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Jake Mohlmann and Raymond Vanbuskirk recently completed their Alaska Majesty tour

July 03: Jake Mohlmann and Raymond Vanbuskirk recently completed their Alaska Majesty tour

We just completed an amazing trip all over Alaska on our WINGS tour. Around Anchorage, woodpeckers were in good supply and we enjoyed witnessing a pair of adult American Three-toed Woodpeckers bringing in food to their begging young chattering from a perfectly sculpted nest hole. Nearby an even scarcer Black-backed Woodpecker came in for close inspection, 1 of 3 encountered this year.

We found a high count of three Black-backed Woodpeckers this year.

In Fairbanks we were treated to a couple of very rare sightings that included two different nesting owls. We observed two inquisitive fluffy young Boreal Owls peeking out of a nest box, soon to be followed by scope views of an adult Northern Hawk Owl perched within sight of its nest holding 6 hungry chicks.

This adult Northern Hawk Owl was in direct sight of its nest with 6 young.

Bird highlights in Nome included but were not limited to insanely good views of Bristle-thighed Curlew. Some years the trek to see these endemic breeders can be downright grueling, but this year one of them walked right across the well-beaten path much to the delight of our beating hearts. Willow Ptarmigans were abundant along roadsides including this dapper male grunting away uninhibited by the close proximity of our vans.

A Bristle-thighed Curlew seen well on its remote breeding grounds.

Male Willow Ptarmigan were seen quite close along roadsides.

Our boat trip in Seward was packed in with fog and rain was abundant, but this didn’t hamper our abilities to see many of the sought after seabirds. One highlight from the cruise was getting extremely close to a pair of Kittlitz’s Murrelets feeding in a glacial fjord.

A close pair of Kittlitz’s Murrelets outside Seward.

A truly unbelievable experience unfolded in Utquiagvik this year. We arranged an early morning trip to the northernmost point to try our luck with finding some of the Polar Bears others had been seeing and we were blown away by the experience we had. As we were deflating the tires on the vehicle a huge female bear appeared from the depths of the surrounding ice fields with a cub in tow. They made their way surprisingly fast to a pile of whale parts on the beach and gorged while we sat in awe (and safety) of our tundra-equipped vehicles.

The group watching Polar Bears at Point Barrow.

These are two of the twelve Polar Bears we saw on our special trip to the Northernmost Point of the United States. This female with cub in tow crossed the road up ahead of us eventually allowing close approach to observe them feed on whale parts thrown out by the locals.

A female Polar Bear with cub feeding close by.

King Eider was a major highlight from the tundra surrounding Utquiaqvik. We watched a bunch of gaudy males courting hens in one pond while having a picnic lunch, truly a memorable experience. The colors of these birds popped nicely in the never-ending light at the end of the world.

A King Eider pair rest after a day of courtship and feeding.

Mammal viewing is also great in Alaska and this year provided a suite of hairy critters to distract us. A new mammal for most was the muskox. After we watched a Gray-tailed Tattler fly from the mouth of Hastings Creek in Nome off into oblivion, this group of Muskox were seen on the hillside silently observing the scene.

The always observant Muskox in the Nome surrounds.

Posted: July 03, 2023