Nome is a little know treasure for birders. The city of Nome is bounded by tundra on three sides and the Bering Sea coast on the other. Once the ice begins to break up, migration begins. Virtually the entire area of the Seward Peninsula that is accessible by road from Nome is comprised of extremely valuable nesting areas for many bird species including most North American waterfowl. You’ll even find quality birding on wetlands and beaches right in town.
There are three easy ways to go birding in Nome:
- Join a tour by one of the major birding organizations that run guided birding tours to Nome. It’s the priciest way to go, but you’re guaranteed to travel with a knowledgeable guide and fellow travelers here just for the birding.
- Hire your own driver and van. Though not a birder himself, local Richard Beneville can arrange van transportation and logistics. He knows the best sighting locations and may be able to introduce you to local birding experts. Richard charges $250 per person, minimum of two. Discounts may apply for larger groups. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone 907-443-2814.
- Rent a car in Nome and drive yourself. Vehicle rental rates range from $100-150 per day.
However you go, make sure you download the Nome Bird Checklist (PDF format) before you go. The Beringia Birders Yahoo Group is a great resource for gathering information from other birders to Nome and surrounding regions. Once in Nome, check the “birding board” at the Nome Visitors Center. Most birders update and check it daily.
Safety Sound, less than twenty miles from Nome on the Nome Council road, is a migrant trap before breakup. Observers have noted Emperor Geese, and Stellar's Eiders in this area. Off-shore in open patches of water, called leads, ringed seal often bask on ice ledges. These leads also concentrate migrating waterfowl: Scoters, Eiders, Harlequin Ducks, Old Squaws, Arctic and Pacific Loons and, occasionally, Yellow-Billed Loons. Tufted and Horned Puffins, Common Murres, and Pelagic Cormorantare all possibilities in this bird rich area. The terminus of this road is Council, and is the only place accessible from Nome where boreal species may be found.
Along the Kougarok Road, cliffs provide nesting habitat for Gyr Falcon, Golden Eagles, and Peregrine Falcons. The high, rocky ridges also boast nesting Wheatears. Bluethroats, Wandering Tattlers, and Bristle-Thighed Curlewsare also abundant along this road. Arctic Warbler can be seen along the Penny River.
Spring and break-up come late to Nome, near the end of may. The best time for birding in and around Nome is normally in early June. At that time, the melting ice along the southern Seward Peninsula forms migrant traps and birding from the road system is most productive. This season is called break-up in Alaska, occasionally roads are closed because of flooding or washouts. Travelers should plan for all sorts of weather, but it is this changeable climate that brings in the rare migrant species and settles them into small ponds to wait for better flying weather. This is also the time of year when changing weather systems bring large numbers of accidentals to the area. Some species, however, such as the Snow Bunting, are best seen in late March and are difficult to find during the summer. Many species take advantage of the long days and abundant food sources to nest and raise young. Birding is good into Mid-August when migration is in full swing. Nome is truly a birding treasure.