1924: Siberia's Forgotten Coast 25 June 2019


© Heritage Expeditions
Day 1: Tuesday 25 June
Port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Avacha Bay

It was a glorious afternoon in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, during the afternoon everyone arrived at the wharf for the beginning of our ‘In the Wake of Bering’ expedition. A little later, Expedition Leader Aaron Russ gathered everyone in the lecture room where he introduced himself and the expedition team. After a series of mandatory briefings, many people headed to the top deck for the sail away.

Despite the pleasant sunshine, it was bitterly cold and many had to return to their cabins for extra clothing, but it was well worth being outside with the first auks of our expedition being spotted. As well as the Tufted Puffins, we found decent numbers of Pigeon Guillemots and a handful of Spectacled Guillemots.

As the ship neared the exit from Avacha Bay we had views of one of the active volcanoes not far from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, and with both Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants also being seen, there was plenty to look at.

Clearing the exit, we farewelled the Pilot who had been aboard since we had left the wharf and almost immediately began to see small groups of Ancient Murrelets which were flying in a southerly directions, presumably back to their burrows.

After the mandatory lifeboat drill, many retired to the bar for a drink, however, this was rapidly curtailed when an announcement came over the PA system to advise everyone that a pod of Orca had been spotted. The captain and his officers manoeuvred the ship closer to the majestic animals and we had some phenomenal views of about 25 individuals. There were several adult males with their almost triangular fins as well as females, younger males and at least one calf. The Naturalists explained that due to the size of the pod, fin shape of the males and the shape and colour of the saddle patches, we could be confident that these were ‘residents’ and thus fish hunters.

After following the pod for a while, it was eventually time to leave them and return to course, following a delicious dinner served up by our Chefs Bek and Zac many people retired to bed after an incredible first few hours on the ship.


© D. Brown © D. Brown
Day 2: Wednesday 26 June
Zhupanova River and At Sea

During the night, the Spirit of Enderby cruised northwards up the coast of Kamchatka and by the time most people got up, the ship was anchored off the mouth of the Zhupanova River. As soon as breakfast was over, five Zodiacs were launched and we then headed off to explore. Passing the fish factory at the river mouth. We were guided around the sandbars by one of the local boats and had soon found our first Steller’s Sea-eagle.

Barely moments later, there was a message on the radios to alert all the Zodiacs that a brown bear had been spotted and as we got a little closer, it was apparent that there were actually two individuals with one of them swimming across the river.

Continuing onwards we found more wildlife with a great range of birds being found with the highlights including several Black Scoters and a pair of the highly endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting.

Our main target of the morning, however, was to visit the nest of at least one pair of Steller’s Sea-eagle, at the first of these we got some phenomenal views as the adult perched in a tree guarding its chicks. Further upstream, there were no adult birds present at the nest but by looking carefully we could make out at least one youngster sitting within the bowl of the huge stick nest.

All too soon, it was time to turn round and as we went back down the river, another bear was spotted. It had been an amazing morning and with sunny conditions the time had flown by.

After lunch Dan Brown gave us a lecture about some of the wildlife we could expect to encounter on the expedition covering a wide range of species. As the water depth gradually increased, some of the more pelagic bird species began to be found with good numbers of Fork-tailed Storm-petrels and Laysan Albatrosses and a handful of Leach’s Storm-petrels.

Two species of cetaceans were also found with everyone enjoying good views of a large male Sperm Whale. When this was spotted it was over a mile ahead, but it remained at the surface until we were within a few hundred metres then it dived giving us great views of its flukes as it descended to the depths. A few moments later, a Humpback Whale was seen but this was somewhat distant, although it was being very active, slapping its tail against the surface so was highly visible.

After dinner and the first bird and wildlife log of the voyage, many people retired to bed after a phenomenal first full day on the Spirit of Enderby.
© Heritage Expeditions © D. Brown
Day 3: Thursday 27 June
Commander Islands

During the night, the Spirit of Enderby continued ENE towards the Commander Islands and for the (very) early risers, the sea birding was excellent with both Short-tailed and Black-footed Albatross being seen as well as the more regular Laysan Albatross.

As we approached the shelf edge to the south of the islands, the number of birds began to rise dramatically and there were large flocks of Pacific Fulmars, Black-legged Kittiwakes and Short-tailed Shearwaters. Reaching the slightly shallow water, Guides Chris Collins and Dan Brown had advised everyone to be on the lookout for Whiskered Auklets and sure enough several flocks of these were spotted.

Shortly after breakfast, and as the ship cruised up through the channel between Bering and Medny Islands, Chris gave a lecture introducing us to the seabirds of the Russian Far East. He ran through the species we were likely to encounter and described the best features to look for to identify them.

As Chris concluded his talk, the ship was exiting the channel and a little later we were off Peschanaya Bay. With a large swell running directly towards the shore, it was far from certain that we would be able to land, so two scout Zodiacs were launched and Aaron, Chris and Dan set off towards our intended landing site.

Fortunately the bay itself was almost completely sheltered and Hotel Manager Rachael was soon making an announcement to advise everyone to get ready.

Once ashore, we were free to wander and explore the site of the old village and Border Guard base. Little remained of either, except the old shells of a couple of buildings and a few lonely graves up on the hillside.

Whilst many elected to wander by themselves and climb up to enjoy the views and watch the puffins, others joined Chris to target some of the speciality birds with our first target, the Pacific Wren, quickly tracked down. The other species we were keen to find was the Grey-crowned Rosy Finch, and this proved somewhat trickier to locate.

With vast numbers of flowers including Violets and Fritillaries, there was plenty to keep everyone busy and after a couple of hours we boarded the Zodiacs and explored further along the coastline. There were plenty of Horned Puffins and Pigeon Guillemots and an Arctic Fox was also found. This was ambling along the beach and seemed completely oblivious as the Zodiacs tracked it as it diligently searched for a meal.

Returning to the ship, the captain set a north-westerly course running along the shelf edge and almost as soon as we had reached this, a Sperm Whale was spotted. The ship was turned to allow us to get some closer looks and we were only a couple of hundred metres away when it dived.

Over the next hour or so, two more whales were spotted and shortly after 19:00 everyone gathered in the bar for the nightly recap and briefing when the plans for the following day were outlined – we hoped to Zodiac cruise at Ariy Karmen Island and then land at Nikol’skoye, the main community in the Commander Islands.
© A. Russ
Day 4: Friday 28 June
Bering Island, Commander Islands

Overnight the ship arrived at the northern end of Bering Island. An early Zodiac cruise before breakfast took those braving the rough sea to the sea bird rock Ariy Kamen at the northern end of the Commander Islands. Here we witnessed the amazing activity in the busy sea bird colony. Thousands of fulmars, guillemots and kittiwakes were flying around the island like mosquitoes, the cliffs densely packed with breeding birds. At lower levels we spotted a few dozen of Red-legged Kittiwakes among the dominant common kittiwakes. The Red-faced Cormorant is shy and flies off first when approaching the cliffs. A small haulout of sea lions is right next to the seabirds. A large male is surrounded by four female and a few younger animals and grunting noisily in lion fashion. Another large male, separate from this group, looks dead and motionless on the rocks. It appears quite bruised and might have been involved in some territorial dispute but suddenly keeps moving. ‘Lazarus’ quickly and adequately named by Gill raises from the dead, but seems no longer a threat for the other male and harem. Though further away another big male emerges from the waters, a massive animal more like ‘Neptune’ himself, slowly rising from the waters, posing on the rocks and ready to challenge the placeholder. We cannot wait so head back through rough waters, everybody enjoying a few splashes of sea water but some get pretty drenched.

After a welcoming warm breakfast we all land at Nikol’skoye and explore the village on Bering Island, the modern visitor centre with its newly opened impressive waste museum and the old museum with the remains of Steller’s Sea Cow on display! Nice flocks of Harlequin Ducks and Merganser accompany the shores, but the search for Rock Sandpipers appears to be more difficult, though a nice couple of Lesser Sandplovers show their lovely breeding plumage and even reveal their nest with three eggs. Meanwhile the Rock Sandpipers were located, with only minutes left before departing most managed to get a good view of this sought after shorebird.

After lunch it is time to leave the Commanders and the ship cruises north for a long haul to the next destination. Christoph presented a lecture on the Spoon-billed Sandpiper project, and lively discussions follow in the bar well into the evening.

Day 5: Saturday 29 June
At Sea

A late breakfast and still at sea.

Approaching the end of the deep water and a sudden steep edge climbing from 3,000m to only 100m we were back in shallow waters late morning and expecting a few cetaceans. Indeed soon a small group of Orcas is spotted on starboard side, one animal can be followed under the water and it seems to dive under the ship. The group is soon afterwards spotted again on the portside. Dan, in the middle of a lecture, hopes to continue when another whale was seen blowing strongly. Then the ship turns towards yet another Sperm Whale, this time a very pale one, almost white. We can see and even hear it blowing as we were so close. Is it the White Whale Moby Dick? Reincarnated and 'Captain Ahab' reincarnated as our Russian Captain Alexander, tamed and mellowed, pursuing a new form of ‘photo hunting’ and promoting a new outlook on our fellow animals, no longer chasing the whale with all its fatal consequences but approaching the animal gently and with respect for everybody on board to be touched by this magnificent creature?

But this did not seem to be the end of events, as a young Short-tailed Albatross passed by closely, Dan’s lecture again was interrupted, and finally postponed. The calm sea displays plenty more seabirds. Laysan Albatrosses were hardly soaring, sitting like swans on the sea. Another young Short-tailed Albatross tops the morning and a close by flight to everybody’s delight.

The afternoon was dedicated to the Verkhoturova Island just north of Karaginsky Island, stacked with seabirds, seals and sea lions. The latter very curious to see who is coming to visit. A steep hike up the cliff is rewarded with fantastic views of Tufted Puffin, cormorants and kittiwakes nesting right before our eyes. An odd Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler displaying on top of the cliff might be the last view of this more southern bird. A bit concerning is the lack of nests with eggs or broods among the kittiwakes, but some nests have already chicks being fed.
© D. Brown © R. Iveson-Brown
Day 6: Sunday 30 June
Koryak Coast and Govena Peninsula

A strong team of 34 participants joins the first SBS search of the season along the Koryak Coast. Three teams search at different sections of the landing. Immediately after arrival we are reminded that we have entered mosquito country and repellents are needed. The first bird at arrival, a Pine Grosbeak is not a good sign, pointing already that the area is overgrown with stone pines. They cover large parts of the area and at first sight it looks hopeless for our search, but soon behind the pines we find extensive boggy areas with wonderful tundra flowers and plenty of Dunlin displaying and Far Eastern Curlews. The latter is now also listed globally as ‘Endangered’. But here we encounter a fair number of birds all displaying and warning, presumably having chicks already. We move on and try not to disturb their breeding area. Many Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas accompany us and scan the tundra for anything to forage on. A few phalaropes occupy each little pond, and the bushes also reveal Siberian Rubythroat, Dusky Thrush and even Pallas Reed Bunting!

The afternoon outing with Zodiacs is along the Govena Peninsula. First we pass a shipwreck, which three years ago fell apart and the main ship now serves as a breeding platform for Slaty-backed Gulls. The main reason though we are here are the brown bears and there are at least four or five nearby. At the river mouth of a small mountain stream we coast the Zodiacs close to the shore. Two bears give a very good and close showing at the river, even swimming across several times. One though, lies down flat on its belly and seems motionless, yet another ‘Lazarus’? We wait patiently but finally the bear rises again, and soon disappears behind the bar, but then another much darker individual turns up, totally unaware of our Zodiacs and presenting itself ideally for many good photo opportunities.
© A. Russ © A. Russ
Day 7: Monday 1 July
Koryak Coast, Tintikun Lagoon & Bukhta Lavrova

An eerie fog was covering the mountain sides both ways along the Koryak Coast this morning and not much of the land was visible but Arctic Warbler could be heard chirping away at our first landing of the day. Early morning risers had a good chance to see the rare Kittlitz’s Murrelet.

Later in the morning we approached Tintikun Lagoon. Several hundred Goosanders were waiting for us, they gather here and at other lagoons to moult their wing feathers. They were accompanied by lots of Harlequin Ducks and a few White-winged Scoters. A nice walk along the shore provides ample opportunity for admiring the stunning flora of the place and to become acquainted with the bird song of the area. A Zodiac cruise to pin down the elusive Siberian Accentor (what on earth is an Accentor?) does reveal a few Red-flanked Bluetails but not the bird in mind at all. Cracking views though of a few noisy and curious Nutcrackers are rewarding for some. Various bears again scatter the shores of the lagoon but none stay long enough for close views. On the way back the search for the odd Rosyfinch quickly turned into a raptor watch, with White-tailed and Steller’s Sea-eagle showing well, only to be surpassed by a fly-by of a Gyr Falcon.

The next stop at Bukhta Lavrova offers more bears and a dilapidated herring and mink farm which on landing also reveals the tracks of bear and wolves as well as minks. The birdlife though offers little new, except a nice displaying Red-throated Pipit and a few Common Eider.

Day 8: Tuesday 2 July
Koryak Coast

The Spirit of Enderby arrived at the anchorage this morning to a hive of activity, there was several vessels associated with salmon fishing in the area preparing for the imminent arrival of the salmon and by Kamchatka standards the seaways were positively busy! During breakfast the expedition team were out in the Zodiacs scouting the landing options, unfortunately the river channel close by was not passable but eventually they located a sheltered beach landing where those searching for Spoon-billed Sandpipers could scramble ashore and begin. The searchers once again divided into three parties and set off across the tundra, today the tundra proved to be a little on the dry side and there wasn’t a significant amount of waders breeding in the area that was searched, let alone any Spoon-billed Sandpipers, but an enjoyable morning was had by all. A number of those who didn’t join the search took a Zodiac cruise southwards along the coast during which 11 brown bears were spotted and two reindeer, as well as a large colony of kittiwakes and guillemots. The bears were all perched high on the cliffs in precarious locations but with 9 of the 11 in this situation it was obviously the place to be for brown bears today.

We continued sailing along the coast, the seas stayed calm but the greatest thing was that the sun came out as we made our way eastward, by the time we arrived for our expedition afternoon location the sun was shinning in a bright blue sky. Finding an easy landing in the corner of a bay there was a number of walking options available with something for everybody, most meandered along the side of a large lake and several smaller ponds through the lush tundra that carpeted the valley floor, there they were able to spend time watching a female brown bear with two cubs grazing the grass at the head of the lake, as well as finding flowers in full bloom. A smaller party climbed an adjacent hill for sweeping views across the bay and lake and were also rewarded with an excellent display of flowers including some great pink drifts of Kamchatka Azalea. With a later dinner tonight all were aboard by 7:30pm ready for dinner at 8pm.
© C. Zockler © Heritage Expeditions © A. Russ
Day 9: Wednesday 3 July
Bukhta Glubokaya, Ostrov Bogoslova & Bukhta Pavla

There was a lot to see and do today so we made an early start to the day with a landing on the lovely shores of Bukhta Glubokaya at 06:30 this morning, the day had dawned calm and warm with the temperature already 8 degrees at 6am. Our landing was at the base of the cascading stream which bounded down from the mountains above in a series of falls and torrents passing through alpine meadows and at lower elevations stands of alder that were just coming into leaf. Our path upwards followed along the edge of this stream and very quickly we were above the alders and enjoying panoramic views of the fjord below with the Spirit of Enderby sitting in the middle of the scene, from here some scrambled higher while others contemplated the morning and the views from their vantage point. By 08:15 we were all back aboard, breakfast was served shortly thereafter and we were on our way to the next stop.

By mid-morning the sun was beating down upon us and the temperature was rising to a tropical high teens as we set out to Zodiac cruise the shores of Bogoslova Island, the light was perfect for photography and many went without their usual layers as it was so pleasant out on the water. Along the shore we were treated to great views of Black-legged Kittiwakes and guillemots/murres nesting on the cliffs and overhangs, along the way we came across numerous Harlequin Ducks to photograph, and as we headed to the more oceanic shoreline the numbers of Tufted and Horned Puffins also increased, with many ashore and some large rafts just offshore as well. Then there was even more excitement as Parakeet Auklets were spotted on the water and overhead a White-tailed Eagle was buzzing the kittiwake colonies and creating quite a stir. We were back aboard for lunch with a rosy glow from the sunshine.

After lunch the Spirit of Enderby had relocated into Bukhta Pavla and the Zodiacs headed for the shore at the base of a large expansive tundra face, ashore there was the option to join a hike to the higher reaches in search of Kamchatka Marmot, or to take time to explore the tundra at own pace. There was a few mosquito’s around to keep everybody moving, apart from when sitting on the ridge-line in the breeze, but a very pleasant afternoon of exploration was had by all with numerous flowers to enjoy, especially the Yellow Rhododendron and Pink Azalea amongst many others. Those that searched for the marmot had a fabulous hike, but weren’t successful in their search for marmot.

With all once again aboard there was the evening recap and dinner, meanwhile the captain and expedition leader took the opportunity to search a little further for the elusive walrus taking the ship across Bukhta Natalii and then around to Bukhta Anastasii which is the next large bay along the coast, but while the scenery was fabulous there were no walrus to be seen.
© Heritage Expeditions © A. Russ
Day 10: Thursday 4 July
At Sea off Koryak Coast

It was a slightly more leisurely start than recent mornings (with a 07:30 breakfast) and as soon as this had concluded, Aaron, Chris, Dan and Christoph set off with Chief Engineer Costa in two scout Zodiacs to assess the condition of the bar at the entrance to the river mouth we wanted to enter.

After investigating all opportunities for reaching the shore, they returned and Aaron explained that with a large surf running onto the bar from the swells we were experiencing, unfortunately, it was impossible to safely enter with the Zodiacs.

As a result, Elena entertained everyone with a lecture about the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka and the Koriak regions.

After lunch, the two scout Zodiacs headed out once again, they returned with the disappointing news that conditions had not improved at the river entrance, so our plans to explore this locality would have to be abandoned. Whilst this was extremely disappointing, safety was obviously more important.

With no other landing options nearby, afternoon activities on the ship were organised with the first of these being a series of Engine Room tours run by our Chief Engineer Costa. Costa explained that the Spirit of Enderby had two engines which typically used 4-6 tonnes of fuel each day and these feed one propeller shaft. He said the ship could carry 300 tonnes of fuel so could run for up to 75 days without refuelling as it could also make its own water. As soon as the engine room tours had concluded, the captain ordered the anchor to be raised and we set off along the coastline towards Meinypil’gyno.
At 16:15 Jing Li gave a special guest presentation about the work being done on Spoon-billed Sandpipers in China, and in particular in the area around Shanghai. She showed a number of videos of the birds out on the mudflats and also spoke about the yellow flags which had been put on some of the birds when they had been ringed/banded.

After the recap, dinner and wildlife log, many retired early in the expectation of our planned day at the Spoon-billed Sandpiper ‘capital’ at Meinypil’gyno.

Day 11: Friday 5 July

With Expedition Leader Aaron having advised us the previous evening that the village did not start working particularly early, it was a relatively leisurely start and after a 07:30 breakfast, two scout Zodiacs headed off shortly afterwards to establish if it would be possible to cross the river bar. With continuing swells and white water visible from the ship, some were nervous that it might not be possible to get ashore, but the message was soon relayed back that the Zodiacs had been able to get in.

Whilst Elena began the formalities ashore with the Border Guards, back aboard news quickly spread that several walruses had been spotted swimming close to the ship, so many took the opportunity to watch these extraordinary animals whilst we waited for permission to go ashore. Once this was obtained, we boarded the five Zodiacs and headed for the river entrance where there were several Belugas and Gray Whales. It was indeed a relatively choppy crossing but the scout boats had found a safe route in and we were soon at the main beach off the village where we were introduced to Evegny Syroechkovskyi, the Chairman of Spoon-billed Task Force, and Professor Fyodor Kondroshov, the Task Force’s Avian Geneticist.

A little later we set off with three Zodiacs heading for a nest which was west of Meinypil’gyno, whilst two boats went to a different nest which was east of the village. It was a truly unique privilege being able to visit these and the groups were accompanied by Evegny and Fyodor who were able to guide us to viewpoints where we could observe the birds sitting on their nests. Their welfare and that of the unhatched eggs was obviously the overriding priority, but everyone was able to observe the adult bird at each site when it occasionally walked around close to its nest.

With both groups also seeing Emperor Goose, it was a highly successful few hours and by mid-afternoon, we had reconvened in Meinypil’gyno where the village dance troupe entertained us with a show of various traditional dances. There was also time for everyone to visit the museum before we returned to the shoreline for the ride back to the ship.

Conditions at the bar were much better than earlier in the day and the five boats spent some time enjoying the “whale show” with upwards of a dozen Gray Whales not far from the river mouth. There were at least two mothers with calves and we were also fortunate enough to see one animal spy-hopping a short distance in front of some of the Zodiacs.

Reluctantly we headed back to the ship and during the evening recap, we reflected on how fortunate we were to have got ashore at Meinypil’gyno and seen the “Spoonies”. The only tourists to get ashore at this remote community and see these birds this year would be those aboard the Spirit of Enderby
© D. Brown © D. Brown
Day 12: Saturday 6 July
Cape Navarin and Bukhta Gavrilla

Waking up at Pika River to thick fog a scouting trip ashore establishes quickly that there are no walruses and we depart for the nearby Cape Navarin, the largest seabird colony in the Russian Far East. But here also fog and drizzle hampers the view, and a strong swell from the Western Bering Sea still causes issues. A short Zodiac cruise is organised and we approach the magnificent cliffs, surrounded by thousands of fulmars, big flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters, both puffins, all three guillemots and some were lucky to see the rare Black Guillemot. A few scattered Crested Auklets are distant but conditions were not great for photo opportunities. Big flocks of Harlequin Ducks scan along the shores and Pelagic Cormorants fly close by the Zodiacs. We were unable to reach the cape as the swells increased so we headed back, and with the swells behind us we were surfing the big waves and back at the ship in record time. Climbing from the Zodiacs to the gangway was quite challenging, but the experienced crew guided everybody safely back onboard.

Bukhta Gavrilla was similar and no landing possible. The forecast for the remainder of the coast is not good so Aaron decides to move north to the Chukchi Peninsula, cruising all afternoon and through the night to reach our next destination early the next morning. A few lucky observers see a White-billed Diver and pick up one or two King Eiders among the flock of eiders passing along the coast. The calm sea also displays a good number of almost 500 phalaropes of both species whereby the Red Phalarope is dominating today.

Day 13: Sunday 7 July
Bukhta Presbrazhenyia

The sun breaks through the fog, leaving all onboard in admiration of an amazing scenery along the still half veiled coastal world. A Zodiac cruise this morning takes us on a mystery tour along the coast. Fulmars and puffins briefly appear through the fog, but soon the massive cliff appears in front of us. A bizarre scenery of rocky pillars and spires emerges. Flocks of puffins and Pigeon Guillemots come close and the large Glaucous Gulls dominates the seabird colony, while kittiwakes and guillemots dominate the cliffs. We can hear the high-pitched calls of the Pigeon Guillemot and also here the jittering calls of the Parakeet Auklets. They are hiding higher up in the crevices but like the puffins come out a few times and even give a round of display flights. Soon the attention is entirely focused on two walruses, shy and hesitant they approach Zodiacs and dive. Soon another three, and then a group of four, giving a good show allowing us to admire their large teeth. The sun is now more powerful and almost all the fog is gone. A beautiful and magnificent cliff is in view displaying a wide range of weird rock formations and even a waterfall.

A random egg was floating on the sea. Skilfully picked up by Don and passed on to John who turned it around revealing an unsavoury liquid and an overpowering stench, it was dripping into the boat not to the amusement of Kostya our driver, the egg of the guillemot is soon released back to the sea after a quick round of photos.

More walruses and close-ups of Parakeet Auklet and hundreds of eider including at least one King Eider among them finishes off our cruise in a grand finale.
© D. Brown © D. Brown

Day 14: Monday 8 July
Port of Anadyr

The ship arrives in Anadyr in the early hours, and after an early breakfast passengers disembark for their onward travels within Russia, or departing on the Bering Air Charter flight to Nome.

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