This unique High Arctic birding tour, a perennial favourite, takes in three different areas; the exquisite high Arctic tundra above the Arctic Circle and far north of the tree line, the boreal forest and lakes around Yellowknife, NWT, and the aspen parkland and potholes of Central Alberta. We could encounter a diverse array of birds and mammals, from King Eiders to Pacific loons, snowy owls to northern saw whet and great gray owls (depending on food supplies), long-tailed and parasitic jaegers to Sabine's and Thayer’s gulls, and muskoxen to Arctic foxes.
At Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, yellow-billed loons nest on remote lakes, Red necked and sometimes Red Phalaropes in resplendent summer plumage inhabit ponds, tundra swans and sandhill cranes enliven the tundra, stilt and Baird’s sandpipers give their strange songs, and a scarce nesting species such as buff breasted or white-rumped sandpiper may show up. The area is steeped in history and culture, from explorers searching for the Northwest Passage to the Inuit of the western Arctic. The high quality and exciting wildlife viewing make for a long remembered tour!
The tour begins in the evening in Leduc, just south of Edmonton, Alberta, and close to the airport. We meet for dinner at 6:30PM for a meet-and-greet and for a brief introduction and orientation. We will spend the night in Leduc.
We leave early and head towards Tofield in the aspen parkland. Small wetlands in this area are very productive and hold breeding populations of red-necked, eared and pied-billed grebes, black terns, ruddy ducks and several other species of waterfowl, American avocets, Wilson’s phalaropes and Franklin’s gulls. Swainson’s and red-tailed hawks hunt over pastures that are occupied by Richardson’s ground-squirrels. We then head to Elk Island National Park; over two hundred species of birds have been identified within its boundaries.
Year-round residents include hairy and pileated Woodpeckers and boreal chickadees. Migrant and nesting passerines include gray catbird, red-eyed and blue-headed vireos, Le Conte’s, Nelson’s (sharp-tailed) and clay-colored sparrows, northern waterthrushes and mourning warblers. Marshes and ponds support a diverse array of waterbirds including white pelicans, trumpeter swans and ring-necked duck. The park is also home to forty-four different species of mammals, including wapiti (elk), moose, white-tailed deer, coyote, muskrat and porcupine. The most noticeable of the park’s mammals—and we are likely to see them—are the two different sub-species of bison. North of the park we are likely to find mountain bluebirds and vesper sparrows. In mid-afternoon, we head north of Edmonton to the edge of the boreal forest. Our target species are boreal forest owls such as great gray, northern saw-whet and northern hawk-owl. We have the possibility of northern goshawk. We could also add to our tally of mammals with beaver and red fox. We will spend the night in Leduc.
Today we leave Leduc, head to the airport and board our plane to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. In the Yellowknife region we explore boreal habitats in the Great Slave Lake area, looking for specialties such as red-necked grebe, mew and Bonaparte’s gulls, rusty blackbird, sandhill crane, northern shrike and bohemian waxwing. We should encounter several boreal forest species such as Tennessee, Wilson’s, blackpoll and orange-crowned warblers, alder and olive-sided flycatchers, gray jay, Lincoln’s and white-crowned sparrows, and possibly white-winged crossbills. Lesser yellowlegs and Bonaparte’s gulls perch on the tops of trees, and northern goshawks are possible.
A highlight will be a boat ride in Yellowknife Bay, an arm of Great Slave Lake, the second largest in Canada; weather permitting, we’ll take a boat tour among the house boats and islands of the bay and up the Yellowknife River, searching for lake species such as surf scoters, Pacific and common Loons, and common, Caspian and Arctic terns. Our nights will be spent in Yellowknife.
We spend the morning birding around the Yellowknife area before taking an afternoon flight to Iqaluktuuttiak (Cambridge Bay). We spend the rest of the day getting our bearings about town, noticing that the common town birds are snow buntings and Lapland longspurs—quite a change from house sparrows and starlings! Night in
Iqaluktuuttiak (Cambridge Bay).
From Iqaluktuuttiak (Cambridge Bay) we make daily excursions to various birding locations around town. One day we travel by vehicle on one of the few roads in the area to the base of Mount Pelly, (providing the road is passable) where we should encounter usually common bird species such as American golden and semipalmated plovers, semipalmated, Baird’s and stilt sandpipers, red-necked phalarope, long-tailed jaeger, Arctic tern, horned lark, lapland longspur and snow bunting. American pipits breed on the slopes of the mountain. The impressive yellow-billed loon breeds in this area so we will look for nesting pairs. We will look for groups of muskox, Arctic foxes and Arctic hares. If it is a year of high lemming numbers, then snowy owls will be nesting, as well as pomarine jaegers; if not, then both species can be scarce. On another day, we travel along the West Arm to Dease and Simpson Straits which overlook the Northwest Passage. Throughout the trip we hike out onto the tundra looking for signs of those famous arctic rodents: lemmings. If their numbers are high, we should see many of the predators that depend on lemming populations, such as all three species of jaegers, snowy owl and rough-legged hawk. As well, we will enjoy the abundant waterfowl, loons and shorebirds, perhaps with their broods. Greater white-fronted geese, tundra swans, king and common eiders and long-tailed ducks might have flotillas of young, Pacific loons will be on just about every medium-sized pond, and many shorebirds that may include black-bellied plover, pectoral and white- rumped sandpipers will be scattered over the tundra. Our eyes will be constantly searching the chilly frozen waters of the Northwest Passage for ringed seals hauled up on the ice.
Along an inlet of Dease Strait, we'll visit an ancient traditional Inuit hunting site marked by stone tent rings and seal caches on the tundra. We take a track into the interior of the island to look for nesting birds such as red phalarope, sabine’s gull and parasitic jaeger. We will experience the beautiful flora and butterflies of the tundra and revisit areas for a second try as well. Some species, such as rock ptarmigan, will require persistence, luck and patience. We also visit the town dump and sewage lagoons, where glaucous and thayer’s gulls gather and in the past we have found slaty-backed and glaucous-winged gulls. There is always the possibility of a southern vagrant; over the years we have found such unlikely species as hermit thrush and harris’s Ssparrow, usually close to town. We will visit the information centre, perhaps for some souvenir shopping. Nights in Iqaluktuuttiak (Cambridge Bay).
On Day 10, we board our plane for Yellowknife and on to Edmonton. Last night in Leduc.
The tour concludes after breakfast.
What to Expect
Because Victoria Island has a relatively small road network, meals will be slotted in around bird activity and weather patterns. We are never more than an hour’s drive from the Hotel. There will be no need for early morning risings as we will witness twenty-four hours of daylight! Bird activity often peaks at mid-day! Polar Bears are unlikely to be encountered; however we should see musk ox, Arctic fox, ringed seal, Arctic hare and lemmings. We can expect a high diversity of land and water birds during our visit to central Alberta and the Yellowknife area.
Our daily itinerary will be responsive to weather conditions. Driving will be limited to either small or moderate stretches. Lunch will be variable in time and location depending on the day and the level of birding. The weather can vary from a sweltering 25°C to around freezing in the day, with frequent night-time frosts. It may snow, and participants should layer their clothing as conditions can change quickly while we are in the field. Participants should include bug repellent and perhaps a head net in their luggage, as there will be some mosquitoes, especially in Yellowknife. Sturdy footwear that will keep your feet dry is recommended, as we will be doing some tundra hiking. Each evening a recap follows the evening meal. We review the day’s events, birds, mammals, and other observations and look forward to the next day’s activity.
All prices are per person, in Canadian Dollars (CAD) unless specified otherwise, and are cash or cheque discounted.
$6675.00 Based on double occupancy 5% tax additional Single Supplement $750 CAD + 5% tax
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