Birding The Harding Icefield Trail

July 14, 2013 Posted by: Luke Rosier

The Harding Icefield is the main reason Kenai Fjords National Park exists.  One of the best ways to quickly experience the Harding Icefield is by hiking the Harding Icefield Trail.  This trail is free to access from the Exit Glacier Nature Center, and certainly some of the best things in life are free… but they aren’t always easy.  The hike to the culminating view of this large temperate ice field is approximate 4 and a half strenuous miles.  Stone steps through primary successional forests give way to switchbacks up a subalpine cliff face, ending with a long alpine traverse across the bottom of a Kenai mountain peak.

On this glorious day, Ranger Max and I heard several species of warblers (Wilsons, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped) and a few Hermit Thrushes all chipping as we headed up through the successional forest.  With summer being well on its way, testosterone levels have dropped from their nesting levels in the male songbirds of the north, so most birds have ceased their singing.  However, chips denote their presence as they fatten up for the rapidly-approaching long journey south.

I was very much expecting to see Ptarmigan with their chicks in the sub alpine parts of the trail because I just saw several of these families on another trail further north on the Kenai Peninsula earlier this week.  I have seen Ptarmigan on the Harding Icefield Trail on many occasions.  But the Ptarmigan must have heard us coming this time, because they kept their chicks quietly out of sight.  Speaking of quiet Ptarmigan: do you know why you can’t hear a Ptarmigan urinate?  Because the “P” is silent! Hehehe.

The view from the end of the trail really is spectacular:

july 14 2013 HIT

While we were admiring the view over lunch and a discussion of an upcoming Boy Scout group hike.  Ranger Max and I were joined by a friendly Snow Bunting.  The bunting flew to within feet of us inspecting the ground and alpine plants for a variety of insects.  If you’re looking to spot a few unique land birds of Alaska while getting some fantastic views of a magnificent glacier system, then you must hike the Harding Icefield Trail!

Snow Bunting

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Last updated: April 14, 2015

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