Nome attracts bird watchers from around the globe
The lure of exotic birds in a variety of forms draws bird watchers from Alaska’s cities as well as enthusiasts from around the globe to Nome for the promise of a sighting, no matter how fleeting, of a bird not seen just anywhere.
“The road access gets you to a lot of different habitats,” explained Stan Justice of Fairbanks. He was in Nome for the third year in a row with UAF’s summer session. “If you go to a place like Kotzebue you get the City of Kotzebue, unless you’re ready to get on a boat or an airplane,” he said. “But having the three road systems which allow you to get to different bird habitats is pretty amazing.”
With Carol Gales as a guide, a group of 10 stopped in for coffee at a local café and talked of their plans to head out to the Nome River. “I’ve never been here and there’s lots of birds,” said Kathi Stevens of Fairbanks. She noted she is not related to any other Alaskans named Stevens. “I like the tundra, it’s gorgeous. I don’t want to leave.”
“The bristle thighed curlew is a big attraction,” said Justice. “It’s a bird that doesn’t breed in the rest of the United States. It only breeds in Western Alaska. So this is the only place you can see a bristle thighed curlew. The blue throat is another attraction that you won’t find even in Bethel. It only comes to Western Alaska. In the days of the Bering Land Bridge the migration paths went through Asia to Africa, instead of going through North America and South America. Even though there’s water there now they’ve still maintained that migration path. So there’s birds like the Northern wheathear that spend their winters with giraffes and elephants and then come up here and spend their summers with musk ox.”
A group of five British birders was parked just off the Council Highway near the Nome River Bridge viewing jaegers and Arctic terns in flight. They praised Alaska as one of the best birding sites in the world. They’d come for 19 days of bird and wildlife viewing and were to spend two days in Iceland on the way home. “In Europe so many birds are in trouble, declining for one reason or another,” said a tall gentleman with an impressive pair of Swarovski binoculars. “Intensification of agriculture for example, many, many hardships affecting bird populations,” he said. “And unfortunately we’re losing so many birds in Europe and indeed throughout the world. It’s horrible really.”
“I just had a birder from New Zealand in here,” said Leon Boardway at the Nome Visitors and Convention Center. Asked about the hotels being full he said he’s sure they are. “They come up here 15 to a group.”
A check with the Aurora Inn found a group of 30 checking out and another group of 30 checking in. “We’re full for the whole month of June, both vehicles and rooms,” said the concierge.
Acting City Manager John Handeland said tax revenues are definitely up during the birding season. “I know our sales tax revenues go up during this period of time. It’s a good thing from that standpoint. Sales tax and bed tax, we see a real up tick on that.”
Peter Rob of Nome is a guide for the out of town birders. He reported eight people came for part of the summer session, arriving Monday and staying through Friday. “Next week I have a second group which is summer session people. They’re coming on Monday and leaving on Friday,” he said. “The last Saturday in May and the last two Saturdays in June I do a Saturday field trip for Northwest Campus.”