YOUNG AUTHORS | My Trip to Alaska
By Dessi Sieburth

Three Least Auklets on a rock in St. Paul Island

Three Least Auklets on a rock in St. Paul Island

One of my favorite birding destinations in the spring is Alaska because many migrating birds are returning to Alaska. I had been to Denali National Park and the Kenai Peninsula previously, and I wanted to go to other birding locations in Alaska. This year, I went to Saint Paul Island, which is one of the four Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, and then I went to Nome, which is on the tip of the Seward Peninsula in western Alaska. I went from June 4 to June 13, 2016, because early June is the best time to see shorebirds, seabirds, and songbirds as they start breeding. At this time of the year, many birds are vocalizing, and they are easier to spot. I went with a small group of four other birding friends. To prepare for this trip, the five of us met several times and studied the birds found in Alaska.

Our group flew from Los Angeles to Anchorage, where we spent our first day. We did some local birding there along the coast of the Cook Inlet and in the adjoining Westchester lagoon, and saw a Sabine’s Gull, rare in Anchorage. We also saw White-winged Crossbill, Hudsonian Godwit, and Alder Flycatcher. We also went to Kincaid Park, where we saw an adult moose with two babies.

Then we went to St. Paul Island. St. Paul Island is treeless and there were grasslands, tundra, and wildflowers. We stayed at the only hotel there, the King Eider Hotel. There, we went with a tour group, TDX, which provides guides and transportation for birders during the summer months.

We birded St. Paul Island for four days, going out birding for fourteen hours per day, and with the help of our guides, who were very knowledgeable, I saw fourteen life birds. Some highlights there included Slaty-backed Gull, Wood Sandpiper, King Eider, Yellow-billed Loon, and Snowy Owl. The seabird cliffs at St. Paul were absolutely breathtaking. At the cliffs, I was able to get a few feet close to Horned and Tufted Puffins, who were preparing to nest on the cliffs. I saw hundreds of Thick-billed and Common Murres, and Least, Parakeet, and Crested Auklets. The Red-legged Kittiwakes were also a highlight, as I was able to get about five feet close to one of them. Of all the birds I saw, the Red-faced Cormorants were my favorite birds because they were so close and beautiful.

Parakeet Auklets were common at St. Paul Island

Parakeet Auklets were common at St. Paul Island

The Red-faced Cormorants on St. Paul Island were my favorite birds

The Red-faced Cormorants on St. Paul Island were my favorite birds

 

A Tufted Puffin sits on a rock in St. Paul Island

A Tufted Puffin sits on a rock in St. Paul Island

Nome was our next stop. To get there, we had to fly back to Anchorage. Since there are only three major roads in Nome and the birding was pretty easy, we did not have a guide. Nome was quite a unique place, as we saw shorebirds displaying and Semipalmated Sandpipers sitting on top of houses. Highlights in Nome included Bluethroats and Arctic Warblers singing and displaying, and Bristle-thighed Curlew, Spectacled Eider, Gyrfalcon, and a friendly Rock Ptarmigan in courtship plumage. Short-eared Owls and Long-tailed Jaegers were everywhere you looked, and I had never seen so many of them in my life before. Songbirds were singing everywhere in the dwarf willows, and Gray-cheeked Thrush, Northern Waterthrush, and Blackpoll Warblers were common. We had several interesting mammals, including Grizzly Bear and Musk Ox. I ended up with thirty life birds total on the Alaska trip and fifteen of them I saw in Nome.

A Bluethroat was singing from a perch in Nome

A Bluethroat was singing from a perch in Nome

Short-eared Owls were common around Nome

Short-eared Owls were common around Nome

I also wanted to do a conservation project in Alaska, as many bird populations are declining. I decided to learn more about the Bar-tailed Godwit because this bird is an example of a long distant migrant. I was very happy when I saw several Bar-tailed Godwits in Nome. Bar-tailed Godwits make a nearly 7,200 miles non-stop migration journey from Alaska to New Zealand without food and water for eight days each fall. My goal is that other people learn about these amazing birds and that they will be motivated to help and to protect the Bar-tailed Godwits and other migrating birds. I am planning to publish an interview I am doing with a biologist in Anchorage who has been doing research about the Bar-tailed Godwit. The birding in Alaska turned out to be spectacular, and it was an adventure that I won’t forget. Thanks to Los Angeles Audubon Society for supporting my birding trips and conservation projects.

We saw several Bar-tailed Godwits in Alaska. Drawing by Dessi Sieburth

We saw several Bar-tailed Godwits in Alaska. Drawing by Dessi Sieburth

All photos taken by Dessi Sieburth,
http://protectingourbirds.my-free.website/