After a week driving north (to Denali) and south (to the Kenai) from Anchorage, I hopped a flight to Nome in western Alaska. Nome is a small outpost on the Bering Sea. It is surrounded by tundra, mountains, ice, and some very cool birds that are hard to see elsewhere in North America. There are three dirt roads leading out of town (some 75 miles each), so the plan was to rent a pickup truck and drive into the wilderness to see what I could find.
I met Neil Hayward from the Boston area a few months ago thanks to the miracle of the internet and the online birding community. Neil is doing a North American Big Year in 2013, and what a year it has been so far. He has been doing some amazing trips and seeing some great stuff, and he agreed to meet me in Nome for four days of intense birding.
I was so glad to have Neil along for this leg of my trip. He is an excellent birder, and a great traveling companion. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the area with him.
We both arrived in Nome on the afternoon of June 5th, but our rental pickup wasn’t available until the morning of the 6th. Fortunately we bumped into Abe Borker and his father Joe, who very graciously invited us to ride along with them in their truck for an afternoon of birding the Council Road and Safety Lagoon. We didn’t need to be asked twice, and soon the four of us were off.
We had a fantastic afternoon. Some highlights for the day were two Arctic Loons, Red Phalaropes, an Emperor Goose, and this Gyrfalcon (and three fuzzy babies) nesting under a bridge:
I got a few pictures of some birds that were close to the road, including Bar-tailed Godwits (two in their alternate breeding plumage and one still in basic winter plumage):
Numerous Red-necked Phalaropes:
And a second-summer Slaty-backed Gull (to the right of the white immature Glaucous Gull):
We also saw a fox, and the remains of a Tundra Swan that presumably had been the fox’s breakfast this morning.
Further along the road, there were reminders of Nome’s history as a gold rush town. Gold was discovered in this area in 1897, and a few years later the area was inundated with prospectors. It was the largest town in the Alaska Territory by the turn of the Century a few years later. Reminders of this era remain in many places today, like this old abandoned gold dredging machine.
A railroad line was even planned and built in the early 1900s from Nome to Council City. Although it was never completed all the way to Council City, the line ran for several years until about 1907. Difficulties with construction, operation, and financing stalled the project, and in 1913 the line was wiped out by a huge storm. The cars and engines still sit in the tundra where they were wrecked, nearly 100 years ago.
Abe, Joe, Neil, and I explored the Council Road area late into the evening. With sunset around 1:30 am, there was seemingly no reason to end our trip. We finally rolled back into Nome about 10:30 pm, and were fortunate to find one local establishment still open: the Bering Sea Bar and Restaurant. After a meal, I headed to bed. Sunrise would come early (4:28 am), and I had three more days of birding ahead of me.
I often end my posts with a pretty shot of the sunset, but this time you’ll just have to use your imagination.