Petropavlovsk-KamchatskiyArrive in Petropavlovsk. Transfer to your ship and depart for the Commander Islands. You are welcome on the bridge as the ship sails from what some people consider the best natural harbor in the world. There is also some good birding as you leave the shoreline behind.
At SeaSpend the day at sea as you cruise towards the Commander Islands. Enjoy several lectures and briefings as you 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.
Commander IslandsThere are two main islands in the Commander group, Bering and Medny, and during your two days you have the opportunity to explore several sites that combine the best of the area's 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 Sea Otters. Plan for a visit to the small settlement of Nikolskoye and the local museum and if weather permits Commander Bay, where Vitus Bering was shipwrecked and is buried.
Zhupanova River, KamchatkaSpend several hours in the Zodiacs cruising on the scenic Zhupanova River where you should get great looks at Steller’s Sea Eagles, as the birds often perch in the trees adjacent to the river. Other highlights may include Pacific Diver, Far Eastern Curlew, Glaucous-winged Gull, Aleutian Tern and Yellow-breasted Bunting. There is also a major salmon fishery on the river which you can visit.
Bukta Russkaya, KamchatkaIn this deep fiord on the Kamchatka Peninsula, look for the critically endangered Kittlitz’s Murrelet as well as Long-billed Murrelet. Plan for 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.
Second Kuril Strait, Atlasova and Onekotan IslandsVery early in the morning the ship passes through Second Kuril Strait which has one of the highest densities of Sea Otters in the Kuril Islands. The landing on Atlasova Island is great for birders and non-birders alike. Explore the remains of a Gulag and keep your eyes out for numerous species. This evening on Onekotan Island you can stretch our legs through an amazing field of wild flowers as we walk to Black Lake.
Ekarma and Toporkovy IslandsDuring an early morning Zodiac cruise at Ekarma Island you 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 you can expect to find Harlequin Ducks, Red-faced Cormorants, Tufted Puffins and Brunnich’s Guillemots. Ashore you could encounter Grey-tailed Tattler, Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler and Black-faced Bunting.
Simushir and Yankicha IslandsToday your ship enters 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 the Siberian Rubythroat, Eurasian Nutcracker, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Grey Bunting. Your 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.
Chirpoy and Urup IslandsThis morning depending on weather, you can 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 bird in the forest behind the beach.
Iturup IslandThis morning you land at the small settlement of Kurilsk from where local buses/trucks take you into the volcanic highlands to thermal hot pools where you can enjoy a soak or go birding. Possible species include Brown Dipper, Arctic Warbler, Japanese Robin, Pine Grosbeak and Japanese Grey Bunting.
Kunashir IslandKunashir is the largest island in the Kuril chain. Plan for a landing in the Kurilsky Reserve where you can explore an extensive area of woodland. Here you find some good walks and birding. This afternoon while you are at sea there is also a good chance for birding and an opportunity to recap and pack as you prepare to disembark.
Sakhalin IslandArrive at the Port of Korskov on Sakhalin Island. Transport to a central hotel and the airport in the town of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is available.