Arctic Birds and Musk Oxen of Nome, Alaska

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Alaska's Seward Peninsula and the surrounding nutrient-rich waters of the Bering Sea have been home to the Iñupiat people for thousands of years. Once, these small groups of subsistence hunters made seasonal encampments along much of Alaska’s northern coast, fishing and hunting the coastal waters for birds and marine mammals, and venturing further inland for caribou and musk oxen.
"Eric Rock's knowledge of the region, and his ability to communicate with participants, was outstanding."
- Louise W.

With the discovery of gold in 1898 on Anvil Creek—where the small city of Nome now stands—life on the peninsula was forever changed as the windswept area experienced its first gold rush population boom. Since then many prospectors, adventurers and scoundrels have come and gone in search of their fortune. At the turn of the 20th century the population of Nome swelled to almost 20,000, making it Alaska’s largest city at the time—five times larger than it is today.

Arctic tern in flightWith the ongoing search for gold in the isolated Nome area, the Seward Peninsula saw three major gravel roads constructed into the adjoining Alaskan wilderness. These 200-plus miles of roadways penetrate deep into the surrounding arctic ecosystem allowing modern-day nature photographers excellent access to a wonderful assortment of arctic birds and mammals in habitats not easy to reach in other northern locations.

In Nome the summer arrives quickly and seems to depart even faster. By early June the snows of winter are receding, sea ice has pulled away from the shore, the rivers have thawed, and throngs of migrant birds return from their wintering grounds far to the south. The coast comes alive with shorebirds and waterfowl.

Rafts of common eiders float just offshore of the coast’s dark gravel beaches as arctic terns dip and glide overhead. Ice on lakes and tundra ponds retreats, providing valuable feeding and nesting habitat for ducks, geese and swans. Musk oxen with calvesSetting up our cameras along the shore of one of these wetlands provides opportunities to photograph long-tailed ducks, red-necked grebes, and Pacific and red-throated loons in breeding plumage.

While the returning birds are busy and distracted by the onset of the breeding season it is possible for a patient photographer to approach and photograph bar-tailed godwits, whimbrels, red-necked phalaropes, American golden plovers, common snipes and semipalmated sandpipers as they perform their fascinating courtship displays.

Streamside willows and alders now come alive with songbirds just returning for a chance to mate and nest during the short summer season. The area around Nome is one of the best places to find and photograph Eurasian songbirds, such as arctic warblers, bluethroats, yellow wagtails and northern wheatears—found almost nowhere else in the US.

A vast carpet of low-growing tundra stretches from the Bering Sea to the Kigluaik Mountains. As the days warm the tundra bursts forth with colorful summer wildflowers. A macro lens provides a glimpse into the miniature world of arctic poppies, Kamchatka rhododendron and alpine azalea—all while under the watchful eye of a long-tailed jaeger sentinel.

The open tundra ecosystem provides sweeping landscapes of time-worn mountains and misty coastlines sensuously combined with the low-angle light of early summer mornings and quiet evenings to enhance our photographic landscape potential. Some days start with dense and mysterious coastal fog generated by the cold Bering Sea waters, on other days we head to the high country where we pursue one of the north’s most iconic creatures—the musk ox.

Following a series of reintroductions of musk oxen to the Seward Peninsula in the 1970s, the animals now thrive in this rugged environment. Traveling around town or heading out on any of the roads from Nome can provide some iconic photographic opportunities with these wooly denizens of the tundra. If it has been a good winter for the musk ox the photographic rewards include a new batch of the year’s calves. We also search the roadsides and hills for other local inhabitants—red foxes, moose, reindeer, grizzly bears and wolves.

There are always new photographic opportunities waiting to be found on Alaska’s arctic tundra, all under the summer’s long hours of daylight.

Read Eric Rock's trip report from our latest Birds of Nome photo tour 
For trip questions or to enroll give us a call at (206) 463-5383

Tour Itinerary

Day 1 (Jun 3)
Participants should arrange to fly from home to Anchorage, Alaska, and on to Nome where we meet for dinner. Following dinner we make a short first foray into the rugged landscape of the Seward Peninsula. (D)
Days 2–6
The roads leading in and out of Nome offer us the chance to photograph along Bering Sea beaches and lagoons. We also take time to explore inland tundra and mountain landscapes. Our flexible schedule gives us time to photograph the light, the land, and the varied arctic wildlife.
With a very small group and five full days based in Nome we have the ability to adjust our plans to take advantage of the changing weather and light as we see fit.  The 24 hours of daylight requires some personal adjustment in sleeping schedules! Our typical shooting schedule—influenced by weather conditions and distance needed to drive to a shooting location—has us in the field between 5 AM and 11 AM. We return to town for an early lunch, break for a midday nap, and then eat an early dinner. We are again out in the field between 5 PM and 11 PM.

Musk oxen in NomeBecause of the early shooting schedule, we may not be in Nome during typical breakfast hours. Breakfast items and snacks are not included in the trip fee, but can be purchased in town during the tour and consumed in your room or carried into the field. 
Photography of the dawn chorus of songbirds, such as arctic warblers, blue throats, the ever-present common redpoll, and numerous other northern species, is on our agenda. We encounter photogenic willow ptarmigans with plenty of opportunities to photograph these dapper birds, as well as many of the shorebirds that spread out over this expansive tundra breeding habitat. Small tundra ponds become important nesting habitat for intriguing waterfowl, including red-throated and Pacific loons, while almost every little wet area becomes home for other water birds from red-necked phalaropes to long-tailed ducks.
As the light changes throughout the day we can spend our time looking for larger species to photograph. Musk oxen are often spotted and can be safely and easily photographed from the road system. Always keeping a keen eye out may turn up a moose and calf along one of the river valleys.  Evenings are always a great chance to get out and photograph wildlife in the long hours of the quiet Alaskan twilight. (LD)
Day 7 (Jun 9)
After one more early morning in the field we return to the hotel to gather our belongings and check out in time for the morning flight back to Anchorage. 
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Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris Enrollment Information

Arctic Birds and Musk Oxen of Nome, Alaska

Jun 03, 2024 - Jun 09, 2024

A deposit and completed and signed Registration Form are required to reserve a place on a Joseph Van Os Photo Safari.


All prices are quoted in US dollars and all payments must be paid in US dollars. For deposits we accept Visa, MasterCard and American Express. Final payment of the trip fee is due 120 days prior to departure and may be paid by check or bank transfer. If you wish to make your final payment with a credit card a 3% convenience fee will be charged.

We must receive written notice of your cancellation. Based on the cancellation date the following apply:

Trip deposits are non-refundable.
150-91 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 50% of the total trip cost.
90-61 days before the trip start date: We will refund any payments made exceeding 75% of the total trip cost.
Within 60 days of the start of the trip: No refund.

If, on the trip start date, your space has been resold and the tour is full—as designated by “Limit” number of travelers on the tour website page—we will refund your payment, minus the non-refundable trip deposit and any discounts given to resell your space.

No partial refunds are made for unused portions or services of a trip for any reason. Trips are sold as a package only. This policy also applies to tour extensions and independent travel arrangements. Cancellation fees are not transferable.

We strongly encourage you to protect your travel investment and purchase a comprehensive travel insurance policy that includes emergency evacuation coverage. We can provide travel insurance options, or it can be purchased online. A CANCEL FOR ANY REASON policy is available. Trip participants without travel protection insurance are considered “self-insured.” Without insurance you assume all risks and losses for any conditions requiring your cancellation.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris are within the capabilities of average people in good health. Some of these trips require the capability of walking for several miles over uneven trails, stepping from a small boat to a wave-washed rocky beach, flying in small planes and helicopters, and occasionally hiking at high elevations—all while carrying an assortment of camera equipment. If you have concerns about your own capabilities and/or fitness as it relates to a trip, please inquire with our office before reserving a space. By forwarding a signed Registration Form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you, or other trip participants and you agree to inform our office in writing if changes in your health, including viral illnesses, occur any time prior to the tour. We reserve the right to request a doctor's statement of good health. The company's or trip leader's judgment shall provide the ultimate determination of an individual's ability to embark upon or to continue a trip. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements. Tour members are asked to refrain from smoking with or near the group.

Participants will receive three emails before the trip departs: 1. Initial Tour Information sheet confirms the deposit and provides pre-departure information. 2. Invoice/Practical Information provides clothing and photo gear recommendations, climate data, and applicable health advisories. Visa information will also be included (if applicable). 3. Final Tour Information includes arrival instructions, itinerary revisions (if any), hotel addresses, trip telephone contact information and participant list. We provide the trip leader's telephone number(s) and/or email address with final documents so you can inquire about special photographic questions you may have regarding your trip. We welcome your calls or email messages to

Information supplied upon enrollment describes the specific details that are included in your trip fee. Generally, these include lodging in double room occupancy, all meals (specified in the itinerary as BLD denoting breakfast, lunch, or dinner), ground transportation during the trip in vans or small busses, internal tour air transportation as specified, meal and baggage tipping, and guide services provided by the trip leaders. Not included are airfare or other transportation from your home to the trip staging location, airport departure taxes, insurance, alcoholic beverages, and bar expenses (plus bottled water and soft drink expenses on international tours outside of North America), tips and gratuities to local guides, phone calls, passport or visa expenses, laundry, or items of a personal nature. Gratuities to Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris trip leaders are optional and always appreciated. Rates are based on group tariffs; if the trip does not have sufficient registration, a small party supplement may be charged.

Most of our trips are priced in double occupancy (shared) accommodations. Single accommodation is available for a supplemental cost in many locations; see the pre-departure trip information or call our office for details. You will be charged the single supplement fee if you desire single accommodation or if you wish to have a roommate, but one is not available. In some remote locations, clients with single rooms are infrequently compelled to share a room due to circumstances beyond our control. In such cases, appropriate per diem refunds will be made reflecting the direct cost of the single room at the facility where clients are required to share. There is no additional single supplement fee on ship-based cruises if you request a roommate and one is not available.

Cost increases may occur unexpectedly due to rising costs of airfares, ground transport, fuel surcharges, accommodations, and currency fluctuations, among others. Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. may be compelled to amend prices, and we reserve the right to do so without prior notice. An increase in trip prices shall not be sufficient grounds for any refund of funds paid for the trip other than as determined by the terms of our cancellation policy.

Whenever possible, our trip participants are lodged in comfortable, modern hotels. We select among the best available accommodations but refrain from extravagance. Some interesting photographic destinations are far removed from modern amenities, however, and where necessary we will be accommodated in rustic country inns, cabins, or tented camps.

Meals are always a special part of our trips for the camaraderie they engender and the opportunity they provide to try new foods from different areas. Depending on the trip and specific locale, participants order restaurant meals from the full menu or, less frequently, table d'hôte. Some trips include picnic lunches in the field. Fruit juice for breakfast and coffee or tea is included with the meals. Soft drinks are included with meals on tours within North America. Participants are responsible for their own bar tab (including bottled water, soft drinks, as well as alcoholic beverages on tours outside of North America) at restaurant lunches and dinners.

Our itineraries are intended as examples only. Participants should allow for flexibility due to changes in weather, natural history or cultural events, or other logistical arrangements deemed necessary by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or our leaders.

The second tour leader (and any subsequent additional leaders) listed for each trip on the website will be added as the group size warrants. If only one space remains on a trip, and logistics permit, we accept two people traveling together, even if it exceeds the trip maximum.

Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. and/or their Agents act only as agents for the passenger (trip participant) in regard to travel including, but not limited to, sightseeing, meals, lodging, transportation, and all other services whether by railroad, motor coach, automobile, van, boat, ship or aircraft or any other conveyance, and they assume no liability for injury, damage, loss, accident, delay or irregularity which may be occasioned for any reason whatsoever, or through the acts, bankruptcy or default of any company or person engaged in conveying the passenger or in carrying out the arrangements of the trip.

They can accept no responsibility for losses or additional expenses due to delay, cancellations or changes in flights or other tour services, and by force majeure including sickness, weather, strike, war, volcanic eruption, terrorist acts, political unrest, quarantine, epidemics, pandemics and outbreaks, or other causes. All such losses or expenses will have to be borne by the passenger, as trip fees provide for arrangements only for the times and locations stated. Baggage is at the owner's risk entirely.

The right is reserved to 1) substitute hotels of similar category for those indicated and to make any changes in the itinerary or transport where deemed necessary, or caused by changes in flight schedules or equipment substitution; 2) cancel any trip prior to departure due to low enrollment, in which case full refund of the paid trip funds will be given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non -refundable air tickets, visa fees, travel insurance premiums and medical related expenses; 3) At the company’s sole discretion, suspend or postpone any trip due to force majeure or disease outbreak in which case the trip may be rescheduled, or a refund issued less any non-refundable deposits paid to tour component providers on behalf of the passenger, or a travel credit given, but Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc. is not responsible for any other trip preparation expenses such as penalized or non-refundable air tickets, visa fees and medical related expenses; 4) substitute trip leader(s) for the leader(s) originally specified, in which case the substitution is not a basis for participant cancellation or refund other than provided by our normal cancellation policy; or 5) accept or retain any person as a member of any trip.

Trip prices are based on tariffs and exchange rates in effect at the time of publication and are subject to adjustment in the event of any change therein.

A signed Registration Form with the Enrollment Conditions and Release and Assumption of Risk sections must be returned by each participant prior to the commencement of the trip. Participation by any trip member will be declined in the absence of the signed Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section, with no trip fee refund. No modification to the Registration Form including the Release and Assumption of Risk section will be accepted.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this agreement, the enrolling trip participant(s) agree(s) to indemnify and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, the enrolling participant(s) agree(s) to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington.

I have read, understand, and agree to the terms, conditions, and provisions of the enrollment information, as stated on the Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris website and the Enrollment Conditions section of this form, especially noting the policy on cancellations, refunds, and limitations on responsibility.

I am aware that during any trip or tour that I am voluntarily participating in under the arrangements of Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., a Washington corporation, and its employees, agents and associates, certain risks and dangers exist while traveling in the United States, foreign countries, and wilderness areas in any country or territory that include the possibility of property damage, bodily injury, and death. There is a possibility of accident or illness occurring without access to immediate or timely medical treatment or facilities. There is a risk of tropical or communicable diseases that may require quarantine and removal from the tour at my expense, food-related illnesses, the risk of personal injury and property damage or delay or inconvenience by forces of nature, wildlife or wildlife models, quarantine, political instability, acts of terrorism, strikes, government restrictions or regulations change, thefts, and the risk of accidents during travel while on foot or by aircraft, train, automobile, van, bus, boat, ship, or other conveyance. I understand that such risks cannot be eliminated without jeopardizing the essential qualities of this trip or tour. In consideration of, and as part payment for the right to participate in such trips, tours and/or other activities and services arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates, I have and do hereby assume all risks, and hereby release Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents and associates, and will hold them harmless from any and all liability, actions, causes of actions, debts, claims, and demands of every kind and nature, howsoever caused, which I now have or which may arise of or in connection with any of my trips or tours and participation in any activities arranged for me by Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, agents and associates.

Should Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., or anyone acting on their behalf, be required to incur attorney's fees and costs to enforce this Agreement, I agree to indemnify them and hold them harmless for all such fees and costs. In the event a lawsuit is filed, I agree to do so solely in the County of Lewis in the State of Washington and further agree that the substantive law of that state shall apply in that action without regard to the conflict-of-law rules of that state. The terms hereof shall serve as a release and assumption of all risk for myself, my heirs, executors, and administrators, and for all members of my family.

If any part, article, paragraph, sentence, or clause of this Agreement is not enforceable, the affected provision shall be curtailed and limited only to the extent necessary to bring it within the requirements of the law, and the remainder of the Agreement shall continue in full force and effect.

I acknowledge that if anyone is hurt or property is damaged during my participation in this activity, I may be found by a court of law to have waived my right to maintain a lawsuit against Joseph Van Os Photo Safaris, Inc., its employees, shareholders, agents, and associates, based on any and all claims from which I have released them.

Arctic Birds and Musk Oxen of Nome, Alaska: Easy Activity Level

Trip Details
Jun 03 - Jun 09, 2024
Fee: $5,695 from Nome, Alaska*
Deposit: $1,500
Limit: 7 participants
Activity Level: Easy

* The fee does not include breakfasts due to trip logistics. Participants will be responsible for their own breakfast food and snacks to be purchased at the local grocery store.
  • Photograph in one of Alaska’s most diverse and accessible arctic environments
  • Experience the height of Alaska’s exuberant bird courtship displays
  • Capture exciting images of wild musk oxen in spring tundra habitat
  • Only one hotel for the entire tour 
  • Includes meals*, lodging, ground transportation, entrance fees, photo guide and instruction

Tour Leaders
Eric Rock

Eric Rock