Alaska: Photo Tour

Tour Overview:

Alaska is a vast and beautiful state with an incredible array of photographic opportunities, especially when it comes to breeding birds in the summer months. Though the actual species quantity isn’t all that high, the quality is far beyond measure. Breeding shorebirds like Pacific Golden Plover, breeding waterfowl like King Eider and passerines like Bluethroat more than make up for the lower number of species. And those birds are just the tip of the iceberg. There is an amazing diversity and this tour aims to photograph as much as possible but looking for great quality. If you wish to see more of the species, we recommend checking out our Alaska: Breeding Birds and Mammals in the Tundra tour. Please read the notes below for important information regarding this tour.

Upcoming Departures:

2023

Pre-tour extension Dates: 8 June ($1770; single supplement: $230)

Main Tour Dates: 9 - 21 June ($11,560; single supplement: $1580)

Post-tour extension Dates: 22 - 25 June (Price: TBA)

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Detailed Itinerary

Other Tour Details:

Length: 13 Days (18 Days w/ both Ext.)

Starting City: Anchorage

Ending City: Anchorage

Pace: Moderate

Physical Difficulty: Easy/Moderate

Focus: Photography, Wildlife

Max group size: 5 + 1 leader

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*IMPORTANT INFO:

While many of the subjects on this tour can be photographed with relative ease, a good deal of species will require some more effort/equipment. If you want to make the most of this tour, you will be required to walk through some of the tundra. The tundra around Nome is made up of grassy tussocks which can be some difficult walking but is not dangerous, just somewhat strenuous. We will never walk more than about 1/2 mile but keep in mind the walking won’t be on flat, level ground. The Tundra around Utqiagvik is boggy and can sometimes be a little slippery but is less strenuous than Nome. Additionally, WADERS ARE REQUIRED to make the most of this tour. The meal plan on this tour is a little different than normal tours because of the photography schedule. We will have a brunch (around 10:30am) and then a dinner (around 5:30pm). There will be plenty of snacks to supplement in between. The sleep schedule is also very different to normal tours. During this time of year, Alaska is mostly daylight so the “golden hours” are a lot different than normal locations. Your rough schedule will be; Photography from about 5:30am - 10am, Brunch, Sleep (as if it were night time), wake up for dinner (around 5:30pm), then photography until about 12:30am, then a nap from about 1am to 4:30am and repeat. It is essentially a reversal of a normal sleep-nap schedule but is the best way to do Alaska.

Day 0: Arrival Day

The tour will begin on this afternoon. Guests should arrive before 4pm on this day or plan to arrive a day earlier. We will go to a local park around Anchorage to look for a couple of target species like, Boreal Chickadee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Orange-crowned Warbler, and most importantly Spruce Grouse, our biggest target.

 

Day 1: Anchorage to Nome

Depending on our flight time to Nome we will either kill a few hours in the morning targeting more species or we will travel to Nome. Once we travel to Nome, we will pick up our rental vehicle, check into our hotel, allow the midday heat and light to dissipate, grab dinner and then go out for the evening. The next four days will be spent in Nome.

 

Days 2-5: Nome

Nome is full of fascinating species. There are only several roads to drive so the plan is simple, drive these roads at strategic times in order to photograph as much as possible. Target species for these roads are; Willow and Rock Ptarmigan, Bluethroat, Arctic, Blackpoll, Yellow, and Wilson’s Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Fox, White-crowned, Golden-crowned and American Tree Sparrows, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Northern Wheatear, Lapland Longspur, Hoary and Common Redpoll, Rough-legged Hawk, Long-tailed Jaeger, Aleutian Tern, Red-throated Loon, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and a host of shorebirds like; Pacific and American Golden Plover, Surfbird, Red Knot, Whimbrel, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Plover, Black-bellied Plover and Red-necked Phalarope. And we of course keep our eyes out for the desirable mammals like the striking Musk Ox.

 

Day 6: Nome to Anchorage

Depending on our departure flights from Nome, we may have another morning to do some photography but if not, we will catch our flight back to Anchorage. Because of the unique layout of Alaska, there are no direct flights from Nome to Utqiagvik so we have to return to Anchorage. There is also only one flight per day to each location so depending on flights, we may be forced to spend 24hrs or so around anchorage. If this is the case, we will get another rental car for the 24hrs and see what else we can photograph around anchorage or nearby hotspots.

 

Day 7: Anchorage to Utqiagvik (formally Barrow)

Today we head up to Utqiagvik (formally Barrow). Upon arrival, we will grab our rental vehicle, check into the hotel and again, let the heat and midday light dissipate. We will grab our dinner and then head out for some great bird photography. Utqiagvik is a really cool place. Boggy Tundra attracts a variety of species and due to the 24hr sunlight, we can photograph to our hearts desire. Birds like; King, Steller’s, and Spectacled Eider, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, Hudsonian Godwit, Red and Red-necked Phalarope, Dunlin, Pectoral Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Greater White-fronted Goose, Northern Pintail, Long-tailed Duck, Pacific Loon and other potential (but harder) birds like Snowy Owl, Pomarine and Parasitic Jaeger and Sabine’s Gull. The next four days will be spent in Utqiagvik.

 

Day 8-11: Utqiagvik

 

Day 12: Utqiagvik to Anchorage

Depending on our departure flights from Utqiagvik, we may have another morning to do some photography but if not, we will catch our flight back to Anchorage. For those who will not be joining the optional post-tour extension, this is where we will say goodbye. Guests can depart at their convenience either this evening or the next day.

Pre-tour Extension: Northwestern Fjords Cruise

This is an optional extension for guests who would like to visit the Northwestern Fjords and photograph some of the possible marine birds and mammals. *PLEASE NOTE: This tour is great fun but is not designed specifically for photographers. It is possible to get some decent photos but for the most part, it is a tour for scenery, whales and the glaciers which are incredible. Mammals like Sea Otter, Humpback Whale, Orca, Dall’s Porpoise and Steller’s Sea Lion are usually around and quite photogenic. Some birds you might be able to photograph are; Thick-billed and Common Murre, Horned and Tufted Puffin, Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorant, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Rhinoceros Auklet. For this extension, you will be met in Anchorage by the guide, and drive just over 2hrs down to Seward. The boat tour will be the following day for 8.5hrs and we will spend the night in Seward. We will have a morning around Seward for some bird photography and then head back up to Anchorage to meet with the rest of the group for “Arrival Day”. 

Post-tour Extension: St. Paul Island

Have you ever dreamed of an island full of breeding alcids? Where Tufted and Horned Puffin, Least, Parakeet, and Crested Auklets, Common and Thick-billed Murre, a host of gulls and the gorgeous Red-faced Cormorant and highly sought after Rock Sandpiper all breed and showcase their best plumages and songs? Then this island could be just what you’ve been looking for. This is also one of the best places for Arctic Fox and Northern Fur Seal while we also enjoy stuffing lava rock cliffs, epic rollings hills covered in wildflowers and of course, the stunning sights and sounds of the raging sea below. It is a great way to round out this already awesome tour. Three full days will be spent on the island. There is not a lot of variety so we will be spending this time trying to get the very best photos of a few species, but it is well worth it.

*Depending on our departure from St. Paul, we may have another morning shooting but if not, we will depart for Anchorage. Guests may depart Anchorage at their leisure either on this day or the next. There are no activities planned for after the departure off of St. Paul.

Trip Considerations

PACE: Moderate. While we don’t tend to move large distances on any particular day in Alaska, the days are very long (in the Land of the Midnight Sun). Start times often tend to be quite reasonable (around 7 to 8 AM). On some days there may be optional post-dinner excursions. Most meals are usually in good local restaurants, though we will take packed lunches on several days.

PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Easy to moderate. You can expect to walk several miles per day, sometimes more, and while the walking is usually easy there are some exceptions. The hardest hike is the attempt for Bristle-thighed Curlew, where we may walk up to 3 miles roundtrip over tundra that can have large grass hummocks (rubber boots are essential on this day). There is also the opportunity to walk into the tundra around Barrow, which while flat can often be quite wet (again, rubber boots are needed, and photographers may wish to bring waders).

 

CLIMATE: Variable. Alaska often experiences quite a range of conditions throughout late spring and summer, and temperatures can be at times quite warm (even up to a balmy 80°F/27°C in the Anchorage area in some years) to downright cold around Barrow (at times below freezing). Wind is also a prominent feature in coastal Alaska, especially around Barrow, and can make the apparent temperature seem much colder. Good, winter clothing and good quality rain gear are essential on this tour as are rubber boots (waders can be useful too but not essential). Rain is also possible throughout the tour, and occasionally some light snow falls at Barrow or Nome. Normal daytime highs in this season are: Anchorage, lows of 40-48 °F and highs of 56-63°F (4.5-9°C and 13.5-17.5°C respectively ); Seward varies between around 36-76 °F (2.5-24.5°C). Please remember, in Seward, while on the cruise to the glaciers, the wind chill can make it feel much colder than the actual temperature. In Nome, temperatures are usually between 45-70°F (7-21°C), and in Barrow between 32-55°F (0-13°C).

 

ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent. All of the hotels and motels on the main tour have typical good amenities, including Wi-Fi, full-time electricity and en-suite facilities. On the St. Paul Extension, the bathrooms are shared between hotel guests, although the rooms are good and Wi-Fi works well there.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Alaska ranks as among the best photography destinations in the world, and chances for photos will be abundant. On this excellent birding and photography tour, the chances at all sites for getting good bird photos are high, with Seward providing opportunities to photograph not only seabirds but marine mammals on the boat trip out of there. Although the forest birding there will be challenging for photography, there is a set of feeders which attract song birds and hummingbirds close to town, which will provide some chances to photograph there. In Nome, the nesting shorebirds, jaegers, loons, and sometimes raptors too can provide good shots, while in Barrow the arctic nesting shorebirds like Pectoral Sandpiper, Dunlin and Western Sandpiper, may also be supported by some of the eiders for mini photo shoots, along with the plentiful tame long-tailed ducks and Greater White-fronted Geese. Both Barrow and Nome have ptarmigans (both Rock and Willow), and Lapland Longspurs, which are all typically tame. Aside from the birds, mammals like Muskox in Nome, and Sea Otters around Seward Harbor are often photographed too. Arguably, the most exciting bird photography of the entire tour is on St. Paul, on the extension, where species like Tufted and Horned Puffins, Least and Parakeet Auklets, Red-faced Cormorants, both Black-legged and Red-legged Kittiwakes, in addition to Rock Sandpipers, and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches are all near assured on each visit to perform. There is also plentiful chances to photograph the abundant Arctic Foxes and Northern Fur-Seals on the island too.

Other Information

TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: For US citizens, no special requirements are necessary to visit Alaska. Citizens of Canada may enter the US with a valid passport, and do not need to obtain a visa. For citizens of the 38 countries on the visa waiver list (including the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, and Japan – click here for the full list), you can enter the US with a valid passport and a completed Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which should be applied for online IN ADVANCE OF THE TOUR. For all passports, the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Citizens of all other countries will need to apply for a US visa. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.

The inclusions and exclusions below are for the main tour; please contact our office about what is included and excluded for the extension, and for latest prices. We will book a full package including flights to and from St. Paul, accommodation and food while on the island, and a local bird guide for your stay. Note: there is a full day and night between the end of the extension and the start of the main tour in Anchorage, which is scheduled due to both the flight schedules to and from the island necessitating this, but also to ensure if there are delays to flight coming off St. Paul that there is a buffer to ensure that you do not miss the start of the main tour. The costs of food and one night’s stay in Anchorage are not included within the main tour price or the extension price, although our office can help arrange this for you. The guide will not be present for the extension, as a local guide will be provided on St. Paul, and there are no birding activities planned on the ‘buffer’ day between the St. Paul extension and main tour. Day tours can be arranged through the hotel we stay at in Anchorage, and we can also assist with booking something in advance if desired. Please contact our office for further information on all of this.

 

WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 13; meals from dinner on day 1 (unless you arrive too late for dinner service) to breakfast on day 14; reasonable non-alcoholic drinks at meals; safe drinking water only between meals; round-trip flight from Anchorage to Nome; round-trip flight from Anchorage to Barrow; Tropical Birding tour leader with scope and audio playback gear from the evening of day 1 to the evening of day 13; ground transport for the group in a suitable vehicle driven by the guide from the morning of day 2 to the afternoon of day 13; airport shuttle bus on day 1 and day 14; tips for included meals; a day cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park on day 3; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).

 

WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Tips other than those for included meals; flights from your home city to Anchorage; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.

 

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