The remarkable Pribilof Islands form volcanic outcrops in the middle of the Bering Sea, one of the richest and most productive oceans in the world. Due to its location, 240 miles north of the Aleutian Islands and 500 miles east of the Russian mainland, this speck of land has hosted more than 300 species of birds, although many of these only as rare visitors. The two main islands (St. Paul and St. George) and smaller outlying islands (Otter and Walrus) attract millions of seabirds that find safe havens for nesting along the volcanic cliffs, talus fields, and steep slopes. St. Paul Island is the most accessible of the two inhabited islands and good infrastructure, comfortable accommodations, and a wide network of roads allow us to explore this remote outpost easily. One of the main attractions is the seabird colony and the Pribilofs are particularly famous for hosting the most accessible nesting areas of the range-restricted Red-legged Kittiwake – we can watch and photograph this elegant gull very closely. The busy cliffs also host nesting Least, Crested, and Parakeet Auklets, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Thick-billed and Common Murres side by side, Black-legged Kittiwakes with smaller numbers of Red-legged Kittiwakes among them, Northern Fulmar, and Red-faced Cormorants. On the open water, we can often find Pigeon Guillemots and Ancient Murrelet. In the interior of the island, the maritime tundra of lower-lying areas gives way to sparse arctic tundra on hilltops and ridgelines. This rugged environment hosts resident Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches and Pacific Wrens while Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings migrate to the island to breed. St. Paul Island harbors extensive wetlands that host numerous breeding and migrating waterfowl and shorebird species. Among ducks, Long-tailed Duck, Green-winged Teal (Eurasian ssp.), and Northern Pintail breed in large numbers, while King and Steller’s Eiders and Harlequin Ducks are frequent to abundant visitors. The most common nesting shorebird on the island is the Rock Sandpiper, here a particularly large and colorful subspecies, while Red-necked Phalarope, Least Sandpiper, and Semipalmated Plover also breed. Numerous shorebirds migrate through and, incredibly, St. Paul Island has hosted more than 60 species of shorebirds alone, nearly every Holarctic species. Some of the more regular migrants of interest include Bar-tailed Godwit, Pacific Golden-Plover, Bristle-thighed Curlew, and Common Snipe. There is a wide selection of Eurasian vagrants and migrant shorebirds and during recent tours, we have seen Lesser Sand-Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Long-toed and Red-necked Stints, Terek and Common Sandpipers, Gray-tailed Tattler, Common Greenshank, and Wood Sandpiper. Spring migration also brings Eurasian waterfowl and passerines and some of the rarities we have seen over the years have included Tundra Bean-Goose, White-tailed Eagle, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Black-headed Gull, Gray-streaked Flycatcher, Oriental Cuckoo, Siberian Rubythroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Eyebrowed Thrush, Gray Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipit, Brambling, and Hawfinch. The number and diversity of rare Eurasian visitors is highly wind and weather dependent and while the cumulative list is long, we can hope for a handful of rare species during our visit under ideal conditions, yet recent springs have been spectacular with nearly a dozen Eurasian species during our tours. The potential and unpredictability offer some of the most exciting birding in North America. Several Alaska specialties can be found as migrants on St. Paul Island, including all jaegers, Arctic and Yellow-billed Loons, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Northern Wheatear, and more. In addition to the vast numbers of birds, we can observe Northern Fur Seals which are returning to their rookeries, have good chances to observe massive Steller’s Sea Lions, and will definitely come close to the approachable Arctic Foxes that roam the island. St.Paul Island is simply one of the most exciting and unique birding experiences in all of North America.
Single Rooming is highly improbable on this tour.
This tour is operated by High Lonesome BirdTours in partnership with Rockjumper Birding Tours.
These are large group tours (up to 16 guests with multiple leaders), and will have guests from both Highlonesome and Rockjumper.
For any queries not related to a tour booking, please fee free to contact High Lonesome BirdTours directly Stephan Lorenz (Tour Director)
King & Steller’s Eiders (uncommon); Red-faced & Pelagic Cormorants; Red-legged Kittiwake & Sabine’s Gull (uncommon); Tufted & Horned Puffins; Least, Crested, Parakeet Auklets; Ancient Murrelet; Short-eared & Snowy Owls; Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch; Snow & McKay’s Buntings (rare); Asian rarities possible: Tundra Bean-Goose, Common Pochard, Tufted Duck, Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Siberian Rubythroat, Gray-streaked Flycatcher, Olive-backed Pipit Eyebrowed Thrush, Hawfinch, Brambling, and many other possibilities. Top Mammals
Northern Fur Seal; Harbour Seal; Steller’s Sea Lion; Arctic Fox; Reindeer Habitats Covered
maritime tundra, seaside, wetlands, lagoons Expected Climate
cool maritime climate with temps 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, can be rainy and windy Max Group Size
16 with 2 Tour Leaders Tour Pace & Walking
easy ; 1 – 2 miles hiking a day Accommodation
first night with en-suite bathrooms. Basic, but comfortable, hotel with shared baths on St. Paul Island. Other Attractions
Unangan community; great scenery; exceptional photographic opportunities; wildflowers
This was a great trip – way better than could even be expected. Yes, we saw Ross’s Gulls streaking across the distant horizon, but we also saw a polar bear mom and two cubs and our time in Barrow coincided with the Inupiat whale harvest. While the death of whales is always a bit sad, the opportunity to see subsistence hunters is rare these days. Stephan Lorenz has proved to be one of my favorite guides – his combination of ‘bionic eyes’ (Claudia’s report), great hearing, real understanding of bird behavior and incredible patience means he is my go-to guide for difficult species that I’ve missed on other tours (or not tried to see before because it seemed too difficult). With Stephan, I have ‘ticked’ Bachman’s Sparrow, Swainson’s Warbler, Buff-collared Nightjar, Short-tailed Albatross, Whiskered Auklet, Spectacled Eider, Emperor Goose, Bar-tailed Godwit (in Alaska), among many other much-sought after species. But Stephan and Claudia also keep every trip enjoyable. Claudia is a great birder in her own right and can set up a scope on the target bird as fast as Stephan. It is great to have two scopes set up immediately. What could be very discouraging to an older birder with poor eyesight and poor hearing like me turns out to be a delightful trip. Imagine spending hours and hours in a freezing wind staring out to an empty sea and still calling it fun. I am looking forward to traveling with Stephan and Claudia again as soon as possible.
Gambell was great, an adventure I’ll not soon forget.
Stephen Lorenz and Dave Krueper were terrific guides. Complemented each other beautifully. Thanks so much for an incredible experience.
The weather adversely affected the Gambell visit such that hoped for vagrants were minimal during our stay. The Siberian Express mostly failed to stop there. That was beyond anyone’s control and, thanks to the efforts of the guides, the birding experience was still very good. Stephan Lorenz did an exceptional job. Between Covid and the weather his job seemed unusually difficult but he handled things extremely well. I would definitely go on another tour with Mr. Lorenz as guide.
Stephan Lorenz was great. He knew every bird and plant and was helpful to me in getting the photos that I wanted.