Alaska 2023: Pribilofs
St. Paul Island I
May 20 – 25, 2023
Tour Length: 6 days
Est. Spaces Left: Waiting list!
Birds, Photography, Marine Mammals, Culture
Double Accommodation: $4,450/person
Single Supplement: + $450
Max Group Size
14 +2 leaders & local guides
Easy; short hikes and occasional walking through wetlands
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.
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); Eurasian vagrants 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.
Northern Fur Seal; Harbor Seal; Steller’s Sea Lion; Arctic Fox; Reindeer
maritime tundra, seaside, wetlands, lagoons
Unangan community; great scenery; exceptional photographic opportunities; wildflowers
Planning for the Trip
Meet in Anchorage at the Coast Inn at Lake Hood at 6:30 PM for dinner.
First night with en-suite bathrooms. Basic, but comfortable, hotel with shared baths on St. Paul Island.
From Anchorage, 5 nights lodging, all meals from 1st-night dinner through final day’s lunch, transport, guides, taxes, tips.
Alcohol, personal calls, laundry, and other personal expenses.
Cool maritime climate with temps 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, can be rainy and windy
Suggested Clothing and Gear
- Credit cards/cash
- Scope and tripod (optional)
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Extra eyeglasses or contact lenses
- Water bottle
- Small umbrella
- Small day pack/fanny pack
- Small flashlight
- Itch relief cream
- Prescription drugs – carry in original packaging to avoid customs problems
- OTC medicines (antibiotics, cold/sinus, cough drops, eye drops, analgesic (Motrin, aspirin), anti-diarrheal)
- Small alarm clock
- Field guides
- Note pads/pens (we provide trip checklists)
- Hiking Boots/Shoes
- Safari (e.g., Tilly) hat
- Rain jacket/windbreaker
- Waterproof winter jacket (Gore-tex or equivalent)
- Warm winter jacket
- Balaclava or full facial ski mask
- Warm, waterproof gloves (and backup pair)
- Glove liners
- Long sleeve shirts (various weights)
- T-shirts or undershirts (Capilene or polypropylene)
- Pants (fleece or wool; jeans NOT recommended)
- Long Underwear (Capilene or polypropylene)
- PJs or shorts for lounging/sleeping
- Wool socks (various weights) and liners.
- GORE-TEX socks/liners for water protection and warmth
- Sturdy, waterproof boots; NEOS are lightweight waterproof overboots
- Moleskin for blisters
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- Shorebirds of North America, Europe, & Asia: A Guide to Field Identification Don Taylor; illustrated by Stephen Message (2006) Princeton University Press
- Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide Dennis Paulson (2005); Princeton University Press
- The Sibley Guide to Birds David A. Sibley (2000); Knopf
- Seabirds of the World Peter Harrison (1997); Princeton University Press
- A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan (1982); Wild Bird Society of Japan
- A Field Guide to the Birds of China John MacKinnon & Karen Phillipps (2000); Oxford University Press
- A Field Guide to the Waterbirds of Asia Bharat Bhushan, et al. (1993); Wild Bird Society of Japan
- Birds of Russia & Adjacent Territories V. E. Flint, et al. (1984); Princeton University Press
- Birds of Europe Killian Mullarney, et al. (1999); Princeton University Press
- Birds of Europe with North Africa & the Middle East Lars Jonsson (1992); Princeton University Press
- The Handbook of Bird Identification for Europe & the Western Palearctic Mark Beaman and Steve Madge (1998); Princeton University Press
- A Field Guide to the Rare Birds of Britain & Europe Ian Lewington, et al. (1991); Domino Books, Ltd.
- New Generation to the Guide Birds of Britain & Europe Christopher Perrins (1987); University of Texas Press