SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT Stephen Bugno has been traveling, writing, and teaching English abroad for almost twenty years. His articles and essays have appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Seattle Times, and Transitions Abroad magazine. Read more of his work at BohemianTraveler.com
Every summer Fairbanks is a final destination for dozens of species of migratory birds, not to mention a stopover for those traveling further north or returning south. Consequently, Fairbanks is also an excellent place for those of us humans looking to spot these birds in the wild. From watching the flocks of Sandhill Cranes at Creamer’s Field to spotting a more elusive Bufflehead through your binoculars at the Peat Ponds, Fairbanks is a premier birding hub of interior Alaska.
Creamer’s Field is a well-known birding spot on the edge of downtown Fairbanks. Located on the grounds of the historic Creamer’s Dairy Farm, the 2,200 acres are now a refuge for birds and wildlife. Forests, fields, and wetland habitats provide thousands of migratory birds a place to feed, rest, and breed from spring through fall. The grounds are open to the public and offer walking trails and viewing platforms. Stop into the Farmhouse Visitor Center at 1300 College Road to learn about the farm’s history as well as wildlife before heading out on the trails to look for birds.
Located adjacent to the Wedgewood Resort and connected to the Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary is another beautiful nature reserve close to downtown Fairbanks. It’s wonderful to have nature so accessible to a city of 31,000 residents. If you’re staying at Wedgewood Resort, the opportunity to walk and explore these trails is literally out your front door. Wander Lake and the surrounding boreal forest is home to 120 species of migratory and year-round birds as well as 15 mammal species. If its summer, take a headnet with you or use bug spray to protect from mosquitoes. There are also interpretive signs along the trail to help you learn about life in the boreal forest.
Peat Ponds Wildlife Area
Outside of Fairbanks on Goldstream Road is another wildlife preserve. In the late 1990s, this area was mined for its peat. Once the peat was excavated, water-filled in the depressions and the Peat Ponds were formed. The land has since become part of the Interior Alaska Land Trust and now benefits migratory birds as well as those of us who appreciate nature. There is a short trail along the north side of the ponds, but parking in the small lot will yield a chance to see Goldeneye, Horned Grebe, American widgeons, trumpeter swans, and many others. Don’t forget your binoculars.
Tanana Lakes Recreation Area
On the southern edge of Fairbanks is another good area for birding called Tanana Lakes Recreation Area. Find parking in the lot on the South Cushman side of the park. Look out for shorebirds in the spring, as well as waterfowl and arctic terns. Walk the trails and listen closely for yellow-rumped warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets. There is now a sound ID function on the Merlin Bird ID app which works well to identify bird songs you might not recognize. Download it before you head out.
Believe it or not, the airport ponds offer another vantage point for birders in Fairbanks. Come here for a chance to view waterfowl, including grebes, scoters, and loons. The front airport ponds are accessible via the short-term parking lot, but parking is only free for the first half-hour. On the other side of the airport you can check out the east ramp float pond, where all the puddle jumpers take off. Access this area from University Avenue South.
Alaska is a world-class birding destination and Fairbanks should be on your birding itinerary. If you’re not a serious birder yet, Fairbanks is a great location to get started observing and identifying migratory bird species. Use these specific locations to guide your way around Fairbanks to look for birds.
Here are some other travel ideas: A Day in Fairbanks
And read this for delicious international food options in Fairbanks.
If you find yourself in Fairbanks in winter, read Your Winter Guide to Fairbanks Alaska
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