Alaska 2023: Spring Migration in Gambell

The Siberian Express

May 26 – June 03, 2023

Tour Length: 9 days
Est. Spaces Left: 2 Spaces available!

Birding the far north 35 miles from Siberia for Alaska specialties and Asian vagrants. This is also an opportunity to experience life in a Siberian Yupik subsistence village, few of which survive anymore. Up to five more nights can be added at additional cost.

Tour Leaders

Stephan Lorenz
Dave Krueper

 

Focus

Birds, Marine Mammals, Siberian Yupik culture

Price

Double Accommodation: $6,300/person
Single Supplement: + $525
Deposit: 750

Max Group Size

up to 16 (3 leaders)

Pace

Intense; some hiking through marsh and rough ground every day but ATV’s available

Future Departures

May 26, 2024

Tour Descriptions

Gambell is a remote Yupik village on the northwestern tip of St. Lawrence Island, lying roughly 40 miles southeast of the Russian mainland which is visible on the horizon on a clear day. The small and welcoming community here still practices a traditional lifestyle that is rare in other parts of the country. It remains one of the most far-flung and fascinating birding locations in all of Alaska, offering the chance to observe millions of nesting seabirds, migrating waterfowl, and loons, plus an excellent chance to find several Eurasian migrants and vagrants that are very rare in other regions of the ABA and North America. The seawatch here is incredibly productive, especially during the spring when millions of birds are rushing north from the Bering Sea and points further south to reach their Arctic breeding grounds. Four species of eiders pass by in considerable numbers, including the rare Steller’s and Spectacled, small numbers of Emperor Geese are possible, four species of scoters and five species of loons, including good numbers of Arctic and Yellow-billed – often flying right past the point. All three jaegers move through while Black-legged Kittiwakes are abundant and Sabine’s Gulls frequent, even Red-legged Kittiwake, Ross’s and Ivory Gulls are possible but the latter three are extremely rare. The number of alcids here is truly astounding and counting in the millions. The evening flights include Common and Thick-billed Murres, Black and Pigeon Guillemots, Parakeet, Least and Crested Auklets, and Horned and Tufted Puffins. Northern Fulmars and Pelagic Cormorants are common from the seawatch. The alcid species can also be observed closely on the talus slopes they use for nesting near the village and during most years at least one or two Dovekies are present, a very rare nesting species in Alaska. Other regular spring visitors to Gambell include Brant, Tundra Swan, Harlequin Duck, Pacific Golden-Plover, Rock Sandpiper, Red and Red-necked Phalaropes, Rough-legged Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, and the range-restricted McKay’s Bunting. Several species with largely Eurasian distribution occur regularly as passage migrants on Gambell during the spring with a handful remaining to nest, including Common Ringed Plover, Red-necked Stint, Slaty-backed Gull, Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Eastern Yellow and White Wagtails, and Red-throated Pipit. Eurasian vagrants and rarities we have observed during spring tours over the past five years include Tundra Bean-Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Lesser Sand-Plover, Pin-tailed Snipe, Terek, Common, Wood and Green Sandpipers, Gray-tailed Tattler, Common Greenshank, White-tailed Eagle, Common Chiffchaff, Eyebrowed Thrush, Red-flanked Bluetail, Siberian Stonechat, Brambling, Hawfinch, Eurasian Bullfinch, and Pallas’s Bunting (many others are possible). Of course, the number and diversity of Eurasian species and rarities are highly weather and wind dependent, as such it is unpredictable, making each day on Gambell very exciting. The seawatch can also prove exciting for mammals with Gray Whales often observed closely and depending on the amount of sea ice, Walrus, Bearded and Ribbon Seals are possible, while Arctic Foxes occasionally wander about the tundra close to the village.

Our accommodations will be simple but comfortable in Gambell. Walking on Gambell is very strenuous because of the loose gravel. In order to make Gambell more accessible, we provide ATVs for our customers, usually two per ATV. Our primary leader will be Stephan Lorenz. Sara Cedricks, a professional chef in Fairbanks and cook extraordinaire will provide our cooking. We will have additional leaders as needed.

Locations

Gallery

More Details

Trip Highlights

Top Birds

Emperor Goose; Least, Parakeet & Crested Auklets; Dovekie; Yellow-billed, Arctic & Pacific Loons; Steller’s, Spectacled, King & Common Eiders; Ivory (rare) & Slaty-backed Gulls; Common Ringed Plover; Common Greenshank; Wood Sandpiper; Gray-tailed Tattler; Red-necked Stint; Red Phalarope; White Wagtail; Brambling all are nearly annual; many less common Eurasian vagrants seen on recent tours: Green, Terek & Common Sandpipers; Great Knot; Long-toed & Temminck’s Stints; Eyebrowed Thrush, Siberian Stonechat, Olive-backed Pipit, Brambling, Pallas’s Bunting; Eurasian Bullfinch & Hawfinch depending upon year and weather patterns.

Top Mammals

Walrus, Arctic Fox, Gray Whale

Habitats Covered

coastline, offshore, wetlands, tundra

Other Attractions

Native culture; scenery (you can see Russia!)

Planning for the Trip

Meeting Location

Coast Inn at Lake Hood, Anchorage, Alaska

Accommodations

Very comfortable hotel in Anchorage & basic lodge with shared bathroom on Gambell.

Included

From Anchorage: 8 nights lodging, all meals from first night dinner through final day’s lunch, transport, guides, taxes.

Excluded

Alcohol, personal calls, laundry, other personal expenses.

Expected Climate

Cold to very cold (20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit) and windy can be freezing especially while moving around on ATVs.

Suggested Clothing and Gear

Credit cards/cash; Binoculars; 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; Lip screen/balm; Prescription drugs – carry in original packaging to avoid customs problems; OTC medicines (antibiotics, cold/sinus, cough drops, eye drops, analgesic (Motrin, aspirin), anti-diarrheal); Toiletries; Small alarm clock; Cleaning fluids/cloths/drying cloths; Field guides; Note pads/pens (we provide trip checklists); Hiking Boots/Shoes; Medium-weight jacket; Medium-weight long pants; Medium-weight long-sleeved shirts; Warm hat with visor; Rain hat; Waterproof winter jacket (Gore-tex or equivalent); Warm, waterproof gloves (and backup pair); 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

Recommended Reading

  • Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th Edition Jon Dunn, et al. (2011); National Geographic Society
  • 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 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
  • A Field Guide to the Birds of China John MacKinnon & Karen Phillipps (2000); Oxford 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