05 August 2018

Alaska II

It's in the 90s outside here in northeast Missouri right now so what better time to reminisce about the cooler climes of Alaska.  Here's a photo run-through from our recent Field Guides (Part 2) tour which runs to Nome, Seward, and Utqiagvik (formerly known as Barrow).

We landed in Nome and wasted no time in getting out and birding.  Just near the town we found a swarm of terns including ALEUTIAN TERNS.  This is a species that I've not had the pleasure of seeing more than a few times and so I eagerly focused on them for a bit:
If you look carefully, you can see the distinctive white forehead on the above bird.  From underneath, note the black tips of the secondaries which form a black bar on the trailing edge:
Farther down the road we enjoyed a GYRFALCON that has been nesting in the area.  It was incredible seeing an adult so close like this:
There in Nome, LONG-TAILED JAEGERS were the most common jaeger we encountered.  They're awfully graceful too:
The rocky portions of the Teller Highway, which looked like this....
... hosted a few NORTHERN WHEATEARS which were great to see:
Another special black-and-white bird that day came in the form of this WHITE WAGTAIL which, if you think about it, is probably one of the rarest breeding species in the US.  Although they do breed every year at a few spots in western Alaska, it's a pretty range-restricted species:
The shorebirds continued to represent.  Here is a dandy SURFBIRD that we had near Nome one evening:
The evening light there, which I should add lasts a LONG time, was quite nice for photographing things like this ARCTIC TERN near town:
On a different day in Nome, we spotted this ginormous "Grizzly" BROWN BEAR way up on a hillside.  It was mighty blonde:
Less fear-inspiring was this OLD WORLD SWALLOWTAIL:
I was probably most excited to see this next butterfly.  Why?  Well, because I had no idea what it was initially and knew it was something new for me:
Turns out, it's called a BANDED ALPINE.

One of my favorite birds, a WHIMBREL was nesting on a hilltop we visited:
The scenery near Nome was much nicer than I had expected.  There was still some snow around on the slopes which really helped give the hills some context.  Here's the view of Salmon Lake:
Once we flew back to Anchorage, we drove on down to Seward on the Kenai Peninsula.  Instead of wide-open tundra, we found ourselves birding in forest such as this:
One of the classic species there, and one we saw well, is the VARIED THRUSH:
Another colorful species there is the TOWNSEND'S WARBLER which we saw many of:
Even the chickadees were colorful!  This is a CHESTNUT-BACKED CHICKADEE near Seward:
The scenery near Seward wasn't bad either!  Here's what was waiting for us one morning:
We flew up to Utqiagvik for the last destination of our tour.  Flying in, we could tell it had been a late spring by all the snow and ice everywhere:
As we banked for our final descent into Utqiagvik, we could see the amazing sea ice below us in a million different chunks:
All the ice and snow meant that what open water we could find near town was loaded with birds.  It didn't take long before we came face-to-face with one of our main targets, the incredible SPECTACLED EIDER, one of the most northern ducks in the world:
After we had arrived, we were keen to head south to Freshwater Lake.  Waiting for us, as per reports leading up to our arrival, was a pair of ROSS'S GULLS:
It's hard to emphasize how big of a deal this was.  This is a species I had only seen a couple of times before and, being a gull of the high arctic, it's one of the most-wanted species in all of the US.  We thoroughly enjoyed watching this pair (they were acting like a breeding couple, actually).  What a beautiful and unique gull, with the black ring around the head:
A couple of times, these pinkish dove-like gulls came right by us:
Ok, I'll eventually stop with photos of these birds... but one last one:
Maybe a little put out by all the attention the rare gulls were getting, the nearby SABINE'S GULLS were still drop-dead gorgeous:
Meanwhile, POMARINE JAEGERS were common and did several flybys showing off their long spoon-shaped tail feathers:
One of my favorite groups of birds, the shorebirds, were well-represented in Utqiagvik as well.  The rarest one we saw was this GRAY-TAILED TATTLER that was at a pond in town.  This species is a vagrant anywhere in North America:
One of the common breeding shorebirds we enjoyed was the SEMIPALMATED PLOVER:
We saw LONG-BILLED DOWITCHERS on a daily basis there as well:
And, towards the end of our stay there, we found this RED KNOT in nice breeding colors.  Ooh man:
It was really cool seeing Utqiagvik again.  I had first visited there 13 years ago when I worked as a biologist for a couple of seasons and so, in a way, it was like going home.

With that, we flew back to Anchorage and our tour was complete.  It was an awesome trip filled with lots of travel, lots of birds, and lots of scenery.  We ended with about 175 species during the 2-3 weeks there which seems pretty good.  I get to run this trip again in 2019 so we'll see how things play out then!

That's all for now.  Stay tuned for some highlights from Newfoundland....