Kamchatka: The Ring of Fire
AT A GLANCE
Bird & Wildlife Cruise:
birds, whales & dolphins, mammals, scenery & photography.
Sakhalin-Kuril Islands-Kamchatka coastline-Commander Islands-Petropavlovsk
Laysan Albatross, Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Spectacled Guillemot, Pigeon Guillemot, Whiskered Auklet, Crested Auklet, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Red-legged Kittiwake, Aleutian Tern, Steller’s Sea-eagle, Long-toed Stint, Rock Sandpiper, Siberian Rubythroat, Humpback Whale, Baird’s Beaked Whale, Dall’s Porpoise, Brown Bear and Sea Otter.
Temperate to cool.
50+ passenger expedition ship, cabins with and without private facilities.
WildWings pioneered expedition cruises to this region in the mid-nineties, however, our original ship is no longer operating, so we have been offering this exciting itinerary on the expedition vessel ‘Spirit of Enderby’ (55 passengers) every year since 2007, with Chris Collins aboard as part of the ship’s team. Being a Russian flagged ship, these expeditions can visit sites previously not open to Western vessels.
This region of spectacular scenery has only been accessible since 1994 and still remains rarely visited, far more people have been to Antarctica! The species list is truly mouth-watering and is surely headed by one of the world’s ultimate raptors, Steller’s Sea-eagle. Seabirds are also here in abundance, with the potential alcids including Spectacled, Brunnich’s and Pigeon Guillemots, Whiskered, Rhinoceros, Crested, Parakeet and Least Auklets, Tufted and Horned Puffins, and Ancient, Kittlitz’s and Long-billed Murrelets. Black-tailed, Glaucous-winged and Slaty-backed Gulls are all present, along with the range-restricted Red-legged Kittiwake and highly distinctive Kamchatka Gull. We also stand a chance of seeing Aleutian Tern too.
Whilst Laysan Albatross is the commonest albatross, there is also a good chance of both Black-footed and Short-tailed Albatrosses, with Short-tailed seen most years. All three albatrosses were seen in 2019! Other likely tubenoses include Mottled Petrel, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Short-tailed Shearwater and the blue morph of the Northern Fulmar. Japanese, Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants, Harlequin Duck, Black and Stejneger’s Scoters can all be expected and ashore, we will search for shorebirds such as Red-necked Stint, Latham’s Snipe and Rock Sandpiper.
Our landings add many more birds including Oriental Turtle Dove, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Buff-bellied and Pechora Pipits, Brown-headed Thrush, Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler, Eastern Crowned and Kamchatka Leaf Warblers, Siberian, Asian Brown, Narcissus and Red-throated Flycatchers, Rufous-tailed Robin, Red-flanked Bluetail, Siberian Rubythroat, Pine Grosbeak, Long-tailed Rosefinch and Rustic, Black-faced, Japanese Grey and Yellow-breasted Buntings.
Some of Japan’s special birds also occur in the Southern Kuril Islands and we will search for Japanese Robin, Japanese Bush Warbler and Japanese Accentor whilst ashore. On Sakhalin Island itself, we have seen Sakhalin Leaf Warbler and Sakhalin Warbler on previous visits and will look for both of these if time allows.
There will also be excellent chances for some exciting mammals including Arctic (Blue) Fox, Asian Brown Bear, Largha Seal, Northern Fur Seal, Sea Otter and Steller’s Sea Lions. Cetaceans could include Orca (annual), Blue (last seen in 2018), Sperm, Northern Minke, Humpback and Fin Whales plus Baird’s Beaked Whales (all seen in 2019) and the seemingly ‘turbo-charged’ Dall’s Porpoise. The opportunities for photography will be generally superb throughout.
The expedition offers an opportunity to explore one of the most geologically active and biologically rich parts of the planet and due to the large number of active volcanoes, this region has become known as the Pacific’s ‘Ring of Fire’. The Kamchatka Peninsula is a land of stunning bays and snow-capped volcanoes where alpine meadows and lowland forests support a great diversity of wildlife, whilst the Kuril chain comprises 32 islands that stretch between Russia and Japan.
Whilst the Southern Kuril Islands are sparsely inhabited, most of the Central and Northern Islands have no permanent human presence and we can expected to go for days without seeing any other people. The voyage also takes in the remote Commander Islands which are also rich in bird and marine mammals and the final resting place of the famed Danish explorer Vitus Bering.
Depending on your flight arrangements, you will have time to stay in Petropavlovsk and/or Sakhalin pre and/or post cruise and we can book hotels in both. The vessel will have a full expedition team aboard for this voyage including Chris, the ship’s ornithologist. Subject to demand, we will also operate some land-based birding excursions around Petropavlovsk to look for specialities such as Black-billed Capercaillie.
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 Pacific Sea Otters. We include a visit to the small settlement of Nikolskoye and the local museum.
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 nest in the trees adjacent to the river. Other highlights could include Far Eastern Curlew, Long-toed Stint, Kamchatka Gull and Aleutian Tern. 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 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 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 afternoon’s landing on Urup Island is a chance to stretch your 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 Kamchatka Leaf-warbler, Japanese Robin, Siberian Accentor, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Bush-warbler
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 Korskov on Sakhalin Island. There will be transport to a central hotel and the airport in the town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
Please note: All itineraries are subject to weather, local conditions and final approval by the relevant authorities.
Dates: 27th May – 8th June 2020 (Petropavlovsk – Sakhalin)
Leader/s: Chris Collins and the rest of the ship’s expedition team.
£5465 Sharing a triple basic (upper & lower berths)
£6375 Sharing a twin basic (lower berths)
£6899 Sharing a twin with facilities(upper and lower berths)
£7349 Sharing a superior twin with facs. (lower berths)
£7639 Sharing a suite with facilities from (beds)
Single cabin supplement 1.8 twin share price.
You may advance register for the 2021 voyage for only £50pp.
Price includes: Voyage with accommodation as booked, including all meals, tea/coffee, shore excursions, lectures and services of WildWings leader and the rest of the expedition team, day by day bird and mammal checklist & transfers hotel to ship, ship to airport.
Price excludes: Landing fees and port taxes (currently US$500, payable onboard the ship), return economy class flights from £749 (London – Sakhalin/Petropavlosk - London), pre-cruise hotel (approx. £100pp sharing a twin, b&b with arrival airport transfer), optional land birding around Sakhalin & Petropavlosk (approx £85 per excursion), post-cruise hotel, if required (approx. £105pp sharing a twin, b&b, with departure transfer) , an overnight in Moscow maybe required on the outward journey, twin room approx. £50pp, travel insurance, onboard gratuities (suggest US$10 per day), Russian visa (c£98) and other drinks.
Contact us for the ship’s colour brochure, for previous voyage reports, please click the trip report tab above.
27th May – 8th June 2020
Spirit of Enderby (Prof Khromov)
Russian, former research vessel carrying up to 54 passengers. Officers and crew professional and friendly. Western expedition staff. Comfortable with good food. A real expedition feel. All cabins with portholes or windows. The most pioneering expedition vessel currently out on the oceans, she often conducts voyages of true exploration and is also one of the last of the well-loved “Molchanov’ class of ships.
Chris has birded in over 80 countries and territories around the world and now spends the quite a lot of his time at sea. Although professionally qualified as a Chartered Accountant, these days Chris concentrates on wildlife-related projects and was very instrumental in setting up the Western Pacific Odyssey and also guides our Russian Far East voyages.