Denali Highway | Outside My Window


Denali Highway in summer (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Alaska Birding with PIB: Denali Highway 16 June 2019

Today our birding tour travels 113 miles of the Denali Highway, the only direct route from Cantwell to Paxson, Alaska. In Pennsylvania the trip would take about 2 hours including birding stops. But not on this road!

For most of its 133-mile length the Denali Highway is a dusty gravel road with occasional washboard sections. Closed during the winter (October to mid-May) its recommended speed limit is 30 mph and services are scant. In other words, don’t expect a bathroom. 20 miles are paved but we won’t be driving on them. Our destination, the Tangle River Inn at Delta Junction, is where the pavement begins.

Highlights of the road include:

  • Great views of Denali mountain if it’s not clouded over,
  • The second highest highway pass in Alaska at MacLaren Summit, 4085 feet
  • The MacLaren River,
  • Fly fishing for grayling — we will see this but not do it
  • Moose, caribou, lots of wildlife, and …
  • Birds!

Google predicts the trip will take 3 hours but we’ll be birding so I expect to be out there all day. Here are just a few of the birds we hope to see.

Nesting tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) maybe too early to see cygnets.

Tundra swan family in July, Alaska (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Northern hawk owl (Surnia ulula):

Northern hawk owl (photo by Jessica Botzan)

Willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) showing his beautiful red eyebrows:

Willow ptarmigan in Alaska (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The ptarmigan predator: Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)

Gyrfalcon (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

And a songbird famous for migrating from Alaska to Africa, the northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe):

Northern wheatear (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

This will be my first time on the Denali Highway. We’re in for an adventure!

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the captions to see the original)