Few destinations can offer such an awe-inspiring combination of wildlife and breathtaking scenery as the Russian Far East. The spectacular volcanic landscapes of Kamchatka and Chukotka have largely escaped the ravages of mankind and to this day remain one of the few true wildernesses left on Earth. Here a wide range of exciting birds and animals, towering snow-capped volcanoes, virgin forest, pristine tundra and a rich indigenous culture await the wildlife enthusiast, and what better way to explore this land of fire and ice than by spending 12 nights aboard the ‘Spirit of Enderby’. This vessel is an expedition ship that carries a maximum of just 50 passengers and is fully equipped with inflatable Zodiacs and a highly skilled crew. From this comfortable base we can expect to see a wonderful range of birds and mammals, such as millions of breeding seabirds (including a dozen species of Pacific auks), the mighty Steller’s Sea Eagle, Sea Otter, Brown Bear, Walrus, cetaceans such as Orca and Western Pacific Grey Whale and, hopefully, one of the world’s most critically endangered waders, the enigmatic Spoon-billed Sandpiper!
We begin our holiday with a flight, via Moscow, to the remote Russian community of Petropavlovsk, lying on the Kamchatka coastline and backed by some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Here we board the ‘Spirit of Enderby’ and begin our 12-night exploration of this seldom-visited and inaccessible region.
We will make our first stop at the Zhuponavo River, a wide slow-flowing waterway, edged by birch forest and backed by the numerous snow-capped volcanic cones that give the ‘Ring of Fire’ its name. The scenery here is truly breathtaking. Heading up the river in our Zodiacs we will not only be marvelling at the majestic landscape, but searching for the mighty Steller’s Sea Eagle and a variety of other birdlife including Siberian Rubythroat, Long-billed Curlew and Aleutian Tern. Spectacled Guillemots also occur along the coastline here, as do Long-billed Murrelets and the endangered Western Pacific Grey Whale.
The Commander Islands are our next destination, a remote group of small islands named after the early explorer, Commander Vitus Bering, who was shipwrecked and died here in 1741. The ‘Commanders’ are home to a small Aleut population, who are very welcoming to visitors, and a huge population of nesting seabirds. Here we will have our first opportunity to experience the sights and sounds of a North Pacific auk colony and enjoy such sought-after species as Tufted and Horned Puffins, Crested and Parakeet Auklets and Brünnich’s Guillemot, plus Pigeon Guillemot, Short-tailed Shearwater, Harlequin Duck and the rare Red-legged Kittiwake. Sea Otters are also common and can often be seen bobbing on their backs in the kelp, at the same time keeping their eyes open for the pods of Orcas which regularly patrol the rocky coastline.
Crossing back to the mainland, we will head north along the spectacular Kamchatka and Chukotka coastlines, stopping frequently to enjoy the wealth of wildlife that abounds within this remote and little-visited region. The tundra here is home to breeding Long-toed and Rednecked Stints, Sandhill Cranes, and Whitebilled Diver, whilst in the patches of birch woodland we will look for Red-flanked Bluetail, Arctic Warbler and Yellowbreasted Bunting. Since we are now deep within the ‘Realm of the Russian Bear’ we must also keep our eyes peeled for Brown Bears which are frequently seen along the shore. One of the many highlights of this cruise will be the opportunity to make a landing at Verkhoturova Island. This is a special place, and is one of the very few truly accessible seabird colonies along the whole Kamchatka and Chukotka coast. Here we can sit and enjoy the spectacle of numerous Tufted Puffins just a few metres away, plus thousands of Brünnich’s Guillemots on the cliffs below and great flocks of Crested and Parakeet Auklets wheeling overhead.
The tundra surrounding the village of Meinypil’gyno is the most important breeding site in the world for the critically endangered Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Since the crew of the ‘Spirit of Enderby’ have a close relationship with the sandpiper researchers, our group will have special permission to visit a nesting site in the hope of seeing this rare and enigmatic wader.
Before concluding our voyage in the remote port of Anadyr, the most easterly town in Russia, we will look for Pacific Walrus at Cape Navarin. These formidable sea mammals haul out in large numbers along this stretch of coastline, although their favoured beaches do change from year to year. Then, as we near Anadyr itself, we must keep an eye open for a pod of ghostly-white Belugas, before finally disembarking from the ‘Spirit of Enderby’ and beginning our long journey home.