The Pacific Ring of Fire manifests itself in numerous places on the rim of the Pacific Ocean - but nowhere more dramatically than in Russia's Far East. Along one of the world's most active plate boundaries, the Pacific plate subducts under the Eurasian plate and the resulting volcanic and geothermal activity has built a unique and amazing landscape. The region was 'closed' even to Russians during the Cold War and it is only now, two decades since Perestroika, that people can travel relatively freely here, although there is still very little in the way of infrastructure for visitors.
The region falls into three quite distinct and unique geographical regions: the Kamchatka Peninsula; the Commander Islands (the western extremity of the Aleutian chain of islands) and the Kuril Islands. Each has their own story and in many cases endemic plants and birds. On this expedition we go in search of those people, plants, animals and birds that make Russia's portion of the Pacific Ring of Fire so special.
Stretching from Japan to the southern end of the Kamchatka Peninsula, the Kuril Islands are a chain of over 30 volcanic islands bordering an oceanic trench which reaches depths of over 8,000 metres. This is one of the richest areas in the world for seabirds and potentially cetaceans. For birders the undoubted highlights in the region are up to 14 species of auks including Tufted and Horned Puffins, Parakeet, Whiskered and Rhinoceros Auklets, as well as Spectacled and Pigeon Guillemots.
Bering and Medny Islands which make up the Commander Islands were uninhabited when Vitus Bering landed there in 1741. The arrival of humans in the pursuit of furs decimated the population of otters, foxes and fur seals and led to the extinction of the Sea Cow. Today the islands are a protected and unique Nature Reserve.
The Kamchatka Peninsula which dominates the North Pacific is in turn dominated by a large number of volcanoes, dense forest and unforgettable scenery. We have chosen several landing sites which will give a good overview of the region. These locations include one of the hundreds of salmon-rich rivers for which the region is renowned and around which the infamous Kamchatka Brown Bear congregates. We plan to visit several idyllic bays renowned for cetaceans such as the Western Grey, Humpback and Sperm Whales.
For dates and rates, and the full itinerary please click the tabs under the heading above.
Pre/Post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation and meals and all expedition shore excursions.
All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.
Arrive into Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy the capital and administrative centre of the Kamchatka Region and transfer to the port to board the Spirit of Enderby.
By early morning the Spirit of Enderby will enter Avacha Bay and we will disembark the ship in the morning.
This is an abridged itinerary, please contact the Heritage Expeditions office for a full voyage itinerary.
Our ship - The Spirit of Enderby:
The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel, built in 1984 for polar and oceanographic research and is perfect for Expedition Travel.
She carries just 50 passengers and was refurbished in March 2012 to provide comfortable accommodation in twin share cabins approximately half of which have private facilities. All cabins have outside windows or portholes and ample storage space.
On board there is a combined bar/library lounge area and a dedicated lecture room. The cuisine is excellent and is prepared by top NZ and Australian chefs.
The real focus and emphasis of every expedition is getting you ashore as often as possible for as long as possible with maximum safety and comfort. Our Expeditions are accompanied by some of the most experienced naturalists and guides, who have devoted a lifetime to field research in the areas that we visit. The ship is crewed by a very enthusiastic and most experienced Russian Captain and crew.
The name Spirit of Enderby honours the work and the vision of the Enderby Brothers of London. The Enderby Captains were at the forefront of Antarctic exploration for almost 40 years in the early 1800s. It also celebrates Enderby Island, arguably the greatest Subantarctic Island in the world.
Sunday 27th, May 2012
We boarded the Spirit of Enderby in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy around 2:00pm and enjoyed an excellent lunch prepared by our galley team, Bruce and Jeremy. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy was founded by the Danish explorer Vitus Bering in 1740, as a departure port for his expedition through the North Pacific Ocean. After lunch we left the 24 km long Avacha Bay, which is named after the Avachinsky volcano. At 6:00pm we participated in the mandatory lifeboat drill, just before a group of Orca and then a Sperm Whale were spotted. We watched them against the backdrop of an incredible landscape of snowy mountains glistening in the twilight. Birders observed Tufted Puffins, Pelagic Cormorants, Slaty-backed Gulls, Ancient Murrelets and Common Guillemots as we headed north towards Bering Island.
Monday 28th, May 2012
Unusually for this area, the sailing last night was just perfect, with flat calm seas. Today we spent a full day at sea in excellent conditions for wildlife watching. Birders spent most of the day with binoculars and cameras on the outside deck. We spotted Dall's Porpoise, Humpback, Fin and Northern Minke Whales, as well as many birds including Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Terns and even the rare Red-legged Kittiwake. Sailing provides a good opportunity for lectures, and today Katya gave us a general overview of the Commander Islands. She was followed by Leonid, who gave a talk about the history of the island where he lives - Paramushir Island. Chris concluded the lectures for the day with his presentation on seabirds of the North Pacific. After dinner our Expedition Leader, Nathan, presented us with the plan for tomorrow on Bering Island.
Thursday 29th, May 2012
We awoke this morning anchored just off Nikol'skoye, the only village in the Commander Islands. One group led by Chris and Adam went bird watching along the river, while others had free time exploring the town. We enjoyed the village museum featuring Vitus Bering's expedition and the local fauna and flora. This museum is the only one in the world having a Steller Sea Cow skeleton, which was the largest member of the order Sirenia. This animal was hunted to extinction on Bering Island just 27 years after being first recorded by the German naturalist Georg Steller in 1743. While we were visiting the museum, the birders spotted Rock Sandpiper and Petchora Pipit. After lunch, as we were sailing along the west coast of Bering Island, a few Humpback Whales were spotted, some of them breaching, splashing their flukes and even spy hopping. After this spectacular display, Zodiacs were dropped into Bukhta Peresheyek and we cruised along the coast. In an impressive navigable canyon, we found breeding Common Guillemot, Black-leg Kittiwake and the rare Red-leg Kittiwake as well. Sea Otters and Harbour Seals were also observed here.
Wednesday May 30, 2012
Overnight we lifted anchor and cruised to Medny, an even more isolated and beautiful island than Bering. During the morning Adam gave an overview of the marine mammals of the Russian Far East and many people were out on deck to enjoy the abundant birdlife, including large numbers of Fulmars and Laysan Albatross.
As we rounded Cape Monati at the southern tip of Bering Island, we found a sheltered area and the sun came out. There we had the perfect conditions to launch Zodiacs and cruise the coast. Spectacular scenery and geology accompanied us during our two hour Zodiac cruise. The cliffs were covered in Red-legged and Black-legged Kittiwakes, Common and Brunnich's Guillemots, and Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants. Sea Otters and Harbour Seals approached us warily as we cruised past. At the very southern tip of the island is a haul out for Steller Sea Lions and we enjoyed views of these, the largest of the sea lions, basking in the sun on the jagged rocks. Horned Puffins also nest in the area and it was great to make close approaches to the swimming birds with the Zodiacs.
After returning to the ship we cruised offshore through the rich marine feeding areas. The first of the whales for the season had arrived, so we were treated to excellent views of Orca and Humpbacks plus a distant Sperm Whale. Eventually it was time to set our course westwards to Kamchatka and Grigory gave us a fascinating lecture about his work with the Western Grey Whales of Sakhalin. We spent a very pleasant afternoon sailing over the 7,000 m deep Kamchatka Trench. Here we had occasional sightings of Humpback and Fin Whales, Dall's Porpoise, and some tantalising glimpses of unidentified beaked whales. Following a recap and a tasty dinner, we were treated to a spectacular sunset accompanied by the blows of about a dozen Humpbacks. It really had been a day to remember.
Thursday May 31, 2012
We awoke to a different sort of day as we sailed into a south-westerly swell with about 30 knots of wind and a grey overcast sky. Indoors we had two lectures, with Alison giving us a talk about art and Leonid giving an enthusiastic description of the history of the northern Kuril Islands. The weather improved as we neared the Kamchatka coast and by noon the wind had dropped and blue skies highlighted the spectacular Kamchatka coastline. As we came to anchor off the Zhupanova River, the Karymsky volcano belched black smoke while the Zhupanovsky volcano lay quietly capped in snow. It was a stunning sight to behold, and after lunch we boarded the Zodiacs.
Immediately upon entering the river mouth we were greeted by several impressive Steller's Sea Eagles of various ages. It was a pleasure to behold this behemoth of an eagle at close quarters, both on the mudflats and flying overhead. Proceeding into the estuary we were greeted by many Common Terns and also a handful of the much localised Aleutian Tern. Large numbers of Largha Seals, a localised species endemic to the north Pacific, were also hauled out on a sandbar. Next we entered a portion of the river where the banks were covered in riparian forests, dominated by birch trees. A couple of the larger, older trees had active Steller's Sea Eagle nests in them, although the birds were hardly visible sitting in these impressive structures. We turned off the engines and drifted down-river in the silence, enjoying the snow-capped volcanoes, a few songbirds in the riverside trees and various species of waterfowl flying overhead. When we returned to the estuary some Aleutian Terns gave fantastic views and yet more Steller's Sea Eagles were enjoyed. We made a landing at the fishing camp at the river mouth where birders were pleased to find a pair of Falcated Teal and everyone was pleased to enjoy some delicious red salmon.
Eventually it was time to return to the ship and celebrate another memorable day. It was very lively in the bar with everyone swapping stories and photos and Par shouted champagne, such was the quality of the day! After another fine dinner, we sailed down a stunning stretch of the Kamchatka coastline with beautiful evening light illuminating the volcanic peaks.
Friday June 1, 2012
First thing this morning Heritage Expeditions recorded a rare first on their Russian Far East voyages. A Steller's Sea Eagle had landed on the ship's light mast! The regal adult spent almost an hour up there, peering down at us and spreading its wing. Thousands of pictures were taken of this huge bird before it returned to the Kamchatka coastline. What a start to the day!
Blue skies greeted us as we sailed up the stunning fiord of Bukhta Russkaya. A Brown Bear was spotted walking along a snow patch and a few birders glimpsed the rare Long-billed Murrelet. We came to anchor near the head of the fiord and boarded Zodiacs for a landing on the beach where we spent some time poking around the birch forest and small creek. The most notable find of the morning was the white subspecies albidus, of the Northern Goshawk, very different to all other populations of Northern Goshawk.
Later in the day we took the Zodiacs to the mouth of the fiord. Here the Steller Sea Lion haul out was patrolled by a pod of hungry Orca. We could see them from the ship and excitement ran high as we cruised in closer to shore. Over the next couple of hours we observed these amazing animals. It is hard to describe the experience of having a large male Orca surface beside your Zodiac - it was truly amazing. There were perhaps 12 Orca in total slowly working the area and all the while the sea lions sat on the rocks, roaring in anger or fear, not daring to enter the water. We saw some classic behaviour including spy hopping, tail slapping and some animals swimming upside down.
Eventually we returned to the ship and continued south following the coastline. In the afternoon Meghan opened the Sea Shop and Katya gave us a very enlightening lecture about Sea Otters. We drank in the magnificent views of the volcanic Kamchatka coastline. After a recap and dinner, it was another glorious sunset for those who watched from the decks.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Ptich'i Islands and Atlasova Island.
We were greeted this morning by the most beautiful sunrise over the Northern Kurils. A Zodiac cruise around the Ptich'i Islands was scheduled before breakfast and we set out in four boats to explore these rocks which are alive with sea mammals and birds. We slowly and cautiously approached, being careful not to get too close and risk disturbing the animals in this little sanctuary. Clearly otters from all around the area were gathering there to rest. The numbers were truly remarkable - they were hauled out everywhere on the flat sandy spits around the islands and on the rocks themselves. There must have been a good four hundred creatures, creating the impression that this is the main population in the Kuril Islands. There were also a good number of Largha and Harbour Seals on the nearby beaches and the sky was busy with birds flying around their nesting colonies. We also saw Kuril Island Guillemots, Parakeet Auklets and Ancient Murrelets.
Sea and weather conditions remained spectacular as we sailed through the Second Kuril Strait, allowing us to observe birds and animals at our leisure from the bridge and decks. Before lunch Nathan gathered everyone in the bar for an introduction to our upcoming landing on Atlasova Island. He gave us some background to the features of this small island which has the highest volcano in the entire Kuril chain - Alaid. After lunch Adam led a landing on the gravelly beach between two ancient lava flows. We split into three groups - the artists, the birders and the general naturalists. The latter immediately spread out and began exploring the island, taking in the little lighthouse, Vladimir peninsula (which was created during one of the eruptions of the Alaid volcano), and kelp forests along the rocky coastline. The birders found success in the bush, finding a good number of songbirds and other interesting species. Everyone made the most of the three hours ashore and returned to the ship happy and tired after some good exercise.
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Onekotan and Ekarma Islands
A quick look out the window confirmed that it was worth getting out of bed early once again as the day was glorious with the first rays of sunshine over the Nemo volcano on Onekotan Island. After breakfast Nathan gave a briefing about the day, and Chris and Katya gave us some information on the birding and historical background of the area. As we landed on the beach we spotted a fox running up the hill and saw a raven overhead. From the hills on both sides of the sheltered valley we could see earth mounds. These are all that is left of the dwellings of the Ainu people. We split into several small groups - the birders, hikers, artists and slow/history walkers. Everyone enjoyed the morning with a number of interesting birds seen, including an unexpected Asian Rosefinch. The long walkers made it to the Black Lake on the slopes of the Nemo volcano. This volcanic cone was named along with the bay after Captain Nemo from the novel by Jules Verne. They very much enjoyed the scenery, particularly seeing some newly opened flowers along the way. Fog was drifting in and out as we walked, but it finally retreated, allowing us beautiful weather all morning. We were all back on board by 11am when the Spirit of Enderby sailed for Ekarma Island.
After a pleasantly quiet afternoon we approached Ekarma Island to see great flocks of Northern Fulmars circling around the ship and a pod of Orca in the distance. We dropped Zodiacs into the water and set out on a new excursion. The number of fulmars was astonishing as they flew in and out their colony. There were also a good number of Tufted and Horned Puffins on the water. On the way back to the ship we stopped for a few Crested Auklets and one lone Whiskered Auklet which became the star of the day with several photographers pointing big lenses at it. Back on the ship we enjoyed a recap and the regular reading of the bird list.
Monday, June 4, 2012
Simushir and Yankicha Islands
We were certainly enjoying great weather on this voyage as once again we woke to calm seas and sunshine, this time at Simushir Island. We planned to land in the giant caldera of the extinct volcano, at the site of the abandoned Soviet submarine base Kraterniy. It was built in 1978 and operated until the mid-1990s when many military bases were abandoned due to the lack of funding. The impressive installation held 5000+ soldiers and officers and was a support base for the North Pacific fleet. After abandonment, many things remain at the same spot they were previously used, slowly falling apart and being overrun by nature. It was fascinating to learn that an Ainu settlement, a Russian-American Harvesting Company base and later a Japanese submarine base preceded the Soviet village installation on this very spot.
After breakfast Nathan informed us that another ship was in the vicinity so we landed early and made the most of our time ashore. We wandered off in all directions, birders following Chris and others scattering amongst the buildings. It was appropriate to reflect on the history of the region and the system and ideology of the Soviet regime. Some of the propaganda murals were still intact inside the buildings and we studied them with interest.
In the afternoon we made our way to Yankicha Island, arriving in plenty of time to enjoy the twilight when hundreds of thousands of auklets come back to their colony from the sea. On arrival at Yankicha we launched the Zodiacs and set out towards the caldera. It was a bit rough where the tide met the current, but we successfully made it to the tranquility inside. We immediately spotted a couple of Arctic Foxes playing on the hill. These were Blue Foxes introduced from the Commander Islands by the Japanese. The population initially boomed and then declined again to just a few hundred animals. The seabird colonies here are quite successful and the birds are present in great numbers. After enjoying some time in the caldera and taking photos of the fox and Crested Auklets we landed by the geothermal area and had half an hour ashore, while one boat stayed out so people could keep photographing more auklets. On the way out we saw the auklets starting to come back from the sea. Hundreds of thousands of dark shapes were silhouetted against the sky and created enormous rafts on the surface. Inside the caldera it was mainly Crested Auklets, but outside, Whiskered Auklets were in greater numbers. Our mood was buoyant as we discussed the events of a fabulous day over dinner a few hours after sailing from Yankicha Island.
Tuesday, 5th June, 2012
Novokuril'skaya Bay, Urup Island
After the comparatively late finish the previous evening at Yankicho, many took the opportunity to have a lie in and only a few determined sea-watchers were outside before breakfast. Early risers experience thick fog with visibility consistently less than 50 metres, only a few Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels and Tufted Puffins were to be seen. With conditions unsuitable for a landing on the exposed beach at Chirpoy Island, Nathan took the decision to continue heading south to allow more time on Urup Island. As a result two lectures were offered, with Katya discussing the adaptations of marine mammals in the Russian Far East and Adam telling us about the legacy of Georg Steller who was the naturalist on Bering's second expedition.
At 10:30am the fog suddenly cleared and the northern end of Urup Island came into view. It seemed that our luck with the weather would continue for yet another landing. Following an early lunch, the Zodiacs were launched and everyone was soon ashore in Novokuril'skoya Bay. Many people elected to explore by themselves and with almost three hours ashore, it was possible to investigate the shoreline, sand dunes and the area around an old abandoned fishing community surrounded by forested hills. With blue skies and little wind, conditions were nigh on perfect, and it was very apparent how much more advanced the spring was here compared with further north, as there was an excellent range of flowers and most of the trees were in full leaf. As the best birding was near the old village, most of the birders headed in that direction and an excellent range of birds were found with Middendorf's Grasshopper Warbler, Pacific Swift, Long-tailed Rosefinch, Japanese Bush-Warbler and Siberian Rubythroat amongst the species seen. Both Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler and Japanese Robin were heard but we were sadly thwarted in our attempts to find these despite the assistance of Chris's iPod. We would have to try and find these species further south.
Out in the bay at least a dozen Steller Sea Lions were seen, whilst those who walked along the shore saw a Red Fox. By 4:00pm everyone was back on board the Spirit of Enderby and after the anchor had been lifted, we headed south along the coast of Urup towards Iturup. Although the wind was blowing off the coast, the sky remained almost cloudless with great visibility and as we sailed onwards we saw Laysan Albatross, Orca and Dall's Porpoise. A little later in the afternoon, three Sperm Whales were also spotted and as the nightly log and dinner approached, several dozen Short-tailed Shearwaters were seen. Although we had seen a few of these previously, huge numbers moult in the south-west part of the Sea of Okhotsk and it seemed likely that these were the first of many we would see in the coming days.
Wednesday, 6th June, 2012
We arrived off the village of Kurilsk, Iturup Island, during the night and by 6:30am the Zodiacs were in the water. We landed on a beach a couple of miles to the south of the village. Yet again the weather was fantastic and people fanned out to explore while we waited for our transport to arrive. There were several fishing boats hauled up above the beach and the birders were delighted when a couple of new species for the trip were found. Whilst the first of these was the widespread Eurasian Wryneck, the other was a far more range-restricted species, the Chestnut-cheeked Starling, and with two feeding amongst the weed on the beach, we got some great looks at this very attractive bird.
A few minutes later our two specially chartered Ural trucks arrived and we boarded these for the ride up into the mountains. As the vehicles climbed upwards towards the Rubeytsky Volcano, we passed through a mixture of broadleaf woodland and more open areas where the dominant vegetation was Stone Pine.
We stopped at a look-out point above a small crater lake where there were some magnificent views over the forest, across to some distant volcanoes and down to the shore with the blue skies giving us great visibility.
The birders were keen to sight one special species they hoped to see here - the Japanese Accentor. Adam and Chris led those who were interested towards an area which looked promising. The first attempt proved unsuccessful with no response to playback but as we approached a second patch of Stone Pine, Chris spotted an Accentor singing from a perch in the pines. Most saw it before the bird disappeared from view. Fortunately the bird reappeared on a couple of occasions allowing everyone to see it.
Further along another short stop was made and an incredibly obliging Japanese Robin sang happily for the group. Usually this species is very elusive and creeps around in the bamboo but this individual had clearly 'not read the right books'. It sat still for several minutes allowing many to even watch it through the telescope. Our morning had barely started and the two main target birds had already been found!
On arrival at the thermal pools, some of the group went for a swim in the hot, mineral rich waters, whilst others set off on another bird walk led by Chris and Adam. Again this was highly successful, with highlights including a Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler, Red-flanked Bluetail, Japanese Robin and Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. It had been an amazingly successful morning with the weather undoubtedly helping considerably. Our two trucks reappeared and we climbed aboard and were soon back at the landing site. As soon as the last of the Zodiacs was safely stowed, the ship set off southward along the coast of Iturup. Sailing onward, we passed several pods of Dall's Porpoises, at least forty Orca and the first Rhinoceros Auklets of the expedition. By 6:00pm we had reached the southern end of Iturup and the ship turned to port to enter the flooded caldera of Zaliv L'vinaya Past Bay. Over the next couple of hours we cruised around this spectacular location with the mist obscuring just the tops of the ancient crater rim. We achieved the main objective of visiting this location and saw at least eight Brown Bears, ending another great day.
Thursday, 7th June, 2012
The day began with another early breakfast, but it looked like our luck with the weather had finally ended, as there was thick fog and steady rain. Undeterred, we went ashore at 7.30am. Initially we walked as a group to view a spectacular waterfall which flowed almost directly into the sea and then three different options were available with Adam leading a walk up a steep trail into the forest, Katya a gentle stroll along the beach and Chris a birding walk.
It was hard to see the birds with the rain still falling, although a number of more widespread species were seen, including the local species of Marsh and Coal Tit. Everyone was encouraged to stay together, as there was plenty of evidence of Brown Bears with numerous footprints on the beach. The fresh prints indicated that bears had been wandering along the beach that very morning prior to our arrival.
By 9:15am most people had returned to the landing site and as we returned to the ship, several small flocks of Rhinoceros Auklets were spotted although the inclement weather limited the few birds that were seen during the morning and most of the group were content to begin packing their bags or watch the 'Big Year' movie, which tells the story of three American birders who were all competing to see who could sight the highest number of birds in a single year.
The fog cleared after lunch and we began to pass vast numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters. These long distance migrants breed south of Australia and almost the entire population comes to the Sea of Okhotsk to moult. As we sailed onwards towards Korsakov, every so often there were flocks of thousands of birds as well as a steady stream of birds passing the ship.
After the settlement of on board accounts, Nathan invited everyone to join him in the Lecture room for a disembarkation briefing which was followed by a slideshow of magnificent photos taken by expedition staff during the voyage. Later we had the final reading of the birdlist which was followed by a wonderful buffet dinner.
Friday, 8th June, 2012
Port of Korsakov, Sakhalin Island
During the night, the Spirit of Enderby continued her north-westerly journey towards the Port of Korsakov on Sakhalin Island. By the time everyone got up, the island was in sight and a little later the ship was tied up at the wharf. Our memorable journey was sadly over. We had travelled 1,936 nautical miles and experienced many sights, sounds and other experiences which would stay with us for a long time. It had been a truly special expedition.
Shortly after 8:30am we boarded our bus for the 40 minute ride to the Port of Korsakov and were all soon onboard the Spirit of Enderby - our home for the next couple of weeks.
We were able to begin birding on the top deck while at anchor and a variety of species were seen: including Japanese and Pelagic Cormorants, Slaty-backed Gull and Pacific Swift. Our first cetaceans were also spotted with a number of Dall’s Porpoises cruising distantly around the bay.
Weighing anchor at 11:00am we set sail for the island of Kunashir and were soon enjoying some great looks at the Porpoises. Several pods passed close to the ship and we were able to clearly see the diagnostic white wedge on their dorsal fins.
For sheer numbers, the most common seabird was undoubtedly the Short-tailed Shearwater and there were literally thousands of these sitting around on the ocean. As we approached some of the flocks, it was possible to see that many of the birds were really tatty – they had flown all the way up from south of Australia and New Zealand and were here to moult.
Other species seen included our first Rhinoceros Auklet, Spectacled Guillemot and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, although the most unexpected sighting was surely an Oriental Turtle Dove that made repeated passes of the ship and was wanted to land. With almost everyone out on deck, however, it eventually gave up and headed over towards Sakhalin Island some distance behind us.
By late afternoon, we were very satisfied with the afternoon’s birding and headed to the bar for a pre-dinner drink which was followed by the first of many excellent dinners served by Chefs, Nicki and Brad.
For the “early birds”, the day started at 05:45am as the Spirit of Enderby rounded the Northern end of Kunashir Island heading for our anchorage off the Zapovednik-Kurilskaya Reserve. There were even more Short-tailed Shearwater than the previous afternoon, with a constant stream of birds passing the ship. Many passengers also saw the first Tufted Puffins of the expedition and others caught up with Rhinoceros Auklet.
We were soon heading for the shore in four Zodiacs and fortunate passengers had some good looks at a Long-billed Murrelet and a Spectacled Guillemot.
Reaching the shoreline, we were met by three Wardens from the Reserve and divided into two groups: Chris took the keener birders and Adam took those who wanted a more general experience. With a high density of bears in the Reserve (it is thought there are at least two hundred of them), we were told to remain with our groups – each one led by a Ranger carrying a loaded rifle.
Chris’s group headed inshore and quickly found a pair of Siberian Stonechats and then several Long-tailed Rosefinches. These appropriately-named birds showed extremely well and after we had all enjoyed some nice looks, we headed deeper into the forest. This was rather quiet, although the somewhat dank conditions certainly did not help. Nevertheless, we still saw several species including the interesting eastern form of Bullfinch whose males have only pink throats with greyish bellies.
Arriving at the river, a flying White-backed Woodpecker was spotted before we headed downstream towards the sea. On an overgrown track we saw some interesting birds including a party of ‘Northern’ Long-tailed Tits. Most of the birds were youngsters but there were also two or three adults which had pure white heads - unlike the birds that many of us were familiar with from elsewhere.
While Chris’ group battled the vegetation, Adam took his group along the shore where they saw hundreds of Harlequin Ducks and an assortment of other waterfowl, as well as several White-tailed Eagles. They then headed inshore to visit the Blakiston’s Fish-Owl nesting boxes, which were not occupied this year, so the group returned via a track where many Latham’s Snipes were seen.
By 1:30pm we were all back on the ship and after the damp morning, it was good to be able to get out of wet clothes before Brad and Nicki served up a very welcome hot lunch.
At 3pm Zodiac operations restarted and with the rain still falling, just over twenty passengers decided to return to the shore. We were instantly rewarded for our decision when a Brown Bear was spotted as soon as we reached the landing site. It was ambling through the low vegetation just behind the beach and we enjoyed some great looks as it slowly walked away from us, occasionally looking over its shoulder at our group.
Adam took a group exploring with him along the path that Chris had taken in the morning but only as far as the river. This was very successful as they were extremely fortunate to spot a Crested Kingfisher, a species which is rarely recorded on Kunashir.
Chris took everyone else along the shoreline to the river mouth where they had nice views of several dozen Harlequin Ducks and at least eight White-tailed Eagles. The group then headed along the beach in the other direction where they found a selection of species including Black-faced and (Eastern) Reed Bunting.
A Japanese Bush Warbler was heard singing as they returned to the landing site. With the weather far from ideal, it proved difficult to get prolonged views of the bird but most of those who persevered eventually got reasonable views of this very elusive but extremely vocal species.
We arrived off the village of Kurilsk shortly after 5:00am with a ‘pea-soup’ fog surrounding the ship and not a great deal to see. After breakfast and a briefing from Expedition Leader Rodney, we split into two groups with some heading ashore to explore the village while others opted for a Zodiac cruise.
In the village, we wandered past a Russian Orthodox Church and visited the modest community museum. Some of the birders who went ashore found several pairs of Chestnut-cheeked Starlings - a species which is at the Northern edge of its range on Kunashir. After lunch we boarded two substantial Ural trucks for a ride up into the mountains: it took about 40 minutes to reach our destination and as the vehicles climbed up the side of the Rubeytsky volcano, we passed through a mixture of broadleaf woodland and more open areas where the dominant vegetation was Stone Pine.
Several of our group swam in the thermal pools, while Chris took the birders back along the track where they soon heard a Japanese Robin singing. Although this species looks superficially similar to the Robin in Europe (which is surely one of the friendliest of garden birds), its Asian equivalent is a real ‘skulker’ and getting good looks can be challenging. On this occasion, however, we were very fortunate and a short while after Chris played a recording, it popped into view. Indeed, things got even better when it hopped into the open and gave a brief burst of song, fanning its orange banded tail as it did so. A great treat for all who were fortunate to see this gorgeous bird!
Returning to the Urals, we headed to an area of Stone Pines where a Japanese Accentor was heard singing but could not be found, although a male Siberian Rubythroat was a lot more obliging and sang from an open perch giving us some fantastic views.
A little further along, we stopped again and enjoyed some great views across the forests, down the slopes towards Kurilsk and a volcano overlooking the village. The birders made another attempt to find Japanese Accentor but while one was once again heard, it refused to come into view. Two-nil to the Accentor! Returning to the village we had a group photo in front of the Public Hall and then it was down to the beach and back onto the ship. It had been a great day with some absolutely fantastic weather.
For the insomniacs, the day began with a spectacular sunrise a little after 5:00am and as the light improved we cruised towards the northern end of Urup Island and Novokuril’skoya Bay, where we could see the mountains and volcanoes of Urup on our starboard bow. Many of the peaks were still covered in snow and at least one was clearly an active volcano, as steam could be seen coming from the crater on its summit.
Prior to breakfast, several species of Alcids (i.e. Auks) were seen, including our first Brunnich’s Guillemots of the expedition, as well as Crested Auklets and Tufted Puffins. With no wind to assist them in getting airborne, the Tufted Puffins employed what looked like a rather inefficient technique of using their wings to shuffle across the water. Other species included our first Laysan Albatrosses and Red-faced Cormorants, as well as exceptional numbers of Dall’s Porpoises, with upwards of forty animals seen before breakfast.
After a briefing from Rodney, the Zodiacs ferried us ashore in glorious sunshine and we had almost three hours to explore the area around an abandoned fishing community, surrounded by forested hills. Some chose to hike to the top of one of the peaks offering spectacular views over the bay and out towards Broutuna Island, while in the valley below others admired the colourful wild flowers including at least one species of orchid.
The birders split into a number of groups to explore and over the course of the morning an excellent selection of species were seen including Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler, Eurasian (or Spotted) Nutcracker, Brown-headed Thrush, some stunning Siberian Rubythroats and the recently split Kamchatka Leaf-Warbler (previously Arctic Warbler). A number of enthusiasts who had not connected with the Japanese Robin yesterday afternoon made considerable efforts to see this species as there were a number of birds singing, however, we were sadly thwarted despite the assistance of Chris and his iPod.
Returning to the ship, we continued northwards and the prediction that we might encounter some Sperm Whales proved to be spot on, with at least twenty animals seen, including several which were within a couple of hundred metres of the vessel.
The conditions remained utterly glorious with no fog and great visibility and as we approached the Chirpoy Islands, it was possible to see a steaming volcano with a large patch of yellow sulphur. It was very easy to understand how this area had become known as the “Ring of Fire”. Passing Little Chirpoy Island, we saw a couple of hundred Steller’s Sea-Lions hauled out on the beach but these animals can be rather nervous so we did not approach too close to them.
By late afternoon, we were at our anchorage and with the pleasant conditions continuing, we boarded four Zodiacs to explore Bukhta Peschanaya. Cruising around the bay, we saw good numbers of Pigeon Guillemots (of the local Kuril race, snowi, which is sometimes considered a separate species, the ‘Kuril Guillemot’), as well as Brunnich’s Guillemots and Red-faced Cormorants. Rounding the point, we came across several Horned Puffins before crossing to the other side of the bay, where there were spectacular numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes breeding on the cliffs and an enormous male Steller’s Sea-Lion hauled out on the rocks.
Landing on a sandy beach to stretch our legs and warm up, the birders among us were delighted to find a pair of Japanese Grey Buntings. The birds gave some nice looks as they fed on the slopes above the landing site. A great end to a fantastic day.
The day began somewhat unexpectedly, with an announcement just after 06:00am telling us that there were two Short-tailed Albatross sitting on the sea close to the ship. The birds were very obliging and despite the misty conditions, we were able to get some great looks at this species which remains an extreme rarity –it has an estimated world population of only a couple of thousand individuals.
After breakfast and a briefing, we set off for Simushir Island, entering the caldera of Broutona Bay and landing by an abandoned submarine base. The weather remained glorious for the rest of the morning and we had three hours to explore.
Although many of the buildings were rapidly falling into a state of serious disrepair, the main office and barracks had been built out of concrete and some of us went inside to see the Soviet-style murals on the walls. Others went for a walk as far as the cliffs and on the way saw a range of colourful flowers including at least one species of purple orchid.
For those looking for birds, there was an excellent range of species and every few metres there seemed to be either a singing male Siberian Rubythroat or an Arctic Warbler. Other species seen included Japanese Grey Bunting, Pine Grosbeak, Nutcracker and Brown-headed Thrush.
By midday we were all back onboard the Spirit of Enderby where the Captain set a course for Yankicho Island. With forty nautical miles to run it took several hours to reach our destination but as we approached, the number of alcids increased with good numbers of Tufted Puffins, Crested Auklets and Whiskered Auklets.
In the late afternoon, we boarded the Zodiacs for our planned visit to Yankicho Island; however, we soon encountered some thick fog and then a sudden and very unexpected patch of extreme tidal turbulence.
As a result, we returned to the ship where everyone disembarked but twenty minutes later, those who wished re-boarded the Zodiacs and this time reached the entrance to the caldera on Yankicho Island without incident. Cruising inside, we experienced the truly phenomenal spectacle of tens of thousands of Crested and Whiskered Auklets streaming overhead.
While the vast majority of birds seemed to be heading directly for their nests, we also encountered multiple flocks of hundreds of birds sitting on the sea. By slowing the Zodiacs right down, we were able to approach some of these flocks and obtained some amazing views. The Expedition Team had suggested earlier that day that the Auks at Yankicho could be one of life’s most memorable birding experiences and there were few among us that would disagree with that assessment.
We made a brief landing near an area of thermal activity where there was a number of boiling water pools and sulphur vents before returning to the ship for a late dinner. It had been an eventful, but ultimately, spectacular day.
With a thick fog surrounding the ship, it was 8:15am before the morning ‘wake-up call’. After a brief reconnaissance trip by the Expedition Team, we boarded the Zodiacs and set off for Toporkovy Island. Closer to shore, conditions were better than around the ship and we had a fantastic couple of hours.
Several huge male Steller’s Sea-Lions came over to investigate us and two of these then proceeded to have what seemed to be a territorial tussle, with the animals lunging out of the water and creating large splashes close to the Zodiacs.
For many of the birders, the undoubted highlight was an exceedingly obliging Whiskered Auklet which showed at close range for several minutes. As well as the Auklet, we also saw several dozen Pigeon Guillemots of the Kuril race (snowi) with very little white in the wing. Other species seen included Tufted Puffins, Crested Auklets and Slaty-backed Gulls.
As the Spirit of Enderby headed north, the weather conditions improved considerably and shortly after lunch the island of Raykoke came into view. With thousands of Fulmar about, Chris announced that there would be a chumming session from the stern (using the guts and heads from some fishing that the crew had done). It is nigh-on impossible to accurately estimate the number of Fulmars we saw but it is safe to say that it was incredible. There must have been between 50,000 to 100,000 individuals. The highlight for the keen birders, however, was a lone Black-footed Albatross, a species which is only infrequently recorded in this part of the Russian Far East and an excellent addition to the trip list.
Later, as we approached Ekarma Island, the sea was fairly lumpy so Rodney took the decision to take the ship over to Shiashkotan Island to make an early evening landing. There was a team of volcanologists working on the island and they took some of our group to see some old Japanese gun emplacements and a pillbox. One of the scientists was also an enthusiastic amateur historian and he told the group some of the island’s history, including how dozens of Japanese citizens had starved to death when they tried to settle here a hundred years ago.
As the climb to the guns was fairly steep, the rest of our group stayed on the shoreline and strolled along the beach: birds seen included Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler and a couple of Peregrine Falcons.
After a 6:15am ‘wake up call’ we headed ashore to land at Nemo Bay on Onekotan Island. Conditions were murky with a steady drizzle but despite this most of the group decided to go on the walk to Black Lake.
The trail climbed steeply up the side of a raised beach and then crossed a relatively flat area of tundra-like vegetation with Stone Pine, Polar Willow and Dwarf Birch being the main trees. Most of these were growing to little over a metre above the ground (despite some of them clearly being very old), giving us an idea of how extreme the weather could be on this exposed island.
There was also a range of colourful flowers including some beautiful Goldish Rhododendrons. The timing of our visit was perfect for these flowers: there were yellow patches right across the tundra.
When the group eventually arrived at the lake, it was shrouded with mist but everyone felt it was still worth the walk. Despite it being only a few days before Midsummer’s Day, there were still snow patches - giving rise to some light-hearted fun when a few snowballs were thrown!
Whilst the walkers were doing the round trip to the lake, some of the birders explored the stands of Stone Pine and Dwarf Birch, with the highlight being a fine pair of Pine Grosbeaks. Other species seen included Buff-bellied Pipit, Middendorf’s Grasshopper Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat and Brown-headed Thrush.
Back on the ship we headed onwards towards Paramushir Island but the weather remained far from ideal with a steady drizzle for much of the afternoon. Many of the Short-tailed Shearwaters were in far better plumage than those we had seen around Sakhalin and the Southern Kuril Islands: they had clearly finished moulting and were presumably now continuing their northward migration.
At 7:00pm, the Expedition Team organised a recap in the bar where Adam discussed some of the birds we had seen, Katya talked about Sea Otters and Rodney gave some history of the region. After this, many people headed for the Bridge because we had entered Second Straight at the north end of Paramushir which is a well known area for Sea Otters. Despite the visibility being only a few hundred metres, several dozen animals were seen over the course of the evening.
After all the recent early starts, many on board welcomed today’s wake up call at 8:15am. By the time Rodney’s post-breakfast briefing had finished, we were entering Russkaya Fiord and many of us headed outside to enjoy the view and look for wildlife. There were Harlequin Ducks, Pigeon Guillemots and Tufted Puffins, but the species many of the birders wanted to see was Long-billed Murrelet and several were seen floating on the sea a couple of hundred metres or so from the ship. As we waited for permission from the Border Guards to go ashore, a distant Steller’s Sea-eagle was also spotted.
We boarded the Zodiacs for the ride to the head of the fiord and passed a group of fifty or so Harlequins; we had also hoped to ‘sneak up’ on an immature Steller’s Sea-eagle which was sitting on the beach but he had other ideas. When we were still three hundred or so metres away, he flew off to join the adult we had seen earlier.
Once ashore, two walks were offered: some joined Rodney, Katya and Chris to explore the forested valley while Adam led a walk along the foreshore. A range of birds were seen including Eye-browed Thrush, Arctic Warbler and good numbers of Eastern Yellow Wagtails.
As soon as lunch was finished, the ship left the fiord and repositioned a few miles to the south at a spot where the Expedition Team knew there were likely to be some Steller’s Sea-Lions. These huge mammals were indeed present but before we had even reached the shore, Adam alerted all the Zodiacs that there were Orcas patrolling in front of the rocks. We carefully approached and enjoyed some spectacular views of what is considered to be the largest member of the dolphin family. There was at least one male present and he had an impressive dorsal fin, well over one metre tall.
After some great looks at the Orcas and Sea-Lions, we explored the coastline to the north and found about fifteen Sea Otters feeding around some rocks. Although a little wary, some of them were quite curious and studied us from what they considered was a safe distance, before diving when the Zodiacs continued along the coast.
A Steller’s Sea-Eagle nest was also spotted high up on the rocks and two adult birds could be seen looking down on us from the top of the cliff-face. Having seen four different individuals in Bukhta Russkaya, this took our tally to an impressive six for the day – a very satisfactory total for such a spectacular bird. It had been a highly memorable Zodiac cruise and while the cloud had been fairly low, the rain had held off and we had had a fantastic time.
By late afternoon we were back on the ship and heading towards our next destination with the ornithological highlights being a somewhat out of range Red-legged Kittiwake and a full summer plumage Grey Phalarope which had brick red underparts. While ‘grey’ might accurately describe the plumage of this species in winter, the American name ‘Red Phalarope’ certainly seemed more appropriate at this time of year.
With another early start scheduled for the following morning, there was very little socialising after dinner and most people headed off to bed with the prospect of the Zhupanova river trip to look forward to.
A little before 5:00am the Spirit of Enderby arrived at anchorage off the Zhupanova river mouth and we set off in five Zodiacs for the fishing community there. Initially the river was several hundred metres wide but it quickly began to narrow and we soon found a feeding flock of Common Terns. These are a different subspecies from those in Europe (longipennis) and we could easily see their all-black bills and darker plumage.
One of the main objectives of today was to get some really good looks at the Steller’s Sea-eagle and during the course of the morning at least three nests were spotted with adult birds in attendance. Other birds seen included Red-throated Diver, Goosander, Goldeneye, Wood Sandpiper and Taiga Flycatcher, however, it was the eagles we had really come to see and after cruising eight miles up the river, the Zodiacs turned round and headed back towards the fishing community.
Here, some of the group was entertained by the very hospitable locals where we ate salmon and warmed up with a cup of tea. Some good sized fish had also just been landed - one weighing over 15kgs. Those among us who wished to go birding explored an area of wet grassland and scrub behind the buildings where the main target was Long-toed Stint. It didn’t take too long to find this diminutive wader but getting good views of it on the ground was challenging as the birds kept creeping away from us through the grass.
With Pechora Pipit and Yellow-breasted Bunting also seen, it was a highly successful walk but by the time we had got back to the Zodiacs, it was apparent that the swells had increased substantially since we had set off and the journey back to the ship was at a comparatively sedate pace as the Zodiac drivers skilfully negotiated the seas. Getting off the boat, however, was another matter. It took a while before everyone was safely back onboard.
As we cruised away from the Kamchatka coastline, the low level cloud we had experienced for the last few days finally began to lift and we could see a number of snow-covered volcanoes dominating the area. After several days of restricted visibility, it was great to finally see some views.
Although there were fewer birds than we had seen in the Central Kurils, there were still plenty to look at with good numbers of Tufted Puffins, Laysan Albatrosses and Northern Fulmars. The keen birders were very pleased to see at least fifteen Mottled Petrels.
By 7:00pm the weather had deteriorated significantly and the ship was moving quite significantly in a storm as we headed eastwards for the Commander Islands. Despite there being another excellent dinner in the restaurant, there were plenty of absentees due to the uncharacteristic conditions.
The storm continued to blow throughout the night and when the breakfast announcement came, we were told that the ship was about three hours behind schedule. To fill in time, Katya gave us a lecture entitled “An introduction to the Commander Islands”. Conditions improved steadily through the morning and a range of seabirds was seen before we reached our anchorage off the small town of Nikol’skoye.
Walking along the shoreline, we passed several Glaucous-winged Gulls but the keen birders quickly found the main target for the morning – Rock Sandpiper. There were about ten individuals feeding along the shoreline, looking extremely smart in their fine summer plumage.
Further along the track, we saw several hundred Dunlins and then another of the morning’s target birds: several Mongolian (or Lesser Sand) Plovers. A couple of Pechora Pipits were also seen but with the wind blowing strongly it proved impossible to get looks at the birds on the ground and we had to be content with flight views.
While the birders explored the foreshore and marsh, others visited the small museum in the middle of Nikol’skoye where there were a range of exhibits to see. These included the skeleton of a Steller’s Sea-cow: an animal hunted to extinction within thirty years of its discovery by the second of Vitus Bering’s expeditions which visited the Commander Islands in 1741.
Shortly after 5:00pm we were all back onboard the Spirit of Enderby and Rodney announced that we would be heading to Ari Kamen Island to try an early evening Zodiac cruise. Arriving off the island, conditions were much improved so four Zodiacs were soon in the water and readied for action.
Approaching the island there were plenty of auks floating in the water including several groups of Parakeet Auklets. Some of these gave exceptional views and we were able to come within a few metres of them. While they were in the water, it was difficult to see their white bellies but as soon as they took off, these were very apparent.
Around the island itself, the swells were much reduced and we had some nice looks at a couple of dozen Red-legged Kittiwakes perched on rocks conveniently close to the shore; around the corner there were literally thousands of Black-legged Kittiwakes on their nests.
Both Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants were also present in good numbers and there was a constant stream of Tufted Puffins going to and fro between the higher slopes (where they had their burrows) and the sea. It was to be another late dinner but the day had, yet again, ended in a spectacular fashion.
We boarded the Zodiacs for the short ride to Gladkhovskaya Bay on Medney Island, the more easterly of the two islands in the Commander Islands archipelago. Although there was some low level cloud, visibility was much improved and we were free to explore the area.
Almost immediately a Grey-crowned Rosy-Finch was spotted on one of the old buildings near the landing site but this soon flew off. There were good numbers of Pechora Pipits and those who wanted to see this species got much better views than yesterday as with no wind, the birds were perching up rather than disappearing in the grass. Several of the birds were also singing and we were able to watch their display flights.
The more energetic among us walked up a nearby slope and promptly found a Rock Ptarmigan. Most people were able to get some nice looks at this cryptically coloured grouse as it fed close by us, clearly unconcerned by our presence and utterly confident in its camouflage.
Some of us walked out to the lake where there were good numbers of Northern Eiders. Although superficially similar to the birds of Northern Europe, the males here (subspecies v-nigra) have bright orange bills and feet and we were able to appreciate this very obvious difference. A good variety of other waterfowl were also present, including Tufted Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Teal and Northern Shoveler.
Back on the beach, Lapland and Snow Buntings were seen and out in the bay there were both Tufted and Horned Puffins. A couple of Arctic Foxes, which presumably had their den underneath one of the buildings, were a little more elusive but nevertheless many of us got views of these.
Cruising around Matvey Point at the western end of Medney Island we found plenty of Sea Otters with upwards of twenty in one small area alone. Those of us who had not yet seen Horned Puffin were also more than satisfied as we had some fantastic views of several dozen birds including some perched on rocks close to the shore. The scenery was very impressive: hillsides rising steeply and many of the higher peaks disappearing in the clouds. Higher up, there were hundreds of Tufted Puffins commuting backwards and forwards, as well as thousands of Northern Fulmars soaring around the cliffs.
All too soon it was time to return to the ship, but we all agreed that the Zodiac cruise had been a fitting climax to our time in the Commander Islands and a highlight of the entire expedition.
After a late lunch (we had spent too long enjoying ourselves around Matvey Point!) many of us went back outside to look for birds and cetaceans. Rounding the western end of Medney Island, we saw thousands of alcids including all three Guillemots (Common, Brunnich’s and Pigeon), Crested and Whiskered Auklets and both species of Puffins. At least four tiny alcids were also seen and although views were far from ideal, those who saw these were confident that they were Least Auklets – a species which is always tricky to see this far south.
Passing the south-east tip of Bering Island, we began to encounter a few whales as the underwater shelf drops off very steeply just offshore. Rodney asked the Captain to turn the ship and we approached a group of Sperm Whales; another turn took us closer to a group of Humpbacked Whales. At least one of these was seen breaching and with the islands disappearing behind us this was a great end to our visit to the Commander Islands.
After the hectic programme of the last few days, many chose to have a lie in and few made it onto the bridge or out onto the decks before breakfast. Those who did were rewarded with sightings of a Sperm Whale, as well as ten Mottled Petrels and similar numbers of Fork-tailed Storm-petrels.
On the stern of the ship, several Red-legged Kittiwakes had taken up residence. They allowed photographers to get some great shots and remained with us for much of the day.
At 10:00am Adam Walleyn gave a presentation entitled “The Legacy of Steller” in which he discussed the life and times of the 18th century naturalist - the first to document the biology of Kamchatka and the Commander Islands. Steller also left his mark on the region with his name now being commemorated in many names of the flora and fauna.
Katya gave an illustrated talk on Sea Otters describing their behaviour and demonstrated how ungainly they are on land; we learned also that males often bite the noses of the females during mating! Katya also talked about the recent collapse of the Aleutian otter population – it has been suggested that this has been caused by Orca predation.
With thick fog surrounding the ship during the latter stages of the day, no new cetaceans were seen and after a gala dinner many of us headed off to bed. Disembarkation was scheduled at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy; we had travelled over 1,500 nautical miles and seen many sights and heard many sounds that would live with us for a long, long time.
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" We have just returned from the superb expedition on the Spirit of Enderby in Kamchatka (June/July). We cannot thank the 'on board' team enough... but hope our words have led them to realise our appreciation!
However- I'm sure there's an equally great team "back at the office" - and so I'd just like to extend our thanks to you too - and to Julia in P-K (please let her know we were so glad she was there for us!!). All the communications from you leading up to our trip were really helpful, both in explaining practicalities and in fuelling our anticipation of a great voyage!
...All our hopes were realized and your promises, fulfilled! Thank you! Chris & Roger "
" Big thank you to the team for a great trip, seeing Orcas from the Zodiacs was a highlight for me and seeing a bear. "
" "I just wanted to thank the Team again for such a wonderful RFE trip. It was splendid. I am only too conscious of how privileged we all were to be there and it was all due to you and Rodney and your hardworking team. It is one trip that I would love to do again". "
" “Many thanks again for two truly splendid trips. It is a privilege to take part on such adventures and I appreciate the hard work (and stress!) and the team effort that goes into the organisation of such challenging trips. The Kuril Island and the Kamchatka trips were very special and I'm about to relive the experience as I sort out my hundreds of photos.” "
" “As I watched the trip unfold I get the feeling I’ll never see the like again”. "
" Many thanks to crew and staff for a wonderful trip. "