Day 1: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy
You will be transferred to the vessel and we will depart for the Commander Islands. You are welcome on the bridge as we sail from what some people consider the best natural harbour in the world. There is also some good birding as we leave the shoreline behind.
Day 2: At Sea
A day at sea as we cruise towards the Commander Islands. Enjoy several lectures and briefings as we prepare for the days ahead. It is also a good time to be on deck as the birding is good with Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel and Red-legged Kittiwake amongst the likely sightings.
Days 3 to 4: Commander Islands
There are two main islands in the Commander group, Bering and Medny, and during our two days we will explore several sites combining the best of the natural and cultural history. There is 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 several species of auklets as well as the Red-legged Kittiwake. The area is also extremely rich in marine mammals. Potential species include Sperm, Humpback, Northern Minke and Baird’s Beaked-Whales, as well as Orcas, Steller Sea Lions, Northern Fur Seals and Sea Otters. We include a visit to the small settlement of Nikolskoye and the local museum and if weather permits Commander Bay, where Vitus Bering was shipwrecked and is buried.
Day 5: Zhupanova River, Kamchatka
We will spend several hours in the Zodiacs cruising on the scenic Zhupanova River where we should get great looks at Steller’s Sea Eagles as the birds often perch in the trees adjacent to the river. Other highlights could include Pacific Diver, Far Eastern Curlew, Glaucous-winged Gull, Aleutian Tern and Yellow-breasted Bunting. There is also a major salmon fishery on the river which we can visit.
Day 6: Bukta Russkaya, Kamchatka
In this deep fiord on the Kamchatka Peninsula we will look for the critically endangered Kittlitz’s Murrelet as well as Long-billed Murrelet. We plan a short excursion at the head of the fiord where there is a chance of seeing brown bears. At the entrance to the fiord where we can Zodiac cruise there are almost always Orcas and Steller Sea Lions.
Day 7: Second Kuril Strait, Atlasova and Onekotan Islands
Very early in the morning we will pass through Second Kuril Strait which has one of the highest densities of Sea Otters in the Kuril Islands. Our landing on Atlasova Island is great for birders and non birders alike. There are the remains of a Gulag to explore and numerous species to see. This evening on Onekotan Island we can stretch our legs through an amazing field of wild flowers as we walk to Black Lake.
Day 8: Ekarma and Toporkovy Islands
During an early morning Zodiac cruise at Ekarma Island we should see various alcids, with close looks at Tufted Puffin and Whiskered Auklet. This afternoon at Toporkovy Island in the shadow of the active Matua Island volcano we can expect to find Harlequin Ducks, Red-faced Cormorants, Tufted Puffins and Brunnich’s Guillemots. Ashore we could encounter Grey-tailed Tattler, Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler and Black-faced Bunting.
Day 9: Simushir and Yankicha Islands
We will enter a flooded caldera at the northern end of Simushir Island where a once top secret Soviet submarine base lies abandoned. In the surrounding area look for the Siberian Rubythroat, Eurasian Nutcracker, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Grey Bunting. Our visit to Yankicha Island is likely to be one of the highlights of the voyage as the number of alcids which breed here is incredible, with spectacular concentrations of Crested and Whiskered Auklets.
Day 10: Chirpoy and Urup Islands
This morning depending on weather we will either Zodiac cruise or land on Chirpoy Island where there are some dramatic volcanic landscapes and headlands covered in breeding seabirds. This afternoons landing on Urup Island is a chance to stretch you legs on an extended walk, beachcomb and look for Sea Otters or birds in the forest behind the beach.
Day 11: Iturup Island
This morning we land at the small settlement of Kurilsk from where local buses/trucks will take us into the volcanic highlands to thermal hot pools where you can enjoy a soak or go birding. Possible species include Brown Dipper, Arctic Warbler, Japanese Robin, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Grey Bunting.
Day 12: Kunashir Island
Kunashir is the largest island in the Kuril chain. We plan a landing in the Kurilsky Reserve and will explore an extensive area of woodland, where there are some good walks and birding. This afternoon while we are at sea there is a chance for birding and an opportunity to recap and pack.
Day 13: Sakhalin Island
Arrive at the Port of Korsakov on Sakhalin Island. There will be transport to a central hotel and the airport in the town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.