Arctic Birds and Musk Oxen of Nome Alaska 2022 Trip Report

By Eric Rock on Aug 12, 2022

It’s tundra time!

Life returns with the green-up, and spring green was just gracing the tundra landscape as we arrived at Nome. That worked perfectly for our photo tour because as the green returns so do the birds—and this spring was no different.

Timing the greening of the landscape with the opening of the area’s roads is a balancing act when visiting Nome. Some seasons you just don’t know in what condition winter will leave the roads. This year, while roads were a little rougher than average, all were open with the addition of a few new ruts and big bumps. Our group’s early arrival gives us the best opportunity to catch the greatest diversity of birds before nesting begins.

It didn’t take long to find nearly all the avian players in place for our tour. It’s always great to find species and sometimes individuals in the same locations year after year. Songbirds, including Arctic warblers and bluethroats, seemed to dominate the landscape and provide for ample photographic opportunities—more so than previous springs.

With nearly all the seasonal birds in place, we found waterbirds to be particularly plentiful. Tundra swans, spectacled and Steller’s eiders, Pacific loons, and red and red-necked phalaropes were in abundance and beckoned to be photographed. Curiously missing from this line-up were the dapper long-tailed ducks we usually find inhabiting many of the tundra ponds. It was not until the next to last day of our trip that they finally began appearing in roadside wetlands.

When it comes to musk oxen, I am always excited to discover if the spring season has been good for a new batch of calves. This spring was good to mother muskoxen as each group of the wooly denizens had multiple healthy newborns in tow. Each day we kept an eye out for our next musk ox photo subjects and took advantage of each new scene that incorporated them into the landscape.

Traveling to a place this remote for far flung arctic photography subjects always comes with a chance for more adventure than expected. The rough roads provided just that when we experienced a flat tire along one of the more rugged sections. Once jacked up and ready to remove the offending wheel, I realized that we had the wrong size lug wrench for the task. It was a beautiful evening, and the tundra was full of birds and wildflowers, so we took advantage of the time and enjoyed our packed dinner while waiting for a passing rig that might have the correct tool for the job. After about thirty minutes, two trucks carrying local Inupiaq families stopped to lend a hand and offer up a great cultural interaction there on the colorful spring tundra. It wasn’t long before we were back out and bouncing down the dusty road finding new subjects to photograph.

To round it up, the Nome area of Alaska is one of my favorite tundra locations. Each time I return, I look forward to long Alaskan days filled with arctic birds and muskoxen set in wide-open vistas—and this year did not disappoint!

Related Tags:  Alaska, birds, loons, "musk ox", "musk oxen", Nome, shorebirds, tundra