Russia's Ring of Fire
Aboard Spirit of Enderby
- 13 days 24 May - 5 June 2013
Stretching northwards for over 700 miles from Japan to the southern end of the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Kuril Islands were formed by the collision of the Pacific and Eurasian plates creating a chain of over 30 volcanic islands and an oceanic trench which reaches depths of over 8,000m.
The combination of deep water upwellings and the mixing of the cold waters from the Sea of Okhotsk with the warmer Pacific Ocean creates ideal conditions for seabirds and the area is one of the richest in the world, both in terms of the number of species which can be seen and their sheer abundance. For many birders, the undoubted highlight are the Auks and during our voyage it is possible to see up to fourteen species including Tufted and Horned Puffins, Parakeet, Whiskered and Rhinoceros Auklets, as well as Spectacled and Pigeon Guillemots. Other seabirds we regularly encounter include Laysan Albatross, Mottled Petrel, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Red-faced Cormorant, Red-legged Kittiwake and Aleutian Tern, making this a truly “must do” trip for keen seabirders. The seas are also extremely rich in cetaceans and on recent expeditions we have seen Blue, Fin, Sperm, Humpback and Grey Whales as well as Orca (Killer Whale), Baird’s Beaked-Whale and Dall’s Porpoise.
As we head north up the Kuril chain and then explore Kamchatka and the Commander Islands, the scenery and vegetation change markedly, giving us the opportunity to look for an exciting range of land birds. For many, the highlight is the truly stunning Steller’s Sea-Eagle which breeds at a number of locations we plan to visit, although there are plenty of other special species including Rock Sandpiper, Mongolian Plover, Pechora Pipit, Japanese Robin, Siberian Rubythroat, Red-flanked Bluetail, Long-tailed Rosefinch and Black-faced Bunting. The birds, cetaceans, wild flowers and dramatic scenery make this territory truly unique and by joining this expedition you will have the opportunity to visit a region few have had the privilege to experience.
Arrive into Sakhalin and spend the night at a hotel in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. For those wanting to explore, the nearby Gagarin Park offers excellent birding with Sakhalin Leaf-Warbler, Rufous-tailed Robin and Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker all possible.
Depart and at sea
Transfer to the Port of Korsakov and board the Spirit of Enderby. As we cross the Sea of Okhotsk, our first seabirds could include Tufted Puffin, Ancient Murrelet and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel. Flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters should also be present as this species moults in huge numbers in these waters.
As we approach Kunashir, new seabirds could include Rhinoceros Auklet, Brunnich’s Guillemot and Slaty-backed Gull. The very rare Short-tailed Albatross has also been seen here on two previous expeditions. We plan to visit the Kurilsky Reserve and explore an extensive area of woodland. Species we could encounter include White-tailed Eagle, Oriental Turtle-Dove, Oriental Cuckoo, Crested Kingfisher, Japanese Bush-Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Narcissus Flycatcher and Long-tailed Rosefinch. Blakiston’s Fish-Owl breeds on the island and has been seen on one of our expeditions.
The waters off Iturup can be excellent for the localised Spectacled Guillemot and we plan an early morning Zodiac cruise to search for this species. After breakfast, buses will take us into the volcanic highlands of Iturup where Brown Dipper, Arctic Warbler, Japanese Robin, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Grey Bunting can be found. We will also visit the community of Kurilsk where Russet Sparrow and Chestnut-cheeked Starling breed.
Urup and Chirpoy Islands
An early morning landing on Urup, where new species could include Latham’s Snipe, Brown-headed Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat and Grey-bellied Bullfinch. As we cruise north, Long-billed Murrelet, Pelagic Cormorant and Laysan Albatross are possible, as are Dall’s Porpoise, Sperm Whale and Orca. Later in the day, we will either Zodiac cruise or land on Chirpoy Island where there are some dramatic headlands covered in breeding seabirds.
Shimushir and Yankicho Islands
We will enter a flooded caldera at the northern end of Shimushir Island where there was once a top secret Soviet submarine base; now abandoned. In the surrounding area, likely species include Siberian Rubythroat, Eurasian Nutcracker, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Grey Bunting. Our visit to Yankicho Island is likely to be one of the highlights of the voyage as the numbers of alcids which breed here are incredible, with spectacular concentrations of Crested and Whiskered Auklets. We should also see Parakeet Auklet, Horned Puffin and Pigeon Guillemot.
Toporkovy and Ekarma Islands
During the morning we will cruise off Toporkovy where we can expect to find Harlequin Ducks, Red-faced Cormorants, Tufted Puffins and Brunnich’s Guillemots and ashore could encounter Grey-tailed Tattler, Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler and Black-faced Bunting. Later in the day, we plan a Zodiac cruise off Ekarma where hundreds of thousands of Northern Fulmars breed. We should also see various alcids, with close looks at Tufted Puffin and Whiskered Auklet highly likely.
Onekotan and Atlasova Islands
Landing at the northern end of Onekotan we will walk to a nearby lake through meadows of wildflowers where we could find Buff-bellied Pipit, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Grey Bunting. In the afternoon, we will visit Atlasova where there is a colony of Red-faced Cormorants. Other species that can be found here include Long-toed Stint, Falcated Duck, Arctic Warbler, Brown-headed Thrush and Siberian Rubythroat.
Bukta Russkaya, Kamchatka
On our 2009 expedition we discovered several pairs of the critically endangered Kittlitz’s Murrelet in this fiord and we plan to look for these as well as Long-billed Murrelet which also occurs here. There is at least one active nest of the spectacular Steller’s Sea-Eagle in the bay and while ashore we will look for Lanceolated Warbler, Oriental Greenfinch and Rustic Bunting.
Zhupanova River, Kamchatka/h4>
We will spend several hours in the Zodiacs cruising on the Zhupanova River where we should get great looks at Steller’s Sea-Eagles; the birds often perch in the trees adjacent to the river. Other highlights should include Pacific Diver, Far Eastern Curlew, Glaucous-winged Gull, Aleutian Tern and Yellow-breasted Bunting.
There are two main islands in the Commander group, Bering and Medney, and during our two days we will explore several sites. While ashore, we stand an excellent chance of finding Rock Sandpiper, Mongolian Plover, Pechora Pipit and Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch, as well as the endemic subspecies of Arctic Fox. Zodiac cruising can be extremely rewarding here with Whiskered, Least and Parakeet Auklets all possible as well as the range-restricted Red-legged Kittiwake. The area is also extremely rich in marine mammals and previous voyages have encountered Sperm, Humpback, Northern Minke and Baird’s Beaked-Whales, as well as Orcas, Steller’s Sea-Lions, Northern Fur Seals and Sea Otters.
A day at sea as we cruise towards Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy with Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel and Red-legged Kittiwake amongst the likely sightings. We may also encounter some cetaceans and have twice seen Blue Whale in these waters.
Arrive Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy and transfer to either a nearby hotel or the airport.