A Buller’s Shearwater skims along the water in the Gulf of Alaska. Photo Aaron Lang.
Alaska has been called North America’s final frontier and pelagic birding is certainly the final frontier of birding in Alaska. Some of the 49th state’s most difficult birds inhabit the offshore regions of the Gulf of Alaska. For many reasons accessing these waters as a birder is difficult. The distance of the continental shelf from shore, rough waters, and lack of suitable boats capable of carrying birders far enough offshore are a few of the obstacles to pelagic birding trips in Alaska. However, for years a few curious birders have occasionally traversed the Gulf of Alaska on board the M/V Kennicott, a 382’ ferry run by the State of Alaska. Although no one trip has recorded everything that’s possible (that’s pelagic birding!) some remarkable observations have been documented over the years. Since 2012, we have offered a pelagic trip on board this ferry and have been rewarded with a healthy list, several rarities, and a comfortable voyage in an entirely under-birded region! The list of possibilities is long, but with luck we hope to encounter some of the true Alaskan rarities like Mottled Petrel, Buller’s, Pink-footed, Manx, or Flesh-footed Shearwater, Short-tailed Albatross and/or South Polar Skua.
The mission of the ship is of course to provide safe transit for passengers, and not to find birds. However, birding from the ferry has a number of obvious advantages: it provides a large and stable platform, even allowing for the use of spotting scopes; it offers comfortable sleeping quarters and a cafeteria and bar on board; the ship is spacious enough to accommodate many birders with good observation areas on deck and inside; and it has a reliable schedule.
Our trip begins in Juneau, in southeast Alaska. After a day of birding the Juneau area in search of migrant shorebirds, passerine and southeast specialties, we will board the ferry and head out to sea. The 42 hour Gulf Crossing from Juneau to Whittier includes time in both inshore and offshore waters with a brief stop in the town of Yakutat. After arriving in Whittier at about 6 AM on day five, we’ll travel by van to Anchorage, birding along the way. Our trip ends in Anchorage around noon.
Except for a welcome dinner on night one, and breakfasts at our hotel in Juneau, meals on the trip are not included in trip price. Price is based on double occupancy in Juneau and a shared ferry stateroom (with 1-3 other participants). Staterooms have bunk beds and you may be in an upper bunk. Staterooms may or may not have bathrooms en suite but do have sinks. If you choose to forgo the staterooms and prefer to bring your sleeping bag and sleep in the solarium, your trip price will be adjusted accordingly.