This post follows Kassie and my pelagic bird trip to Seward. For our trip back to Fairbanks, we decided to bird the Denali Highway which extends 135 miles to connect Cantwell to Paxson. The unpaved road curves south of the Denali Range surrounding it with incredible mountains. The shrubby, tundra habitat is prime real estate for several arctic bird species rare to most other areas of the state.
During our 12 hours on the Denali Highway we observed behavior of many exciting birds. We also saw a few moose and heard from one other traveler of a wolf only a couple miles down the road. The road is a transect through one of the very remote areas of interior Alaska. The end of our drive was punctuated by full rainbows arching over the mountains. As the sun and the rain played across the landscape we observed lasting rainbows which waxed and waned. The birding for the day was incredible; each stop was filled with singing birds. The cutest moment of the day was a spruce grouse poult which jumped up along the road, and fluttered into a tree. After trying to hide in its branches, the little poult finally listened to its mother, who cooed and bobbed her tail until the young chick became brave enough to fly to her and its siblings. Along the way we encountered Arctic Warblers which are North America’s only “old world” warbler. Other populations of this warbler breed in Eurasia. We also were privileged to see many of the “Denali Highway Specials” including Gray-cheeked Thrush, Red-necked Phalarope, Long-tailed Jaeger, and Arctic Tern. Incredibly, Arctic Terns migrate 25,000 miles per year, earning them the longest migration of any bird award!
This video captures in timelapse the beauty of the rainbows, the cuteness of the polt, the joy of singing warblers and the scenery of the Denali Highway. I hope you enjoy!
This list has most of the species that we observed for the day. Of course there’s PLENTY of birding to do between each of the miles listed, but these are the spots we stopped at.
|127||Fox Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, Gray Jay, Wilson’s Snipe, Unknown Duck|
|119||Arctic Warbler, White-crowned Sparrow|
|113||Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Fox Sparrow, Unk. Raptor, Spruce Grouse and Polts, Raven|
|103||Immature Golden Eagle|
|90||Scaup, Ring-neck Duck|
|89||Ring-neck Duck, Widgeon, Gadwall, Yellow-legs, White-crowned Sparrow|
|81||Tundra Swan, Unk. Duck|
|80||Widgeon and Ducklings, Scaup, Northern Shoveler and Chick|
|74||Bufflehead, Ring-neck Duck, Rednecked Grebe|
|50||Ring-neck Duck, Mew Gull, White-crowned Sparrow, Arctic Warbler, Savanna Sparrow, Wilson Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Scaup|
|49||Mew Gull, Arctic Tern, Merlin, Red-necked Phalarope, Bufflehead, Ring-neck Duck, Tundra Swan, Blackpoll Warbler, Sandpiper, Wilson’s Warbler|
13 thoughts on “Birds and Rainbows on the Denali Highway”
A 12-hour highlight reel for the K & I Denali Tour. That phalarope photo is a sleeper, the concentrics she creates are so distinctive, it creates a photographic vividity, And the moving rainbow was something special. And I loved the body language of mama spruce. Another keeper trip to place in your Alaska memory vault. And the
I think the baby spruce grouse was my favorite. It sat there for 4-5 minutes without moving. Didn’t want to be seen!
Work on that Brit accent and you can create you own version of “Planet Life”! I love there is a double rainbow over the two of you. Makes me smile:)
Yeah! At this spot Kass ‘forced’ me to timelapse the Rainbow. I was feeling lazy…and just wanted to watch 🙂
Loved seeing the bird babies. The rainbows were an ah ha moment.
:), there were so many rainbows this day that the first one was an “ah ha”! moment. And then next was an ah ha! And so on, and so on until we saw our last one! They were a treat!
Your photos remind me of the ones in my “Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds”. Thank you, Ian.
Thanks! And, you’re welcome, it’s my pleasure!
So fun to live vicariously through your photography and stories!! Even if I ever get to Alaska, I’ll never see all that you do. Thanks for sharing.
Let me know when you want to schedule that trip, Linda. 🙂
Ian, I experienced peace as I watched your video and text
Thanks for sharing
Peter, so great to hear from you! Thanks for checking in!!