Overview

This tour is offered in partnership with High Lonesome Birdtours.

This arctic adventure will focus on the shoreline of the Chukchi Sea to witness an unparalleled birding experience. The city of Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow) lies nearly 500 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle and provides relatively easy and comfortable access to one of North America’s most amazing birding spectacles, the fall migration of Ross’s Gulls. These pink-hued arctic enigmas are reliably found during their annual fall migration at this northernmost tip of the United States where the majority of the population moves past. While small numbers linger in the Barrow area during the beginning of October, the right weather conditions can bring hundreds within close proximity of the shore, resulting in an unforgettable sight. During October it is also possible to encounter migrating eiders, loons, and with great luck, Ivory Gull. Before our visit to Utqiaġvik, we will have the opportunity to bird the Anchorage area where we can add many boreal specialties.

Day 1.  Arrival in Anchorage and transfer to lodge
Day 2.  Birding in the greater Anchorage area
Day 3.  Birding in Anchorage in the morning and flight to Barrow
Day 4.  Birding Utqiaġvik area
Day 5.  Birding Utqiaġvik area
Day 6.  Morning birding in Utqiaġvik and flight back to Anchorage

We have a full day to explore the numerous birding opportunities in and around Anchorage. During October, we can search for a variety of resident boreal forest species and migrating waterfowl. Visiting valleys and boreal forest in the nearby Chugach Mountains, we will look for Spruce Grouse, Willow and Rock Ptarmigans (difficult), Northern Goshawk, American Three-toed and Black-backed Woodpeckers, Boreal Chickadee, and Canada Jay. Depending on the season and weather conditions, Bohemian Waxwings and White-winged Crossbills may also be present alongside Common Redpolls. Lakes and wetlands in the Anchorage area hold good numbers of waterfowl, including Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Greater Scaup, various dabbling ducks, Trumpeter and occasionally Tundra Swans. A few sparrows like Fox and American Tree Sparrows also occasionally linger into October. The wilderness begins right on the edge of the city and we could see moose and may even glimpse a bear or lynx with exceptional luck.

During our time in Utqiaġvik, we will divide our days between extensive sea watching and exploration of the tundra surrounding this northernmost city. Utqiaġvik sits right on the edge of the Arctic Ocean with Point Barrow itself jutting out into the confluence of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. During October, great numbers of eider and smaller numbers of loons are migrating in addition to our main target here, the elegant Ross’s Gull. We will spend several hours each day scanning the open ocean from various productive points along the shoreline and can expect to see large numbers of Common and King Eiders with chances for the rare Spectacled and Steller’s Eiders. The open water can also hold Yellow-billed, Pacific, Common, and Red-throated Loons and a few lingering acids, like Thick-billed Murre and Black Guillemot. In addition to Ross’s Gulls, hundreds of Glaucous Gulls are present with smaller numbers of Herring and Iceland while even Ivory Gulls have passed by on rare occasions.  

The flat tundra surrounding Utqiaġvik can be easily accessed by a good road system and here we can search for the beautiful Snowy Owl and usually several birds hunt on the snow-covered expanses, offering great photo opportunities. Gyrfalcon is also a rare visitor here. In the town itself, we can check various feeders for Hoary Redpolls and Snow Buntings. In addition to these rare high arctic birds, we can expect a good variety of northern mammals like Arctic Fox, Bearded and Spotted Seals, and with great luck Polar Bear. There will be plenty of opportunities to become immersed in the unique Iñupiat culture.

 

Each day begins with a late breakfast between 8:00 and 9:00 am. We then head off to our preferred birding site for the remainder of the morning, taking a break for lunch and warming up indoors. For the remainder of the afternoon, we will return to do further seawatching and exploration interspersed by breaks to warm up in the vehicles or indoors. We will have an early dinner at a local restaurant nearby. Overall, we will spend the majority of daylight hours in the field.

This tour has only short drives on maintained roads and some time will be spent birding from vehicles.

Anchorage has several excellent cultural museums, fantastic seafood restaurants, and excursions.

Tour Facts Top Birds
Utqiaġvik: Spectacled, King and Common Eiders; Yellow-billed Loon; Snowy Owl; Ross's and Ivory (very rare) Gulls, Anchorage Area: White-winged Crossbills; Pine Grosbeak; Common Redpoll; Bohemian Waxwing; Black-backed and American Three-toed Woodpeckers; Spruce Grouse.
Top Mammals
Polar Bear (rare), Arctic Fox, Moose.
Habitats Covered
Utqiaġvik: arctic tundra, coast and wetlands; Anchorage: boreal forest and marshes
Expected Climate
cold to freezing temperatures (-10 to 5 degrees celsius), but little precipitation
Max Group Size
7 with 1 Rockjumper Leader or 14 with 2 Rockjumper Leaders and local leaders where necessary
Tour Pace & Walking
easy, late mornings (the sun doesn’t rise until 9:00 am) and early evenings, minimal walking with mainly seawatching from vehicles or standing outside, some longer periods of standing, the terrain around Anchorage is also very easy.
Accommodation
basic but comfortable with private baths
Ease of Birding
easy
Number of Species Expected
+50
Other Attractions
unique Iñupiaq culture of Utqiaġvik and wonderful arctic landscapes
Photographic Opportunities
good
Tour Route Map Client Testimonials

Stephen Lorenz and Dave Krueper were terrific guides. Complemented each other beautifully. Thanks so much for an incredible experience.

The tour was very well organised and run. The guides, Stephan Lorenz and Dave Krueper, were excellent. They went out of their way to ensure that all the group members had a chance to see and identify the birds, especially concentrating on those they knew were life birds. Having two guides for 10 tour members was great and being in two vans for travel ensured that we all had sufficient space and window area to spread out and see everything. Even the weather was pretty good. Great tour!

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.

Stephan Lorenz was great. He knew every bird and plant and was helpful to me in getting the photos that I wanted.

Forrest Rowland was a wonderful guide. He is extremely knowledgeable about birds and always takes the time to consider the wants, needs and priorities of the group. He works with his group to form a common goal. He was extremely professional and he had a remarkably positive attitude. His enthusiasm was infectious and admirable, as was his perseverance in finding us any species that we wanted and which was possible to see. Forrest is personable, humorous, and extremely generous and kind-hearted. I am so grateful to have met him.

Dates, Leaders and Pricing
2022 DEPARTURES
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