Gambell, Alaska

The tiny village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea hosts a number of super rare birds in the Fall that become disoriented while migrating from East Asia and Russia. Because it is a part of Alaska, Gambell has become a must destination for extreme birders who want to add to their ABA Area life-lists.

I had visited Nome and Gambell in May, 2013 and picked up 24 “lifers”. More importantly, I met Aaron Lang of Wilderness Birding Adventures. As I approach the magical number of 800, the most time-cost-efficient trip to close my gap (8 species) was a September trip. Aaron and Steve Heinl were the perfect guides for the nine of us. Talented birders and cooks with a great sense of humour, they made ten days in a crowded one-bathroom house quite pleasurable.

Why do birds bother to stay in Gambell? The fatigued travelers are attracted to the unique green wormwood vegetation and insects that exist around several “boneyards”. These pits contain discarded whale and walrus bones that have been excavated for their ivory. The ivory is carved and sold by entrepreneurial Yupik natives.

The problem is, many of the migrants are small, indistinct, and shy. Photography is key to identifying them. Thankfully, I was able to add three (3) members of the Phylloscopus family to my life-list, a page in the bird guides that I never paid much attention to because of the unlikely chance I would ever see and identify these ”LBJ’s” (“Little Brown Jobs”). My photos aren’t blog-worthy but were good enough for positive ID’s.

But I did flush and spot a different looking bird on the third day. The group surrounded the area I thought the bird landed. Aaron was on it. LITTLE BUNTING he yelled. A code 4 from Asia. And significant enough of a find to make the NARBA (North American Rare Bird Alert) airwaves that evening. I felt pretty good because I was in serious birding company and wanted to contribute something other than calling out a common Snow Bunting or an inaccurate identification.

Each morning we trudged a half mile through pea gravel to the end of the island and stood watch over the open water at dawn looking for seabirds. One morning it did NOT rain and we could see Russia 35 miles away. Remember Sarah Palin? Anyway, this group did not discuss politics….just birds. And I picked up Spectacled Eider and Kittlitz’s Murrelet. I had expected three lifers, hoped for five and now had six bringing my total to 798. And I still had half of the trip remaining.

About George C. Wood

A birder since age ten, but not necessarily an avid "lister", I am closing in on 700 (*800!) species seen in North America.....hoping to capture each sighting with my camera.
This entry was posted in Quest for 700 (*800!). Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to Gambell, Alaska

  1. says:

    Wow, very cool George! Is this the most remote place to which you have traveled?



  2. Hi Mike. You bet! 4 flights since 2pm yesterday and still not even in Chicago. REMOTE place with 650 residents. Can’t imagine what they do when not hunting seals and other creatures. NO alcohol allowed, either!

  3. says:


    This is awesome!!!


  4. chasscrew says:

    Bravo! This is awesome! 🦅

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Jeffrey Dingle says:

    To the ends of the earth! Well, at least the ends of North America.

    2 to go EGROEG. Wow!


    PS. Most lifers in one trip…with one person?… I think so! ;~)


  6. Deborah Glass says:

    Terrific accomplishment George. Sounds like you are becoming one of the big boys.

  7. Norman Liedtke says:

    Go Georgie Go! Sending you oh my positive energy

  8. Anne says:

    You’re so close! Congrats on a successful trip!

  9. Joe Weisbord says:

    Hell, yeah!!

  10. Joe Weisbord says:

    Hell, yeah! Been hearing that Gambell was spectacular this season and hoping you made it!

  11. joek49 says:

    Awesome, George!!

  12. Arlin Green says:

    Very close! Exciting to see someone reach a lifelong quest!
    Keep sluggin’!!!

  13. Dorothy Barclay Weisbord says:

    Congratulations, George. Enjoyed reading of your adventure. Welcome home! DBW

  14. NICE going on the Little Bunting! The vegetation looks like Artemesia, which would be wormwood, not woodworm. 🙂 I can’t wait to see what 799 and 800 turn out to be, George!! Wormwood grows on the ND prairie too and that’s where I picture you, taking in the scenery.

    • Hi Julie! Thanks so much and indeed, you proved that you are a thorough reader. Must have been brain-cramp on red-eye. Wormwood, of course:). I think of you (and Bill) often. Hope our paths cross again before too long.

  15. Jeff Day says:

    Way to go, GCW’75! So (apologies in advance!), it sounds like it was worth the Gambell??!! 😆

  16. says:

    Outstanding Woodrow!!


  17. Andrew Mozino says:

    Any ‘75’s there with you?

    Sent from my iPhone


  18. Dan Miller says:

    nice GW – on the road to 800! And north of Kamchatka – whoa…

  19. jmbuck3 says:

    How on earth you can distinguish one LBJ from another…?! Two away, Woody. Where to next?!

  20. David Simpson says:

    Just wanna know where the PARTY will be for the 800th?

  21. I can’t even stand the suspense, after your newest post. I just have a feeling you might be hiding #800 in your back pocket, like an Ace of Spades.

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