Late summer birding in Alaska

Having been to the subantarctic, I always wanted to get myself to the high Arctic to personally compare the wildlife and experiences from the two different polar regions. A conference in Canada (which by the way I never went too, but that’s another story) provided the incentive. Though I originally wanted to drive from Edmonton (Alberta) northward into Musk Ox range, my research revealed that it was going to be way more sensible to fly to Alaska. From Alaska there are two options to get to the Arctic. In fact, there are only two roads crossing the Arctic Circle in North America. The first is the Dempster Highway in Canada. However, my ultimate choice fell on the James W. Dalton Highway because (a) more birders drive the road so more gen were available and (2) I can access the Arctic from the Dalton without needing a plane.

I was joined on this trip by my long-time birding friend Ray Schep. This report chronicles our visit. I first touch on some background and logistics, then provide my itinerary with brief comments before a brief annotated birdlist. I end with a list of target species we missed during the trip. Note that this trip report is photo-intensive. Fact is, this was an awesome trip, and I really just could not decide which pictures was redundant.

 BACKGROUND

The Dalton Highway, often also referred to as the Haul Road, is a 414-mile (666km) road running north-south through central and northern Alaska. The road ends 5 miles from the Arctic Ocean at the Prudhoe Bay Oilfields and town of Deadhorse. The road is famous for a number of reasons. Notably, making celebrities of the people taking on the challenge, the Dalton featured on seasons 3-4 of Ice Road Truckers, as well as America’s toughest jobs. Those truckers put their life in danger driving the road to provide supplies to the origin of the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline system, which is the main (or only?) supply line of Alaskan oil to the rest of the US. The pineline features very prominent along the Dalton, and a guided tour through the restricted oil fields to the Arctic Ocean answers some questions you may have about oil drilling.

Apart from the learning more about the mechanics behind oil drilling, this trip would also be my first experience through Boreal Forests, the most extensive terrestrial biome that completely circle the globe at higher latitudes. The Boreal forests in Alaska were dominated by Spruce Trees, interspersed with Fir, Balsam and Birch.

With the possibility of Snowy Owls, Polar Bears, Gray Wolf, and lots of birds mixed with a driving adventure, the Dalton seemed like an opportunity not to miss. Even better, there are no cellphone or internet services for much of the Dalton Highway (including a 240miles stretch). That means, essentially 414 miles where you exchange the usual concrete landscape around us with spruce trees, awesome scenery, wildlife, and birds. I could not contain myself.

 

LOGISTICS

Visa

My F1 student visa for the United States worked fine for Alaska. You need to check whether you’ll need a visa or not. Most developing country citizens do.

 

Key birding resources

  • Email groups: Boreal BirderAlaska Birding, and Kenai Peninsula Birding
  • Dunn, J.L. & Alderfer, J. 2006. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. National Geographic.
  • Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. National Audubon Society.
  • BirdsEye, an iPhone app linked to Ebird
  • Since internet and cell phone service are freely widely, GoogleMaps (online and the iPhone app) were frequently used for navigation
  • Though I did not really use info from the Kenai Wildlife or Homer Birding websites, it might be worth a scan depending on your priorities.
  • I appreciated photo-intensive trip reports such as here and here, which gave me a feel for the Dalton Highway itself.
  • Trip advice and road conditions at BLM Alaska and Alaska511
  • Wikitravel’s Dalton Highway pages, and a proper map was critical for preparation.
  • Advice from a number of friends who have visited Alaska in the past. Thanks everyone for making this work out so well.
  • There is a good number of internet resources indicating abundances of individual species in Alaska, notably the USGS Bird Checklists website.

Accommodation

Accommodation is plentiful in Alaska, but usually expensive. For the budget-conscious there are a number of affordable back-packer hostels (see e.g. Hostel World; I also saw some unlisted hostels while driving around). As it worked for me in previous trips, and to accommodate a flexible itinerary (i.e. minimize prior bookings in a very popular tourist destination), we chose to sleep in our rental car during this trip, which worked well.

 

Trip bookings

While I mentioned above that I tried to keep some bookings to a minimum, some prior bookings are needed. First, be aware that, on my initial enquiry, all Kenai Fjords pelagic trips were fully booked (two weeks in advance) so I recommend booking and paying the trip in full at the earliest convenience. Second, access to the Arctic Ocean is restricted due to the oil fields. Those who wish to visit the Arctic Ocean need to book a trip 24-hour in advance through the Prudhoe Bay Hotel. We did not book our rental car, but by the sounds of it we could have saved enormously on possibly the biggest expense of our trip with a prior booking. Note I checked car rental prices about a month in advance and they were already high, so I’m not sure if savings on bookings done a few months prior to a trip is a reality, or if expensive car rental in summer is unavoidable.

 

Weather

I consider myself a quintessential cold weather person, so Alaska offered a pleasant break from the grueling summers of southern USA. As to clothes, I spent most of the time wearing a t-shirt and shorts, sporadically getting into my fleece jacket. This was especially true in the Arctic where, apart from the first day, I also birded wearing tracksuit pants. Essentially I felt adequately dressed in a maximum two layers during the entire trip, apart from a brief moment on the Kenai Fjords pelagic near the Aialika Glacier where I wished I had more layers. I never looked at the thermometer but think we had temperatures just below to 10C (40F) notably in the Arctic and at higher altitudes. A rain jacket is critical during trip to Alaska in July: it rained every day south of the Brook’s Range, and was rather misty on the Arctic coastal plain as well.

 

Transport

Apart from doing my homework on finding key bird species, I also invested a lot of effort figuring out how we would actually get to the Arctic. The reason is that the Dalton Highway, or Haul Road is infamous for being a rather difficult road to drive (see also background above). Consequently, car rental companies do not allow their cars on the Dalton (if you take a chance, you kiss your paid insurance good-bye, as specified on the contract). If you do take a chance and run into trouble, towing cost $5/mile, which is not a trivial amount on a 414-mile return journey. So it seemed that you need a car that’s good for rough driving. There are a some companies in Fairbanks such as Arctic Outfitters that rent vehicles equipped for the Dalton i.e. equipped with a CB Radio, two full-sized spare wheels and a maintainance kit (for windshield cracks etc). But these are in Fairbanks, and we really did not want to take a bus from Anchorage through prime birding habitat, or rent three different cars (incl. one-way fees twice) for this trip. In addition, cars allowed on the Dalton are seriously expensive, even compared to already unusually expensive regular car rental. I received some advice to either take a plane or express commute to Deadhorse where I could rent a truck (such as Lester’s Oilfield Leasing, for which I could not get a URL). But this defeats the purpose of experiencing the Dalton and finding all the birds along the way.

All these dollar amounts and logistical challenges made me rather worried about a trip, that might potentially even exclude a trip to the Arctic. Until I finally found some photos of the ‘imposing’ highway (here and here), after which I frankly though the road was very well maintained. So, as I consider myself a highly experienced off-road driver (and Ray has also spent his childhood in Africa), and taking into account some trip preparation advice, especially road conditions and what to take, we decided a simple sedan would do, declining car rental insurance on our Toyota Yaris as we were going to forfeit it any way.

DAILY LOG


Day 1: Jul 8, 2010

Day of arrival, around 2pm. After we collected the rental car we briefly stopped at Potter Marsh outside Anchorage (opening our trip account with Black-billed Magpie) before hitting the Kenai peninsula. Once on the peninsula we visited the Kenai River mouth area and Headquarters Lake (failing to locate Aleutian Tern but seeing Northwestern Crow, Boreal Chickadee and Glaucous-winged Gull with ease) before heading to Homer, where we spent the night next to Mud Bay (another Aleutian Tern spot). Just before we left Homer we had some fun at Headquarters Lake when a Common Loon fooled us into briefly thinking we (naively) listened to a Gray Wolf.

 

Day 2: Jul 9, 2010

We started off scanning at Beluga Lake (picking up a lone Tundra Swan) before hitting Homer Spit where we were surprised by a few Fork-tailed Storm-petrels foraging in the wake of boats coming in and out of Kachemak Bay. Much of our time during the day was then spent looking for Aleutian Tern. Apparently they abandoned their old (accessible) nesting location, and the new location (Stone Step Lake) in on private property. To see this birds require some luck spotting birds flying between feeding and nesting sites (but see retrospect further down), with the waters around Mud Bay, Homer’s USF&W office and Lampert Lake apparently the best locations. While continuing failing to see the tern we picked up notably Hudsonian Godwit, and drove Homer’s scenic East End Road. As day’s end draw nearer we decided to give Kenai’s terns another try, hoping we won’t regret not having a scope. En route to Kenai we stopped at Anchor Point (missing out on a Lesser Black-backed Gull picked up by a Swedish birder later the day). Our destination was Headquarters Lake, where we planning to stay on the viewing deck until we were found the tern. Patience paid off after about an hour and a half with a noticeably darker tern flying much faster and direct that more common Arctic Terns. Our only Aleutian Tern of the trip virtually flew over our heads before disappearing over the swamp forest behind us.

After this success we headed to Seward via the Skelak Lake road, specifically aiming for the Harding Ice Field (targeting Rosy-finch and White-tailed Ptarmigan) the next day. Upon reaching Exit Glacier I realized I did not do my homework well as the Ice Field can only be reached with an approximately 8-hour return hike. Since we planned to come back to Seward for a pelagic later, and had locations for these two target species elsewhere, we decided to give the hike a temporary skip. And so we started our journey to the Arctic, stopping for a quick 2-3 hour nap just after midnight outside Wasilla.

 

Day 3: Jul 10, 2010

We left Wasilla just before dawn to reach the Denali Highway from Cantwell’s side. This drive offered us some spectacular unobstructed views of the USA’s highest peak, the icy Mt. McKinley (We later realized getting cloudless views of the peak is rather rare, and I’m still kicking myself for not taking photos when the opportunity presented itself). Once on the Denali Hwy, we kicked the day off with a bang. Notably, even though we only did the highway’s first 15 miles or so before turning around, we picked up Porcupine, Northern Hawk Owl, Arctic Warbler, White-winged Crossbill, and Bohemian Waxwing. Quite a few singing Smith’s Longspurs were also in attendance in the roadside fields. We decided to leave Denali National Park for the return journey so went straight to Fairbanks where we paid brief visits the Cushman Ponds (Rusty Blackbird and Northern Waterthrush being highlights) and Creamer Field (most noteworthy birds were a few Sandhill Cranes). After leaving Fairbanks we decided to try our luck on a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher reported off the Steese Hwy. Our flycatcher search was made difficult by heavy rain we encountered on the commute, so we gave up rather quickly. With that, my moment of truth finally arrived as it became clear we would reach the Dalton before nightfall. En route to our overnight stop (at Finger Mountain) we picked up Great Horned Owl and another Northern Hawk Owl, both sitting on top of dead spruce trees.

 

Day 4: Jul 11, 2010

Most of the day was spent slowly proceeding along the Dalton Highway towards Prudhoe Bay. En route, two of our target species were observed in spectacular fashion: a Gyrfalcon chasing a Golden Eagle near MP195. A bit further, at MP208, a short hike produced Upland Sandpiper, before we reached Deadhorse passing the Antigun Pass (picking up Gray-crowned Rosy-finch and Northern Wheatear), Galbraith Campsite (seeing American Golden Plover and Rock Ptarmigan), and Toolik Lake (where we saw the breeding pair of Yellow-billed Loon, or Toolik in the native Alaskan language). The undoubted highlight on our day however was a Gray Wolf running over the road as we descended into the arctic coastal plain on the northern slopes of the Alaskan Range. Birding at Deadhorse was slow due to some heavy mist, but we managed to see an Arctic Fox before we called it the night, sleeping at some parking lot in Deadhorse among lots of trucks.

 

Day 5: Jul 12, 2010

A lovely day at Deadhorse was mostly spent birding the roadside and ponds around Deadhorse. We found much of the goodies we were looking for, including our only flock of the beautiful Sabine’s Gulls. We received some devastating news later the day when locals revealed that the Eiders already left. Considering that we picked up virtually all our realistic target species already (I was just looking for Stilt Sandpiper, but knew this was easy elsewhere in the US), we decided to have an early night in preparation for the next day’s long return journey. We spent the night a few kilometers outside Deadhorse, seeing a number of Caribou passing our car. Apparently during that night we missed a  Grizzly Bear catching a Caribou calf inside Deadhorse (I heard about it from the guide who took us to the arctic ocean, as well as a passenger on my plane ride to Minnesota).

 

Day 6: Jul 13, 2010

We started the day with a trip to the Arctic Ocean (including a brief dip) before heading back south. Before our return journey we made a quick phone call to the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center. This call blew some new energy into us with some general information on a number of target species, notably the Eiders. Getting within striking distance of the Eiders was however a problem without a scope, but we finally managed to find both Spectacled Eider and King Eider with remarkable ease after obtaining permission to enter some industrial property at Deadhorse. We left Deadhorse satisfied, and did a few more rounds in the tundra surrounding Deadhorse before heading to the Brooks Range. Upon reaching the Brooks Range, our progress was hampered by some severely heavy mist, so we decided to get another early night near Toolik Lake (but not leaving the arctic as we were still hoping for Bluethroat the next day).

 

Day 7: Jul 14, 2010

Day started off unsuccessfully looking for Bluethroat, but we did get some good views of Smith’s Longspur while hiking over the tundra after Musk Ox. We also had more sightings of a number of birds we’ve already seen while driving the Dalton (e.g. American Golden Plover and Yellow Wagtail). At the end of Dalton Hwy we turned right onto Elliot Hwy, finally reaching Eureka road 65 miles further where we twitched two male Yellow-bellied Flycatchers chasing each other. We spent the night in Fairbanks.

 

Day 8: Jul 15, 2010

Our destination for the day was the Delta Agricultural Project (targeting an active Sharp-tailed Grouse lek). But once again, birding was made difficult by to some heavy downpours. A call to the local USF&W office confirmed the best place for Sharp-tailed Grouse was military grounds. Our worst fears however materialized with a red flag hanging at the access road, signaling that the area was off-bounds due to training activities (another call to the USF&W office confirmed the flag was probably hanged during our previous phone conversation). Our attempts of flushing grouse at some other grassland locations failed miserably. A long day became longer when we decided to wait the rain and flag out (after all, we did come a long way for these birds, and had an extra day). The day was spent checking email and news, and eating dinner at a local restaurant before we spent the night on Camp Greedy property next to the inferior Sharp-tailed Grouse location. Our best birds of the day were another Gyrfalcon just outside Delta Junction, and a Harlan’s Hawk on the Agricultural Fields.

 

Day 9: Jul 16, 2010

Today started off sunny, and us ready for some grouse watching. But, a quick check sadly revealed the red military training flag was still hanging, so after we once again tried to flush grouse at the inferior site. Failing again, we decided to head south via Paxson and the Denali Highway to Denali National Park. Our drive on the Denali Highway yielded some spectacular scenery, as well as some new birds on the trip, notably Blackpoll Warbler, Townsend’s Warbler, and Varied Thrush. We also realized that Barrow’s Goldeneye females are not so easy to separate from Common Goldeneye (see the discussion underneath). There were plenty of American Tree Sparrows and Golden-crowned Sparrows near Paxson. We did however fail to locate one of my target species, Northern Shrike, on the Denali Highway, so we decided to drive the Denali Park Road trying our luck for the shrike. Though we saw some Moose, a beautiful Caribou, and a very inquisitive Mew Gull we were still left short of the shrike, so we decided to overnight near the Park’s entrance.

 

Day 10: Jul 17, 2010

Another try driving Denali’s Park’s Road yet again proved unsuccessful on the shrike, but we did pick up a Taiga Merlin, before we headed towards the Hatcher Pass via Willows. This pass offered breathtaking scenery, as well as Lincoln’s Sparrow, American Dipper and a White-tailed Ptarmigan female and chicks. Driving to Fishhook at the foot of the pass provided some more breathtaking scenery, before we headed for Seward in preparation for the next day’s pelagic.

 

Day 11: Jul 18, 2010 

Rain today did not affect out plans much as the entire day was spent doing a Kenai Fjords pelagic with Kenai Fjord Tours (sometimes also referred to as Mariah Tours). Apart from cleaning up on Alcids (seeing Tufted and Horned Puffin, Parakeet and Rhino Auklet, Marbled, Kittlitz’s, and Ancient Murrelet, Common Murre and Pigeon Guillemot) we were also entertained by some Sea Otter, Harbor Seals, Steller’s Sea Lion, Dall’s Porpoise and Hump-backed Whale. Once off the boat we looked for woodpeckers with no luck. These searches did take us to some exciting locations, notably Exit Glacier, where we ended up not walking to the Harding Ice Field due to time restrictions, and having picked up all the species on offer already. We spent the night next to the ocean between Seward and Lowell Point.

 

Day 12: Jul 19, 2010

Some more rain rendered our last day another slow one. We failed locating three-toed woodpecker but did get a single Pine Grosbeak calling from the top of a spruce tree in Lowell Point State Park. The rain cleared up as we drove to Anchorage, where we briefly stopped at Potter Marsh and Westchester Lagoon (signing our trip off with a number of Hudsonian Godwits) before heading for the airport.

 

RETROSPECT

Alaska

Wow, what a wonderful destination. Most locals are friendly (and passionate about Alaska), while most tourists are similar-minded in their quest for adventure. I was surprised at the sense of identity of Alaskans, but that is a positive, as it makes souvenirs from Alaska more cherished. I would certainly like to return to this location for a more relaxed trip one day. But that will have to be when I’m much richer, because Alaska is not for someone on a student budget.

 

Hatcher Pass

While the Arctic was certainly my favorite location during this trip, mention need to be made of Hatcher Pass. I’ve not read much about Hatcher Pass on my trip planning, apart from the fact that its good for White-tailed Ptarmigan. But WOW, this amazingly beautiful montane grassland site with an absolute sense of place is truly worth a visit.

 

Kenai pelagic

While I consider all-day pelagics always a hard trip, I also had an amazing amount of fun on a trip that felt much shorter than it really was. We took the Captain’s Choice Tour, which is really a tailor-made trip based on the wishes of the participants. I think it helps that the general focus of the trip is wildlife, so even the photographers enjoyed hunting for specific bird species, which after all took us through spectacular scenery. Yes you read correctly, the guides went out of their way to make sure the birders on the trip (which was only Ray and me) saw our target species. Highly recommended. We sadly ended up not doing the birding trips by Bay Excursions simply because we ran out of time.

 

Trip timing

While I had limited flexibility in the timing of my trip, I would say that I went to Alaska too late. We dipped on the Bluethroat because apparently they already moved on. Finding shorebirds was also rather challenging because they were either gone (failed breeders) or breeding (i.e. not displaying). We also only saw female/immature Eiders, missing out on the colorful males that already left. In an ideal world, I think I would visit Alaska early-mid June. Ironically, it looked like we might have been too early to find Aleutian Tern easily: following email conversations after our trip, it seemed that a major influx of terns ocurred about 2 weeks after we left Alaska. At least we found this key species.

 

Scope

This was possibly the biggest impediment on our trip. Of course I would not know which species I missed not having a scope. But even if we didn’t miss much in the end, it us took significant effort to see some birds well. For example, identifying Barrow’s Golden-eye required the use of zooming in on photos I took, while we may also have had easier times locating Eiders, Aleutian Tern and the many shorebirds with a scope. If you have a scope, you definitely want to bring it with to Alaska.

 

Deadhorse

Deadhorse is not the easiest birding location I have ever been too. You are unable to visit the Arctic Ocean at your own convenience but have to take a guided tour which travels through the oilfields. This tour is definitely not tailor-made for birders: a wide variety of people come on this trip, most of them not too impressed stopping for birds. Furthermore, the time constraints does not allow for birding on this trip, and the oceanic vista (if you can call it that) the guide shows too is also not the best birding location (I saw one Semi-palmated Plover on the shore, but that was it in terms of wildlife). The town itself is also rather unfriendly to birding. The business is oil, so the oil workers really don’t need your spending. In fact, stopping along the road to look for birds made s one feel more like a nuisance than anything else. Some of the ponds, like the one with the Eiders, were mostly tucked behind buildings, with construction managers only reluctantly giving birding permission even on a Sunday. Note you are not allowed to walk on the tundra within 15km on Deadhorse, so birding near Deadhorse is restricted to the roadside where you have to negotiate big trucks coming in and out. You can of course negotiate all these challenges (I did), but it is a pain birding here.

 

Dalton Highway

In the end I felt the Dalton wasn’t nearly the imposing road my research made it out to be. This might be because I’m used to much harsher in Africa (where I grew up) but I also believe it’s a reputation that stuck despite vast improvements to the road in recent years. I have added a lot of my thinking taking a rental sedan without insurance in the logistics section above. In retrospect I have no regrets since we had no issues on the road. In reality we had a blast in our Toyota Yaris. I think most issues on the Dalton are due to rocks jumping up. As such, the most important advice I can give you:

– Always drive slow. If you see a truck coming, drive even slower. The faster you drive, the more momentum that jumping rock will have, and the worse the damage (think windows, fuel pipe, break cables – important stuff all highly vulnerable to jumping rocks). Drive slow, and you’ll be fine. The few extra hours of driving will save you a lot of headaches and a possible ruined trip.

I would say about a quarter of the road are really rough, and need speeds of about 10miles/hr. Another quarter of the road you can speed up to maybe 60 miles/hr or so, but seriously I don’t think I went over 35miles/hr once. You do NOT want a rock the size of your fist hitting your windshield at high speed. Also remember that trucks do have right of way, and Alaska State law stipulates that you have to drive with your headlights on at all times. Oh, and gas is really expensive in the Dalton. I think we paid $4.55/gal at Deadhorse (he source of the gas!!!).

Midnight sun

Yes the sun never sets north of the Arctic Circle over summer. I reckon the sun never dipped below a 40-degree angle on the Arctic Ocean during my visit. Naturally, as you go further south the sun dips closer to the horizon, until you pass the higher laying areas north of the initial stages of the Dalton Highway, where a nightly dawn replaces daylight.

 

Missed polar megas

While I saw a lot of goodies on this trip, I did not see Polar bear or Snowy Owl. Two reasons for this. First, Deadhorse is not the best place to see these species. For example most people there told me they’ve never seen Snowy Owl in that area. There are Polar Bears there, but because of safety concerns the Oil Fields management take strict precautions when it comes to this critter. Simply a Polar Bear photo taken by an employer gets him/her a warning. The second photo gets him relieved of his/her duties. Security will most likely also know about a Polar Bear before you, and will chase it away before you get there. If you happen to be at Prudhoe Bay (as opposed to waste your time coming here looking for Polar Bear), trip timing will also be of the essence. Notably, the pack-ice need to be close to land to entice the bears on-shore (they hunt on the ice). We were late, but according to our Arctic Ocean guide the ice were touching shoreline about 3 weeks prior to our trip. So maybe a trip before mid-June might give you better opportunities to see Polar Bear.

 

Mosquitoes

The Alaskan mosquitoes came as quite a surprise to me. Sure, there are mosquitoes virtually everywhere. Except on Antarctica. Yet the amount of mosquitoes on the Arctic Coastal Plane was staggering. It was so bad, I could have confused the mosquitoes on my head for gravel when rubbing my hands through my hair. I previously had problems with dust inside my camera ruining pictures. This trip it was the mosquitoes that constantly surrounded me.

 

ANNOTATED BIRDLIST

1. Greater White-fronted Goose Anser albifrons: Common at Deadhorse ponds

2. Brant Branta bernicla: Common at Deadhorse ponds, a few also at Homer spit

3. Cackling Goose Branta hutchinsii: Common at Deadhorse ponds. Saw a migratory flock at Westchester lagoon

4. Canada Goose Branta canadensis: Breeding birds at Potter Marsh

5. Trumpeter Swan Cygnus buccinators: Sporadically scattered all over, notably Beluga Lake (Homer), along the Denali Hwy and ponds outside Deadhorse

6. Gadwall Anas strepera: a few at Homer’s USF&W office.

7. American Widgeon: a few at Potter Marsh

8. Mallard: Scattered locations throughout

9. Northern Shoveler Anas clypeata: Common at ponds throughout

10. Northern Pintail Anas acuta: at scattered locations throughout

11. Green-winged Teal Anas crecca: a few at Potter Marsh

12. Greater Scaup Aythya marila: a few at Deadhorse

13. Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis: A few on the Denali Hwy, near Paxson

14. Spectacled Eider Somateria fischeri: A few seen on one of the eastern ponds at Deadhorse

15. King Eider Somateria spectabilis: A few seen on one of the eastern ponds at Deadhorse

16. Surf Scoter Melanitta perspicillata: One on a Denali Hwy pond near Cantwell; also some off Homer Spit

17. Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis: Common and widespread throughout

18. Bufflehead Bucephala albeola: a few at Cushman ponds and near Finger Mt on the Dalton

19. Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula: Some on the Denali Hwy, towards Cantwell

20. Barrow’s Goldeneye Bucephala islandica: One female on the Denali Hwy, near Cantwell

21. Common Merganser Mergus merganser: A female with chicks downstream from Exit Glacier (Seward)

22. Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator: A female with chicks at Headquaters Lake, Kenai

23. Ring-necked Pheasant Phasianus colchicus: Fleeting glimpse of a possible female at the Delta Agricultural Project (Delta Junction)

24. Spruce Grouse Falcipennis canadensis: some birds along the Dalton Hwy, Elliott Hwy, and near Willow while driving up the Hatcher Pass

25. Willow Ptarmigan Lagopus lagopus: At scattered locations south of the Brooks Range, also on the Kenai peninsula

26. Rock Ptarmigan Lagopus muta: Saw some birds at Galbraith Campsite, as well as just outside Deadhorse.

27. White-tailed Ptarmigan Lagopus leucura: Female with chicks near Summit Lake (Hatcher Pass).

28. Red-throated Loon Gavia stellata: a few on Deadhorse ponds and one on the Denali Hwy

29. Pacific Loon Gavia pacifica: Common and widespread throughout; not seen on the Kenai peninsula

30. Common Loon Gavia immer: Common and widespread on the Kenai peninsula

31. Yellow-billed Loon Gavia adamsii: Two birds at Toolik Lake

32. Horned Grebe Podiceps auritus: A few on the Denali Hwy

33. Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena: Breeding at Potter Marsh, Beluga Lake and Westchester Lagoon

34. Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel Oceanodroma furcata: A few at the end of Homer Spit

35. Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus: A few on the Kenai Fjords pelagic, as well as Homer Spit

36. Red-faced Cormorant Phalacrocorax urile: A few on the Kenai Fjords pelagic

37. Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus: A few on the Kenai Fjords pelagic

38. Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus: At scattered locations south of the Brooks Range

39. Northern Harrier Circus cyaneus: At scattered locations south of the Brooks Range and north of the Kenai peninsula

40. Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis: One at Denali National Park, and one on the Elliot Hwy towards the Dalton

41. Harlan’s Hawk Buteo jamaicensis: A single light morph individual at the Delta Agricultural Project (Delta Junction)

42. Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos: A single bird at Dalton Hwy MP195,

43. American Kestrel Falco sparverius: One in the early stages of the Dalton Hwy

44. Merlin Falco colubbarius (Taiga variety): One in Denali National Park;

45. Merlin Falco colubbarius: one at Lampert Lake (Homer)

46. Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus: At scattered locations on the Denali Hwy and Dalton Hwy, and one just outside Delta Junction

47. Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus: One on the Dalton Hwy, MP 208

48. Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis: Some at the Kenai River Flats; a few at the Homer USF&W office, a few at the Creamer Fields (Fairbanks)

49. American Golden-Plover Pluvialis dominica: Widespread on the Dalton: Seen at Galbraith campsite, MP291 and near Toolik Lake

50. Semipalmated Plover Charadrius semipalmatus: a few at Deadhorse

51. Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius: One bird on the rocks between Seward and Lowell Point

52. Solitary Sandpiper Tringa solitaria: Breeding at a pond between Finger mountain and Coldfoot

53. Greater Yellowlegs Tringa melanoleuca: Two at Potter Marsh

54. Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes: Common and widespread throughout

55. Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda: Breeding on the Dalton Hwy, MP 208

56. Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus: One at the Kenai River mouth

57. Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponica: One just outside Deadhorse

58. Hudsonian Godwit Limosa haemastica: One at Homer’s USF&W office, and a few at Westchester lagoon

59. Black Turnstone Arenaria melanocephala: A few at the Anchor River mouth (Anchor Point)

60. Surfbird Aphriza virgata: A few at the Anchor River mouth (Anchor Point)

61. Semipalmated Sandpiper Calidris pusilla: Common breeder on the Arctic Coastal Plain tundra, but frequently elsewhere

62. Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla: Common breeder on the Arctic Coastal Plain tundra.

63. White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis: One on the tundra outside Deadhorse

64. Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos: a few on tundra outside Deadhorse

65. Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus: One on the tundra outside Deadhorse

66. Wilson’s Snipe Gallinago delicata: A few at Westchester Lagoon

67. Red-necked Phalarope Phalaropus lobatus: Common breeder north of the Brooks Range

68. Bonaparte’s Gull Larus philadelphia: a few at the Kenai River mouth, and at Headquarters Lake, Kenai

69. Mew Gull Larus canus: Common and widespread throughout. Also seen away from coastal locations

70. Herring Gull Larus argentatus: Some at Kenai River Mouth

71. Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens: Common and widespread on the Kenai peninsula.

72. Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus: Saw our first bird at Pump Station 4 on the Dalton Hwy, thereafter the common gull of the arctic coastal plain

73. Sabine’s Gull Xema sabini: Saw a flock over one of the Deadhorse ponds one morning

74. Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla: a few off Homer Spit; also common on the Kenai Fjords pelagic

75. Aleutian Tern Onychoprion aleuticus: Saw one at Headquarters Lake, Kenai

76. Arctic Tern Sterna paradisaea: Common at wetland locations throughout.

77. Parasitic Jaeger Stercorarius parasiticus: Common on the arctic coastal plain. Also some breeding birds at the Kenai River mouth

78. Long-tailed Jaeger Stercorarius longicaudus: Common on the arctic coastal plain. The more common jaeger

79. Common Murre Uria aalge: common on the Kenai Fjords pelagic. Some also off Homer Spit

80. Pigeon Guillemot Cepphus columba: Common on the Kenai Fjords pelagic

81. Marbled Murrelet Brachyramphus marmoratus: Common on the Kenai Fjords pelagic. Also seen from the road between Seward and Lowell Point

82. Kittlitz’s Murrelet Brachyramphus brevirostris: A few on the Kenai Fjords pelagic, near the Aialika Glacier.

83. Ancient Murrelet Synthliboramphus antiquus: Saw one on the Kenai Fjords pelagic.

84. Parakeet Auklet Aethia psittacula: A few flocks on the Kenai Fjords pelagic.

85. Rhinoceros Auklet Cerorhinca monocerata: A few on the Kenai Fjords pelagic.

86. Horned Puffin Fratercula corniculata: Common on the Kenai Fjords pelagic.

87. Tufted Puffin Fratercula cirrhata: Common on the Kenai Fjords pelagic.

88. Rock Pigeon Columba livia: a few at the Creamer Fields, Fairbanks

89. Great Horned Owl Bubo virginianus: One on the Elliot Hwy, just before reacing the Dalton Hwy

90. Northern Hawk Owl Surnia ulula: One on the tarred section of the Denali Hwy, near Cantwell. Another in the early stages of the Dalton Hwy

91. Vaux’s Swift Chaetura vauxi: A few at Delta Junction

92. Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus: One bird just north of Coldfoot

93. Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus: One at the Delta Agricultural Project (Delta Junction)

94. Western Wood-Pewee Contopus sordidulus: One bird on the Park Road of Denali National Park

95. Yellow-bellied Flycatcher Empidonax flaviventris: One bird at Eureka Rd, mile 6.5, off the Elliot Hwy

96. Gray Jay Perisoreus canadensis: common and widespread south of the Brooks Range

97. Black-billed Magpie Pica hudsonia: Common and widespread on the Kenai Peninsula

98. Northwestern Crow Corvus caurinus: Common at coastal locations on the Kenai peninsula

99. Common Raven Corvus corax: Common and widespread north of the Kenai peninsula and south of the Brooks Range

100. Violet-green Swallow Tachycineta thalassina: a few at Beluga Lake (Homer), and a few at a pond between Finger Mountain and Coldfoot

101. Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis: a few at a pond between Finger Mountain and Coldfoot

102. Bank Swallow Riparia riparia: Some birds at the Delta Agricultural Project

103. Cliff Swallow Petrochelidon pyrrhonota: Very common around bridges on the Denali Hwy

104. Black-capped Chickadee Poecile atricapillus: A few at Headquarters Lake, Kenai

105. Chestnut-backed Chickadee Poecile rufescens: A few at Lowell Point State Park

106. Boreal Chickadee Poecile hudsonica: Common and widespread south of the Brooks Range

107. American Dipper Cinclus mexicanus: One bird at the early staged of the Hatcher Pass, near Fishhook

108. Ruby-crowned Chickadee Regulus calendula: some near the Kenai River mouth

109. Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis: Common in roadside willows on the Denali Hwy

110. Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe: One on the Antigun Pass

111. Gray-cheeked Thrush Catharus minimus: Common and widespread south of the Brooks Range

112. Swainson’s thrush Oenanthe ustulatus: At widespread locations south of the Brook’s Range

113. American Robin Turdus migratorius: Common and widespread south of the Brooks Range

114. Varied Thrush Ixoreus naevius: One on the Denali Hwy, and a few on the Skelak Lake road.

115. Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis: a few at Dalton Hwy MP 60

116. Bohemian Waxwing Bombycilla garrulus: A flock on the Denali Hwy, about 15 miles from Cantwell

117. Orange-crowned Warbler Vermivora celata: Some in shrub at the Kenai River mouth

118. Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia: one at Lampert Lake (Homer)

119. Yellow-rumped Warbler Dendroica coronata: Widespread south of the Brooks Range

120. Townsend’s Warbler Dendroica townsendi: One in the Taiga forest on the Denali Hwy

121. Blackpoll Warbler Dendroica striata: Common in Spruce forests along the Denali Hwy; sporadically elsewhere

122. Northern Waterthrush Seiurus noveboracensis: One at Cushman Ponds, Fairbanks

123. Wilson’s Warbler Wilsonia pusilla: Common and widespread south of the Brooks Range

124. American Tree Sparrow Spizella arborea: Common in the early stages of the Denali Hwy, near Paxson

125. Savanna Sparrow Spizella passerina: Common and widespread throughout.

126. Fox Sparrow Passerella iliaca: One bird on Nash road, outside Seward

127. Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia: Scattered locations on the Kenai peninsula

128. Lincoln’s Sparrow Melospiza lincolnii: One bird at the early staged of the Hatcher Pass, near Fishhook

129. White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys: Common and widespread throughout

130. Golden-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia atricapilla: a few on the Denali Hwy near Paxson

131. Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis: Common and widespread south of the Brooks Range

132. Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus: Common on the Arctic coastal plaintundra

133. Smith’s Longspur Calcarius pictus: Common along the first 10 miles of the Denali Hwy, near Cantwell Also some at Dalton Hwy MP306 (Sag River)

134. Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis: a few on the Antigun pass; common at Deahorse

135. Red-winged Blackbird Agelaius phoeniceus: a few at Creamer Fields, Fairbanks

136. Rusty Blackbird Euphagus carolinus: A flock at Cushman Ponds, Fairbanks

137. Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch Leucosticte tephrocotis: A few on top of the Antigun Pass.

138. Pine Grosbeak Pinicola enucleator: One bird at Lowell Point State Park

139. White-winged Crossbill Loxia leucoptera: A flock on the Denali Hwy, about 15 miles from Cantwell

140. Common Redpoll Carduelis flammea: Common and widespread south of the Brooks Range

141. Hoary Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni: Common and widespread north of the Brooks Range

 

ANNOTATED MAMMAL LIST

  1. Snowshoe Hare: Seen at the Homer USF&W Office
  2. Red Squirrel: One at the Arctic Circle sign
  3. Arctic Ground Squirrel: Common off the Kenai Peninsula. Various color morphs seen
  4. Porcupine: One on the Denali Hwy
  5. Moose: Common throughout, particularly on the Kenai Peninsula
  6. Caribou: Frequently seen in the Arctic, and a single male in Denali National Park
  7. Arctic Fox: One in Deadhorse
  8. Red Fox: One in the Prudhoe Bay oilfields
  9. Gray Wold: One on North Slope en route to Deadhorse
  10. Humpback Whale: One on the Kenai Fjords pelagic
  11. Stellar Sea Lion: Common on the Kenai Fjords pelagic
  12. Harbour Seal: Common off the Kenai Fjords pelagic
  13. Dahl’s Porpoise: A pod on the Kenai Fjords pelagic
  14. Sea Otter: Common in the vicinity of Seward

 

DIPS

1. Mottled Petrel: A deep-ocean bird. Need an open ocean pelagic. Always unlikely.

2. Short-tailed Shearwater: Rare off Seward. Need an open ocean trip. Always unlikely.

3. Northern Goshawk: Disappointing dip.

4. Rough-legged Hawk: Disappointing dip. We passed two nest sites on the Antigun Pass, we heard from birders afterwards.

5. Sharp-tailed Sandgrouse: At the time of our visit best on military training grounds. Getting in requires a recreational permit, AND no current training activities. The latter was our problem. Scanned numerous inferior sites without success.

6. Baird’s Sandpiper: Had a fleeting glimpse of a possible bird outside Deadhorse, but no conclusive looks.

7. Buff-breasted Sandpiper: Had a fleeting glimpse of a possible bird outside Deadhorse, but no conclusive looks.

8. Slilt Sandpiper: disappointing dip

9. Short-eared Owl: disappointing dip

10. Boreal Owl: disappointing dip

11. Snowy Owl: disappointing dip. Apparently not common around Deadhorse – many workers there has never seen one.

12. Great Gray Owl: disappointing dip. Apparently very difficult if not at a nest. We missed breeding birds at Tolstona Wilderness with a few days.

13. Rufous Hummingbird: disappointing dip. There was one feeding at the Petunia Flowers at the dock at Seward, but incessant rain complicated our efforts finding this species.

14. Black-backed woodpecker: disappointing dip. Apparently not easy in Alaska.

15. American Three-toed Woodpecker: disappointing dip

16. Northern Shrike: disappointing dip

17. Gray-headed Chickadee: disappointing dip. Apparently very difficult off Dalton, with some unconfirmed reports somewhere on the Dietrich River.

18. Bluethroat: disappointing dip. Birds seem to move on immediately after chicks fledged. We missed one known brood by 4 days.

19. Mountain Bluebird: Used to breed in a burnt area near Delta Junction, but this area has recovered and the birds have not been seen for a few years.

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