Alaska Birding Tour
I first visited Alaska in 1990, in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound. I was expecting to see environmental devastation, but instead I discovered a land of wonderment. To be sure, the spill was devastating to the local marine wildlife and to the oil-dependent culture of Alaska. However, I spent most of the summer on land, staring at hanging glaciers and skyscraping mountains, and surrounded by nesting Arctic Terns and cacophonous Northwestern Crows. As a fledgling birder and naturalist, I was in awe of the region’s wildness. I returned to Alaska in 2006, exploring regions from the Southeast to the North Slope, and I was again immersed in a world that defied description. Having then become a seasoned birding guide, I knew immediately that Alaska would have to become a part of our tour repertoire: shorebirds and loons in breeding plumage; swarms of breeding seabirds; boreal forest specialties; nesting jaegers and Snowy Owls; bears, moose, caribou, and more. It became imperative for me to share all of this with you! Finally, I am excited to introduce our second tour to Alaska, featuring the Kenai Peninsula. This is the perfect introduction to Alaska’s amazing scenery and wildlife, with a reasonable itinerary and budget, and an experience you will never forget.
-Stephen Shunk, Owner and Lead Guide
After greeting you at the Anchorage airport, we will enjoy some afternoon and evening birding in the Anchorage area before dinner. We will search wetland habitats for nesting Red-necked Grebe, Mew Gull, and Arctic Tern, and local woodlands may host our first American Three-toed Wooodpecker, Alder Flycatcher, and Boreal Chickadee. We’ll also scan the shores of Knik and Turnagain arms for late migrant shorebirds, with possible Hudsonian Godwit, and we may head
into boreal forest habitat to look for Spruce Grouse and White-winged Crossbill.
Anchorage to Seward and Kenai Fjords.
Our first full day will take us east around the end of Turnagain Arm en route to Seward. On our way out of Anchorage, we will spend some time in the boreal forest at Chugach State Park, where we will search again for woodpeckers and boreal songbirds such as Common Redpoll and Pine Grosbeak, followed by some productive wetland birding. At Potter Marsh, we will listen for the songs of Northern Waterthrush, “Sooty” Fox Sparrow, and Rusty Blackbird while we scan the wetlands for nesting shorebirds, such as Semipalmated Plover, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Red-necked Phalarope. As we head toward Seward, we will stop along Turnagain Arm to search for beluga whale and Dall’s sheep. Lakes and ponds on the drive may allow excellent looks at breeding Trumpeter Swans and “Taverner’s” Cackling Goose among the many grebes, ducks, gulls, and terns. After lunch in the old gold-mining town of Hope, we will drive a spur road into the mountains for our easiest vehicle access to the alpine tundra, where, depending on snow levels, we may find nesting ptarmigan (up to 3 species!), Northern Wheatear, American Tree Sparrow, and Common Redpoll.
We will return to the Seward highway and continue southward, stopping at various lakes, ponds, bogs, and muskegs, to enjoy Bald Eagle and Barrow’s Goldeneye, with a chance for nesting American Dipper and Olive-sided Flycatcher along the Snow River. As we enter the Seward area, we may have time to scan Resurrection Bay in search of Common Eider or Harlequin Duck. After dinner (and depending on our stamina!), we may head out toward Exit Glacier for some late evening owling before our first night in Seward.
On our second full day we will embark on our first boat excursion for an all-day seabird extravaganza among the Kenai Fjords and Chiswell Islands. This boat trip is one of the best we have ever taken—anywhere—and it will be one of the grand highlights of our entire Alaska tour. Rocky cliffs will be covered with nesting Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common Murres, with Thick-billed Murres, Pigeon Guillemots, and Red-faced and Pelagic cormorants scattered among them. Horned and Tufted puffins and Marbled Murrelets will be conspicuous on open waters, with good chances for Rhinocerous Auklet, and Kittlitz’s and Ancient murrelets. Other seabirds may include a rare Aleutian Tern or Parakeet Auklet, as well as possible Northern Fulmar or Sooty Shearwater. All the time, we will enjoy a variety of marine mammals, including Sea Otter, Steller’s Sea Lion, and Dall’s Porpoise, with a decent chance for both Humpback Whales and Orcas. And as if that weren’t enough, our backdrop will be a maze of stunning glacial fjords and calving tidewater glaciers. Our boat trip will return us to town for a leisurely dinner and our final night in Seward.
Sea otters we observed near Homer, Alaska
Snow Buntings we observed during our December 2013 trip
Northern Harrier feeding at Boundary Bay
Seward to Homer
The next day will take us back to the Sterling Highway, as we traverse the northern Kenai Peninsula and head south for Homer. Though the drive to Homer is only about 170 miles, it will take us all day to reach our destination, with many stops to absorb the spectacular scenery and wildlife. We will join the Sterling Highway at Tern Lake, where we may see nesting Greater Yellowlegs, Arctic Tern, and Common Loon. Beetle-killed spruce trees in the area may produce Three-toed and possibly Black-backed woodpeckers, and nesting songbirds may include “Myrtle” Yellow-rumped Warbler and Golden-crowned Sparrow. Much of the Sterling Highway will parallel the Kenai River, famous for its massive salmon runs, with plenty of good birding options. We may encounter singing Northern Waterthrush or Gray-cheeked Thrush along Skilak Lake Road, and both Common and Red-breasted mergansers can be seen cruising the Kenai River itself.
Between the towns of Sterling and Kenai, we will pass through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, with a broad array of habitats and abundant bird life. Among the nesting waterfowl, we could encounter Greater Scaup and Trumpeter Swan, while Black Turnstone, Hudsonian Godwit, and Short-billed Dowitcher are among the dozen shorebirds that breed on the refuge. Additional waterbirds may include Bonaparte’s Gull and Sandhill Crane. The region’s breeding songbirds include Varied Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, and American Tree Sparrow. Somewhere in here, we will fit in a lunch break in either Soldotna or Kenai. The final leg of our drive will take us along the eastern shore of the Cook Inlet, with possible birding stops at Ninilchik and Anchor Point and stunning views (weather allowing) of the Redoubt and Iliamna volcanoes across the water. We will arrive in Homer in time for dinner and some evening birding on the Homer Spit before we sleep.
The next two full days will be spent exploring the stunning and diverse habitats of the Homer and Kachemak Bay areas. We will take a half-day boat trip to Gull Island, where we may
see Red-faced Cormorant and Thick-billed Murre among the many Black-legged Kittiwakes. The open waters of Kachemak Bay could provide excellent looks at Kittlitz’s Murrelet and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, and a boat trip to Seldovia could produce a wide array of seabirds and marine mammals. We will also explore a variety of upland habitats in the Homer area in search of forest species such as Chestnut-backed and Boreal chickadees, Pacific Wren, and Pine Siskin, with a good chance for nesting Gray Jay and Northern Shrike. We will spend a total of three nights in Homer, giving us an excellent opportunity to fully explore the region.
"Steve is a fantastic guide, and has mad birding skills. Each day of the tour was filled with a personalized birding experience as well as good food, camaraderie, and fun. Steve and Christine are fantastic hosts, obviously enjoy what they do, and love sharing their passion for nature-travel with others. Aside from some 25 life birds for me, we saw Moose, a Lemming, Finback whales, Humpback Whales and Dahl's Porpoise. This trip was my second with Paradise Birding and I’ve planned two more for 2015-Paradise Birding is the best!"
-Carter Moore, California
To pre-register for the tour, please complete the registration forms and return them with your non-refundable $95 deposit. If you are registering less than 60 days prior to the tour date, please submit the entire balance.