Getting to Nome from Adak meant a flight first to Anchorage and then another to Nome. The first flight was in a combo Alaska Air cargo/passenger jet and again there was lots of room. A comfortable connection in Anchorage and then another Alaska Air combo heading north. This time the plane was pretty full – lots of birders on board – but the flight was relatively short and easy. As I waited for my bags at the quite small Nome airport, I heard a voice “Are you Blair?” and turned around to see a woman from near me in Edmonds, WA whom I had never met but with whom I had exchanged birding information/photos. Small world – birding in Alaska – and here was Pam Meyers. I want to add a shout out here for Alaska Airlines. Just as had been the case with my April trip to Colorado, all flights were on Alaska Airlines and every aspect of the intersection with them was fantastic – easy, quick, friendly, efficient and smooth.
Our first stop was to pick up our vehicle in “Downtown” Nome. Only four on this trip so it was an extended cab pickup with a back seat. Very serviceable and definitely good for our purposes. Then it was a short ride to check in to our Nome abode. Can’t say I have ever stayed at a place with “Dredge” in its name but “Dredge No. 7 Inn – Sluicebox” was to be our Nome Home. Apparently has something to do with Nome’s gold mining history. Perfectly comfortable.
Whatever its previous gold boom past, today Nome is a pretty dismal town – certainly more going on than Adak, but not much. Flat, not scenic, somewhat downtrodden etc. However, once out of the town, it is spectacular with the ocean, vast tundra, mountains and rivers. Quite the beautiful place with lots of good birds. It is also as far north as I have been and definitely the land of the Midnight Sun as on more than one night we were birding in good light until midnight and at most there were perhaps 3 hours of dim light – never completely dark.
There are basically three main roads out of Nome – Council Road and Teller Road each to another “town/settlement” of those names and also the Taylor Road but better known at least for birders as the Kougarok Road. During our four day stay we birded the full length of each including more than one trip on the Council Road. I am going to take the liberty here of going out of sequence and just sharing birding stories without regard to timing – trying as best I can to provide some locational details – and definitely lots of photos. As on Adak, John was a great guide – finder and identifier of birds. We ran into lots of other birders – some local and others on organized trips. For the most part information was shared – always beneficial especially in large areas where pinpoint information can be very helpful.
The main “targets” for the trip were probably Bluethroat, Arctic Warbler and Bristle Thighed Curlew with next in line being Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Willow Ptarmigan, Northern Wheatear, Red Necked Stint, Bar Tailed Godwit and Gray Cheeked Thrush. There was also an outside chance for White Wagtail and maybe some Eiders in addition to Common Eider which we had seen on Adak. As it turned out we found all of these birds except for the Bristle Thighed Curlew despite a very thorough search and this included a Spectacled Eider, the only Eider I had not seen. I had also already seen Northern Wheatear, Bar Tailed Godwit and Red Necked Stint in Washington but the looks here especially in breeding plumage were superior and greatly enjoyed. We also lots of other great birds including many Redpolls both Common and Hoary and the most surprising to me was the number of Long Tailed Jaegers which seemed to be everywhere. Also had many Parasitic Jaegers – all great looks. Some other “common” birds were Lapland Longspurs, Glaucous Gulls and Northern Waterthrushes. I had seen and photographed all of them in Washington, but these breeding birds were spectacular.
Nome birds in no particular order:
Red Necked Phalarope – Beautiful in perfect light along the Council Road
Yellow Billed Loon – found by John in the sea off Council Road. First one I have ever seen in breeding plumage.
Red Throated Loon – the most common loon – seen often – primarily along Council Road.
Pacific Loon – we tried to make it into an Arctic Loon but settled for tis beautiful Pacific Loon in breeding plumage.
Bar Tailed Godwit – several were seen – both male and female.
Black Scoters – in sea off Council Road.
Sabine’s Gull – a very fun find as there was a flock of at least 80 in the “grass” and ponds along Council Road.
Arctic Tern – Much more common than the Aleutian Terns but both were present.
Bluethroat – One of the prized finds – several seen and heard along Kougarok Road.
Arctic Warbler – We found quite a few in a number of places. A Nome specialty.
Wheatear (Male and Female) – A mated pair on Kougarok Road.
Long Tailed Jaeger – We saw these everywhere from the coast to the mountains. Quite common and quite beautiful.
Parasitic Jaeger – not nearly as common as the Long Tailed Jaegers but seen frequently mostly at the lower elevations.
Glaucous Gull – the dominant gull. We also saw some Kittiwakes and Mew Gulls but at most a single Glaucous Winged Gull (or so John said…inside joke)
Short Eared Owl – several seen as we had on Adak.
Gray Cheeked Thrush – seen and heard almost everywhere including in a little clump of brush next to our lodging.
Willow Ptarmigan (Male and Female) – We saw several in the tundra. This was the 19th gallinaceous bird I have seen this year. There are only 4 more “regulars” in the ABA area and I am tempted to try for them all.
Rock Ptarmigan (Winter Plumage) – a consolation on our failed search for the Bristle Thighed Curlew – very cool to add this white form to the breeders we saw at Adak.
Northern Waterthrush – another very common bird – hard to get to sit still for a picture but found almost everywhere.
Spectacled Eider – We were told of this rarity by another group – Hastings Creek/Bay off Council Road. We may have missed a Steller’s Eider but at least I had seen one many years ago in Washington. This was one of the best birds to me for the whole trip.
Common Eider – We saw many in the sea off Council Road and John located a single immature King Eider in a small flock of Common Eiders as well.
Long Tailed Ducks (Male and Female) – In a pond off Council Road.
Hoary Redpoll – Common Redpolls were more numerous and were abundant in town, but we saw many Hoary Redpolls out in the tundra especially.
Common Redpoll – heard and seen frequently including at our motel.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail – We ended up seeing 3 or 4 including two at Teller.
White Wagtail – rarer of the wagtails – one or maybe two seen at pond near Teller.
Red Necked Stint – brilliant in the sunshine together with a number of Western Sandpipers and a single Dunlin.
American Golden Plover – Another consolation prize in our unsuccessful attempt to find the Bristle Thighed Curlew.
Pacific Golden Plover – Seen on both the Council and Kougarok Roads – lower elevation than the American Golden Plovers.
Snow Bunting – the only one we saw – on the Kougarok Road – why couldn’t it have been a McKay’s!!??
Fox Sparrow (Red) – heard and seen at a number of locations.
Yellow Warbler – seen and heard frequently.
Blackpoll Warbler – Council Road – male and female – and lots of mosquitoes.
Sandhill Crane – we saw a good number including a small flock.
Lapland Longspur (Female) – not as common as Redpolls but seen frequently.
We also had good mammal sightings including many Musk Ox, Moose with Calf and a Red Fox.
Musk Ox – we saw several small herds – a “life mammal”.
Moose with Calf – the calf did not appear for quite awhile – certainly looked like it was not very old.
Red Fox – seen on the Council Road.
And of course there was great scenery along the way.
And finally (photo wise at least) the tundra was full of beautiful wildflowers.
On this Nome portion of my trip I added 55 new birds to my Alaska State list bringing the total to 142 (with 129 seen on the trip to all places in Alaska this year). New life birds were: Gray Cheeked Thrush, Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Willow Ptarmigan and Spectacled Eider – making it 16 altogether for the Alaska trip in total. Some misses and some surprise finds – as it almost always is.
There was not a lot of interaction with locals – offered some ivory jewelry in Teller where we also surprisingly found a small store with cold sodas – not even hideously over-priced. Food was not fantastic but there were some decent options in Nome. Definitely a popular place for birders as we intersected both with birders on their own and also several organized groups including one of local educators. The weather was fantastic – no rain and very little wind. High temperature was maybe 70 and the low in the morning was probably high 30’s. The long days were great but I am sure I would not enjoy the corresponding long hours of darkness in the winter (nor the snow or below zero temperatures). I brought sun block and insect repellent and needed both but surprisingly bugs in only a very few places.
It was time to go home and once again Alaska Airlines delivered. Good flight back to Anchorage and then they even moved me up to an earlier flight back to Seattle. Continuing to lead a charmed life, my bags were among the first on the carousel at baggage claim and my ride was on time and it was back to civilization.
I do not expect I will return to either Nome or Adak – but Nome is certainly doable on one’s own – if accommodation and a rental car (both in short supply) can be arranged. I heard many stories about other Alaska birding meccas including Gambell, Attu and the Pribilofs. Maybe some day.