The Great Alaskan Adventure


® Go-Lite Insulated Rain Pants                   check

® Neos Overshoes                                           check

® National Geographic Field Guide           check    (includes most of the Asian vagrants)

® Shorebird Guide (O’Brian, Crossley and Karlson)            no too much weight

® Toothpaste                                                     check    (extra travel tube for my brother Jim)

® Soap and Shampoo                                     no           (Jim to bring)

There.  The packing is complete. The Great Alaskan Adventure begins today at 5:30 PM.  I fly from Denver to Seattle, then after an hour layover, on to Anchorage.  Jim will meet me at the airport.  Tomorrow we’ll bird in the Anchorage area, then meet Jon Dunn and the rest of the thirteen participants of the Wings Tour at 6:00 PM for introductions then a try for N. Saw-Wet Owl.  Early on Saturday, the group flies from Anchorage to Nome to Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in the Berring Straits. 

I’ll talk much more about Gambell, but for now here’s the brief outline of my entire trip to Alaska:

                Gambell – 7 nights

                Nome – 3 nights

                Anchorage – 1 night

                Denali NP – 3 nights

                Anchorage – 1 night

                Seward – 2 nights


Obviously, Alaska is pivotal to anyone’s “Big Year”. My target number of new-year birds is 51 species. Less and I’ll end up the year in the low 700’s.  At 51 I have a chance to beat Lyn Barber’s 723 species.  Give me 60+ new year birds in Alaska and I’ll be soaring with the eagles (White-tailed Eagles that is). Alaska begins the 3rd phase of my Big Year.  No sense in worrying about what you’re not seeing.  Enjoy one of the great adventures of a lifetime.  Be observant, sharp and do my part to help raise the group’s total species count. That’s all I can ask of myself.

The Six Phases of a Big Year (as seen by a coffee drinker)

Phase 1 – Jan thru around March 27

The pace is rather leisurely.  On Jan 2nd I sipped coffee with Linda at Starbuck’s. However, on Jan 5 after a particularly long day in California and Arizona, I showed weakness by admitting I was tired. One of my loyal readers told me to “Man up-It’s only 5 days in to the year” After that, I vowed to only get coffee to go.  By late January, I’d come to realize that coffee with Linda would most likely have to wait till next year. I was getting the hang of this “Big Year” thing and building up speed!

By March, the pace had quickened as the birds began to show up from the neotropics.  The days were also longer and I noticed myself drinking 2 or 3 cups of coffee.

Phase 2 – Late March till the Alaskan Adventure

The pace has now accelerated to a mad dash.  Coffee is now being gulped down quickly as I run thru airports in Florida, Texas, Ohio, Colorado, Illinois or Michigan.  When not at the airport I’m looking at birds, no time to stop for coffee.  But if I meet another birder on the trail, I’ll rifle through his packback searching for anything with caffeine that I can down while they’re looking at the treetops.

 By the latter half of May the pace is rushing towards a crescendo as birds stream north toward their breeding gounds!  “Screw the Coffee!”  Give me Red Bull (and lot’s of it) I need to keep up with them.

Phase 3 The Alaskan Adventure

The pace will slow?  But then again, you need to keep moving to stay warm. Gambell day time highs range from 27 deg F to 45 deg F.  Most likely I will need coffee just to stay warm.  20 hours of daylight so little time!

(Pase 4 thru 6 will follow in due course.)

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4 Responses to The Great Alaskan Adventure

  1. Deanna Campbell says:

    Good Luck in Alaska! I wish you terrible weather on Gambell – to bring in lots of rare migrants! Fingers crossed! Deanna

  2. That’s right – GOOD LUCK in Alaska! Enjoy the adventure. I’m sure it’s amazing. I can’t wait to be there myself in a couple of months.

  3. Maryanne Steurer says:

    Too funny! I like your take as a coffee drinker in the “Six Phases of a Big Year” but am REALLY jealous of your Great Alaskan Adventure! Good luck and hope you see lots of interesting birds!

  4. LindaVanderpoel says:

    I told you I’m a “bird widow”. . . . .

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