- Visit three wonderfully unique and diverse ecoregions - the high Arctic, boreal forest and aspen parkland and potholes
- Amazing wildlife, from shorebirds in superb breeding plumages to jaegers and King Eiders to Yellow-billed Loons, amidst fascinating tundra and taiga habitats
- Great breeding bird and flower photography opportunities
This unique High Arctic birding tour, a perennial favorite, takes in three different areas; the exquisite high Arctic tundra above the Arctic Circle and far north of the tree line, the boreal forest and lakes around Yellowknife, NWT, and the aspen parkland and potholes of Central Alberta. We could encounter a diverse array of birds and mammals, from King Eiders to Pacific Loons, Snowy Owls to Swainson’s and Rough-legged Hawks, Long-tailed and Parasitic Jaegers to Sabine’s and Thayer’s Gulls, and American Bison to Arctic Foxes.
At Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, Yellow-billed Loons nest on remote lakes, Red-necked and sometimes Red Phalaropes in resplendent summer plumage inhabit ponds, Tundra Swans and Sandhill Cranes enliven the tundra, Stilt and Baird’s Sandpipers give their strange songs, and a scarce nesting species such as Buff-breasted or White-rumped Sandpiper may show up. The area is steeped in history and culture, from explorers searching for the Northwest Passage to the Inuit of the western Arctic. The high quality and exciting wildlife viewing make for a long-remembered tour!
Day 1 - Arrival in Leduc/Edmonton
Our High Arctic & NWT birding tour begins in the evening in Leduc, just south of Edmonton, Alberta, and close to the airport. We meet for dinner at 6:30 pm for a meet-and-greet and for a brief introduction and orientation. Night in Leduc.
Day 2 - Elk Island National Park
We first visit several local lakes for a first introduction to species of central Alberta. Eared and Red-necked Grebes, over 12 species of waterfowl including Ruddy Duck, Black Tern, American White Pelican, American Avocet, Franklin’s and California Gulls, Purple Martin and Yellow-headed Blackbird are usually present. Swainson’s and Red-tailed Hawks hunt over pastures that are occupied by Richardson’s Ground-squirrels. Wet meadows support Le Conte’s Sparrows and Sedge Wrens, and occasionally Bobolinks.
We then head towards Beaverhill Lake; the lake has been shrinking in size and the shorelines are now grassy fields where Mountain Bluebirds, Vesper and Clay-colored Sparrows and sometimes Short-eared Owls breed. Next we head to Elk Island National Park; over 200 species of birds have been identified in the park. Year-round residents include Hairy and Pileated Woodpeckers and Boreal Chickadees. Migrant and nesting passerines include Gray Catbird, Red-eyed and Blue-headed Vireos, Western Tanager, Le Conte’s and Nelson’s (Sharp-tailed) Sparrows, Ovenbird and Mourning Warbler. Marshes and ponds support a diverse array of waterbirds including Trumpeter Swan, Forster’s Tern and Ring-necked Duck. The park is also home to 44 different species of mammals, including wapiti (elk), moose, white-tailed deer, coyote, muskrat and porcupine.
The most noticeable of the park’s mammals are the two different sub-species of bison. If we hear reports from local naturalists of northern species of owls, we may head north of Edmonton to the edge of the boreal forest where our target species would be boreal forest owls such as Great Gray and Northern Saw-whet Owls. We could also add to our tally of mammals with beaver and red fox. Night in Leduc.
Days 3, 4 and 5 - Yellowknife
We leave Leduc, head to the airport and board our plane to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. In the Yellowknife region we explore boreal habitats in the Great Slave Lake area, looking for specialties such as Mew and Bonaparte’s Gulls, Rusty Blackbird, Sandhill Crane, Northern Shrike and Bohemian Waxwing. We may encounter several boreal forest species such as Tennessee, Wilson’s, Blackpoll and Orange-crowned Warblers, Alder and Olive-sided Flycatchers, Canada Jay, Western Tanager, and White-crowned, White-throated, Swamp, Fox and Lincoln’s Sparrows. Lesser Yellowlegs perch on the tops of trees, Horned and Red-necked Grebes are widespread, and Pacific Loons nest on some of the larger lakes.
A highlight, weather permitting, will be a boat ride in Yellowknife Bay, an arm of Great Slave Lake, the second largest in Canada, and up the Yellowknife River; we tour among the house boats and islands of the bay and have a chance at lake species such as Surf Scoters, Red-breasted and Common Mergansers, Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Arctic, Caspian and Common Terns. Yellowknife has several interesting stores and we’ll take in a couple during our stay. Nights in Yellowknife.
Day 6 - Flight to Cambridge Bay
We spend the morning birding around the Yellowknife area before taking an afternoon flight to Cambridge Bay. We spend the rest of the day getting our bearings about town, noticing that the common town birds are Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs - quite a change from House Sparrows and Starlings! Night in Cambridge Bay.
Days 7-10 - Cambridge Bay
From Cambridge Bay we make daily excursions to various birding locations around town. One day we travel by vehicle on one of the few roads in the area to the base of Mount Pelly, (providing the road is passable) where we should encounter species such as American Golden, Black-bellied and Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated, Baird’s and Stilt Sandpipers, Red-necked Phalarope, Long-tailed Jaeger, Arctic Tern, Horned Lark, Lapland Longspur and Snow Bunting. American Pipits breed on the slopes of the mountain. The impressive Yellow-billed Loon breeds in this area so we will look for nesting pairs. We also look for groups of Muskox, although they have become very scarce in recent years. Arctic fox and Arctic hares are here, and if it is a year of high lemming numbers, then Snowy Owls will be nesting, as well as Pomarine Jaegers; if not, then both species can be absent.
On another day, we travel along the West Arm to Dease and Simpson Straits which overlook the Northwest Passage. Throughout the day we hike out onto the tundra looking for signs of lemmings, and watch for all three species of jaegers, Short-eared Owl and Rough-legged Hawk. As well, we will enjoy the abundant waterfowl, loons and shorebirds, perhaps with their broods. Greater White-fronted and Cackling Geese, Tundra Swans, King and Common Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks might have flotillas of young, Pacific Loons will be on just about every medium-sized pond, Red-throated Loons forage close to shore, and many shorebirds that may include Buff-breasted, Pectoral and White-rumped Sandpipers will be scattered over the tundra. Our eyes will be constantly searching the chilly frozen waters of the Northwest Passage for ringed seals hauled up on the ice.
On a third day, we take a track into the interior of the island, looking for nesting birds such as Red Phalarope, Sabine’s Gull and Parasitic Jaeger. We will attempt to drive along an inlet of Dease Strait to view where Roald Amundsen’s ship, the Maud, was until recently when it was taken back to Norway. We also visit an ancient traditional Inuit hunting site marked by stone tent rings and seal caches on the tundra. We take in the town dump and sewage lagoons, where Glaucous and Thayer’s Gulls gather and in the past we have found Bonaparte’s, Slaty-backed and Glaucous-winged Gulls, and sometimes several Sandhill Cranes. Redpolls are here, and sorting Hoary from Common is a challenge. Furthermore, there is always the possibility of a southern vagrant; over the years we have found such unlikely species as American Robin, Hermit Thrush, Bald Eagle and Harris’s Sparrow. We will also experience the beautiful flora and butterflies of the tundra. The information centre is worth a visit, perhaps for some souvenir shopping. Nights in Cambridge Bay. On Day 10, we board our plane for Yellowknife and on to Edmonton. Last night near the Edmonton airport.
Day 11 - Departure
Our High Arctic & NWT birding tour concludes today. You can transfer to to the airport for your flights home anytime today.
Departures & Prices
Tour Price Includes
- Flights from Edmonton to Yellowknife and to Victoria Island plus return included
- A two-hour boat trip in Yellowknife Bay
- Breakfasts and lunches included
- All accommodations
- Ground transportation
- 4 - 8 Participants will be guided by one guide. 9 - 12 participants will be guided by two guides in two vehicles.
- All park, conservation and entrance fees
Tour Price Does Not Include
- Flights to and from Edmonton
- Travel Insurance
- Evening meals
- Items of a personal nature
- Taxes (5% GST)
What to Expect
What to Expect
The High Arctic & Northwest Territories tour is primarily a birding tour, although we will also enjoy other wildlife, the arctic landscape, and the northern culture. Experiencing familiar birds in their unfamiliar breeding range is a privilege to enjoy.
Our daily travel schedule will vary to account for weather, bird species and habitat, but it is a fairly relaxed-paced tour. In Yellowknife, we mainly bird from two roads, and in Cambridge Bay, all birding happens from 3 unpaved roads and casual walks in the tundra.
Most mornings we are out very early, possibly around 5 – 6 am, for early morning birding. We aim to have breakfast around 8, and then will continue to bird until lunchtime. Given the early start times, we tend to have a longer afternoon break (especially so in the arctic), and skip the slowest part of the day (when it’s often too bright/hot out anyways).
In the evening, we will go birding again, with dinner to end the day. Occasionally, we’ll do a short excursion after dinner as well.
For lunchtime and the afternoons we will be Most lunches will be had in the field or in a takeaway place (Chopped Leaf or a restaurant). In the evenings we will Most evening will be spent resting and recharging, but in Cambridge Bay we will conduct at least one evening drive after dinner, to have a chance to find species such as Arctic Fox and Arctic Hare.
Breakfast is usually at the hotel or nearby, but occasionally we will have a field breakfast. Lunch will sometimes be a picnic lunch in the field and other times it will be at a restaurant. Dinner will be at the hotel’s restaurant or a good restaurant in town. Especially in Yellowknife, there is the opportunity to explore some ethnic foods if wished. After dinner we usually discuss the day’s activities and review the list of birds seen and heard.
All accommodations during the tour are good quality and provide a comfortable stay while visiting Canada’s wild boreal and arctic.
This tour involves easy walking, with some uneven terrain if we explore the tundra in Cambridge Bay, but given that all walking takes place close to the vehicle, no special requirements are necessary. There is the option to climb Mount Pelly when in Cambridge Bay, however this is merely a 200 meter ascent, and a very easy walk.
We will not be covering large distances, in fact the longest drive will be barely 45 minutes (Elk Island NP), however given that we only bird along roads, we will spend a large amount of time in the vehicle.
The tour will take place during the arctic summer, with long days with a lot of light. We are likely to experience wind and possible chilly temperatures in the north. Rain is also a possibility, so dress appropriately. Bring layers that are easy to take off.
Even though we cannot guarantee a sighting of the animals below, we feel quite confident that an encounter with the ones listed below is quite likely.
- Yellow-billed Loon
- Pacific Loon
- King Eider
- Sabine's Gull
- Red Phalarope
- Long-tailed Jaeger
- Thayer's Gull
- Arctic Tern
- Arctic Fox
Past Tour Checklists
Past Tour Checklists
View the list of birds and other wildlife we encountered on our past tours.