8 July 2012

Birding the Russian Far East Part 6 – Southern Kuril Islands

After the Auklet excitement of Yanchika parts of the southern Kurils were, well, less gripping....  but it’s all relative.

These shots were taken at the former soviet submarine base at Simushir Island (actually, on the morning of the 4th June 2012).   The base was abandoned a few years after the end of the “Cold War”.   The submarines and the navy people sailed away, leaving things behind, an odd mix of gear it wasn’t worth shipping and personal items left in the quarters.  Still a poignant sort of place, despite some previous vandalism and souvenir hunting.   

Among the birds, Rubythroat and Grey Bunting (photos below) were breeding in the regenerating scrub.  Also present were Brown-headed Thrush and Spotted Nutcracker.

By June 5th we had arrived at Urup Island.   This rock formation is called “The drinking man”

Seals frolicked just offshore.

On to one of the largest of the Kurils – Iturup, which has a largish settlement – mostly devoted to fishing – on it.  There is also a broad track running across the spine of the island to a minor tourist attraction of hot volcanic pools, and some geothermal power generators.   There was a prolonged birding walk with Chris Collins and Adam Walleyn, with Japanese Accentor and Japanese Robin the highlights.  There were also a lot of Rubythroats and a few Eurasian Nuthatches in the roadside scrub.

In the late afternoon we were in another caldera, this time at the south end of Iturup.  The steep slopes revealed a number of Brown Bears.

A White-tailed Sea Eagle

Four in this shot !  

" Picnic ashore, anyone ? "

The waters nearby had a few Rhinoceros auklets here and there – our last auklet “tick” of the trip.  In breeding plumage, most of them showed their “horn” pretty well.

The weather had turned really wet by the time we got to Kunashir, and it made us all the more thankful for the clear days we’d had earlier in the trip.  It was raining hard as we pottered along the beach to have a look at a waterfall.  We were instructed to keep together in case of bears.  I can report that the client compliance with this advice was 100 %.  

Returning to the boat, we could see this sailor - fishing off the back deck of the "Professor Khromov" with his rod bent double. It wasn’t long before we found out why.

Steaming finally towards Sakhalin Island there were thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters to be seen, some times in small groups and sometimes in rafts of thousands.   Large areas of the water surface were covered in feathers.

Having  bred in the southwest pacific during the northern winter, (the Austral summer, of course) here they were, moulting in the Sea of Okhotsk in June.

And that was just about it. Here’s a “screenshot” with the route of the voyage, a total of 1936 kilometres.

While trying to maintain a narrative thread in these few "Russian Far East" posts we have missed out some impressions and experiences.  Heritage Expeditions have had a lot of practice at fine-tuning this kind of voyage. Naturally, all the guides and expedition crew were impressively competent and completely professional.   The other clients were an interesting and diverse group, coming as they did from a variety of backgrounds, but everyone got along well.  


Links to photos and commentary by some other people on the trip: -

Thanks for reading this far !

“Birding the Russian Far East” - End 


  1. Thanks again John & Jemi - really wonderful reliving this fantastic trip through your lenses! What a great selection of images!
    Adam & Felicity Riley

  2. Great trip and great report. Lucky you.

  3. John, these are some of your best photos so far, the Auklets are stunning!!! And a SSE perched on your boat, couldn't ask for much more than that! Love the Rubythroat pics too along with some truly 'wild' landscapes. Wonderful trip!

  4. Thanks for sharing. It is a splendid series. Well done, John.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for the comments..... I guess it's back to "real life" birding for us - closer to home for a while !

  6. Thank you for sharing your adventure with us. I would have been scared of the bears even from the boat. Great capture of the White-tail looking into the lens too and all the sea-bird photos are brilliant!

  7. John & Jemi

    What absolutely great pictures and commentary on the trip. Really enjoyed re living it thruyour really great photos.

    John Ferg (Eleanore)

    1. Eleanore, Thanks ..... we'll look forward to seeing you and John on another voyage soon !

  8. Looks like you had a great trip,some fantastic birds in the bag,terrific report.
    Superb flight shots.

    1. JR and Sue, glad you liked the report, we certainly had some great birds on the trip !

  9. The drinking man is just stunning!
    What a wonderful trip you had.

  10. Hi Ayuwat,

    Isn't it great when a rock that is said by the locals to look like something REALLY DOES look like what they say ! No imagination required...

  11. Great journey indeed!
    Saludos from Spain!

  12. "El Campero" - thanks and saludos to you, too