The Kurils,

The Commanders & Kamchatka

Sunday 20th June - Tuesday 6th July 2010 (17 Days)

Leaders: Mark Beaman and Heritage Expeditions staff

Group Size Limit: 16 or more

Ship: Professor Khromov (Spirit of Enderby) (capacity: 48 passengers)

It is not often that one can utterly ‘get away from it all', but this is certainly an excellent opportunity! Birdquest organized the first-ever expedition cruise to this extraordinary part of the world back in 1993, on a Russian ship that was permitted to go anywhere in the region, and we have had to wait a long time before another Russian ship became available for this itinerary. Now, thanks to Heritage Expeditions and the Professor Khromov (or ‘Spirit of Enderby'), this marvellous cruise has become a reality once more! On this unique journey we will explore remote regions of Siberia far from roads, towns or indeed almost all traces of 21st century ‘civilization', landing in places rarely visited by man. During our two weeks based on the ship we shall spend part of our time at sea, enjoying an extended ‘pelagic', and part ashore, landing by means of the ship's zodiacs and naiads (which we will also use to get close-up views of seabirds and marine mammals). Travelling by ship allows us to reach areas which are otherwise inaccessible and has a special magic all of its own. After the long flight to eastern Siberia, and before we join our ship at Korsakov, we shall have the chance to explore southernmost Sakhalin. This 1000 kilometres long, fish-shaped island has a comparatively rich avifauna, including a number of restricted-range specialities. Here we can try to persuade Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers to show themselves and search for Rufous-tailed Robins, Siberian Thrushes and Sakhalin Leaf Warblers in the forested mountains. From Sakhalin we sail southeast across the shallow Sea of Okhotsk, bound for the Kuril Islands. Virtually unknown in the west, the Kurils are a long chain of largely uninhabited volcanic islands connecting Japan with Kamchatka. Here we can see huge, snow-covered conical peaks rising out of the sea, incredible seabird riches, including the little-known Whiskered Auklet, great numbers of other alcids (including Brünnich's Guillemot or Thick-billed Murre, the restricted-range Spectacled Guillemot, Ancient Murrelet, Crested and Rhinoceros Auklets, and Horned and Tufted Puffins), Laysan Albatross, Fork-tailed and Leach's Storm-Petrels, Temminck's, Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants, and Black-tailed and Slaty-backed Gulls. This fabulous area is also home to one of the world's finest concentrations of marine mammals, including Killer Whales (or Orcas), Northern Fur Seals, Northern (or Steller's) Sealions and Sea Otters, as well as Minke, Fin and Sperm Whales, and Dall's Porpoise. And all this is before even mentioning Harlequin Duck, Stejneger's Scoter (split from Velvet), White-tailed Eagle, Latham's Snipe (a bird with an impressive ‘dive-bombing' display), Japanese Robin, Siberian Rubythroat, Brown-headed Thrush, Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler and Grey Bunting! After sailing northwards up the Kurils we will reach Kamchatka. The enormous, diamond-shaped Kamchatka peninsula projects southwards well over 1000 kilometres from the Siberian mainland and divides the Sea of Okhotsk from the Bering Sea and the North Pacific. Situated on one of the earth's major fault lines, part of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire', Kamchatka is peppered with volcanoes, around ten of which are currently active. The constant geological upheavals in this unstable part of our planet have created some of the most extraordinary and spectacular scenery on earth, with immense, Mount Fuji-like, snow-covered volcanic cones towering high above the birch forests and rugged coastline. Here we will look for the majestic Steller's Sea Eagle, surely the king of raptors and one of the largest flying birds in the world, as well as Yellow-billed Diver (or Yellow-billed Loon), Far Eastern Curlew and the smart little Long-billed Murrelet (split from Marbled). To the east are the lonely Commander Islands, two small islands at the eastern end of the chain of islands that stretches from Alaska to Kamchatka. Here the Danish explorer Vitus Bering died in 1741 after being shipwrecked together with Steller (of eider, sea eagle and sea cow fame). Far less well known than the nearby Aleutians, the Commanders are home to some of the largest seabird colonies in the region. We will visit Bering Island where highlights will include the uncommon and highly localized Red-legged Kittiwake as well as Mottled Petrel (over the deeper waters during the crossings), the restricted-range Rock Sandpiper, Long-toed Stint, Glaucous-winged Gull, Parakeet Auklet and Pechora Pipit, not to mention some huge Northern (or Steller's) Sealions. By the time we finish our voyage at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy in southern Kamchatka we will have visited places that only a few other western birdwatchers have ever seen and truly come to understand the meaning of ‘wilderness'. Even then our adventure will not be over for there are some great birds to look for around the city, including Aleutian Tern, Eyebrowed Thrush, Grey-streaked Flycatcher and Rustic Bunting.

 

We shall be sailing on the Professor Khromov, a ship operated by Heritage Expeditions of New Zealand (who call her Spirit of Enderby) and one well liked by those who sail in her due to her relatively small size (she takes only 48 passengers), her ability to go almost anywhere and her friendly, almost ‘family' atmosphere. A Finnish-built vessel under Russian registry, the Professor Khromov was built in the 1983 and commissioned by the Academy of Sciences in Moscow. She was originally intended for oceanographic research, but was subsequently adapted for expedition-style cruising following the financial cutbacks that later affected all formerly Soviet research programmes. She is, of course, not a ‘cruise ship' in the traditional manner and will appeal most to those for whom exploring wild places and enjoying wild nature, rather than enjoying luxurious surroundings and ‘black-tie' dinners with the officers, is the prime attraction. Cabins are furnished with two berths and have some storage space and an outside view (many having en-suite bathroom facilities). Public facilities include restaurant, lounge/bar, lecture facilities and library. Food is plentiful, of good quality, waiter-served and prepared by European, New Zealand or Australian chefs. The ship carries a small complement of expedition staff, including a naturalist, who give informal talks on the environment, wildlife and history of the region, where required, and also guide shore excursions. As much of the sailing as possible is done at night, thus maximizing opportunities for going ashore and enjoying the beautiful landscapes to the full. Landings are carried out by means of a fleet of zodiacs and naiads, rugged, fast-moving inflatables designed for expedition work, which allow safe landings on remote coastlines in all types of conditions. The sheer speed and efficiency with which the crew carry out these landings, coupled with the small complement of passengers, allows everyone plenty of time ashore at most locations. Further information about the cruise, including photographs and details of the ship layout, including cabin layouts, are available on the Ocean Adventures (at Birdquest) website (www.oceanadventures.co.uk). The great advantage of taking this particular cruise, if you are especially interested in seeing the fantastic wildlife of the Kurils, Commanders and Kamchatka, is that the itinerary and day to day schedule are strongly wildlife-orientated, and the group will greatly benefit by having an experienced ornithologist guide.

 

Birdquest was probably the first company ever to organize an expedition cruise to this area as far back as 1993!


Map courtesy of Heritage Expeditions



Itinerary

Itinerary

 

Day 1   Morning flight from London bound for Moscow, arriving in the late afternoon. From here we catch an evening flight bound for Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

 

Day 2   As we travel rapidly eastwards across northern Eurasia, passing from one time zone to another in no time, the dawn rushes to meet us across the almost empty land below us and as we gaze down on the seemingly endless forested plains, hills and mountains, punctuated only by lakes and rivers, we shall begin to appreciate the immensity of Siberia. Around midday we will arrive at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in southern Sakhalin, already half a world away from our starting point in Western Europe, and then drive the short distance to our hotel for a two nights stay. Later there will be the chance for some introductory birding.

 

Day 3   Sakhalin is a large, slender, fish-shaped island (almost 1000 kilometres from north to south) in the Sea of Okhotsk off the coast of eastern Siberia. As with almost all regions of Siberia, the island is very sparsely populated and its hills, valleys and plains are mostly covered in boreal forest and extensive marshes. The cold currents of the Sea of Okhotsk, which is completely ice-bound in winter, bring a sub-Arctic climate to coastal areas. Few western ornithologists have visited Sakhalin, which was closed to foreigners until 1989. During our visit we will be concentrating on forested and shrubby areas as we track down the island's two major specialities, the huge, noisy but furtive Sakhalin Grasshopper Warbler (split from Gray's) and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (split-from Pale-legged), both of which breed only on Sakhalin and in northern Japan. Amongst the other species we should encounter are Oriental Turtle Dove, Common and Oriental Cuckoos, Fork-tailed (or Pacific) Swift, Great Spotted and Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, Olive-backed Pipit, Black-backed Wagtail, Winter Wren, Rufous-tailed Robin (whose descending whinny from the upper part of a tall conifer betrays the presence of this little skulker), the beautiful Siberian Blue Robin, Northern Red-flanked Bluetail, the handsome Siberian Thrush, Brown-headed Thrush, Japanese Bush Warbler (which has an explosive song), Pallas's Leaf and Radde's Warblers, Goldcrest, the superb Narcissus Flycatcher, Willow and Coal Tits, Oriental and Large-billed Crows, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Grey-capped Greenfinch, Eurasian Siskin, the beautiful Long-tailed Rosefinch, Grey-bellied Bullfinch (split from Eurasian) and Black-faced Bunting.

 

Day 4   After some final birding on Sakhalin we will transfer to Korsakov and board the Professor Khromov (or ‘Spirit of Enderby') before sailing for the Kuril Islands. At the harbour of Korsakov we should encounter our first Pelagic Cormorants, Black-tailed and Slaty-backed Gulls, and Black-legged Kittiwakes, and perhaps also a lingering Glaucous Gull. As we sail towards the southeast we should encounter many Northern Fulmars, huge numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters (which are up here escaping the rigours of the southern winter) and some rather ghostly Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, as well as small numbers of alcids including Common Guillemot (or Thin-billed Murre). We may see our first cetaceans today, most probably Dall's (or Spray) Porpoises hurling themselves through the water. Even in June the water temperature in the southern Sea of Okhotsk is quite low, which explains why it is so rich in marine life, but the downside is frequent sea fog.

 

Day 5   As we approach the Kurils this morning we will be looking out for our first Ancient Murrelets and both Crested and Rhinoceros Auklets. By early afternoon we should be anchored off Kunashir Island at the southern end of the Kurils chain. These wild, rarely-visited specks at the end of the world are dominated by a series of volcanoes, linking Kamchatka and Japan, and Kunashir is towered over by the 1822m peak of Tyatya. The Kurils were annexed from Russia after the Russo-Japanese war in the early years of the 20th century, but seized back by the then Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. Japan still claims some of the southern islands, making for a long-term political dispute with Russia. Scenically spectacular, and still largely wilderness, the Kurils are a refreshing change compared with most of our overcrowded planet. This afternoon we will explore the Zapovednika Kurilskiy (Kuril Nature Reserve) on Kunashir, which has the highest biodiversity in the Kurils chain, with many rare plants and a rich avifauna by local standards. More than 200 Brown Bears roam Kunashir, probably the highest density in all Russia, and we may see one or two during our explorations, particularly along the island's rivers where they feast on the summer salmon run. Along the coastline with its black volcanic beaches we should encounter the handsome Temminck's Cormorant, the splendid Harlequin Duck, Stejneger's Scoter (split from Velvet) and a few oversummering Red-throated and Pacific Divers (or Red-throated and Pacific Loons). We should also come across the handsome Spectacled Guillemot, a speciality of Northeast Asia, for the first time. Once ashore we are likely to find White-tailed Eagle, Latham's Snipe (which will be giving spectacular dive-bombing display flights), Oriental Turtle Dove, Common Cuckoo, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Black-backed Wagtail, Siberian Stonechat, Japanese Bush Warbler, the skulking Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler (their presence amongst the grass and reeds betrayed by their characteristic song), Asian Brown Flycatcher, the lovely Narcissus Flycatcher, Coal Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Oriental and Large-billed Crows, Grey-capped Greenfinch and Black-faced Bunting. With a bit of luck we will find Eastern Crowned Warbler, Bull-headed Shrike or even the huge Crested Kingfisher. Blakiston's Fish Owls nests in the reserve, but while we may see the enormous nest boxes put up for the species we are unlikely to see the birds themselves.

 

Day 6   At Iturup Island we will land at the main settlement of Kuril'sk, dominated by the high volcanic peaks of Teben'kova (1211m) and Baranskogo (1124m), which has a hardy population of around 10,000 souls. It is interesting to see just what a remote outpost of Russia is like, with rather grim apartment blocks juxtaposed with an old Russian Orthodox church and traditional Siberian-style wooded houses (Russet Sparrows are a bonus here). Much of our time ashore will be spent exploring wooded and shrubby areas both along the rugged shoreline and in the highland interior. Here we will be looking out in particular for Japanese Buzzard (split from Common), the gorgeous Japanese Robin (a bird with a most beautiful, bell-like song), the equally spectacular Siberian Rubythroat (often perching right out in the op[en while delivering its song), Brown-headed Thrush and Arctic Warbler. More widespread species include Fork-tailed (or Pacific) Swift, Eurasian Skylark and Winter Wren.

 

Day 7   As we continue northeastwards past the northern end of the island of Urup, en route to Chirpoy island, we will keep a good lookout for cetaceans, for this is ‘Sperm Whale alley', one of the best places for seeing these leviathans on earth. We should see a series of Great Sperm Whales resting on the surface, breathing between their deep dives, which can reach depths of over 1000m as they pursue squid. After their final ‘blow' that huge back arches and then the great triangular flukes rise clear of the water before the whale plunges into the abyss. Truly a thrilling sight! Minke Whales are not uncommon in these waters and Fin or Sei Whales are also a possibility, while we also have a good chance of encountering our first Orcas (or Killer Whales).

 

During the afternoon we will make a zodiac cruise and landing at Chirpoy Island. Here we will see our first very handsome Red-faced Cormorants nesting on the cliffs, while alcids include large numbers of Common Guillemots (or Thin-billed Murres), Brünnich's Guillemots (or Thick-billed Murres), and comical Tufted Puffins, as well as smaller numbers of Horned Puffins and Pigeon Guillemots (here of the distinctive Kuril form snowi , which wholly or almost entirely lacks the white wing patch). We may also come across Greater Scaup. Sea mammals include the huge Northern (or Steller's) Sealion, Harbour (or Common) Seal and the delightful Sea Otter.

 

Day 8   This morning we will arrive at the northern end of Simushir Island in the central Kurils. The scenery is quite awesome, with huge, snow-covered volcanic peaks rising straight up out of the sea, as if they are all that is left of a drowned continent. The cold current that sweeps southwards along the Kurils creates an almost Arctic climate, so there are snow patches almost down to sea-level in June and the tallest vegetation is limited to willow and birch scrub, or low mats of gnarled Siberian Stone Pine. At the northern end of Simushir there is a huge flooded caldera, Bukhta Broutona, that gives easy access to the lower slopes of the Karlomyy volcano. In Soviet days this was a busy submarine base and when we land here we will see the decaying buildings and piers. Spotted Nutcrackers are a bird one does not expect to find far from true forest, but here they forage amongst the stone pine mats! The most interesting species regularly to be found at Broutona is the shy, restricted-range Grey Bunting, while Buff-bellied (or American) Pipits nest in the grassy areas, Common Ravens soar over the slopes and Red-necked Grebes sometimes fish in the caldera. If we are in luck we will also encounter the impressive Pine Grosbeak. Later, as we sail north past Ketoy, we should find a number of Laysan Albatrosses amongst the huge numbers of Northern Fulmars.

 

Almost unknown in the west, the huge seabird colonies of the remote Ushishir Islands in the central Kurils are some of the most impressive in the entire North Pacific. Here literally millions of alcids nest along with millions of Northern Fulmars and hundreds of thousands of Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels and Black-legged Kittiwakes, and numerous Pelagic Cormorants, Red-faced Cormorants and Slaty-backed Gulls. Alcids reach their greatest diversity in the North Pacific region and the Kurils look set to become world famous for their sheer quantities of these dumpy but attractive birds. This afternoon or evening we shall explore Yankicha island, the remains of a partly submerged volcano, where the grassy and rocky slopes of the flooded caldera provide nesting places for vast numbers of rather comical-looking Crested Auklets. Best of all, the exceedingly localized and much sought-after Whiskered Auklet nests here in large numbers and we should get wonderful close up views at one of the colonies (where they are heavily outnumbered by Crested Auklets) and also see numerous feeding flocks in the tidal races offshore. Around the nesting colonies streams of birds fly low over the sea, the heavy avian traffic creating a continuous chirruping, growling and gurgling (Crested Auklet flocks in particular sounding just like sandgrouse as they sweep overhead). Yankicha is still quite active and we should get the opportunity to see the smoking sulphur vents and boiling mud pools close up.

 

Day 9   Today we will land on Matua island where the Japanese constructed an air base during the Second World War, later taken over by the Russians and abandoned following the fall of the Soviet Union. Once ashore, there will be the chance to explore the old base with its abandoned military hardware, ranging from radar arrays and vehicles to cartridge cases. Not far away is Toporkovyy island, which we will also visit. The island's name means ‘Tufted Puffin' in Russian, a highly appropriate epithet as there is a huge colony here and we should enjoy some wonderful views of these spectacular and rather comical birds.

 

Day 10   This morning we will explore the northern end of Onekotan island, landing below the Nemo volcano and walking to Black Lake. Beautiful wildflowers carpet the meadows surrounding the lake and, if it is clear, the backdrop of the volcano is spectacular. Amongst the birds here are Rough-legged Buzzard (or Rough-legged Hawk), Long-toed Stint and Common Reed Bunting. This is also another good locality for the uncommon and localized Grey Bunting.

 

This afternoon we will reach the island of Paramushir, the largest of the northern Kurils. We plan a zodiac cruise and landing at Vasilyeva bay, at the southern tip of the island. If we find a pod of Killer Whales (or Orcas) in the bay we will try to get closer to them in the zodiacs, perhaps having the huge males with their tall dorsal fins surface close to us, exhaling loudly before they slip inexorably beneath the surface once more. Brown Bears are common on Paramushir, so we will be hoping to spot some. The waters around Paramushir are probably the Sea Otter capital of the North Pacific and today we should see many of these endearing animals. Sea Otters are one of the few tool-using animals and we should see at least one or two lying on their backs in the water and hammering away with a small stone at clams positioned on their chests! At this season many of the females have cubs and as our ship approaches they will paddle away with the cub resting on their chest, or tow it away by hanging on to the scruff of its tiny neck. This evening we will have to leave the magical Kurils behind and sail onwards towards the southern tip of Kamchatka.

 

Day 11   As we sail along the southeastern coast of Kamchatka today we will, provided it is clear, be treated to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. In good weather the combination   of blue sky, white, snow-covered cones, ash-grey lower slopes, green forests and deep blue water is something quite extraordinary. In the early morning we will visit the Utashud islands in Bukhta Vestnik, which we plan to cruise around by zodiac. The islands are small and steep-sided, and hold a large colony of Slaty-backed Gulls and alcids, including Tufted and Horned Puffins, and ‘normal' Pigeon Guillemots with white wing patches. The smart little Long-billed Murrelet (a northeast Asian speciality, split from Marbled, which favours shallow, inshore waters, unlike most other alcids) is not uncommon in the bay and we will also keep a lookout for Brown Bears, which are common in Kamchatka. Later we will continue along the coast and pass Russkaya bay, a fjord like opening in the coast to the south of Petropavlovsk from where we will, if it is clear, enjoy spectacular views of the Mutnovskaya Sopka volcano (2328m). Steller's Sea Eagles nest on the rocky islets along this coast and we should see some as we cruise within easy sight of the shore. We will also keep a lookout for Least Auklet, as small numbers either oversummer or perhaps breed in this region (the species has only relatively recently been found breeding in very small numbers in the northern Sea of Okhotsk, so similar small and unknown colonies may occur in Kamchatka).

 

Day 12   This morning we will explore the Zhupanovo River by means of our zodiacs and naiads. Zhupanovo is a small settlement at the southern edge of the huge Kronotskiy Reserve. Here the tall, snow-covered volcanic cone of Kronotskaya Sopka (3528m) looms over a remote, virtually uninhabited tract of land. The star attraction is the enormous Steller's Sea Eagle. This huge raptor, one of the heaviest of all flying birds (with a bill that looks as if it could make short work of one's hand and a wingspan of nearly three metres), nests in good numbers in the area, the breeding adults feeding their single eaglet on the copious supplies of salmon. To watch this wonderful bird soaring on a sunny morning, its white wing flashes catching the sunlight, is something truly unforgettable. Other birds we should find here include Red-throated and Black-throated Divers (or Red-throated and Arctic Loons), Goosander (or Common Merganser), Far Eastern Curlew, Black-headed Gull, Common Tern, Alaska Wagtail, Common Rosefinch and Yellow-breasted Bunting. Offshore, either here or elsewhere during our cruise, there is a fair chance of finding a lingering Yellow-billed Diver (or Yellow-billed Loon). In the afternoon we will weigh anchor and sail for the Commanders. As long as the sea fog does not roll in, the views northwards towards Kronotskaya Sopka will be quite breathtaking as we head out to sea.

 

Day 13   The Commander Islands (or Komandorskiye Ostrova), named after Commander Vitus Bering, are two lonely slivers of land that mark the easternmost extension of the largely submarine mountain ridge that extends from Alaska to Kamchatka and which gives rise to the Aleutian Islands to the west. These savage but beautiful islands, right at the end of Asia, are about as far ‘off-the-beaten-track' as one can get. Here the St Peter, Bering's ship, was wrecked in November 1741 on its way back from Alaska and during the terrible winter that followed nearly half its crew, including Bering, died from scurvy and other diseases. Steller himself survived, through the care he had taken to collect anti-scorbutic plants whilst the ship slowly worked its way along the Aleutians before the shipwreck, and became the first and only naturalist to observe the large and almost flightless Spectacled Cormorant and the huge, docile Steller's Sea Cow, both of which were hunted to extinction in less than a century. Steller reported that the Arctic Foxes on the island were so fearless of man, and indeed so aggressive, that they would rip the meat from his fingers whilst he skinned animals or bite off the toes, fingers and noses of dead sailors before they could be buried. By the summer of 1742 the survivors had managed to rebuild the ship and in August they sailed it back to Kamchatka. Today we will arrive at the small settlement of Nikolskoye near the northern end of Bering Island, the largest of the two Komandor Islands. The terrain here is rather low-lying, with extensive marshy areas, dry, hummocky tundra and low hills. In the marshy areas we will find the restricted-range Rock Sandpiper and also such species as Red-breasted Merganser, Long-toed Stint, Dunlin, Common Snipe and Pechora Pipit (with its dry, Corn Bunting-like rattling song). Smart male Lapland Longspurs seem to be displaying and song flighting everywhere. Around the settlement itself Snow Buntings nest and numerous Glaucous-winged Gulls throng the beaches, whilst on the drier areas of tundra we will find Mongolian Plovers in their breeding finery. If we are in luck we will also find Arctic Redpoll. In spring great numbers of Northern Fur Seals come ashore to breed, crowds of animals thronging the beaches at the northwestern end of the island. Amongst the main mass of seals the mature bulls lord it over their harems, whilst at the periphery the bachelor males are scattered about, grumpily baring their teeth when a rival comes to close or roaring aggressively if pressed too far. Offshore islands hold large seabird colonies. On one small islet there are thousands of breeding Tufted Puffins and numerous Glaucous-winged Gulls. On another, much rockier, island are large numbers of Common and Brünnich's Guillemots (or Common and Thick-billed Murres), Red-legged and Black-legged Kittiwakes, and Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants, and some spectacularly huge male Northern (or Steller's) Sealions surrounded by the much smaller females.

 

Day 14   After some further exploration at the northern end of Bering island we will set sail for Kamchatka.

 

Day 15   The crossing back to the mainland will give us another chance to find some uncommon seabirds or cetaceans. We pass over some very deep water today and this area, where we should see small numbers of Leach's Storm-Petrels amongst the more numerous Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, should turn up a good number of Mottled Petrels, a Pterodroma which spends the southern winter in the North Pacific. Laysan Albatrosses will also be a feature of the crossing, as will other seabirds we first encountered in the Kurils. Pomarine Skuas (or Pomarine Jaegers) are usually present in small numbers. We also have a good chance of encountering the huge Fin Whale and there is even a small but real chance of the mighty Blue Whale!

 

Day 16   This morning we will sail into Avachinskaya bay and end our journey at the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy. This is one of the most scenic harbours in the world with a spectacular skyline of volcanic peaks including Avachinskaya Sopka (2741m) and the perfect white cone of Koryakskaya Sopka (3456m). Aleutian Terns nest along the shoreline and can often be seen off the port. After saying farewell to the ship and crew we have grown to know so well, we will transfer to an hotel for an overnight stay. This afternoon we will visit forested and more open habitats not far from the city, looking in particular for East Siberian Wagtail, Eyebrowed Thrush, Lanceolated Warbler, the restricted-range Grey-streaked Flycatcher and Rustic Bunting. Other species likely in these habitats include Rough-legged Buzzard (or Rough-legged Hawk), Red-throated (or Taiga) Flycatcher (split from Red-breasted), Eurasian Magpie, Brambling (in its glorious summer garb) and Common Redpoll.

 

Day 17   After spending the early morning birding around Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, we will board our early afternoon flight to Moscow, arriving there (due to the time difference) at the same time of day as we left Petropavlovsk. The flight will, cloud cover permitting, give us a chance to admire the scenery of the Russian Arctic as the ‘Great Circle' route takes us right over the mountains of the Taymyr Peninsula, the mouths of the Yenisey and Ob, and the northernmost Urals. At Moscow we catch a connecting flight to London, arriving in the evening.

 

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotel in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is of normal Birdquest standard. For details of the ship, see the introductory section. Road transport is by small coach and roads are variable in quality.

 

Walking: The walking effort is mostly easy, but there are a few optional harder walks.

 

Climate: Rather variable. Conditions will range from warm to distinctly cold and dry and sunny periods will be interspersed with overcast weather. Sea fog is quite usual at this season and there may be some rain.

 

Bird/Sea Mammal Photography: Opportunities are quite good overall.

 

Important: It is important to bear in mind that circumstances may be encountered during the voyage which will make it necessary or desirable to deviate from the planned itinerary. These circumstances include poor weather conditions and unexpected opportunities for making additional zodiac excursions. The expedition leader will provide more information at the start of the voyage and keep you fully informed throughout. While as many landings as possible will be made, few of these are crucial in terms of actually seeing the local wildlife, which can mostly be seen from the ship or during an inshore zodiac excursion.


Photograph Pete Morris/Birdquest

The majestic Steller's Sea Eagle - a real highlight of this region!


Photograph Pete Morris/Birdquest

White-tailed Eagles are impressive though at times are dwarfed by the huge Steller's Sea Eagle!


TOUR PRICES



£5113, €6033, $8436 London/London (or £4473, €5278, $7380 Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk/Petropavlovsk including shore-based programme, or £3953, €4665, $6523 Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk/Petropavlovsk cruise-only) in a Main Deck Triple cabin with shared bathroom facilities.

(If you wish to travel from London but do not wish to join our shore-based programme, there is a reduction of £520, €614, $858.)

Supplement for a Main Deck twin cabin with shared bathroom facilities: £674, €795, $1112.

Supplement for a Superior twin cabin with private bathroom: £1010, €1192, $1667.

Supplement for a Superior Plus twin cabin with private bathroom: £1274, €1503, $2102.

Supplement for a Mini Suite with private bathroom: £1783, €2104, $2942.

Supplement for an Heritage Suite with private bathroom: £2387, €2817, $3939.

In addition there will be a charge to cover the landing fees levied by the local governments of £182, €215, $300 per person. Moscow/Moscow arrangements are also possible: please contact us. Price includes all transportation (including all flights), all accommodations, all meals, bottled water during shore-based stays, some drinks, all excursions, all entrance fees, all tips for local drivers/guides and for accommodations/restaurants ashore, leader services. Gratuities for the expedition staff and crew are not included in the tour price. The staff work very long hours to make such cruises a success, including a great deal of night sailing, and we have been told that most passengers give gratuities of around $195-260 (£118-158, €139-186) for such a 13 days cruise.

Important: The Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk/Petropavlovsk cruise-only prices given above cover the cruise itself plus one night hotel accommodation (on a twin/share basis) in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, a transfer to the ship on departure day and a transfer to the airport on arrival day. Owing to the possibility, however small, of a severe airline delay, we would recommend that participants who are joining the tour on a ‘cruise-only’ basis have two nights in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk prior to the cruise. Kindly note that in the event you do not arrive in time, the ship will not wait and neither the cruise operator nor ourselves can make a refund in such circumstances. Arriving early also has the advantage that your luggage could still catch up with you, should it go astray. We can make hotel bookings for you in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on request, should you not wish to take our standard land programme in Sakhalin (2 nights) and Kamchatka (1 night).

Single Cabin/Room Supplement: Single occupancy of most cabins can be obtained in return for an 80% supplement on top of the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk/Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy cruise-only price (but suites require a 100% supplement); this supplement also entitles you to single room accommodation for one night at the hotel in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Please note that if you are willing to share but no cabin-mate is available you will not have to pay the single occupancy supplement except for the additional land-based nights. Single room supplement for the additional land-based nights: £80, €94, $132.

Deposit: 25% of the London/London price (rounded down to the nearest £, € or $), regardless of where you are joining the tour. If booking more than 12 months before departure, the initial deposit is only 10% of the London/London price.

Cancellation Charges: For cancellations made 121 days or more before departure, the cancellation charge is 80% of the deposit paid. For cancellations made 91-120 days before departure, the cancellation charge is 100% of the deposit paid. For cancellations made 1-90 days before departure, or on the day of departure or later, the cancellation charge is 100% of the holiday price.


email: [email protected] | tel: 01254 826116 (international: +44 1254 826116) | Contact Us
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