Through the Fire

Our privately chartered Russian Far East Cruise

Through the Fire

Our privately chartered Russian Far East Cruise

Through the Fire

Our privately chartered Russian Far East Cruise

Through the Fire

Our privately chartered Russian Far East Cruise

Through the Fire

Our privately chartered Russian Far East Cruise

Through the Fire

Our privately chartered Russian Far East Cruise

Through the Fire

Our privately chartered Russian Far East Cruise

Through the Fire

Our privately chartered Russian Far East Cruise

Through the Fire

Our privately chartered Russian Far East Cruise

Through the Fire:
Russian Far Eastern Cruise

Our one-off, private charter through Kurils, Sea of Okhotsk, Kamchatka and Commanders.

8th - 23rd June 2022

Leaders: James Eaton, Rob Hutchinson & Heritage Expeditions staff

This one-off journey takes us through some of the least accessible yet wildlife-laden areas in the world. Our circuit of the Commander islands, Kuril island chain and Sea of Okhotsk will be packed with seabird action including some spectacular colonies filled with alcids, among them the highly-desirable Whiskered Auklet, along with Red-legged Kittiwake and Rock Sandpiper. Mammals can be equally entertaining with regular cetacean encounters, and a special effort made to find the gorgeous Ribbon Seal. Venturing ashore wherever possible will produce some breeding land-birds that are very difficult to find elsewhere in their remote breeding ranges, including Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler and Kamchatka Leaf Warbler.

We start of journey in the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, one of the most spectacular city locations on earth surrounded by the snow-capped volcanos of the Kamchatka peninsula. Transferring to the port in Avacha Bay in the mid-afternoon where we board our superbly-equipped expedition vessel, the Akademik Shokalskiy, the sister ship to the Spirit of Enderby, which provides the perfect platform for exploring the remote Russian coastline.

Departing Avacha Bay in the evening will see us head directly out to sea. The next day on the open sea as we head for the Commander Islands provides some of the finest sea-watching opportunities of the cruise, with great chances of the magnificent Short-tailed Albatross among the commoner Laysan Albatrosses, Fork-tailed and Leach's Storm-Petrels, occasional Mottled Petrels, and excellent opportunities for a variety of cetaceans with Sperm, Fin and Humpback Whales all regular, and a variety of scarcer species possible including the mighty Blue Whale. As we get closer to the Commander Islands we might start to see our first Red-legged Kittiwakes which often accompany the ship, or even land onboard!

Our exploration on the Commander Islands will give us our only human contact of the cruise as we make landing at the township of Nikolskoye on Bering Island. The island bears the name of Commander Vitus Bering, a brave explorer of the Russian Far East whose ship – Saint Peter – ran aground here in 1741 on the return from discovering Alaska. He and many of his crew ultimately perished here, while the remaining crew, including the great naturalist Georg Steller survived a whole winter and summer here before managing to return to the mainland having rebuilt the Saint Peter. It was also here that Steller observed and described the now-extinct Steller's Sea-cow, a skeleton of which is found in the fascinating Nikolskoye museum that can be visited. Our stop here will be a far happier one as we soak in glorious views of breeding-plumaged Rock Sandpipers, with nearby areas hosting singing Pechora Pipit and song-flighting Lapland Longspurs. Weather conditions allowing we will visit a breeding colony of Red-legged Kittiwakes, while the surrounding seas are again happy hunting grounds for a variety of seabirds and cetaceans.

After another day at sea, once again looking out for cetaceans, petrels, and albatrosses we return to the Kamchatka Peninsula with the stunningly picturesque fjord at Bukta Russkaya greeting us the next morning. We have much of the day to enjoy this scenically spectacular area with all eyes sure to be on deck since this is a key location to find Kittlitz's Murrelets, and our first chance of Long-billed Murrelet, we will endeavour to take to zodiacs for closer views if opportunities arise. This is also the heart of Brown Bear territory and we might enjoy several during our visit here while Steller's Sea Lions are often hauled out on rocks at the entrance to the fjord. Cruising by zodiac along the edges of the fjord where Steller's Sea-eagle breed, and heading down the river to where it narrows amongst the willow scrub, may find freshly returned Kamchatka Leaf Warbler establishing territories, and even Grey Bunting is possible. We also take the zodiac's out to the Steller's Sea Lion colony, the entrance often patrolled by a pair of Steller's Sea-eagle, while at sea occasionally Orca are found here.

Making our way south through the Kuril islands, our first stop is at the northern end of the chain, where some remote rock pinnacles have a wonderful selection of breeding seabirds including close views of Tufted Puffin, Harlequin Duck, Crested and Parakeet Auklets, Largha and Harbour Seals, and some adorable Sea Otters to provide entertaining zodiac rides. We should also encounter the snowi race of Pigeon Guillemot here, that largely lacks white in the wings. The rest of the day be spent hugging the Kuril chain with Orca being a distinct possibility, and Pacific Fulmar and Short-tailed Shearwater likely present in big numbers.

The next day is one the most fascinating of the whole cruise as we visit Simushir island, an old ‘secret’ Soviet submarine base. Here, we witness just how rapidly the town suddenly left the island with the fall of the Soviet Union, as around the decaying buildings all kinds of artefacts, even including children’s toys, lay exposed to the elements. This surreal setting allows us a welcome chance to stretch our legs with a free-reign to explore and a long-awaited opportunity to catch up on some of the regions breeding specialities. Middendorff's Grasshopper Warblers await us in the rank vegetation and the delightful song of Kamchatka Leaf Warbler will draw us to this recently-recognised species which is difficult to catch up with away from these remote breeding areas. We might also find Bull-headed Shrike, Brown-headed Thrush, or one of the scarcer species such as Grey Bunting, Northern Shrike or Pine Grosbeak.

A short hop across to the neighbouring caldera of Yankicha island will see us spend the late afternoon and evening as witnesses to one of the world’s most spectacular avian events. As we wait inside of the mouth of the caldera literally millions of Crested Auklet arrive to roost, wheeling overhead in starling-like murmurations, a spectacle that literally has to be seen to be believed as words could never do it justice. Mixed in with them are numbers of Whiskered Auklets, which usually hang outside of the caldera until later before entering, though a sprinkling can be found in the thongs of Crested Auklet resting on the water or the nearby rocks.

Leaving the Kuril chain our journey across to the Sea of Okhotsk pushes through rich feeding grounds for seabirds, including Short-tailed Albatross, and most notably Cetaceans. Orca is likely, as are a variety of dolphins, porpoises, beaked whales and larger species such as Humpback, Fin and even Blue Whale. The Sea of Okhotsk still has Bowhead Whale, though we would need extreme fortune to see one.

Another seabird spectacular awaits us on Malminskie Island where birds are again everywhere, on the water, land and filling the skies. It is home to breeding Spectacled Guillemots, Ancient Murrelet, Rhinoceros, Crested and Parakeet Auklet, Common and Brunnich's Guillemot, and comical Horned and Tufted Puffins, in impressive numbers. A chance to land ashore may produce Pallas's Warbler, Siberian Rubythroat and even Siberian Accentor, the latter a tricky bird to access on its remote breeding grounds.
Moving southwest towards the Shantar archipelago our time will be spent exploring the edge of the sea ice. For once the numerous spectacular auklets dotting the sea may not be our primary focus, with some special mammals of offer; Largha, Ringed and Bearded Seals can be expected, and we will seek out Ribbon Seal, undoubtedly the most attractive of the Pinnipeds, while cetaceans from here forth could include Bowhead Whale or Beluga with some fortune. Seeing the immense Steller's Sea-eagle in this wild icy landscape is befitting of this charismatic species, while many will appreciate the chance to study the subtle Kamchatka Gull.

Travelling east, back into the depths of the Sea of Okhotsk, we reach the remote Iony Islands, little more than an isolated group of rocks it is another of the world's most spectacular seabird spectacles; Brunnich's Guillemots are the most numerous species, occupying almost all of the free space, but among them are a smattering of Common and Spectacled Guillemots. Of even greater interest to us are the bounty of special auklets with Least, Crested and Parakeet all on offer, but the real stars are the Whiskered Auklets, a species only realistically found, and seen well, on a cruise through these areas of easternmost Russia, and the birds here are arguably the most spectacular of the undescribed subspecies with longer and more numerous whiskers. For mammal enthusiasts the enormous, intimidating Steller's Sea Lions lazing around on the surrounding rocks will be a highlight.

Heading south, our final stop will be at Piltun Bay, on the east side of Sakhalin Island. Exploring by zodiac we can hope to find breeding Aleutian Terns in numbers, and a variety of sea-duck including both Black and White-winged Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and resplendent Harlequin Ducks. This is also one of the most reliable sites for Long-billed Murrelet, and in addition supports a very small number of Endangered Grey Whale, one of the few spots they can be seen on the western side of the Pacific.

During a final day at sea, hugging the rugged, forested Sakhalin coastline, Short-tailed Shearwaters will be the most abundant species, with a sprinkling of other seabirds. Minke Whale is frequented sighted along this area, and good chances of Fin and Humpback Whales, Dall's Porpoise and Orca before we arriving into the port of Korsahov, on the south side of Sakhalin after breakfast. From here we are transferred to the city of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, where one can fly directly off, or remain for the night to enjoy the surrounding woodland where Sakhalin Leaf Warbler and Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers are found among an array of Eastern Palearctic breeding migrants.

For a general overview of the region, photos and background, please refer to
https://www.heritage-expeditions.com/destinations/russian-far-east-travel/okhotsk/
https://www.heritage-expeditions.com/destinations/russian-far-east-travel/commander-islands/
https://www.heritage-expeditions.com/destinations/russian-far-east-travel/kamchatka/

Tour details

Main deck: £ 7,550 or $ 9,815 - 2 cabins available

25% Deposit: £1,885/$2,450

Superior: £ 8,350 or $ 10,855 - 2 cabin available

25% Deposit: £2,085/$2,715

Superior Plus: £ 8,650 or $ 11,245 - 1 cabins available

25% Deposit: £2,160/$2,810

Mini Suite: £ 8,950 or $ 11,635 - FULL

Heritage Suite: £ 9,650 / $ 12,545 - FULL

Maximum group size: 46

Tour cost includes: all on-board ship accommodation, main meals, expedition land and zodiac excursions, drinking water, pre/post cruise coach transfers, guiding and permits.

Tour cost excludes: International and domestic flights, landing fees ($500, payable in cash on-board), tourist visa, travel insurance, alcoholic and soft drinks, and other items of a personal nature.

Accommodation:
Onboard  our private chartered boat Akademik Shokalskiy, twin-sharing basis. Facilities depend on cabin class - Main Deck is shared, other cabin classes with private bathroom.
Single room supplement is only available if two beds purchased.

Walking difficulty:
Easy throughout, though land excursions are limited.

Expected number of species: 130-150 species.

Number of endemics and range-restricted species: this is all about bird spectacles, with some of the most immense seabird colonies on earth, the auklet numbers are mind-blowing. In addition, the most notable species would be Whiskered Auklet, and Kittlitz's and Long-billed Murrelets being likely. Red-legged Kittiwake, Rock Sandpiper, Kamchatka Leaf Warbler, Steller's Sea-eagle, Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler are other notable species.

Also, for mammals, Ribbon Seal is only realistically possible, globally, in the Sea of Okhotsk. Cetaceans are wide-ranging in species diversity, and Orca is usually encountered on multiple days.

Map of the tour

Tour Reports

No reports available. For a general overview of the region, photos and background, please refer to
https://www.heritage-expeditions.com/destinations/russian-far-east-travel/okhotsk/
https://www.heritage-expeditions.com/destinations/russian-far-east-travel/commander-islands/
https://www.heritage-expeditions.com/destinations/russian-far-east-travel/kamchatka/