Carolina Young Birders Club


Birding the Last Frontier

Posted by Matt on August 21, 2015 at 7:15 AM
Arctic Tern

As summer winds down, and young birders begin to head back to school, now's a great time to reminisce on the summer birding adventures we all had during the summer.  But the conclusion of summer also means that the activities of the Carolina Young Birders Club are picking up- simply check out our Events and Field Trips page:  With a couple trips to Orangeburg for shorebirds, and then heading up to the Blue Ridge for raptors and warblers, enjoy the yearly autumn migration spectacle with the Carolina Young Birders Club! The Carolina Bird Club is also hosting one of their seasonal meetings this September in Hickory.  We hope you can join us.  

Oh yes, back to what I was saying.  This past June I was fortunate enough to finally travel to Alaska for a birding tour after saving my money for a year. America's largest state is wild and unpopulated, with millions and millions of acres to accomodate for the yearly blossoming of birdlife every summer.  A premier birding destination, Alaska combines boreal, tundra, and oceanic species along with Siberian strays and localized Bering specialties.  Flying into Anchorage, and hitting some of the urban hotspots in Alaska's largest city, the next day we took the long (all distances in Alaska are big!) and very scenic drive down the Kenai Peninsula to Homer, a seaside town well known for it's status as hub of the Halibut fishing industry. Alaska Railroad


 Located on Katchemak Bay, Homer is framed by the gorgeous Kenai Mountains, draped in glaciers and rising 4,000 from the Pacific. The next day, we motored into the calm waters of Katchemak Bay looking for seabirds, with the prime target being that declining Alaskan specialty, the Kittlitz's Murrelet. Common Murres were tame, as we picked through their flocks searching for one of their Thick-billed brethren (to no avail).

Common Murres

 Eventually, at the mouth of the Grewingk Glacier, we noted both Kittlitz's and Marbled Murrelets, at one of the best places to see the Kittlitz's, as they prefer the areas near glacier mouths, which deposits nutrients and sediments feeding plankton and larval fish that make up their diet. In addition, we were treated to great views of Tufted Puffin, Pelagic Cormorant, Surfbird, Black Turnstone and of course Black-legged Kittiwakes. 


Black-legged Kittiwake harassing Pelagic CormorantGull Rock with Black-legged Kittiwakes & the Kenai MountainsBlack Turnstone & SurfbirdTufted Puffin

Heading north back up the Kenai, we decided to stop in a boreal forest habitat where we nabbed Varied Thrush, Townsend's Warbler, Gray Jay, Pine Grosbeak, and (especially exciting for me, it having been my nemesis bird-) Boreal Chickadee.

Boreal ChickadeeVaried Thrush

  Staying the night in Anchorage, we birded a little around town before heading up into the alpine Tundra near Palmer- at 3,500 feet Hatcher Pass would be our highest elevation of the trip.  Searching the creekside rigorously, we "dipped" on American Dipper, but heading straight up the mountain on the gravel road, we were treated to spectacular views, snowfields, Golden-crowned Sparrows, American Pipits, and, with incredible luck, a Rock Ptarmigan 


Rock PtarmiganGolden-crowned Sparrow


The next couple days included the drive north to Fairbanks, and then back south again to Healy, near Denali National Park.  On our last full day in "civilized" Alaska (the part in which you can reach the rest of America by road), we began in Denali, with special views of Golden Eagle, Harlequin Duck, and Willow Ptarmigan at Savage River.  The Willow completed my ptarmigan "slam". 


Willow Ptarmigan


Thus began the long drive back to Anchorage, for our flight the next day left to Nome.


Nome is located on the western edge of the Seward Peninsula, only about 170 miles from Russia.  The flight from Anchorage took about two hours.  The Nome area is home to a multitude of tundra birds who arrive for a few weeks every summer to feast on the explosion of insects and raise young.  Long-tailed Jaegers, finely dressed in breeding garb, were abundant, as were Red-throated Loons.

Red-throated LoonsLong-tailed JaegerLong-tailed Jaeger

Later, we travelled the 70 mile gravel highway to the Inupiat community of Teller, home to about 250 natives who still lead a subsistence lifestyle.  In the lagoon at the town itself, we were treated to an unexpected surprise: a male Spectacled Eider.

Spectacled EiderSpectacled EiderSpectacled Eider

Our last two days in Nome, as we wrapped up our grand tour of Alaska, were filled with other lifers as well, including Arctic Warbler, Gyrfalcon, Bristle-thighed Curlew, American and Pacific- Golden Plovers, Rough-legged Hawk, Northern Shrike, and Wandering Tattler. 

Overall, I felt incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to bird such a beautiful state with an awesome avifauna to boot!


Double Rainbow


Hope everyone had a great summer.  Can't wait to see you around on some of our CYBC events and field trips this coming year!

Matt Janson


Categories: Trip Reports

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1 Comment

Reply Marie Chappell
11:07 PM on July 23, 2016 
Duuuude..... I'm jealous...