Trip Report: Nome, Alaska

July 24, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

Nome, Alaska

This remote town on the western coast of the Seward Peninsula holds the title of being the farthest town west on mainland Alaska. One of the roads out of Nome will take you within 55 miles of Russia at its terminus. 

Ice_in_Bay_Teller_2023_1Ice_in_Bay_Teller_2023_1Large chunks of ice continue to float in the water of Port Clarence Bay as two cormorants fly overhead in Teller, Alaska, a town that is closer to the border of Russia 55 miles away than Nome at 75 miles to the east. Surrounded by tundra and mountain peaks, Nome exists only by its own survivability. There are no roads leading into Nome from other regions of Alaska. Only three roads lead out of Nome terminating at even more remote Native Alaskan villages about 75 miles from town to the west, north and east. To get to Nome, one must fly in (there are several commercial flights each day throughout the year) or by boat along the Bering Sea, but Alaska's ferry system does not make a stop in Nome. 

Although Nome sees more snow than green landscapes throughout the course of one year, its remoteness, abundant water and wide open lands make it home to a wide variety of arctic wildlife. 

As the snow melts, much of the landscape becomes pocketed with puddles and thick, wet tussocks, the soft, spongy terrain made up of moss, short willow bushes, grasses and sedges notable in much of northern Alaska as the surface above the permafrost. 

These little pockets of water provide an abundance of breeding ground for insects, and lots of insects means lots of birds. 

Semi-palmated_plover_Nome_2023_1Semi-palmated_plover_Nome_2023_1A semi-palmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) stands in a bed of pink tundra flowers near Nome, Alaska. More than 200 species of birds migrate through in late May and June or stay to nest during the short summer on the tundra around Nome. Songbirds, wading birds, shorebirds and raptors take advantage of the food sources. 

I recently traveled to Nome to witness this migration and to visit while the largest local mammal, the muskox, had their calves. The muskox herds are extremely protective of their calves, forming a circle around the babies at any sign of a threat. In just one day, visitors can easily spot several dozen muskox from the roads on the outskirts of town and on the tundra many miles away from civilization.

Muskox_Nome_2023_9Muskox_Nome_2023_9A mother muskox and her calf (Ovibos moschatus) stand on a gravel area on a windy afternoon in Nome, Alaska.

The timing of the trip also coincided with the annual natural event known as the midnight sun. Nome sits just two degrees south of the Arctic Circle. Although the sun does drop below the horizon in Nome, it doesn't go far enough to make the sky turn dark during June. This is know as the midnight sun.

Sunset_Nome-Teller_Road_2023_1Sunset_Nome-Teller_Road_2023_1A palette of pastel colors fills the sky above the tundra along the Nome-Teller Road along the edge of the Bering Sea near Nome, Alaska at 2:30 a.m.

It was amazing to be out on the roads near Teller, where fog rolled in from the Bering Sea across the tundra and circled the nearby mountains, and watch the beautiful sunset blend right into sunrise. Clouds filled the sky with shades of pink and peach to the west. As the light started to fade to the west, the light to the east started to brighten. Animals were out at all times of the night. A hoary redpoll landed in a willow bush next to me just before midnight, curious about the people out at this hour. I photographed a fox as the sun set behind it at midnight. Muskox slowly moved about the tundra before settling in for a few hours at 3:30 a.m. during the transition of one day to the next.

Red_fox_Nome_2023_3Red_fox_Nome_2023_3A silhouette of a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) walks along the road at midnight near the longest day of the year as the sun slowly sets in the distance on the tundra near Nome, Alaska.

After sleeping in late the next morning and enjoying a cup of chai tea at Bering Tea and Coffee (where I also spotted one of the gold miners from the show Bering Sea Gold), adventures took me around town. I discovered several productive ponds that had nesting red-throated loons and red-necked grebes. 

Red-throated_loon_Nome_2023_1Red-throated_loon_Nome_2023_1A red-throated loon (Gavia stellata) swims through the calm water of a pond on a sunny afternoon in Nome, Alaska.

The four-day trip was filled with lots of adventure, wildlife viewing and fascinating history. There are several museums in town as well as shops that sell carvings, jewelry and qiviut clothing made by local Native Alaskan craftspeople. 

American_robin_Nome_2023_1American_robin_Nome_2023_1An American robin (Turdus migratorius) stands on the window frame of an abandoned barn with a moutful of food near Nome, Alaska. Even the common birds know the food is abundant in Nome, Alaska.

If you are interested in visiting Nome, join me and Alyce Bender in June 2024 as we will take another group to the western edge of the U.S. to look for and photograph birds and mammals while experiencing the land of the midnight sun.

Nature of Nome Photo Tour through WildSide Nature Tours.


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