After Nome, we returned to Anchorage and caught the early plane the next morning (March 26) to Kodiak. 

Kodiak is the 2nd largest island of the United States, 2nd only to Hawaii’s Big Island.  Kodiak (the Island, not the town) is big, but its population is small, probably under 20,000, most of whom live in the town of Kodiak.  There are only 5 or 6 other towns (none of which has over 300 residents) on the island.  Over 90% of Kodiak Island is set aside as a preserve for the 3,500 or so Kodiak Brown Bears living there.  Kodiak Bears are contenders for the claim to be the biggest bear on earth, challenged only by Polar Bears for that distinction.  The only roads, totaling less than 100 miles on the whole island, basically connect the part of the very irregular coastline of the island with Kodiak Town.  At the south end about 40 miles from Kodiak town, is Pasagshak Bay, where my nephew Mike has a house

We had expected to meet up with Mike in Kodiak town the day after our arrival there, to spend the rest of our time on Kodiak with him. The weather was extremely uncooperative, with snow, wind and fog.  So much so that Mike was unable to make it  to Kodiak because of weather related cancellations.   With the help of messaging with Mike, and intrepid driving in adverse conditions by Adam we made it out to Pasagshak.  There we spent a most enjoyable 3 days.  Thank you Mike, but we would have preferred your company and are very sorry that you could not join us. 


The “settlement” (not a town)

Mike’s place

We enjoyed Mike’s largesse not only in our accommodations, but also his on-site frozen fish as the main dish for an exceptional dinner prepared by Chef Adam.  We chose salmon over halibut. 

The fireplace got good use and established a cheerful and cozy atmosphere. 

The view from the great room.

And Adam’s early morning beach walks (I abstained, not wanting to wear myself out) were — beautiful:

But back to our chronology. 

Our first stop for birding was near the water in or near the Town of Kodiak, where we just happened to coincide with another birder, Stacy Studebaker.  She was very helpful to our search for birds.  We later found out she is or has been the President of the Kodiak Audubon Society, as well as a published author, naturalist, radio talk show host, botanist, musician, artist, etc. A couple of her childrens’ books are available on Amazaon. 

The Unique Winter Birds of Kodiak

We saw many Bald Eagles hanging around the water in order to better indulge their taste in fish. 

Also present in big numbers were beautiful Emperor Geese, which were the main target of our birding on Kodiak.

These somewhat rare Steller’s Eiders were difficult to identify in the distant fog, but the photo shows them well:

And wrapping up our bird photo exhibit is this pair of Harlequin Ducks, which were present in good numbers but somewhat obscured by the heavy snow flakes:

Other birds seen but not pictured above (or in the case of Glaucous Winged Gulls, below) were Tundra Swans in flight, a busy Northern Shrike near Pasagshak, and Black Oyster Catchers. 

The Animals

We were there too early to see any Kodiak Bears.  But this Sitka Black Tailed Deer was one of several seen:

This Sea Otter cruising Pasagshak Bay is being trailed by a hungry Glaucous-winged Gull. We saw a couple of groups of 8 or 10 Sea Otters near Kodiak Town

Nome in March, 2022

I have a love affair with (not in) Alaska.  This trip marked the 8th time I have traveled there.   A couple of those trips were not for the birds, but were great fun nevertheless:  first, in 1998 a spring break on a 5-day dogsledding and northern lights adventure with Clarissa and Barbara in the Gates of the Arctic, near Bettles; and second, in 2002, on a grandparent/grandchild outing with Jill and Barbara in Sitka.     

This was my 5th trip to Nome, my favorite place in all Alaska.

1.  In 2003 (pre-blog) Alaska was among my first guided birding destinations after my retirement.  Nome was just a short stop on my flights from the Pribiloff Islands, through Anchorage, through Nome and on to St. Lawrence Island on June 1.  Or maybe it was the stop on June 6 on the way back from St. Lawrence Island, through Nome, to Anchorage, and on to Minneapolis and Des Moines.   Either way it was a short and unsatisfactory partial day between connecting flights, with a van ride with the other participants in this tour with High Lonesome.  Our target bird for this short stop was a Bluethroat, but we saw none.  I resolved to come back for a better experience and maybe a Bluethroat.  In 2004 I went to Alaska again with High Lonesome Tours, but this time only to Adak in the Aleutian Islands, with no stop in Nome.   

2.  Trip 2 to Nome was recorded in one of the first  posts on my blog, Emptynestbirder.com, on July 10, 2010.  On this ill-planned trip, I first connected with local guide Richard Benville of Nome who was most helpful.  See my Blog report. 

3.  Trip 3 was posted on my blog on June 10, 2014, again with Richard as my arranger.  Finally, I was there at the right time and saw several Bluethroats. 

4.  Trip 4 was posted on my blog on December 2, 2014.  The highlight:  McKay’s Buntings.  This was a guided trip with Aaron Long, of Wilderness Birding Adventures, following a more extended tour with Wilderness Birding, in winter, to Adak Island. 

5.  In 2022 with Covid Pandemic induced cabin fever, I talked son-in-law Adam into making a trip to Nome and Kodiak with me.   I contacted Aaron Lang of Wilderness Adventures to see if we could sign onto one of his guided tours to Nome and Kodiak in 2022, but they were full.  He recommended that I contact Carol Gales of RoamNome.  I did.  She did a great job developing and implementing a custom tour  around Nome for Adam and me, my trip 5 to Nome, reported more fully in the following paragraphs.  We arrived in Nome shortly before noon on Tuesday, March 22. 

Nome:  Nome was a boomtown in the late 1890s and early 1900s because gold was discovered there.  At its peak, about 30,000 would-be riches seekers showed up, with terrible conditions.  The population today is about 3,000.  Gold mining still continues, but on a much less productive basis. 

The Birds

Nome in March is still ice-bound and snow covered.  There are not a lot of bird species to be found at that time of year.  Here are some:

McKay’s Buntings and Snow Buntings.  McKay’s Buntings breed on isolated Saint Matthew Island which is generally not reachable by humans.  But in the winter the Buntings come to the continent and can be found very reliably in Nome.  They are closely related to the more widely spread Snow Buntings.  In the following pictures the McKay’s Buntings are the nearly all-white species; the Snow Buntings show more dark feathers on the back and wings. 

Willow Ptarmagin.  Toward the end of our stay in Nome, we ventured out on one of the 3 roads that spoke out from Nome.  We found a Canada Jay (unusual for that area).  But the most impressive sighting was the multitude of Willow Ptarmagin that were flocking to the road to stuff themselves with the gravel, which had until now been covered with hard ice.  We estimated the flock contained over 200 birds.   

Other Nome Birds.  Ravens were numerous and obvious.  A Canada Jay was seen along the road before we came upon the flock of Willow Ptarmagin.  A Boreal Chickadee was among the Black-capped Chickadees.  Not many species.      

Gyrfalcon (trained to hunt).  I had never seen an adult Gyrfalcon up close and personal, and I was lucky enough to hold this trained hunter on my arm, with plenty of glove between its claws and my skin.  

The Helicopter Ride and the animals and other sights therefrom.

Bering Air has been in business in Alaska with Nome as its headquarters for many years, with a great safety record. [I was a passenger on Bering Air from Nome to Saint Mathews Island and back in 2003].   Adam and I were lucky enough to draw Pablo as our pilot, and here is our Helicopter

Below, a gold mining dredge on (or in) ice for the winter. 

We saw 3 herds of Muskoxen for a total of about 70, from the Helicopter. 

We saw about 15 sets of Moose for a total of about 40 from the Helicopter.

The earth below

Nome Attractions.  The famous Iditerod dogsledding competition from Anchorage to Nome had ended shortly before we arrived.  Evidence of the party was still around.  Here is the Iditerod Finish Line in Nome just before it was taken down for the year. The race originated in the 1970s to commemorate the  delivery of diptheria vaccines to the stricken population of Nome around 1900.  The dogsleds were the only available means of delivery to the icebound town.  There are lots of interesting Documentaries relating to the rescue mission, and the winning lead dogs.

The Welcoming Committee

We enjoyed the old Polar Café for all of our tasty and ample breakfasts, and it was an easy walk on Front Street from our room at the Aurora Inn and Suites. 

The moon over adjacent Norton Sound

Some vehicles get stuck for a very long time. 

Historical buildings:  Carol’s House, the oldest building still standing, was a saloon.

The Carrie M. Mclain Memorial Museum was a nice surprise.

Dogsledding.  Unlike our trip to Gates of the Arctic in 2003, I was not up physically to driving my own team, so I was (finally) treated to a seated dogsled ride.  It was icy and bumpy, but I enjoyed it very much.  Here we are, ready to go:

Adam drove his own team. 

Snowshoeing.  Snowshoeing was a highlight for Adam, who ventured out twice with Carol, notwithstanding the icy conditions. 

Crabbing through the ice via Snowmobile.  Another experience that Adam enjoyed but I declined was a snowmobile trip on frozen Norton Sound to observe the harvesting of Alaskan King Crab by local natives. 

Here is Norton Sound in winter.

And here is the line to the crab pot, 60 feet below the ice. 

And the Pot.

And the Catch. 

And the return of the Pot to the bottom of the Sound. 

We flew back to Anchorage on Friday, March 25, spent the night there and the next morning we went to Kodiak.  That trip will be the subject of my next posting.