Trip report: Alaska (June 2015) by Tropical Birding

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

The 49th state is sandwiched between eastern Russia and Canada and though it is technically on the same continent as the contiguous United States it often feels a world apart. If you have never visited Alaska I will make my best effort to give you a description. Likely though, you would view any such description as over-the-top hyperbole when in fact even my best attempt to capture the Alaska experience in words would fall well short of reality. It is the definition of a bucket list location, a place you must experience for yourself, a place that makes your life richer, a place you will always remember.

Though the birdlife is far less diverse than most locations in the tropics, virtually every bird you see is spectacular or restricted to far northern climes and all are displaying, vocalizing and looking their absolute best for the beginning of the arctic breeding season. Birds you may think you know well like Pacific Loon are seen in a whole new light when they are yelping and yodeling right in front of you in their full breeding regalia. Phalaropes, typically seen as drab gray shapes skittering out over the water on a pelagic, become richly colored little gnomes fiercely guarding their chosen breeding pond or puddle. Alaskan specialties like Spectacled Eider and Red-faced Cormorants are sure to make your eyes pop. If you want a face-to-face encounter with a Tufted Puffin a trip to Alaska’s St Paul Island will deliver that and more. Then there are the “normal sights”, jaegers patrolling the tundra, Boreal Chickadees scolding from clumps of spruce, Pectoral Sandpipers hooting and fighting like tiny owls with serious rage issues. It all becomes overwhelming after a while.

Alaska is more than just the birds though; the scenery is some of the best in the world and changes dramatically as you travel through this vast state. Snow-capped peak after snow-capped peak, calm bays, vast stretches of frozen sea-ice covered in seals, and towering sheer cliffs absolutely crawling with breeding seabirds are all regular sights on this tour. Adding to these scenes is the barking of Arctic Foxes, the majesty of hulking Brown Bears, the sensation when a Humpback Whale breaks the surface next to your boat and takes a great whooshing breath that as it inhales simultaneously seems to snatch your breath away. It is hard to believe it can be as advertised but there is no need for you to believe, just come and experience Alaska for yourself!

Our trip is specifically designed to take you to some of the most exciting, unique, and bird-rich locations in Alaska and exciting, unique, and bird-rich is exact how I would describe the 2015 tour. Some of our most exciting moments were the seven Emperor Geese mixed into a flock Brant, a stunning rufous male Ruff that was dancing on the tundra outside Barrow, and a Gyrfalcon engaging in an epic aerial dogfight with a Golden Eagle and a Rough-legged Hawk. We had fantastic encounters with all four of the world’s eider species and twenty-six species of waterfowl overall as well as twenty-five species of shorebirds. We experienced perfect weather, cooperative birds, fantastic mammals, and excellent Alaskan seafood. In all, it was a phenomenal taste of the 49th state.

Click this link to view the full report in PDF format (file size 5MB).