Monday, June 22nd: We got a later start today as we were going to Denali National Park. There's very limited access to the park. Only the first few miles of the park road are open to private vehicle. The rest is only open to tour bus, and we had the 9am bus. The busses themselves are not particularly comfortable, especially when you are going to spend 8 hours on the bus. The park also has no place to get food, and water is only available at the far end of the ride. You have to bring everything in, so we prepared sandwiches before leaving.
The way the park limits access also makes birding very difficult, and almost impossible for groups, which they have virtually outlawed. Unlike other parks where shuttle systems are used, at Denali the system seems designed to restrict access to the park rather than deal with traffic problems (e.g, Yosemite and Zion). You can only get off the bus if you are leaving it and taking another bus later. As a result, it's hard to see any but the biggest birds, except when the bus is briefly stopped to look at mammals or for restroom breaks. This is also true for anyone who wants to examine the park in detail, whether you are looking at butterflies, plants, geology, or whatever. This is the 34th US national park that I've visited, and I have to say it ranks dead last in terms of visitor experience. I do not see why a park with 6.2 million acres, cannot use a bit of that to improve the visitor experience and show them the value of the park.
The scenery was nice. A great view of Mt. McKinley would have greatly improved our experience. Unfortunately, even though we had clear weather on the ride out to the Eielson Visitor Center, haze from the fires eliminated any view of Mt. McKinley. Indeed, the haze even caused problems when photographing some of the more distant animals.
On an 8+ hour trip, I only managed to see 8 bird species. It is not because the park is not birdy. It is because the park will not let me look for birds. In spite of this, we did manage to find Willow Ptarmigan, Golden Eagle, and Gyrfalcon.
About the only thing one can do is look for the larger or more active mammals. We saw six: Red Squirrel, Moose, Caribou, Grizzly, Arctic Ground Squirrel and Dall Sheep. On two occasions, Caribou trotted right by the bus.
It was close to 6 when we returned to our hotel. The VENT Grand Alaska tour group had also arrived, and we had dinner with them. We will see them again on the boat trip at Seward.
After dinner several of us visited Otto Lake, a bit north of Denali National Park. What a luxury to stop and scan for birds! As a result, we saw more birds in a brief visit there than on the whole Denali trip. We added Blue-winged Teal to the trip list. We also found an odd Herring-type Gull. It's wingtips were dark, but not black as on a Herring Gull, and it appeared more like a white-winged gull underneath. It was light-eyed, and while the wingtips didn't seem right for Herring Gull, they didn't seem right for Thayer's either. Perhaps it was a hybrid. We also found a Muskrat there.
I ended the day with 19 species of bird. The trip total becomes 139 species of bird including 4 lifers. I saw 7 mammal species, three of them new for the trip, raising the trip mammal count to 14 (no lifers).
The Lodge at Denali Park Village