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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Alaska: Fall Migration at Gambell

Sunday 25 August to Tuesday 3 September 2024
Additional days on Gambell to Saturday 7 September
with Raymond VanBuskirk and Tiffany Kersten as leaders
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Seawatching at Gambell is rewarding, with migrant shearwaters, alcids, and waterfowl rounding the point at every hour of the day. Photo: Greg Greene

Birding on the Bering Sea outposts during the early autumn offers a variety of western Alaska specialties, an incredible seabird spectacle, southbound shorebirds that include small numbers of Old World species, and a good chance of finding Asian landbird strays. This revamped tour is scheduled to take in both Nome, with its fall foliage and mainland specialties such as Arctic Loon, Willow Ptarmigan, Gyrfalcon, and Bar-tailed Godwit, as well as Gambell, with its vegetated boneyards and remote appeal. In contrast to the spring migration period, fall migration is protracted and full of glorious uncertainty, but some of the plumages, to say nothing of the species, are rarely seen on 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 of course good luck! 

We’ve timed the Gambell portion of the tour to coincide with the movement of trans-Beringian migrants heading back to their Old World wintering grounds. Usually, we detect numbers of Arctic Warblers, Eastern Yellow Wagtails, Northern Wheatears, Bluethroats, and Red-throated Pipits heading west. Here too a multitude of alcids will be present in sometimes mind-numbing numbers, and the seawatching from the point is perhaps unsurpassed in North America. 

*It is possible to skip the Nome days. Please let the tour manager know if this is of interest.

** In 2024 we’ve added an option of extending your stay in Gambell for a few extra days.

Day 1: The tour begins in the late afternoon in the lobby of our Nome hotel. Night in Nome.

Day 2: On our day in the Nome area, we’ll visit coastal lagoons as well as interior rivers and ridges, and we’ll concentrate on finding western Alaska specialties and several species unlikely to be found at Gambell or Saint Paul. These include Arctic Loon, “Black” Brant, Gyrfalcon, Willow and possibly Rock Ptarmigans, Bar-tailed Godwit, Slaty-backed Gull, Northern Shrike, American Tree and Golden-crowned Sparrows, and Hoary Redpoll. Snowy Owl is possible. No matter what birds we see, the landscape around Nome at this time of year will provide a spectacular colorful backdrop as the tundra vegetation prepares for winter. Mammal possibilities include Grizzly Bear, Muskox, Moose, and Porcupine. Note that those who do not wish to participate in the Nome day can arrive in Nome this evening.  Night in Nome.

Day 3: We’ll fly this morning to the Yupik village of Gambell at the northwest tip of Saint Lawrence Island. Our quarters will be in the simple but comfortable Sivuqaq Inn, which offers private rooms, toilets, showers, and a large kitchen. We’ll use ATVs for transport. 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 high 30s to low 50s 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 to compensate for any delays. Night at Gambell.

Days 4–9: At the end of August and in early 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 equally large numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters and many 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. Migrant shorebirds include good numbers of Pacific Golden-Plovers, Red Phalarope, a few Rock Sandpipers, and usually one or more Gray-tailed Tattlers and small numbers of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. Lesser Sand-Plover and other Old World species are also possible. A variety of “trans-Beringian” passerine migrants, including Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Eastern Yellow and White Wagtails, and Red-throated Pipit, are moving back in numbers west into Asia through the first week of September. Other landbirds include many Snow Buntings and at least a few Hoary Redpolls.

The list of landbird strays recorded at Gambell in late August and the first half of September is a heady one, although any one visit may produce only one or two… or many more, depending on the year. The list compiled between 1996 and 2021 includes multiples of Oriental Cuckoo, Fork-tailed Swift, Eurasian Wryneck, Brown Shrike, Middendorff’s Grasshopper-Warbler, Dusky Warbler, Willow and Yellow-browed Warblers, “Siberian” Common Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat, Spotted Flycatcher, “Siberian” Stonechat, Siberian Accentor, Pechora and Olive-backed Pipit, Little, Yellow-breasted, Reed, and Pallas’s Buntings, Brambling, and Common Rosefinch. Asian strays recorded during visits later in the season include Sky Lark, Sedge Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Taiga Flycatcher, Siberian Rubythroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Siberian Accentor, Eye-browed Thrushes, Pechora Pipit, and Yellow-browed Bunting, with the list growing every year. We’ll hope for winds from the west or southwest, and at least some rain, to increase our chances for Asian vagrants. A variety of far-flung North American strays have turned up during this entire period as well. Nights in Gambell.

Day 10: This morning marks the end of our main tour to Gambell, with departing flights back to Nome and onward home. For those who opt to stay on for our additional ‘extension’, we’ll continue to search the boneyards, cliffs and surroundings for any new migrants or strays that might appear.


Days 11–13: By giving ourselves extra time on the island we’re able to see how concentrations of certain species change as the days go by, as well as give ourselves additional opportunities to hit favorable weather that will pull exciting Asian vagrants over to our tiny village outpost. Shorebird variety and numbers and variety will dwindle as the days go by, as will some trans-Beringian migrants (Arctic Warbler, Bluethroat, etc), while the chances of strays from Asia or North America will go up (depending on which way the winds are pushing). Local breeders will continue to stream past the point, with changing concentrations of species. With extra time here, you never know what will show up!

Day 14: The Gambell extension concludes with a morning flight back to Nome, with continuing flights on to Anchorage and home.

Updated: 20 May 2024


  • 2024 Tour Price : $6,390
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $660
  • Extension (Extra Days in Gambell) : $1,950
  • Extension Single Occupancy Supplement : $190


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Questions? Tour Manager: Matt Brooks. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

** The Anchorage to Nome flight is not included in the tour cost and is most economically purchased as part of your flights to Alaska. The Nome to Gambell flight is included.

** Single rooms are not always available in Gambell.

This tour is limited to 10 participants with one leader; 18 participants with two or more leaders.

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