Denali Dispatch

Denali Dispatch is a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali.


Written by members of our staff, this journal is an opportunity to peek into life in Denali: notable events, wildlife sightings, conservation issues, recipes from our kitchen, and insights into the guest experience at Camp Denali. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.

Birding with Sibley at Camp Denali
June 12-19

March 31, 2017

By, Ryan Marsh

Beginning in March when the Golden Eagles arrive to hunt snowshoe hares until June 6th when the Arctic Warbler reliably arrives from Southeast Asia, around 155 species migrate from all over the world to nest in Denali.

If you have ever birded in North America, you are likely familiar with David Sibley’s field guides. Sibley’s illustrations help point out key distinguishing characteristics from a plethora of angles and views, plumages, and variants. Sibley has grown up observing and drawing birds and brings decades of experience to bear. With a bewildering array of species most of us have never observed before, it is an unparalleled opportunity to have a guide like David Sibley to help us find the birds we are looking for.

Our staff and guests alike are eagerly anticipating a week of birding with Sibley, June 12-19. Here’s what’s in store:

Our outings will venture to the kettle ponds that dot the landscape looking for waterfowl in full breeding plumage. If you are coming from the Lower 48, you are likely to spot birds you might be familiar with in their duller winter colors now on full display, like Northern Pintails or the ubiquitous Scaup. Fast moving streams offer the opportunity to spot the astonishing Harlequin Duck or the beloved American Dipper.

The ridge behind Camp Denali & North Face Lodge is where we hope to find Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs, or even a nesting pair of Surfbirds. During the winter this bird is rarely spotted anywhere but in the tidal zone along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Chile, running along the surf chasing insects and peeling barnacles from rocks, never straying more than a few meters from this zone. It would disappear for months out of the year, and its nesting location was long an ornithological mystery. The first nest was scientifically recognized in 1926 right here in what was then Mount McKinley National Park.

Driving along the Park Road towards the higher alpine tundra and scree fields brings us through a variety of different birding habitats. We will pause along willow-choked drainages to listen for passerines like the Arctic Warbler or the Blackpoll Warbler, whose trip from South America is one of the longest of any passerine in the world. As we pass by Wonder Lake we will try to listen through the fog for the haunting and primordial call of the Common Loon. If we are lucky we’ll see a Golden Eagle perched on cliffs high above the roadway, or a Gyrfalcon hunting low to the ground on the lookout for one of the three species of Ptarmigan that live in Denali. When we get into the alpine, we arrive in an area populated by Northern Shrike, American Golden Plover in stark breeding colors standing tall, Wandering Tattlers peeping at us to lure us away from their concealed nests, Northern Wheatears up here from Sub-Saharan Africa, and Long-tailed Jaegers hunting voles, amongst others.

And don’t even let me get started on the wildflowers and other wildlife that we will observe this time of year! That’s another story.

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