A birder cannot visit Gambell on St. Lawrence Island without visiting NOME, too! Better known as the end point of the annual legendary Idatarod “musher” race from Anchorage, it is also a fantastic birding destination. Accessible only by boat and airplane, Nome is bordered on the West and South by the Bering Sea, and the North and East by miles of trackless wilderness. Unfortunately for me, winter still held Nome and its surrounding waterways in its icy grip. That translated into very few opportunities to search for Aleutian Terns, Spectacled Eiders, or other water-favoring specialties I wanted to add to my life-list. However, a limited itinerary meant we had extra time to concentrate on the infamous 85 mile long Kougarok Road, which takes you into the high tundra and mountains of the Seward Peninsula.
Kougarok Road is enchanting! It took us about one minute to sight lifer #666, a roadside Willow Ptarmigan in a transitional plumage.
By the end of the day I had added the rare Bristle-thighed Curlew and Rock Ptarmigan to my life-list……currently standing at 668. If I maintained a mammal life-list, I would have added another rarity: Musk Oxen. My second and final day in Nome was spent attempting to photograph the GORGEOUS but very elusive Bluethroat. It is a small thrush that breeds in northwestern Alaska and Eurasia, and for me, is a signature bird for the high Arctic. I desperately wanted a photo good enough to print, frame and hang in our already over-represented aviary of a living room. After hours of trudging through marshy willow scrub bogs and playing I-phone recordings of a pretend competing male’s territorial song, I tricked one male for about 10 seconds. What do you think…an 8×10???