Bering Sea Cruise to St. Matthew Island

mid/late June 2018 - exact dates to be determined

An adventure on the Bering Sea, starting and ending at St. Paul, with a pre-tour pelagic trip from Adak to St. Paul, targeting several of the region's specialties. Pre- and post-tour extensions available for increased birding and mammal viewing. You do not have to go on the main tour to go on an extension.


McKay's BuntingThe Bering Sea region is home to some of the world's hardest to find birds. For many of them, it's not that they're rare. It's just that they live in small, remote areas, far off the beaten path and going off the beaten path is one of the things we love to do.

We created a tour to take you to St. Matthew Island, a place that's been called the most remote spot in Alaska. Along the way, we'll look for a few of North America's most difficult to find birds: McKay's Bunting, Short-tailed Albatross, and Red-legged Kittiwake, with a pre-tour extension for Whiskered Auklet and additional Short-tailed Albatrosses. We saw all of these species on our first cruise in 2015. Mottled Petrels are possible both on the pelagic and the main tour.

One of North America's rarest songbirds with a population estimate of 2500, McKay's Bunting regularly nests only on St. Matthew and the neighboring Hall Island. It's closely related to the more familiar Snow Bunting, but it is whiter overall. During the breeding season, the plumage of males is almost entirely white, except for some black in the tail and wings.

Insular vole. Photo by Andrew Holman.We'll also be looking for mammals on this tour, especially St. Matthew's endemic species, the insular vole. We heard quite a few and saw several on our inaugural cruise in 2015. (Photo of insular vole by Andrew Holman)

Short-tailed Albatross was a common species in the 19th Century, but plume hunting almost caused its extinction. In the 1930s, no breeding adults were left, but the population has slowly be growing since then. There are now an estimated 2500 Short-taileds. Away from its Japanese breeding islands, the Aleutians and Bering Sea are one of the few places where sightings are reliable. Red-legged Kittiwake, while having a much larger population, is also difficult to see due to its restricted range. It breeds on only a few islands in the Russian Far East, Aleutians, and Pribilof Islands (St. George and St. Paul). Nesting birds can be observed from close range at St. Paul.

While we will be targeting these species, they're not the only birds we'll see. The Bering Sea region is the epicenter for alcid diversity, and we may see up to 13 species. The elusive Mottled Petrel begins reaching peak abundance in the Bering Sea in July, so this tour has a reasonable chance of finding some.

The following is a partial overview of the tour.  Please e-mail for more information. This itinerary may be altered due to weather and other circumstances:

Day 1: Depart St. Paul on board the M/V Puk-uk, a 72-foot boat custom built for Alaska charter cruises. This is the vessel we've used for all our cruises to Attu and Aleutian pelagic trips since 2010. We'll depart after a safety briefing and head north to St. Matthew. (We recommend planning on arriving at St Paul a day or two early. A pre-tour extension at St. Paul for those not on the pelagic from Adak may be available.)

Days 2: Cruise north to St. Matthew and look for alcids, albatrosses, Mottled Petrels, and other pelagic species along the way.

Days 3-4: Explore St. Matthew Island and spend time studying McKay's Bunting and enjoying other birds and views of the island.

Day 5: More pelagic birding as we head to St. Paul. Depending on weather conditions, we may detour to Zhemchug Canyon, the world's deepest and widest undersea canyon.

Day 6: Arrive back at St. Paul. Bird around the island if time permits. You may choose to catch a flight home on this day or stick around for more post-tour birding.

A pre-tour pelagic trip is available. It will be three days long, departing Adak and traveling to St. Paul by Seguam Pass. Along the way, we'll look reliable spots for Whiskered Auklets and Short-tailed Albatrosses.

A St. Paul tour extension may be available. This extension will spend time watching the seabird nesting cliffs, Northern Fur Seal rookeries, and Arctic Foxes and will search for the endemic Pribilof Shrew.


TOUR FEE: $4975, price subject to change. An increase in fuel prices may result in a fuel surcharge.

The tour fee includes all meals from supper on the first day to lunch on the tour's final day, and guide services. It does not include transportation to and from St. Paul before and after the tour, phone calls, alcoholic beverages, or any items of a personal nature.

The pre-tour pelagic will be $2500, price subject to change. An increase in fuel prices may result in a fuel surcharge. The tour fee includes all meals from supper on the first day to supper on the last day and guide services. It does not include transportation to Adak or from St. Paul before and after the tour, phone calls, alcoholic beverages, or any items of a personal nature.

For those on both the St. Matthew main tour and the pre-tour pelagic, there is a discount of $1500. Go on both and pay just $5975, price subject to change. An increase in fuel prices may result in a fuel surcharge. The tour fee includes all meals from supper on the first day to lunch on the last day and guide services. It does not include transportation to Adak or from St. Paul before and after the tour, phone calls, alcoholic beverages, or any items of a personal nature.

LEADERS: Laura Keene, besides being an avid birder, is an accomplished photographer from Ohio. In 2016, she did an ABA Area big year and finished with 762 in the Continental ABA Area and 818 species with the inclusion of Hawaii. She photographed 746 of those species, setting a record for an ABA Area photographic big year. She has years of experience birding in the Bering Sea region, with multiple trips to Gambell, St. Paul, Attu, and Adak under her belt. Her photographs have appeared in National Parks Magazine, the upcoming Princeton Field Guides Canids of the World, the NPR website, and numerous regional publications. Her most well-known photograph, a shot of two polar bears at Kaktovik, Alaska, was named a Top Shot on National Geographic's Daily Dozen, and it has appeared in newspapers around the globe.

Vladimir Dinets has a Ph.D. in Zoology and years of field experience on both sides of the North Pacific. He has the world's longest mammals life list and has seen most of the bird species of North America and northern Eurasia. He is the author of the Peterson Guide to Finding Mammals and co-author of Russia's most popular field guides, Birds of Russia and Mammals of Russia.

John Puschock, owner of Zugunruhe Birding Tours. John has been leading tours to the Aleutians and Bering Sea region of Alaska since 2004. He led Zugunruhe's first tour to St. Matthew in 2015.

GROUP SIZE: Limited to 7 participants.  

PHYSICAL CONSIDERATIONS/WEATHER: Participants should be prepared to hike over rough terrain in rain, high winds, and cold temperatures to get the most enjoyment out of our time at St. Matthew.  As we will be traveling by boat, participants also should be prepared to encounter rough seas, and they will need to climb a short series of steps to go between the M/V Puk-Uk and the inflatable boat used to land on St. Matthew.

REGISTRATION, PAYMENT, and CANCELLATION POLICY: Full payment is required at the time of registration.  A fuel surcharge may be added if fuel prices rise significantly (ask us for details). Signed registration and release forms are also required at the time of registration. Please e-mail to obtain forms.  

No refunds will be made unless another participant is available to take your place and submits payment or if we cancel the tour due to under subscription. If you cancel, priority for the open space will be given to those on the wait list, if there is one. Even if there is a wait list, keep in mind that we may not be able to find a replacement for you, particularly if your cancellation occurs close to the departure date. 

We regret having to institute these payment and cancellation policies, but they are required due to the need to provide a commitment to both the boat owner and other tour participants far in advance of the departure date.

TRIP and MEDICAL INSURANCE: Particularly due to the restrictive cancellation policy, we STRONGLY recommend that you purchase trip insurance to protect yourself in case you need to cancel, luggage is lost, stolen, or damaged, a medical emergency occurs, or other unforeseen circumstances occur.  Note that many insurance policies require that you purchase it at the time you make the initial deposit for the tour and terms and coverage differ among policies.  When purchasing trip insurance, please read and understand what is and is not covered by your policy. 

We also STRONGLY recommend that you check that your medical insurance covers medical evacuations, and if it does not, please consider purchasing medical evacuation insurance.  Medical care will be extremely limited to non-existent during this tour.  A medical emergency will require an evacuation flight, which costs tens of thousands of dollars.

Again, this is a partial overview of the tour.  Please e-mail for more information and to obtain registration forms.

 

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