Southeast Alaska boasts more than 350 bird species, including the highest densities of Marbled Murrelets and Bald Eagles in the world. In spring, hundreds of thousands of shorebirds stop to feed in the Southeast on their way to their breeding grounds in the Arctic. Tens of thousands of colonial seabirds dot the coast in the summer. Endemics such as Queen Charlotte Goshawks and Prince of Wales Spruce Grouse thrive in the region’s ancient forests.
In addition to the vibrant and prolific birdlife, Southeast Alaska is home to rugged mountains, thousands of maritime islands, spectacular glacial fjords, highly productive estuaries, and towering old-growth trees. Throughout the Tongass National Forest, Glacier Bay National Park, and other stellar public lands, visitors find abundant fish and wildlife including five salmon species, black and brown bears, and endemic mammals such as Sitka black-tailed deer and Alexander Archipelago wolves.
This region is an ideal backdrop for Alaska’s first birding trail. Like birding trails in other states, the Southeast Alaska Birding Trail will be virtual, taking the form of a guide to birding and wildlife hotspots across the archipelago with routes and options for finding numerous species. Maps will highlight key places for birdwatching and wildlife-watching to guide both Alaskans and out-of-state travelers. The virtual trail will also provide a wealth of information about local outfitters, gear, and other amenities available at various sites.
Audubon Alaska is proud to be collaborating with Juneau Audubon Society, the US Forest Service, and other knowledgeable partners on this project. We are currently in the development stage, which entails designing the trail concept, working with local experts to identify the best birding sites, and assessing access and services for those sites. A major component of the next phase is gathering input from Southeast Alaska communities about the extent to which they would like to be involved in the trail.
“Juneau Audubon Society is excited to be a partner on the birding trail project,” said Gwen Baluss, President of the Juneau Audubon Society. “Our chapter has always been active in compiling information about Southeast Alaska birds, and the trail will expand on those efforts. It will be a great way to highlight and promote the many birding opportunities here in the Southeast.”
The birding trail will be beneficial for the birds, the forest, and the people who call Southeast Alaska home. First, an increase in birdwatching will foster a greater awareness and appreciation for birds, their habitats, and our public lands. Second, identifying the best sites will contribute to the protection of these habitats. And third, an increase in bird-related ecotourism will contribute to the local economy.
“This effort has great potential for increasing tourism and associated jobs in our rural communities,” said Cheryl Carrothers, Wildlife Program Leader, US Forest Service - Alaska Region. “The birding trail will be a resource for Alaskans who want to expand their local birding experiences, and it will provide valuable information about potential ‘bucket list’ species for visitors from outside our area.”
Many local entities share the goal of increasing the number of independent travelers who visit the region, interact with small communities, use local vendors, and contribute dollars to the economy. Nationwide, birdwatching is a multi-million dollar industry. In 2016, 86 million Americans reported participating in wildlife-watching activities, with more than 45 million specifically watching birds. These wildlife-watchers spent about $11.5 million on travel-related expenses and about $64 million in equipment-related expenses for watching wildlife. The birding trail will help Southeast Alaska communities tap into this interest, providing a boost to the region’s successful and growing tourism industry.
Birders can look out for the launch of the Southeast Alaska Birding Trail in 2020! If you would like to get involved in the development phase of this project, contact Melanie Smith, Audubon Alaska’s Director of Conservation Science, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 907-276-7034.