Alaska, the USA’s 49th state, is vast in every sense! By far and away the largest state of the Union, it spans an astonishing four time zones in astronomical terms (although human government has now rationalised these to two), and contains the highest mountain in North America, some of the most remarkable climatic extremes, and more private aircraft licences than anywhere else in the country! Best of all, its birdlife is both diverse and approachable — from the huge seabird colonies on the coast, to its forest and tundra species further north — and it offers a greater variety of large mammals than any other region of the Americas. These include Black, Grizzly and Polar Bears, plus Grey Wolf, Moose, Dall Sheep and nearly a million Caribou — the most numerous residents! Alaska is also very rich in marine mammals, with Sea Otter, Humpback Whale and the magnificent Orca amongst the many highlights.
This new tour explores some of Alaska’s finest wildlife reserves and landscapes — a cross-section of the state’s varied habitats. Our journey will take us from Alaska’s southern coastline to the shores of the Arctic Ocean, through taiga forest and open tundra, and past snow-capped mountains and towering glaciers, in search of the wealth of birds, mammals and other natural history for which this wild land is home.
We begin our holiday, however, with a flight to Anchorage, home to nearly half of Alaska’s 750,000 human inhabitants. The following morning we will head south along the spectacular Seward Highway to the town of Seward itself, the gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park. Our journey will take us alongside the Alaska Railroad, through a dramatic landscape of rainforest-clad mountains, the tops of which will still be capped in snow. We should see our first large mammals during this drive, such as a herd of Dall Sheep, a Moose or even a Black Bear or Beluga. Our 2-night stay in Seward will give us time to enjoy a boat trip in search of the marine wildlife and glacial scenery of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Sea Otters are abundant here, and both Humpback Whale and Orca are likely, while the rich seas also provide easy fishing for numerous seabirds, amongst them Horned and Tufted P uffins, Marbled, Kittlitz’s and Ancient Murrelets and Rhinoceros Auklet.
After visiting the dramatic Exit Glacier, and looking for such birds as Grey Jay and Northern Three-toed Woodpecker, we will return to Anchorage prior to flying north to the shores of the Arctic Ocean for a 2-night stay in Barrow. This may not be Alaska’s most attractive town, but the wildlife certainly makes up for its lack of aesthetic appeal. Caribou, Ringed Seal, Spectacled, Steller’s and King Eiders, Sabine’s Gull, Baird’s Sandpiper and Snowy Owl are amongst the species we hope to see here. If conditions allow, we will also offer an optional tundra buggy tour (not included in the holiday cost) in search of the Polar Bears and Arctic Foxes that sometimes gather to feast on leftovers from the Inuit whale hunts.
After returning to Anchorage, we will next drive north to Denali National Park, Alaska’s most famous wildlife reserve, and deservedly so. Whatever your wildlife interest — birds, mammals, wild flowers or just outdoor activities — this is a paradise! Grizzly Bear, Grey Wolf, Caribou, Dall Sheep and Hoary Marmot are just some of the mammals we hope to see; Gyr Falcon, Golden Eagle, Willow Ptarmigan, Arctic Warbler and Waxwing are some of the birds; and wild flowers such as Shooting Star and Dwarf Rhododendron complete the scene. During our visit we should also have great views of ‘Denali’ itself (formerly Mount McKinley) if the weather conditions allow. At 6,194 metres this is the highest mountain in North America and, whilst there are many higher peaks in the world, few others are as impressive since Denali rises from a base just 305 metres above sea level. This is the highpoint of our holiday in more senses than one. During our 3-night stay here we will explore both the national park and the scenic Denali Highway.
We conclude our tour with two nights in Fairbanks, from where we will explore the many habitats that surround the city in search of Mountain Bluebird, Upland Sandpiper, Sharp-tailed Grouse and many more. An evening walk may even produce a glimpse of the secretive Northern Flying Squirrel. Finally, we must fly home from Fairbanks’ small airport, although there are plenty of extension options available for those wishing to spend more time exploring this vast state. Ideas include wading birds and shaggy Musk Oxen in Nome, Grizzly Bears in Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks or even a wildlife cruise through the sheltered waters of Prince William Sound. Please call for more details.