To the Kingdom of Walrus and Polar Bear. Ecotour to the Chukchi Peninsula (Chukotka). Birdwatching
Day 1: Arrive in Anadyr at 12.25 local time. Rest for some time at the hotel in the airport.
Day 2: Breakfast in the hotel. Flight (scheduled Antonov-24 airplane) to Egvenkinot, the administrative center of Iultin District (about 90 minutes). Flying small planes or helicopters over Chukotka is always an unforgettable experience, especially in the eastern area with its fjords and mountains.
Short excursions in the settlement vicinity for birdwatching on the coastal spits and small rivers deltas (chances for Mongolian Plover, Red Knot, gulls and seabirds) as well as on the mountains slopes.
Transfer by 6WD bus (“vakhtovka” - a truck converted into a bus, somewhat like tundra buggies used in Churchill) to Amguema Village. Amguema is a village of Inland Chukchi, located in a broad river valley. It is one of the most traditional village of reindeer herders in Chukotka, known for dances and songs that we’ll have a chance to see during our stay.
Inland Chukchi are mostly nomadic, and use their villages only as bases for year-round travel across the tundra. If we are lucky enough, during our stay in Chukotka we might have a chance to see the local carnival called Vylgynkoranymat (the Day of a Young Deer), accompanied with a sacrifice to the spirits of the tundra and ancestors, sports competitions, music and dances. The nomads live in yarangas - tipi-like deerskin tents with light wooden frames. Their camps are usually moved at least 3-4 times every winter. The Chukchi have a special breed of domestic reindeer called hargin, which is used for individual riding as well as for pulling selds.
Dinner in Amguema (traditional dishes mostly made of reindeer meat, with some fish, king boletus mushrooms, berries and wild plants, plus home-made bread and herbal tea). Accommodation: homestays with local families (in recently build Canadian houses).
Days 3-4: Caterpillar travel Amguema – Vankarem (Nutepelmen) with a visit to nomadic camp or reindeer herders
Typical tundra avifauna of Vankarem lowland (Pacific and White-billed Divers, Bean Goose A.f. serrirostris, Emperor and White-fronted Goose, Snowy Owl, Tundra and Bewick Swans, various waders between others) in combination with peculiar bird species of Eastern Chukotka mountains (chance to see Harlequin Duck, Golden Eagle, Gyrfalcon and Peregrine Falcon, Mongolian Plover, Dotterel, Tattlers, Great and Red Knots, Horned Lark, 3 pipits, Siberian accentor, Rosy Finch Leucosticte arctoa between other passerines; probably Baird’s sandpiper). Diversity of waterfowl expected in Amguema valley. A good chance for interesting sightings of rare species and specification of their living range because of poor knowledge of local bird fauna!
Overnight on the way in tents. In the afternoon of Day 6, we arrive in the small village of Vankarem. Overnight accommodation: homestays with local families in recently built Canadian houses and/or in local school (with sleeping bags and maths).
Days 5-12: Northern Chukotka: (tundra near Vankarem/Nutepelmen Lagoons, Koliuchin island)
Observe huge walrus rookery located very close from Vankarem village. A good chance for observations of Polar Bears at Koliuchin island and Chukchi Sea ice fields and for Brown Bears in tundra and along the seashores. Terrestrial mammals also include Reindeer, Arctic Fox, Ground squirrel, Lemmings.
While on a boat trip at Chukchi Sea, different species of seals (Bearded seal, Spotted Seal, Ringed Seal and possibly Ribbon Seal) are expected and Walruses, Grey Whale and even Bowhead Whale and Orcas might be seen.
A set of waterfowl species: four species of Divers, Tundra and Bewick Swans, Emperor Goose, nesting Common Eider, passaging King Eiders and Stellers Eiders, a chance for Spectacled Eider. The second biggest known population of Spoon-billed Sandpiper (at the Belyaka Spit). High diversity of nesting shorebirds including Grey Plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Rock Sandpiper (Belyaka Spit), Short-billed Dowitcher, Red-necked Stint; probably Baird Sandpiper (Koliuchin island). A chance for rare and unusual wader species: American Golden Plover (a first breeding for Russia was recorded at the Belyaka Spit in 2005), Dotterel, Semipalmated Plover, Snipe, Black Turnstone (first for Russia in 2002), Whimbrel, Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Baird Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Little Stint, Sanderling, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red Knot and others. A good chance for distant moving Passerines: recent years sightings include Fox Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow and first for Russia Purple Martin.
Excursion to the seabirds colonies at Koliuchin island for Thick-billed Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Tufted and Horned Puffins, Kittiwake, probably Black Guilemot and Common Murre. Watching possibilities for vagrant Crested, Least and Parakeet Auklets, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Short-tailed Shearwater, Ross’ Gull.
Listed below is a draft itinerary for these days, but real program can differ from this and be very variable because a possibility to reach Kolyuchin island and Beliaka Spit will depend to a great extent on current weather and ice situation.
Day 5: Transfer from Vankarem to Koliuchin island by motor boats (usually 3,5 hrs, maximum 5 hrs – depending on weather situation). Excursion around the island. Overnight accommodation in “balok” (simple wooden hut of marine hunters), additionally tents can be used.
Day 6-8: Continue exploring the Koliuchin island.
In the afternoon of the Day 8, we return by motor boats to Vankarem.
Days 9-10: Excursion to coastal tundras and spits in the area of Vankarem or Nutepelmen lagoons. Overnight in Vankarem (homestays and/or in school building).
Day 11: Transfer back from Vankarem to Egvekinot by scheduled helicopter (or by caterpillars to Amguema). Overnight there in private houses with host families.
Day 12: Transfer by 6WD bus to Egvekinot. On the way, make a loupe route to the
Arctic Circle which is located just 24 km to the north along Iultin Road. There are some abandoned GULAG-era prison camps along the way. The road almost precisely follows the 180th meridian – the dividing line between the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. In the evening, arrive in Egvekinot.
In Egvenkinot, we’ll stay in Canadian-made guesthouses, and dine in a local café-restaurant.
After dinner, we’ll spend some time in a sauna.
Day 13: Excursion in Egvekinot area. Depending on weather situation and your wish, possible options are:
- 1) birdwatching excursion (transfer by 6WD bus) to surrounding tundras;
- 2) board a motor boat, take a short ride to Etelkuyum Cove, and take a 6WD bus to Egvenkinot Cove. This is a fishing station, where we’ll help set and check fishing nets, and store some salmon and caviar. Fishing was never more than a secondary source of food for Chukchi and Yupik (Siberian Eskimo) people, so their fishing traditions are rather primitive compared to those of the Anadyr Basin peoples.
- 3) Small ship trip around Cross Bay, to seabird colonies at Iskachek Cove, Sinathun Spit and/or Cape Dangerous. The most common species here are kittiwake, thick-billed murre, common murrelet, and pelagic cormorant. Other nesting birds include glaucous gull, both puffins, common murre, auklets, peregrine falcon, rough-legged buzzard, Нarlequin ducks and raven. Possible mammals include spotted, ringed and bearded seals, and killer whale.
Dinner and overnight in Egvekinot.
Day 14: Departure from Egvekinot to Anadyr. If there will be a scheduled passenger boat trip, we will take it. If scheduled boat trip will not take place these dated because of ice situation, we will have to take a scheduled flight if possible, or rent an all-terrain vehicle. So, the date and way of our trip back to Anadyr can vary a little bit.
Day 15: Excursion to Anadyr city.
Day 16: Departure to Moscow.
Possible additional program from Anadyr (2-3 days):
Travel by 2 caterpillars (or motor boats) to the Russkaya Koshka Spit (one of key monitoring sites for breeding Spoon-billed Sandpipers). At coastal mudflats, observe a stopover of up to 10 000 migratory waders (in July, 33 species of waders recorded). Mountain birds of Golden Chain (Great Knot, Snowy Owl and others). If motor boats will be used, a visit to Aliumka island for seabirds and Gulls is possible.
Overnight accommodation in the field will be in tents, upon return – at the hotel of Anadyr airport.
Days 11-12: Reserve days for the case of bad weather (in Chukotka conditions, it is absolutely necessary to have enough reserve days in the program, as in case of bad or stormy weather in previous days key destinations cannot be visited by motor boats).