Nome—A Subarctic Alaska Birding Adventure

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Red Knot, Lucas DeCicco

Trip 5.  NomeA Subarctic Alaska Birding Adventure

Dates:  Saturday, 29 June, to Monday, 1 July

Start and end times:  Trip will begin in Nome on the Seward Peninsula in northwestern Alaska on 29 June at 12:00 pm. Trip will end in Nome on 1 July at 6:00 pm (NOTE: The listed times are estimates. These are based on airport schedules, they may fluctuate slightly, and they include time needed for airport pick up and drop off in Nome, getting settled at hotel, and grabbing food, etc).

Costs:  AOS registration fee is $590. This registration fee covers trip costs (e.g., van, gas, guide fee) exclusive of airfare, lodging, and meals, which participants will pay for individually.

  • Airfare: You will book your round-trip flight from Anchorage to Nome, estimated at $335. Please make sure to book the earliest flight to Nome on June 29 and book the latest flight back to Anchorage on July 1 (see suggestions below). Book your flight before March to get the best fare. Obtain 5% discount on Alaska Airlines flights with discount code: ECMZ939; see https://amornithmeeting.org/travel-information/ for more information.
    • ANC-OME Alaska Airlines #151  10:06 am – 11:39 am  29 June
    • OME-ANC Alaska Airlines #153  8:23 pm – 9:52 pm  1 July
  • Lodging: You will book your lodging for two nights in Nome, estimated at $450. This price is for a standard room with two beds; you can reduce your costs if you share a room with another trip member. There will be a block of rooms reserved at the Aurora Inn (907-443-3838). Please call to reserve the specific room that meets your needs.
  • Meals: No meals provided. The cost of meals will be ~$25 per meal per day but may be lower if breakfast is purchased at a grocery store rather than a restaurant. You will need to provide your lunch, plenty of snacks, and ample water for two full-day outings in a tour van. We will plan to have group dinners at a restaurant each night.

Maximum participants:  6

Trip Leader:  Rachel Richardson

Trip Description:  This trip takes place on the spectacular Seward Peninsula in northwestern Alaska. There are three main gravel roads that lead out of Nome, which traverse more than 250 miles of subarctic, largely treeless tundra. Coastlines include long sandy beaches, sheltered lagoons, coastal marshes, and rocky headlands. Rolling coastal tundra is back-dropped by rugged, glacially carved  mountain ranges. This peninsula was part of the Bering Land Bridge, and thus provides breeding areas for many Beringian specialties, including the Bristle-thighed Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Rock Sandpiper, Bluethroat, and Eastern Yellow Wagtail. It’s also a great place to find loons, waterfowl, seabirds, cranes, cliff-nesting raptors, and an array of cool mammals, including muskox and reindeer. The trip will be headquartered in the historic gold-rush town of Nome, with daily trips along each of the three main roads emanating from there.

Day 1:  Depart from Anchorage airport and fly to Nome. We recommend that you book the earliest flight to Nome so that you arrive before 12:00 pm. Once you arrive in Nome, we will pick you up at the airport, head to the hotel to get settled in, and grab lunch as a group at a local restaurant. After lunch, we will drive east along the Council Road making stops at the Nome River Bridge, Hastings Creek, Cape Nome, and Safety Sound. Depending on time, we will continue along the Council Road and bird the numerous ponds, lakes, and the Bering Sea coastline looking for waterfowl, seabirds, and shorebirds. Potential mammal sightings include muskox or grizzly bear. We will head back to town with enough time to eat dinner together and grab food (e.g., snacks, lunch stuff) at the grocery store for the next two days.

Day 2:  We will leave fairly early to drive north up the Kougarok Road for a full day of birding. Depending on the interests of the group, we can grab coffee and a hot breakfast in town before departing, or we can bring hotel coffee, our own snacks and lunches, and get on the road first thing. Our goal on this day will be to observe Bristle-thighed Curlews, which will require a short but moderately strenuous hike after 70 miles of driving one way. While we are heading to and from our destination, we will stop in areas where we may find Bluethroat, Arctic Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, American Pipit, Northern Wheatear, Rusty Blackbird, American and Pacific Golden-Plover, Whimbrel, Rock and Willow Ptarmigan, Long-tailed Jaeger, Gyrfalcon, or Golden Eagle. Potential mammal sightings include moose, grizzly bear, or reindeer. This is guaranteed to be a beautiful drive with expansive tundra and mountain views. We will grab dinner as a group in town at the end of the day.

Day 3:  On our final day in Nome, we will check out of the hotel before departing for the day to drive west along a portion of the Teller Road with stops at the Sinuk River bridge, the 34-mile ridgeline, and the Woolley Lagoon road. Depending on group interests, we may have the opportunity to spend time in the field with biologists studying Red Knots, which will require some gentle hiking to view these highly sought-after birds. Other potential highlights include Black-bellied Plover, Wandering Tattler, Snow Bunting, and Rough-legged Hawk. We will head back to town with enough time to grab a quick dinner, check in at the airport, and depart on the evening flight back to Anchorage.    

Likely species:  Bristle-thighed Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Surfbird, Red Knot, Wandering Tattler, Rock Sandpiper, Western and Semipalmated Sandpiper, American and Pacific Golden-Plover, Arctic and Aleutian Tern, Long-tailed and Parasitic Jaeger, Pacific and Red-throated Loon, Willow and Rock Ptarmigan, Northern Wheatear, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Gyrfalcon, Peregrine Falcon, Rough-legged Hawk, Golden Eagle, Short-eared Owl, muskox, moose, grizzly bear, reindeer.

Also quite possible to encounter other less abundant, but annual, Palearctic species including Arctic Loon, Red-necked Stint, Slaty-backed Gull, or White Wagtail.

Recommended Gear:  Binoculars, spotting scope, tripod, camera, water bottle(s), travel coffee mug, small daypack, rain gear, waterproof hiking shoes or boots, plenty of clothing layers (e.g., light, mid, and heavyweight), sunglasses, brimmed hat, cold-weather hat, pair of light gloves, sunscreen, insect repellent.

Cautions:  We will spend a lot of time in the tour van driving the extensive road system when looking for birds. We will stop at specific locations and get out of the van to set up spotting scopes and scan with binoculars, but we may not spend a lot of time at a location if we find that there are no birds to be seen. Alternatively, we may end up spending more time at one location compared to another if bird activity is high. Flexibility with changing our schedule is key for success. You should be comfortable riding in a van for long periods of time. We will walk around and stretch our legs each time we stop to look for birds. Additionally, you should be comfortable potentially participating in a short and moderately strenuous hike necessary to observe the rarer species such as Bristle-thighed Curlew and Red Knot. While most of our birding will take place from the road, you should be familiar with how to behave in grizzly bear country. Remember that our chances of seeing a bear are slim but possible. Your guide will carry bear spray and may be able to provide extra bear spray to members of the group if requested. Your guide is experienced, trained in bear safety, and certified as a Wilderness First Responder.

Additional Information:  The itinerary we developed should not change too much from what is suggested. However, there is always the chance that we will have to alter the itinerary due to weather, logistics, or other unforeseen circumstances. Keeping that in mind, we will try to follow the itinerary as closely as possible to ensure that you get to observe most, if not all, of the likely bird species in Nome. The list of likely bird species is not all-inclusive. There are no guarantees that we will observe every bird on the list.

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