Alaska 2023: Utqiaġvik: Ross’s Gull Quest

October 7 – 12, 2023

Tour Length: 6 days
Est. Spaces Left: Available

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 kilometers 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.

Tour Leaders

Stephan Lorenz

Focus

Birds, Photography, Marine Mammals, Culture

Price

Double Accommodation: $4000/person
Single Supplement: + $700
Deposit: $1,000

Max Group Size

7 (+1 leader)

Pace

Easy; minimal walking per day, most birding near a vehicle.

Future Departures

October 2024

Tour Descriptions

Day 1. Arrival in Anchorage and transfer to hotel

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 forests 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 Owls 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 with 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.

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Locations

Gallery

More Details

Trip Highlights

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

Utqiaġvik: arctic tundra, coast and wetlands; Anchorage: boreal forest and marshes

Other Attractions

remote arctic landscapes, Inupiat culture, history

Planning for the Trip

Meeting Location

Coast Inn at Lake Hood, Anchorage.

Accommodations

Very comfortable hotels with excellent restaurants

Included

From Anchorage, 5 nights lodging, all meals from 1st-night dinner through final day’s lunch, flights to Barrow, transport, guides, taxes.

Excluded

Alcohol, personal calls, laundry, other personal expenses.

Expected Climate

Cold and sometimes foggy; 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be very cold during the seawatch and layers (windproof), gloves, and hats are essential.

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; Mosquito/insect repellant (DEET 25% or greater); 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; Hair Dryer; Small alarm clock; Cleaning fluids/cloths/drying cloths; Field guides; Note pads/pens (we provide trip checklists); Hiking Boots/Shoes; Warm hat with visor; Rain hat; 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; Foot powder for drying