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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Alaska: Majesty of the North

Tuesday 4 June to Sunday 16 June 2024
Utqiagvik (Barrow) Extension to Wednesday 19 June
with Jake Mohlmann and Raymond VanBuskirk as leaders
Friday 7 June to Wednesday 19 June 2024
Pribilofs Pre-tour Extension (7 June tour only) from Sunday 2 June
Utqiagvik (Barrow) Extension to Saturday 22 June
with Gavin Bieber and Skye Haas as leaders
June 2025
Pribilofs Pre-tour Extension
Utqiagvik (Barrow) Extension
with Gavin Bieber as leader

Price: $6,950* (06/2024)

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We’ll seek out all four eiders, including the striking Steller’s, while around Barrow.
Photo: Steve HowellWe’ll seek out all four eiders, including the striking Steller’s, while around Barrow. Photo: Steve Howell
  • We’ll seek out all four eiders, including the striking Steller’s, while around Barrow.

    We’ll seek out all four eiders, including the striking Steller’s, while around Barrow. Photo: Steve Howell

  • Male Rock Ptarmigan can sometimes be spotted along the Nome road system.

    Male Rock Ptarmigan can sometimes be spotted along the Nome road system. Photo: Gavin Bieber

  • The Pribilof Islands are a dream location for viewing seabirds like Tufted Puffin.

    The Pribilof Islands are a dream location for viewing seabirds like Tufted Puffin. Photo: Gavin Bieber

  • Our time in the Pribilofs often includes a vagrant bird or two, like this Wood Sandpiper.

    Our time in the Pribilofs often includes a vagrant bird or two, like this Wood Sandpiper. Photo: Gavin Bieber

  • Mount Denali stands as a monolithic sentinel over the Alaska Range.

    Mount Denali stands as a monolithic sentinel over the Alaska Range. Photo: Gavin Bieber

  • Grizzly Bears are regularly encountered around Denali National Park.

    Grizzly Bears are regularly encountered around Denali National Park. Photo: Gavin Bieber

  • Dazzling male Bluethroats are vigorous singers in the willow thickets around Nome.

    Dazzling male Bluethroats are vigorous singers in the willow thickets around Nome. Photo: Gavin Bieber

  • Our mini-pelagic trip out of Seward offers great diversity and staggering numbers of birds, like this flock of Common Murres.

    Our mini-pelagic trip out of Seward offers great diversity and staggering numbers of birds, like this flock of Common Murres. Photo: Gavin Bieber

  • In the tundra around Barrow we’ll see ghostly Snowy Owls hunting lemmings and voles in the endless summer sun.

    In the tundra around Barrow we’ll see ghostly Snowy Owls hunting lemmings and voles in the endless summer sun. Photo: Steve Howell

  • Barrow offers unparalleled opportunity for photographing breeding waders like these elegant Red Phalarope.

    Barrow offers unparalleled opportunity for photographing breeding waders like these elegant Red Phalarope. Photo: Steve Howell

Alaska is a spectacular state with stunning snow-covered peaks rising out of flower-laden tundra and vast glaciers flowing into forest-lined fjords, and June is a wonderful month to search for the state’s special birds. We’ll begin in Nome where rolling tundra, rich in ptarmigans, jaegers, and shorebirds, merges with rugged mountains and rushing streams, home to singing Bluethroats and Arctic Warblers and nesting Gyrfalcons, and the adjacent Bering Sea coast with the likes of Arctic Loon and Aleutian Tern. The second leg of the tour will take in the interior of the state, and Denali National Park where the breathtaking immensity of Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range will provide a splendid backdrop as we watch for Grizzly Bear and several species of birds more common in the forested interior of the state such as Northern Hawk-Owl, American Three-toed Woodpecker, White-winged Crossbill, the scarce Smith’s Longspur and elegant Bohemian Waxwing. Around the city of Anchorage we’ll look for Boreal Chickadee and Spruce Grouse in well-forested city parks, Hudsonian Godwit and a range of breeding waterfowl along the shore of Cook Inlet, and American Dipper along Fish Creek. We’ll conclude on the Kenai Peninsula and Resurrection Bay with more magnificent scenery and impressive displays of marine birds and mammals, including a boat trip out into the Kenai Fjords where we should see calving glaciers and Kittlitz’s Murrelets.

It’s possible to continue on our extension to the very different tundra of Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow), where all four species of Eiders, throngs of shorebirds in full display mode and in most years Snowy Owls nest.

NOTE: It’s also possible to connect the 2024 tour starting 7 June to our 5-day Pribilofs (St Paul) extension. Details on the extension are here. Please let the tour manager if you have an interest in adding the Pribilofs extension to the Majesty tour.

Main Tour

Day 1: Our main tour begins with an evening meeting in the lobby of our Anchorage hotel. Night in Anchorage.

Days 2-4: We’ll fly on the morning of Day 2 to the Bering Sea town of Nome. If a birder had to choose just one town in Alaska to visit, it should be Nome. This region has most of what makes Alaska… Alaska. At Safety Lagoon, where Red-throated and Pacific Loons breed and Parasitic Jaegers harass nesting Aleutian and Arctic Terns, migration will still be in progress. We’ll hope to see many waterbirds, perhaps including Emperor Goose or a rarity such as Red-necked Stint or Slaty-backed Gull. Both of the main roads out of Nome, to Teller and to Taylor, pass through tundra rich in breeding shorebirds, including American and Pacific Golden-Plovers and Bar-tailed Godwit, and in the surrounding hills and along willow-lined rivers we may find nesting Gyrfalcon or Golden Eagle. Willow and Rock Ptarmigans, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Arctic Warbler, and Eastern Yellow Wagtail all occur here as breeders. We’ll search especially for Bristle-thighed Curlew, a few pairs of which nest accessibly in the wild mountainous landscapes north of Nome; occasionally we’ve seen the curlews in the same field of view as Muskox. Nights in Nome.

Day 5: After a final morning in the Nome area, we’ll take a mid-afternoon flight back to Anchorage. Night in Anchorage.

Day 6: We’ll begin this morning with a visit to Anchorage’s Westchester Lagoon, where we’ll see nesting Red-necked Grebes and, with luck, a variety of summering shorebirds, typically including Hudsonian Godwit and Short-billed Dowitcher. Later we’ll drive the 250 miles north to our base for the night near the eastern end of the Denali Highway. It’s a spectacular trip with vast areas of black spruce and willow, where we’ll keep a keen eye out for Spruce Grouse along the road and Bohemian Waxwings or Northern Hawk-Owl perched in the treetops. We’ll arrive at our cabins in the midafternoon, with some time to look around the grassy tundra near the lodge for species such as Smith’s Longspur and Trumpeter Swan. Night near Paxson.

Day 7: We’ll leave our comfortable lodge early this morning to bird the splendid Denali Highway, a well-graded dirt road that runs east through near wilderness for 130 miles. Here we’ll look for Trumpeter Swan, Spruce Grouse, Bohemian Waxwing, Arctic Warbler, and with some luck, Northern Hawk Owl. The scenery is superlative and the wild lands seemingly endless as the road passes from boreal forest to tundra against the backdrop of the snowy Alaska Range. We’ll spend all day on the road, reaching our lodge for the next two nights near the entrance to Denali National Park. Night near Denali NP.

Day 8: Denali National Park is closed to most automobile traffic, and as of 2023 the main park road is still under construction due to the 2021 landslide that makes travel into the inner reaches of the area impossible.  The current projection is that this new road will not be complete for at least the next two summers, and possibly longer. Assuming that this is still the case in 2024 we will likely spend the day visiting Alaska’s second city; Fairbanks.  Fairbanks sits about an hour and a half north of the Alaska Range, near the geographic center of mainland Alaska.  The area offers excellent birding, with chances for scarce or more local species such as Northern Hawk and Boreal (sometimes) Owls, Bohemian Waxwing, Yellow-bellied and Hammond’s Flycatchers and Ruffed Grouse.  Denali is so colossal that it creates its own weather, usually bad, and clouds typically obscure all but the lowest slopes. Even from our traditional spots well inside the park we were lucky to view the mountain well. Our best views may well come as we drive to and from Anchorage or on our flights to and from Nome. Night near Denali NP.

Day 9: After a final morning around Denali, where we will look diligently for any of the interior Alaska species that we may still be missing we will head back towards Anchorage. Our route to Anchorage will take us by some recently burned areas where we can look for American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers, Boreal Chickadee and Bohemian Waxwings. Large lakes along the road support pairs of Common Loons and the occasional colony of Bonaparte’s or Mew Gulls, and the reedbeds around some of them host a nice array of high arctic dragonflies. We’ll arrive in Anchorage in time for dinner. Night in Anchorage.

Day 10: This morning will provide some “down time” for those who wish, while others may prefer birdwatching around Anchorage, where we should see Boreal Chickadee, White-winged Crossbill, Alder Flycatcher and more widespread species such as Lincoln’s Sparrow, and Hairy and Downy Woodpecker. If we have not yet connected with a Spruce Grouse we may well spend some time in one of the city’s many fine parks where this often elusive chicken might be lurking.  In the early afternoon we’ll drive to Seward through the superb mountain scenery along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet and up onto the Kenai Peninsula. We’ll spend the late afternoon around Seward, where the forest of huge Sitka spruce holds many species that just reach southern Alaska, including Rufous Hummingbird, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Varied Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, and Pine Grosbeak. The Fox Sparrow we’ll see here along the coast is likely a different species, the Sooty Fox-Sparrow. A lovely feature of our time here will be a dinner of fresh seafood at a restaurant right on a Seward wharf. Night in Seward.

Day 11: We’ll spend the day on Resurrection Bay and Blying Sound south of Seward. If the weather is clear, the scenery is awe-inspiring, and we’ll see several spectacular glaciers. We’ll visit several large seabird colonies, where we should find Tufted and Horned Puffins, Thick-billed and Common Murres, and thousands of Black-legged Kittiwakes. Rhinoceros Auklet and Ancient Murrelet are both possible, and near one of the glaciers we’ll search the groups Marbled Murrelets for the globally rare Kittlitz’s. In the deep waters at the farthest extent of our boat trip, we occasionally see deeper water birds such as Sooty Shearwaters or Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels. Marine mammals are also numerous, and we can expect Steller’s Sea Lion, Sea Otter, Humpback Whale, and possibly the magnificent Orca. Night in Seward.

Day 12: After a final morning in Seward driving along the edge of Resurrection Bay to look for Harlequin Duck and Wandering Tattler, we’ll return to Anchorage. We’ll make a quick stop at Potter’s Marsh to check for any interesting waterfowl, and final views of nesting Mew Gulls and Arctic Terns. If we have time, we’ll return to Westchester Lagoon in search of migrating shorebirds. Night in Anchorage.

Day 13: The main tour concludes this morning in Anchorage.

Utqiagvik (Barrow) Extension

Day 13: Those of us continuing on the extension will fly this morning to Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow). Night in Utqiagvik.

Day 14: Utqiagvik, the most northerly city in Alaska, has a large native population, comfortable lodging and several varied restaurants, and best of all, access to wonderful high-latitude tundra rich in breeding birds. We’ll have the better part of two days to explore this remarkable environment in search of the breeding birds that have made Barrow famous. We’ll search for Steller’s and Spectacled Eiders (among the more numerous King) and Red Phalarope on the numerous lakes and ponds along the roads and Pectoral, Semipalmated, and Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, and Long-billed Dowitchers in the tussock tundra. Yellow-billed Loon is also usually present in small numbers, and if it’s a lemming year, Snowy Owls and Pomarine Jaegers are an obvious part of the local bird community; it’s not unusual to see 20 or 30 of each in a single day. The tundra around Barrow is a remarkably rich environment, with nesting shorebirds seemingly every few hundred yards, and often offers a wealth of opportunities for close-range photography.

There are sometimes rarer species around, including shorebirds such as Ruff and White-rumped or Stilt Sandpiper, or even a vagrant such as Red-necked Stint or Gray-tailed Tattler, and the town of Barrow attracts vagrant landbirds from both the North American and Siberian sides. There is even an outside chance of a Polar Bear. Nights in Utqiagvik.

Day 15: After another full morning’s birding at Utqiagvik, we’ll catch a midday flight back to Anchorage. Night in Anchorage.

Day 16: The Utqiagvik Extension ends this morning in Anchorage.

Updated: 11 August 2023

Prices

  • 2024 Main Tour Price : $6,950
  • Main Tour Single Occupancy Supplement : $1,780
  • Utqiagvik (Barrow) Extension : $2,490
  • Utqiagvik (Barrow) Extension Single Room Supplement : $440
  • Pribilofs Extension (7 June Majesty only) : $5,550
  • Pribilofs Gambell Single Occupancy Supplement** : $770
  • 2025 Tour Price Not Yet Known

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Matt Brooks. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

Please note that the extension prices indicated above are valid only in conjunction with the main tour. Please contact the WINGS office for prices without the main tour.

Round trip flights within Alaska are included in the package pricing (Anchorage to Nome on main tour; Anchorage to St Paul; and Anchorage to Barrow).

*Single rooms are sometimes unavailable in Nome and St Paul

This tour is limited to eight participants with one leader, 14 with two leaders.

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