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WINGS Birding Tours – Information

Alaska: Majesty of the North

Tour Information

Note: The information presented below has been extracted from our formal General Information for this tour.  It covers topics we feel potential registrants may wish to consider before booking space.    The complete General Information for this tour will be sent to all tour registrants and of course supplemental information, if needed, is available from the WINGS office.

ENTERING THE UNITED STATES:  Non-US citizens need a passport, valid for at least six months after the date the tour ends, and may need a tourist visa or visa waiver. Consult your nearest US Embassy or consulate for details. Canadian citizens should carry proof of citizenship in the form of a passport. If required by the embassy or visa-granting entity, WINGS can provide a letter for you to use regarding your participation in the tour.

COUNTRY INFORMATION:There is no U.S. Department of State Country Specific Travel Information for the USA.  You can access the UK Government Foreign Travel advice for the USA at , and the CIA World Factbook background notes on the United States at .

PACE OF THE TOUR: Most of the birding will be along roads close to the vans; the exceptions being one semi-long (about a 1.5 mile round trip) hike over difficult terrain (large bunchgrass mounds with wet channels in between on a slope) at Nome in search of the Bristle-thighed Curlew, and one 2-mile hike over uneven and sometimes boggy tundra looking for Smith’s Longspur. The rest of the walking will be easy, although we may opt to take one of the several trails around Anchorage City Parks which have the occasional steep (but very short) hill. Alaska is immense, and some of the drives are several hours long, but will usually be broken up by birding stops. Most mornings we’ll begin with breakfast at 6:30 or 7:00 a.m. There will also be optional after-dinner excursions on some days, as in places the sun does not set until after midnight, if at all! Breakfasts and dinners will be in normal restaurants, whereas lunches will be a combination of picnics in the field, and sandwich shops.  Note that due to the long daylight hours here we will often eat dinner at 7:00-7:30pm. 

Note on Denali National Park: The Park Road has been closed at milepost 42 since 2021 due to a landslide and isn’t due to reopen until 2026 or later. We will have an alternate plan in place for this day (which may include a shorter drive in on the Park Road, then birding around the Denali entrance.

Denali National Park does not allow commercial groups such as ours to operate within the Park. This prohibition has been in effect for some years, as has the moratorium on the issuance of permits for commercial activities in the Park. Every year we hope for a loosening of these policies, but thus far there has been no change. What this means is that on the day we spend in the Park, the leader will put you on the tour bus with advice on what to do. He cannot accompany you in his capacity as a WINGS leader, although he will be present on your bus as a passenger. This is less serious than it might seem. The bus ride has an experienced driver-guide, our leader can converse with you in normal tones, and the scenery and big mammals are vastly more important than the birds. If you have any questions about this, please contact the WINGS office.         

HEALTH:  Alaska presents no major health hazards.  

Altitude: We reach no appreciable heights on the tour, as most of the tour we are within just a few hundred feet above sea level.  Our time around Denali will involve a couple of mountain passes, but the highest elevation reached on the day is 3900ft. 

Adequate Clothing:  The most serious problems with climate discomfort usually stem from the use of inadequate gear.  Warm and waterproof clothing, waterproof boots and sturdy walking boots are absolutely essential.  Please study the clothing recommendations below.  Although we do not schedule rigorous activities (except as described above under ‘Pace of the Tour’), some walking over uneven ground and spongy tundra is inevitable, as are periods of rain or snow. Seward is surrounded by temperate rainforest and as a result it could rain during the majority of the boat trip. Comfort in Alaska is first and foremost a matter of keeping warm and dry.  

Insects: Insects can be a nuisance from mid-June to mid-August.  An ample supply of repellent (we recommend those with a high concentration of DEET) and suitable clothing are the best protection.  We do not recommend head nets as they are hot and make the use of binoculars difficult. 

Smoking:  Smoking is prohibited in the vehicles or when the group is gathered for meals, checklists, etc. If you are sharing a room with a nonsmoker, please do not smoke in the room. If you smoke in the field, do so well away and downwind from the group. If any location where the group is gathered has a stricter policy than the WINGS policy, that stricter policy will prevail. 

Miscellaneous: While large mammals are dangerous, they pose little threat if a few common sense rules are followed.  Although Grizzly Bear and others are easily seen in some parts of our Alaskan itineraries, we always consider ourselves lucky to see them! We’ll brief you on appropriate conduct before entering areas with bear, moose, etc. 

CLIMATE: Alaska has a varied climate. Coastal weather is normally cool to cold, 30s to 50s F. Nome and Utqiagvik can experience freezing temperatures into late June. Wind and rain occur frequently, often in rapidly changing combinations.

Temperatures at inland localities are milder—from the 50s to 70s F and can be as high as the 90s F. in mid-summer. Localities at higher elevation, such as parts of Denali National Park, are from 5° to 15° cooler. During the Barrow extension the temperatures vary widely from year to year, with some years experiencing below freezing temperatures, and other years being as high as the low to mid 50’s. Again, rain is always possible.

ACCOMMODATIONS: We stay in standard hotels and motels throughout the tour. WIFI is available at all the tour hotels but can be slow (or even absent for a time). In Denali it’s only available for ½ hour a day without additional charges.

Mobile phone service: Cellular service is generally good in mainland Alaska, and AT&T phones (and data) seem to work in Nome and Barrow as well. Verizon coverage is good, but their data service is poor once away from Anchorage. Purchasing a GCI sim card prior to the tour will be helpful if you want better mobile service while in remote places. GCI is a separate phone company that specializes in rural Alaska and that does not have cooperative agreements or compatible equipment with many of the major national carriers. A month-long SIM card can be purchased at many locations in Anchorage, and even in Nome (office closed on the weekends) and with GCI your phone and data plans will work even out in remote areas like Utqiagvik (Barrow).  As of 2024 it is now possible to order a GCI eSIM from GCI directly, but note that they will mail you the activation code, so this must be done from home before the trip.

FOOD: The food is generally American standard. As one might expect, high quality and fresh seafood is available in many locations, especially in Seward, and there will also be several chances to sample local food like reindeer! Most breakfasts will be in normal restaurants as our schedule allows. The rest will be pre-arranged the evening before to be consumed on your own before we leave for the next day. Dinners will be in local restaurants or in our hotel, whereas lunches will be a combination of picnics in the field, and sandwich shops.

NOTE ABOUT FOOD ON ST PAUL: In recent years meals were served at the kitchen room of the hotel by our local leaders. These meals generally consisted of a continental-style breakfast (oatmeal, cereal, bread, fruit, coffee/tea and yoghurt), a soup and sandwich for lunch and a two-course dinner including options for vegetarians and a salad.  Note that the island is basically dry, and no beer or wine is available at mealtimes. If desired, and if time allows we may be able to stop at the island’s beer store for provisions. There is a refrigerator available in the common room of the hotel.

Food Allergies / Requirements:  We cannot guarantee that all food allergies can be accommodated at every destination. Participants with significant food allergies or special dietary requirements should bring appropriate foods with them for those times when their needs cannot be met. Announced meal times are always approximate depending on how the day unfolds. Participants who need to eat according to a fixed schedule should bring supplemental food. Please contact the WINGS office if you have any questions. 

TRANSPORTATION:  We’ll be traveling by 15-passenger window van or minivan (depending on the group size) driven by the leader.  When using 15-passenger window vans, we will take a maximum of eight passengers plus the leader.  Participants should be able to ride in any seat in tour vehicles.  The internal flights are on commercial airlines (Alaskan Airlines or Ravn Airways).

Updated: 02 July 2024