Russian Far East Cruise, May/June 2007 (Long)

To: "Birding Aus" <>
Subject: Russian Far East Cruise, May/June 2007 (Long)
From: "Gil Langfield" <>
Date: Wed, 13 Jun 2007 14:39:18 +1000
I was the only Australian aboard the Heritage Expeditions (NZ) first ever
?Ring of Fire? cruise to the Russian Far East which took place between 27
May and 9 June 2007.  The cruise started in Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky on the
Kamchatka Peninsula, steamed briefly to Bering Island in the Commander
Islands Group, returned to Kamchatka and steamed down the Kurile Islands
chain before finishing in the port of Korsakov on Sakhalin Island.  We went
ashore on many volcanic islands, mostly uninhabited, and cruised around
others in Zodiacs.  The detailed but draft itinerary can be found on the
Heritage Expeditions website.

There was plenty of snow still on the ground and plenty of fog at times but
the weather was good with no storms and shirtsleeve conditions towards the
end of the cruise.  I was surprised that the sea was so calm, quite unlike
the conditions found on sub-antarctic cruises by the same company.  The food
and company were excellent and thanks to Heritage?s meticulous planning, we
had no hiccups to the itinerary caused by officials of this country which is
gradually emerging from rigid control of almost everything.

I planned this trip to try to see the Alcids of the Northern Pacific as well
as some northern passerines not seen on brief visits to Japan in the 1980s.
I saw all of the expected Alcids (a total of 12) except for Least Auklet
which was however seen by others on the cruise.  Kittlitz?s and Cassin?s
Auklet are seen further north than the area we were in.  Tufted Puffins were
in huge numbers everywhere while Horned Puffin was seen in small groups in a
few places.  Northern Fulmars, in huge numbers, were predominately dark
phase (Blue Fulmars).  Laysan Albatross were seen in reasonable numbers
almost every day, but we dipped on the other two possible Albatross, rare in
these waters.  Fork-tailed Storm-petrels were seen regularly but Leach?s
only on one day.  The beautiful Harlequin Ducks seemed to be in large
numbers on the coast of every island.  We saw about 12 Steller?s Sea Eagles
on Kamchatka and several islands and White-tailed Eagles on the southern
Kurile islands.  Red (Grey) and Red-necked Phalaropes were in small flocks
on the sea.  It was good to see Red-necked Stints in breeding plumage and
Eastern Curlew at or near their breeding grounds.  Slaty-backed and
Glaucous-winged Gulls, Red-legged and Black-legged Kittiwakes were

Some of the migrating passerines had not yet arrived but Common Cuckoos were
waiting for them on the southern Kurile islands.  The beautiful male
Siberian Rubythroats were like sparrows on some of the islands.  On our last
day, in the city of Yuzhno Sakhalinsk, we saw Narcissus Flycatcher,
Rufous-tailed Robin and Gray?s Grasshopper Warbler, the last-named having
studied at the Noisy Scrub-bird School of Concealment.

The mammals were no less interesting.  I was very happy to have my first
view of a pod of Killer Whales.  We saw them after the first occasion on 6
days, on 10 different occasions and about 55 individuals in all.  We also
saw Sperm Whales including about 15 over one hour.  Other cetaceans included
Humpback Whale, Grey Whale, Minke Whale, Dall?s Porpoise, Harbour Porpoise,
Steller?s Sea Lion, Harbour and Spotted Seals.

Kamchatka and the Kuriles have a healthy Brown Bear population and we saw
these on about five occasions.  Sea Otters, totally wiped out on the
Commander Islands according to my 1910 Encyclopaedia Britannica, were again
in good numbers, there and on other islands.  The blue form of the Arctic
Fox had apparently been introduced many years ago to several islands for the
fur trade and we saw these friendly animals on two islands.  Red Foxes were
also seen.

I do not yet have the detailed trip log which will be prepared by Heritage
Expeditions and E-mailed to me soon.  I do have my bird and mammal lists
from BirdBase showing 111 bird species (39 of these new to me) and 14 mammal
species.  I believe that the total bird list of all persons on the trip is
closer to 130 species.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for my lists or further information.


Gil Langfield
Melbourne Australia


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