A Yellow-browed Warbler, one of several North American firsts from Gambell in fall. Photo: Paul Lehman
New for 2013 - We are offering two different Fall Gambell packages; 8day/7night and 5day/4night. Additional days can be added to create a fully customized 5 - 13 day tour to fit your schedule.
Birding at Gambell during the early autumn provides the opportunity to see a good variety of western Alaska specialties, a remarkable seabird spectacle, southbound shorebirds that include small numbers of Old World species, and a good chance of finding one or more Asian landbird strays. Fall migration is protracted and full of glorious uncertainty, but some of the species and plumages seen are unique among North American birding tours. Although rare passerines can be expected to occur between late August and early October, the number, composition, and timing of their occurrence vary from year to year, depending on such factors as the weather, that year’s nesting success, and just dumb luck! The species that have occurred to date at Gambell, however, include a sizable list of “mega-rarities” with at most a handful of records in North America; few or none of these autumn “megas” have ever been recorded in spring. Mainland North American strays also occur regularly in small numbers. You can read Paul’s detailed analysis of fall birding at Gambell originally as published in Western Birds, Vol 36, No 1, and informally updated annually since then, as a PDF file here.
Gambell is a Yupik village at the northwest tip of St. Lawrence Island. Our quarters will be in the simple-but-comfortable Sivuqaq Inn, which offers private rooms, toilets, showers, and a large kitchen. Weather is always a factor in this part of the world. Early fall temperatures at Gambell are normally milder than in the spring with highs in the low-to-mid 40s and lows in the upper 30s and low 40s F. It is common, though, for wind, fog, and drizzle to occur in rapidly changing combinations, so a certain amount of flexibility has been programmed into our schedule.
At the end of August and beginning of September, there are still hundreds of thousands of alcids of eight species flying by the point: Thick-billed and Common Murres, Pigeon Guillemot, Parakeet, Least, and Crested Auklets, and Horned and Tufted Puffins. These birds are joined by hundreds of thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters and numbers of loons, eiders, phalaropes, jaegers (including Long-tailed), and other migrants. We should see Yellow-billed Loon, Emperor Goose, and Steller’s Eider, and we have a good chance of seeing Spectacled Eider and Ancient Murrelet, particularly later in the period. Migrant shorebirds (including good numbers of Pacific Golden-Plovers, Red Phalaropes, and a few Rock Sandpipers) usually include one or more Lesser Sand-Plovers and Gray-tailed Tattlers, and small numbers of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers occur regularly. Other Old World species are always possible. White Wagtail breeds most years at Gambell. Although the bulk of “trans-Beringian” passerine migrants move through in August, there are usually at least a small number of the following present through the first week of September: Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and Red-throated Pipit. Other landbirds include many Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings, and at least a few Hoary Redpolls. Gyrfalcon, Snowy Owl, and McKay’s Bunting (all more likely in late September and early October) are also possible..
What are the “best” dates to visit Gambell in late August and early September, and how long should one stay? Rarities are likely at Gambell any time from about the last five days or week of August through early October; so the longer one stays, the better the chances of seeing such species. (See the PDF of Paul’s article for the exact dates of occurrence of all Asian and North American strays which have been found at Gambell in fall.) During the past decade, the period 26 August-10 September has often been productive for Asian strays, though some years have clearly been better than others. Again, weather and chance play a major role. A few shorebird species have departed by the beginning of September—including the rare Common Ringed Plover and Red-necked Stint. Most auklets leave the breeding cliffs by the end of August (though they can still be seen just offshore from the Point during early September). And the largest numbers of most of the regular “trans-Beringian” passerines—Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, and Red-throated Pipit for example—occur in late August and the first few days of September (although smaller numbers typically continue through the first third of the month).
We will hope for winds from the west or southwest, and at least some rain, to increase our chances at Asian vagrants. A variety of far-flung North American strays have turned up during this entire period as well.
The list of Asian landbird strays recorded at Gambell in late August and the first half of September is a heady one, although any one visit may produce from only one or two upwards to a nice haul, depending on the year. The list compiled between 1996 and 2012 includes two Oriental Cuckoos, Fork-tailed Swift, Eurasian Wryneck, two Brown Shrikes, Blythe’s Reed Warbler, three Middendorff’s Grasshopper-Warblers, sixteen Dusky Warblers, ten Willow Warblers, two Yellow-browed Warblers, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, three “Siberian” Stonechats, six Siberian Accentors, eleven Pechora Pipits, Olive-backed Pipit, Rustic Bunting, eleven Little Buntings, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Reed Bunting, two Pallas’s Buntings, nine Bramblings, and six Common Rosefinches. Shorebird strays in late August have included Common Sandpiper, two Wood Sandpipers, several Bristle-thighed Curlews, Terek Sandpiper, and two-each Temminck’s and Long-toed Stints.
Updated: 06 February 2013
- 2013 Tour Price : $3,200
- Single Occupancy Supplement : $230
* Tour invoices paid by check carry a modest discount. Details here.
* We offer two different Fall Gambell packages; seven nights and eight days for $3200 and four nights and five days for $2550. Additional days can be added at $350/day. Price includes lodging, transport, meals and the services of the leader. Single rooms if available cost an added $30 per night. Note that participants are responsible for getting to Gambell where they will be met on arrival by the WINGS leader(s). Anyone with questions about this journey should contact the WINGS office.
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) will be available at Gambell for use during the tour.