In June, Jane and I had a most extraordinary photo safari on the Seward Peninsula of Alaska. We had signed up with Trogon Tours (www.trogontours.net) for six days of bird photography. Ken Archer (www.kenarcherphotos.com) and Roy Priest, both exceptional birders, were our guides. Using Nome, Alaska, as our base, we traversed the only three roads on the peninsula scouting for and photographing birds, and any other wildlife cooperative enough to be photographed.
This was our first photo safari experience this far north during the long days of summer. The schedule, dictated by the rising and setting of the sun, was brutal. Up super early to catch warm morning light and out way beyond our bedtime to catch twilight. The red glow of sunset was captured around one-thirty in the morning. On good days (read easy schedules) we had time for a quick shower and afternoon nap before hitting the dirt roads again.
Every town has its story but few stories are as varied as that of Nome, Alaska. Some 20,000 years ago the Seward Peninsula was an integral part of the Bering Land Bridge (Berengia) that allowed human migration from Asia to North America. Ancient Inupiat Eskimos might very easily have hunted and bivouacked in the Nome area. Nome' story turns more notorious when gold was discovered in Anvil Creek, a few miles north of the current town of Nome, during the summer of 1898. News of the discovery reached the lower forty-eight that winter and the gold rush was on. Nome's population exploded from and few hundred to around ten thousand by the summer of 1899 and was estimate at more than 20,000 after gold was discovered in the beach sand along the shoreline of the Bering Sea around Nome. In the early 1900's, Nome was the largest, and most notorious, town in the Alaska Territory.
As thousands of fortune seekers panned the creeks and dredged the beaches for gold, crime, corruption, and vice prevailed. Nome was one wild and wicked town. Claim jumping, murder and political corruption was so prevalent that the U.S. Army was sent in to police the area. Wyatt Earp owned a saloon in Nome and allegedly contributed to the mayhem. It only lasted a few years. By 1910 most of the easy gold had run out and Nome's population had fallen back to about 2,600.
Compassion and heroism are also part of Nome's story. In 1925, the "Great Race of Mercy" delivered diphtheria serum to Nome by dog sled and stayed a diphtheria epidemic. That Race of Mercy is now commemorated each year as the 1,050 mile Iditarod Trail dog sled race that terminates in Nome.
Our tenure on the the Seward Peninsula, although brief and hectic, was most remarkable. Jane's tally showed that we had seen fifty different bird species. Regrettably I was not able to photograph all of them. However, I was able to get a very nice and extensive collection of new bird images. You can see them in the Nome Gallery. My favorite bird was the elegant and stately Red-Throated Loon followed by the delicate and flighty Red-Necked Phalarope.