With 471 identified avian species spotted to date over Alaskan fly-space, the bird watcher bound for these northern climes will find a bounty of birds here, some at home year-round, others migratory. Gulls, terns, sea ducks, hawks, eagles, owls and songbirds and the like are frequently spotted during the warmer months, but to set your checklist apart watch vigilantly for the Whiskered Auklet in the Aleutian Islands, the Bristle-thighed Curlew along the Seward Peninsula and the Bluethroat, occasionally observed in the western part of the state.
For those visiting Alaska both to bird watch and explore tourist hot spots, there are plenty of places more accessible than the Aleutian Islands. Denali National Park is home to soaring Golden Eagles and Trumpeter Swans or look for the Kittlitz’s Murrelet, cormorants and puffins along the rocky shoreline of Glacier Bay National Park. Even close to civilized Anchorage it’s possible to get a glimpse of northern bird life, particularly in places like Potter Marsh, Chugach State Park or off the Coastal Trail just a stone’s throw from downtown.
Denali National Park:
Many of the birds soaring over Denali National Park are migratory, from the glorious Golden Eagle to Trumpeter Swans and Snow Buntings. Keep an eye out also for the rare Northern Hawk Owl, circling Osprey, Yellow-rumped Warblers and the Belted Kingfisher in spring, or the Rock Ptarmigan, Grey-horned Owl and Spruce Grouse come colder months.
Katmai National Park:
Migratory birds make their annual journey to the lakes and marshes of Katmai come spring, the nesting site of Tundra Swans, ducks and grebes. Hawks, falcons, owls and eagles are often spotted cruising peaceful lakeshore or the coast in search of prey. Watch year-round for the White Winged Crossbill, which feeds on spruce cones.
Glacier Bay National Park:
Noisy Glaucous-winged Gulls, guillemots and cormorants contend with loons, sea ducks, Marbled (and Kittlitz’s) Murrelets and even puffins for attention around this scenic bay. Spot the occasional Bald Eagle circling the shore.
Adak Island, near the tail of the Aleutian Islands, is home to a number of bird species Asian in origin, from the Mongolian Plover to the Spot-billed Duck and Whooper Swans. There are also more than a hundred species native to North America that have been recorded in the area, including sparrows, finches, the tufted puffin and other assorted seabirds. Patient watchers may even be lucky enough to get a glimpse of the elusive Whiskered Auklet.
One of the most popular places to see bird life close to Alaska’s main urban center is Potter Marsh, where the observant frequently spot Pacific Loons, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Arctic Terns, Trumpeter Swans, grebes, Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls. The Coastal Trail is a fine place to sight shorebirds, but in season also look for colorful songbirds twittering in the surrounding forest.