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.