This May we set out on a 4 week adventure to explore some of the top birding destinations of the North American Arctic. Birding the Alaskan tundra of the Seward Peninsula is strangely familiar to our own region, the Varanger Peninsula. The landscape, the birds and even the architecture is similar in many ways. The following is the last of a trio of blogposts from our recent Biotope Alaska birding trip. We arrived Nome on May 17th and spent 4 days birding the Seward Peninsula before we flew to Gambell, St.Lawrence island on the 21st of May. We spent 4 days on Gambell before returning to Nome where we spent our last 3 days of our Alaska adventure. The timing was brilliant as we got to experience the sudden arrival of spring. In just a few days Nome and the surrounding areas exploded with life. Nome´s Safety Sound instantly became our favourite hotspot for birding. The wetlands was packed with birds as this was one of few productive places with open water.
The below Biotope aerials are taken just 5 days apart! What an amazing speed of melting. The intensity of birdlife in the sound as ´spring breaks´ was unbelievable. Duck, geese, divers, waders and passerines in thousands foraged in the melting wetlands.
Safety Sound on May 20th
Safety Sound on May 26th
Biotope birding Alaska, the Nome / Seward Peninsula section, May 17-20th + 24-27th.
We enjoyed days of driving the dirt roads of Seward Peninsula.
A huge highlight of our trip was to see hundreds of Pacific Eiders. They where obviously hunted pretty heavily as they were impossible to get close to. Someone should make bird photo hides in Nome. This could provide some absolutely amazing photo opportunities of a series of very cool bird species. By the way: Europes first and only Pacific Eider was found from the Biotope office in Varanger, and stayed in Vardø, Varanger for more then a month. Surely the most stylish of the Common Eiders!
We had 11 Short-eared Owl in one day in Safety Sound. Amazing birds, and like the ever present Lapland Bunting (several hundreds every day) these are species we have in Varanger as well.
Hunting Short-eared Owl in Safety Sound
The Teller Road
We took one day to drive the road to the small village Teller. The gravel road drive takes about two hours, but if you bird as you go it takes a full day to Teller and back. The treeless tundra landscape reminded us very much of Varanger. The abundance of Rock Ptarmigan and Willow Grouse was different. These birds are often few in Varanger and far apart (unless you come over the occasional 150 individual wintering flocks roaming the snowy tundra). We also enjoyed great views of Musk Ox.
Musk Ox, outside Nome, on the road to Teller. What a match for the landscape!
Willow Grouse hung around the gravel roads in good numbers, and unlike the Varanger birds they provided us with nice photo opportunities.
Rock Ptarmigan. Stunning views.
This became our favourite place to bird. The birdlife was constantly changing, and you could drive the Safety Sound road several times a day, and still have new birds coming in and discover new groups of arriving ducks and geese. During our first days in Nome there was more ice then water in Safety Sound. During the last few days the ice was almost all gone. Still as in all Arctic sites, despite sunshine and great weather the wind chill was considerable and almost ever present. This is where a few nicely situated bird hides / wind shelters would have made a great difference!
Biotope, is like mentioned in previous blogposts, a family run architecture office. Which means mine and Elins daughter Lila joins us on most of our trips. A great learning experience and an opportunity to share our passion for nature and wildlife.
Northern Harrier hunting along the Safety Sound beach grasslands
As architects we like to study how people live and build in the Arctic. Again the similarities to Varanger, and several other Arctic destinations, is striking. It is not locally sourced materials that matter. It is rather industrial materials, reused, leftovers and repurposed. We have collected a wide range of examples by photography. Below is a couple of the cabins in Safety Sound, mostly built for summer use, for hunting and gathering food. They share the same modesty in size and price, but these cabins are brilliant in their display of personality, character, inventiveness and diversity.
Nome sweet Nome
We stayed at the Dredge 7 Inn (highly recommended) and used that as a base for our entire stay, as all places are available within a days drive from Nome town. Biotope aerials below. About 3000 people live in Nome. Surprisingly few deal with nature based tourism. We hope to come back and perhaps even one day contribute as birder architects. With the rich and amazing wildlife of this regions there certainly seems to be unexplored potential in the region.
Check out our other two blogposts from Alaska:
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