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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Alaska: The Pribilofs and Utqiagvik (Barrow) in Fall

Vagrants and the Ross’s Gull Migration

Monday 30 September to Monday 7 October 2024
Ross's Gull Extension (Utqiagvik/Barrow) to Friday 11 October
with Raymond VanBuskirk as leader

2024 Price: $6,590*

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A mythical species of the Arctic - Ross’s Gull Photo: Luke Seitz

Alaska’s Pribilof Islands lie in the Bering Sea some 300 miles southwest of Alaska’s mainland. We’ve scheduled an extended stay on the rocky island of St. Paul at a good time for Asian and other vagrants, beyond the breeding season but the sea cliffs and surrounding waters will still have hundreds of alcids and good numbers of the near-endemic Red-legged Kittiwake, and the Northern Fur Seal colony will be overflowing with young seal pups.

For the first time in many years, we’ll return to Utqiagvik (Barrow) in the late fall in hopes of intersecting with the magical Ross’s Gull migration as these extraordinarily elegant small gulls move west to east and past Barrow to feed in the Beaufort Sea before settling in their still-unknown high Arctic wintering grounds.

This short tour extension can be taken along with the Pribilofs, or as a separate tour.

Day 1: Our Pribilofs tour begins at 6:00 pm in Anchorage. Night in Anchorage.

Days 2-6: In the morning of Day 2 we may have time to bird around our Anchorage hotel where we’ll focus on species unlikely to reach the islands, perhaps including Boreal Chickadee or White-winged Crossbill. Later in the morning we’ll take the four-hour flight to Saint Paul Island in the Pribilofs. Nights on Saint Paul.

We’ll spend our days on the “Pribs” alternately walking around and scanning the island’s many small lakes and wetlands for waterfowl and waders, scouring the secluded and sheltered sides of hills and patches of taller vegetation for passerines, and, if conditions are advantageous, looking offshore for passing seabirds.  The cliffs will be far less crowded than in the summer - breeding is complete - but we’ll be treated to very close views of Horned Puffin and Common and Thick-billed Murres, and should see at least small numbers of the other North Pacific alcids. We’ll certainly see Red-legged Kittiwake and Red-faced Cormorant, the former at its only accessible site in North America. The cacophonous Northern Fur Seal rookeries will be bustling with masses of pups, and spending time with these remarkable pinnipeds gives credence to Saint Paul’s title of the “Galapagos of the North.”

In late-September the Pribilofs are still mostly green with strong hints of autumn in the air. We’ll sift through the throngs of Rock Sandpipers and Ruddy Turnstones for rarer shorebirds; Gray-tailed Tattler, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, and Common Snipe are all regular late September/early October migrants, and species such as Common Sandpiper and Jack Snipe are possible. Waterbird mega-rarities at this season include North America’s first Solitary Snipe.

Asian landbird vagrants are unpredictable, but late September/early October has produced Sky Lark, Dusky Warbler, Gray-streaked and Taiga Flycatchers, Red-flanked Bluetail, Eye-browed Thrush, Olive-backed Pipit, Siberian Accentor, and Brambling among others. Nights in St. Paul.

Day 7: After a final day at St. Paul, we’ll return to Anchorage in the evening. Night in Anchorage.

Day 8: The Pribilofs tour ends this morning in Anchorage.

For those continuing on to Utqiagvik (Barrow), today is a buffer day in case of weather delays getting off St Paul. Most of today is at leisure, but there will be some time for a bit of light birding locally around the hotel.

Ross’s Gull Extension in Utqiagvik (Barrow)

For a brief window in late September/early October, most of the world’s population of Ross’s Gulls migrate past Point Barrow, west to east, from the Chukchi Sea into the Beaufort Sea. It’s possible to see this migration from shore, and depending on local weather and sea conditions, there may a few to  hundreds of these gulls moving past on any given day during this short period.

Day 8 (Oct 7): Those doing only the Utqiagvik extension should arrive in Anchorage today. Night in Anchorage.

Day 9: We’ll fly from Anchorage to Utqiagvik, the northernmost point on the North American continent and 300 miles due north of the Arctic Circle. Weather here will be quite different than Anchorage, probably with snow and ice already present.

Days 10-11: We’ll have two full days to explore the roads of Utqiagvik. It will be cold, and the birding time is limited – there are about nine hours of daylight when we’re here -  so we’ll focus on Ross’s Gulls. Other notable species might include Snowy Owl, Common, King, and Spectacled Eiders, Yellow-billed Loon, and Black Guillemot. With very good luck (and a carcass on the beach), we might even see an Ivory Gull, another special gull of the high Arctic.  Arctic Fox and Polar Bear are possibilities as well.

Day 12: Our return flight to Anchorage is usually in the afternoon, so we should have time in the morning for more birding. The tour ends on our arrival in Anchorage. 

Updated: 13 June 2024


  • 2024 Pribilofs Tour Price : $6,590
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $1,090
  • 2024 Utqiagvik (Barrow) Tour Price : $2,790
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $420


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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.

Maximum group size 10 with one leader, 14 with two leaders.

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