The Ultimate Alaska Trip

June 15 - 28, 2011

Mt. McKinley, Denali © Karen ONeill, Mass Audubon
Mt. McKinley, Denali © Karen ONeill, Mass Audubon
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Leaders: Wayne and Betty Petersen

Wayne Petersen, Director of the Massachusetts Important Bird Areas Program, shares highlights from the trip. Wayne and Betty were joined by 12 enthusiastic travelers.

From the standpoint of birds and wildlife observed, the trip could only be described as a winner. With 12 hale and happy birders, the group recorded 135 bird species and 21 mammal species during the tour including some spectacular, if not iconic, avian species.

Sightings included:

  • Trumpeter Swan
  • Bald and Golden eagles (even a nest with young at close range)
  • Gyrfalcon (several, including a nest with young)
  • Canada Lynx
  • Gray Wolf
  • Grizzly Bear
  • Muskox

In addition, we found much sought-after Beringian species (i.e., those species shared with Siberia and not found breeding or regularly occurring elsewhere in North America) such as:

  • Bristle-thighed Curlew
  • Bar-tailed Godwit
  • Slaty-backed Gull
  • Aleutian Tern
  • Arctic Warble
  • Bluethroat - Wayne only :-(
  • Arctic Warbler
  • Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Besides these unusual species, there were so many other memorable encounters, including:

  • Standing quietly on the deck looking at the glacier front of the mighty Mendenhall Glacier while tiny Kittlitz’s and Marbled Murrelets skittered away across the calm, black waters of the bay, and the scope views of families of Mountain Goats seen high on the misty ledges overlooking Tern Lake.
  • Watching American Pipits engaged in their parachute display flight right beside the Nome roadside, or the flock of 100+ Long-tailed Jaegers foraging on tundra spiders at Wooley Lagoon.
  • Enjoying the sounds of Alaska: the winnowing of a Wilson’s Snipe, the thunderous calving of a glacier, the ethereal song of a Varied Thrush, or the whine of tundra mosquitoes (!).

Alaska is studded with so many significant Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Places like Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks and Safety Sound in Nome were but two examples that we visited, and it’s comforting to know that sites like these have been officially recognized as areas deserving of critical protection in Alaska.          

A successful trip all around!