Russia

Russian Far East: Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands

An expedition cruise to the "Ring of Fire" (Kamchatka and the Kuril Islands) for Tufted Puffin, Steller's Sea-Eagle, Siberian Rubythroat and much more

Few parts of the world have the same mystique as the Russian Far East and prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was simply impossible to visit this amazing region. With smouldering volcanoes, a multitude of auks (up to 16 species can be seen on one trip !!) and other seabirds, breeding Steller's Sea-eagles, landbirds such as Siberian Rubythroat and Japanese Robin, it is truly somewhere exceptional for anyone interested in birds. Since 2007 our sister brand WildWings has been offering the opportunity to experience the wonders of this unique region travelling on the ships run by Heritage Expeditions and we are delighted to now be able to offer the same opportunities to Limosa clients.

The list of possibilities is truly mouth-watering and this is surely headed by the Tufted Puffin and Steller's Sea-eagle but there is so much more with Horned Puffin, Whiskered Auklet, Ancient Murrelet, Red-legged Kittiwake, Laysan and Short-tailed Albatrosses, Red-faced Cormorant and Short-tailed Shearwater being just some of the species we can expect to see out on the water. Whilst ashore, the eagles and rubythroats should be supplemented by Pechora Pipit, Kamchatka Leaf-warbler, Narcissus Flycatcher, Japanese Accentor and Long-tailed Rosefinch with good chances for Brown Bear, Fin Whale, Orca and the 'turbo-charged' Dall's Porpoise.

With easy flight access from the UK, this is unquestionably a destination all keen wildlife enthusiasts should have on their 'bucket list'......

Tour Dates & Prices

Wed 15th June 2022

Tue 28th June 2022

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Tour Cost: 14 Days from £6750 excluding flights and local payment

Deposit: £1750Single Supp: £tbaLand Only: £6750Group Size: 15Leaders: TBA
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The price quoted here is per person for the most basic cabin. Please click on the 'tour info' for prices for different cabins types.

What's Included?

Pre and post cruise transfers, all on board ship accommodation, meals and all expedition shore excursions. Limosa/WildWings checklist of birds and mammals.

Cost Excludes

All items of a personal nature, laundry, drinks, gratuities. International/domestic flights, visas and travel insurance.

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Notes

The voyage will be accompanied by a Limosa/WildWings tour leader subject to a minimum number of bookings. If this total is not achieved, there are always expert bird and wildlife guides employed by Heritage Expeditions aboard the vessel who are there to assist everyone.

The Tour Cost is the amount you will pay Limosa.

For international flight details, we recommend that you contact Sacha Barbato who is a highly experienced independent travel agent working under the ATOL bonding of Travel Counsellors. Sacha’s contact details are as follows: sacha.barbato@travelcounsellors.com and 01603 360099

Limosa Holidays and Sacha have agreed which flights are most suitable for each trip and we encourage you to book through him as you then have support if there are any problems such as flight cancellations or delays.

Tour Highlights

  • Five days in the Kuril Islands
  • Spectacular colonies of auks including Tufted Puffin, Crested and Whiskered Auklets, Kuril and Spectacled Guillemots
  • Harlequin Duck, Red-faced Cormorant
  • Siberian Rubythroat, Japanese Robin, Japanese Accentor, Japanese Bush-warbler, Brown-headed Thrush, Narcissus Flycatcher and Grey Bunting
  • Three days in Kamchatka with stunning scenery including snow-capped volcanoes
  • Steller's Sea-eagle on the nest, Aleutian Tern, Kamchatka Leaf Warbler, Eyebrowed Thrush, Steller's Sea-lion, Largha Seal and Orca.
  • Two days in the remote Commander Islands
  • Horned Puffin, Parakeet Auklet, Short-tailed Albatross, Rock Sandpiper, Mongolian Plover, Grey-crowned Rosy Finch, Pechora Pipit
  • Chances for Blue and Fin Whales on transit between Commander Islands and Kamchatka and possibility of Grey Whales and Orca off Kamchatka coast.
  • Brown Bear, Dall's Porpoise and much much more

Outline Itinerary

  • Board vessel in Otaru, Japan and sail

  • Clearance into Russia at Korsakov, Sakhalin Island

  • Kunashir Island, Kuril Islands

  • Iturup Island, Kuril Islands

  • Simushir and Yankicha Islands, Kuril Islands

  • Ekarma and Onekotan Islands, Kuril Islands

  • Atlasova and Ptich'i Rocks, Kuril Islands

  • Bukta Russkaya, Kamchatka

  • Zhupanova River, Kamchatka

  • Olga Bay, Kamchatka

  • Commander Islands

  • At sea

  • Disembark at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Kamchatka

Overview
Itinerary
Trip Info
Siberian Rubythroat CPC 6S4A9233.JPG
Siberian Rubythroat, Russian Far East © Chris Collins

The Russian Far East has only been accessible since the mid 1990s and remains rarely visited despite the amazing wildlife.  The species list is exceptional and is headed by one of the world’s ultimate raptors, Steller’s Sea-eagle.  Seabirds are also here in abundance, with the potential alcids including Whiskered, Rhinoceros, Crested, Parakeet and Least Auklets, Tufted and Horned Puffins, Spectacled, Brunnich’s and Pigeon Guillemots and Ancient, Kittlitz’s and Long-billed Murrelets.  Black-tailed, Glaucous-winged and Slaty-backed Gulls are all present, along with the range-restricted Red-legged Kittiwake, highly distinctive Kamchatka Gull and Aleutian Tern.

Whilst Laysan Albatross is the commonest albatross, there is a good chance of both Black-footed and Short-tailed, with the latter seen most years and all three species recorded on the last voyage in 2019.  Other likely tubenoses include Mottled Petrel, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel and Short-tailed Shearwater.  Japanese, Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants, Harlequin Duck, Black and Stejneger’s Scoters can all be expected and ashore, we will search for shorebirds such as Red-necked Stint, Latham’s Snipe and Rock Sandpiper.

Our landings add many more birds including Oriental Turtle Dove, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Buff-bellied and Pechora Pipits, Brown-headed Thrush, Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler, Eastern Crowned and Kamchatka Leaf Warblers, Siberian, Asian Brown, Narcissus and Red-throated Flycatchers, Rufous-tailed Robin, Red-flanked Bluetail, Siberian Rubythroat, Pine Grosbeak, Long-tailed Rosefinch and Rustic, Black-faced, Japanese Grey and Yellow-breasted Buntings.

Some of Japan’s special birds also occur in the Southern Kuril Islands and we will search for Japanese Robin, Japanese Bush Warbler and Japanese Accentor whilst ashore.  

There will also be excellent chances for some exciting mammals including Brown Bear, Arctic Fox, Largha Seal, Northern Fur Seal, Sea Otter and Steller’s Sea-Lions.  Cetaceans could include Orca (regular), Blue (last seen in 2018), Sperm, Northern Minke, Humpback, Grey and Fin Whales plus Baird’s Beaked Whales and the seemingly ‘turbo-charged’ Dall’s Porpoise.  The opportunities for photography will generally be superb throughout.

The expedition offers an opportunity to explore one of the most geologically active and biologically rich parts of the planet and due to the large number of active volcanoes, this region has become known as the ‘Ring of Fire’.  The Kamchatka Peninsula is a land of stunning bays and snow-capped volcanoes where alpine meadows and lowland forests support a great diversity of wildlife, whilst the Kuril chain comprises 32 islands that stretch for 700 miles between Russia and Japan.

Whilst the Southern Kuril Islands are sparsely inhabited, most of the other slands have no permanent human presence and we can expect to go for days without seeing other people.  The voyage also visits the remote Commander Islands which are rich in bird and marine mammals and the final resting place of the famed Danish explorer Vitus Bering.

The vessel will have a full expedition team and Chris Collins is often on board.  Subject to demand, some land-based birding excursions around Petropavlovsk can be organised to look for specialities such as Black-billed Capercaillie.

Brown Bear RFE CPC 6S4A1052.JPG
Brown Bear, Russian Far East © Chris Collins

Day 1: Otaru, Japan

Our expedition begins in Otaru, a port city in Hokkaido, where we will board Heritage Adventurer and the Captain and Expedition Team will be waiting to welcome you aboard. After clearing Japan Customs and Immigration, join the expedition team in the Observation Lounge or up on the Observation Deck as we set sail for Sakhalin Island. Once clear of the harbour there will be an introduction to the staff and ship, and a series of briefings.

As we sail north towards Sakhalin Island, we are likely to find our first seabirds of the expedition which could include Short-tailed Shearwaters, Tufted Puffins and Rhinceros Auklets.

Day 2: At sea

We arrive at the Port of Korsakov on Sakhalin Island where we will clear Russian Customs and Immigration before setting sail for Kunashir Island. New auks could include Ancient Murrelet, Spectacled Guillemot and Pigeon Guillemot, with the latter being the race snowi which is sometimes regarded as a full species.

We are also likely to see Dall's Porpoise.

Day 3: Kunashir Island, Kuril Islands

Kunashir is the largest island in the Kuril chain with its southern tip only 10 miles from the shores of the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

We have a couple of options for a landing (depending on local permissions and the sea state) and this first excursion will give us an opportunity to look for a number of species we are unlikely to see later in the trip.

Although we have only seen them very occasionally, the woodlands here do hold Blakiston’s Fish Owl and there are Crested Kingfishers on the rivers, however, we have better chances of locating Oriental Turtle Dove, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Asian Brown Flycatcher and Narcissus Flycatcher.

Day 4: Iturup Island, Kuril Islands
This morning we land at the small settlement of Kurilsk where local trucks will take us into the highlands with spectacular views across broadleaf forests to distant volcanoes. For anyone wanting to relax, there are some thermal hot pools and a fast-flowing mountain stream which can be equally warm but for those wanting to look for birds, this island holds some important species with Japanese Robin, Japanese Accentor and Japanese Bush-warbler all possible.

Returning to the shore, we will hope to find Spectacled Guillemot should this species have eluded us so far.

Day 5: Simushir and Yankicha Islands, Kuril Islands
At the northern end of Simushir Island, there is a large flooded volcanic caldera where, during the Cold War, there was a top-secret submarine base. Whilst this was abandoned when the Soviet Union collapsed, all the buildings remain, offering a fascinating insight into Russia’s recent past.

In the surrounding area, we will look for Siberian Rubythroat, Eurasian Nutcracker, Brown-headed Thrush, Pine Grosbeak and Grey Bunting.

Returning the ship, we will head 30 miles to the north for a late afternoon and evening visit to Yankicha Island. The journey can be an excellent one to look for Short-tailed Albatross which is seen with some regularity on this stretch.

Yankicha is another flooded caldera but unlike Simsushir, this is the breeding grounds for millions of alcids and whilst the vast majority are Crested Auklets, there are also good numbers of the much rarer Whiskered Auklet. Being inside this crater in the evening is an incredible experience with vast numbers of birds whirling around overhead.

We can also expect to make a short landing to visit an area where the thermal activity which typifies this region is very obvious with sulphur vents, boiling mud pools and often a stream that is so hot that one could cook an egg in it!

Day 6: Ekarma and Onekotan Islands, Kuril Islands
During an early morning zodiac cruise at Ekarma Island, we should find good numbers of auks with this likely to be our final opportunity to see the very localised Whiskered Auklet. Other likely species include Tufted and Horned Puffins and both Crested and Parakeet Auklets, whilst overhead there are likely to be spectacular numbers of Pacific Fulmars as there is a huge breeding colony on the island.

The afternoon should be at Onekotan Island. It will be worth being out on deck as this is another of the areas where we have occasionally encountered the highly endangered Short-tailed Albatross and there are also chances for Sperm Whale.

We are likely to arrive at Onekotan in the late afternoon and will hope to offer a landing with an opportunity to walk to a large lake or join a birding excursion which will look for various species including Brown-headed Thrush, Siberian Rubythroat, Pine Grosbeak and Asian Rosy Finch.

Day 7: Atlasova Island and Ptich'i Rocks, Kuril Islands

Our morning will be a visit to the spectacular island of Atlasova which is dominated by the Alaid volcano which has an almost perfectly shaped cone which rises to over 2,300 metres on an island that is only 17kms across. If the conditions are clear, we should be able to see all the way to the summit.

Once ashore, we will check out the ponds for waterfowl and waders and the low bushes for migrant passerines. What we will find is dependent on the progress of the Spring migration but Middendorff's Grasshopper Warblers are likely to have arrived and we may also find Kamchatka Leaf Warblers singing from the scrub.

The ship will then pass through Second Kuril Strait (between Shumshu and Paramushir Islands) on our way to Ptich'i Rocks where we will have a late afternoon zodiac cruise. There is a good density of Sea Otters here and we can also expect to see a good variety of auks.

Day 8: Bukta Russkaya, Kamchatka
During the night, the ship will pass the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula and we intend to spend the morning exploring Bukta Russkaya, which is a deep fjord surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

Several years ago, we found a couple of pairs of Kittlitz’s Murrelets in the fjord and although this is well to the south of the believed breeding range of this species, it would appear that this is precisely what is happening here. Long-billed Murrelet is also possible and with good numbers of Brown Bears in the area, we will have to be extremely careful if we are able to get ashore.

As the last of the winter snows are likely to have cleared (snow can be down to sea level here into early June), the first of the migrants are likely to have arrived and possibilities include Oriental Cuckoo, Kamchatka Leaf Warbler, Eyebrowed Thrush and Grey Bunting.

At the entrance to the fjord, there are sometimes Orcas, plus a haul-out of Steller’s Sea-Lions, and if time, allows we may be able to look for these from the zodiacs before continuing our journey towards the Zhupanova River.

Day 9: Zhupanova River, Kamchatka
We can expect to awake with the ship at anchor off the mouth of this spectacular river system and we plan to set off in the zodiacs for a scenic cruise up this mighty river which flows down from the snow-covered volcanoes and mountains of Kamchatka. Passing a major salmon fishery at the river-mouth, we will head upstream and our main goal is to enjoy some close encounters with Steller’s Sea-eagles.

There are typically two or three pairs nesting close to the riverbank and the opportunities for photography can be excellent.

Other highlights could include Far Eastern Curlew, Kamchatka Gull (the local and very distinctive form of Common/Mew Gull) and Aleutian Tern and it is also worth checking the trees, as small numbers of the critically endangered Yellow-breasted Bunting breed here.

Brown Bears are also seen on a reasonably regular basis, although as they are hunted in this part of Russia, sadly most individuals quickly disappear into the undergrowth when they realise humans are around.

Day 10: Olga Bay

Olga Bay is a part of the large Kronotskiy Reserve, which also includes the world-famous Valley of the Geysers. The habitat is quite different to what we will have been experiencing before with lush Kamchatka forests coming right down to the shoreline.

There are further chances for Brown Bears here and if the conditions are right, we may also go on a zodiac cruise as there are sometimes good numbers of Grey Whales here.

Days 11 to 12: Commander Islands
There are two main islands in the Commander group, Bering and Medney, and during our two days of exploration we hope to visit both of them.

This usually starts at the small settlement of Nikol’skoye, as the islands are in a ‘border zone’, so we generally have to check-in with the local authorities before going elsewhere.

Nikol’skoye is, however, an excellent birding location and along the shoreline we will look for Rock Sandpiper, Mongolian Plover and Glaucous-winged Gull with Harlequin Ducks, Pelagic Cormorants and Sea Otters likely to be out in the bay.

There are numerous other options for landings and zodiac cruises in the archipelago and what we do will largely be determined by a combination of the wind, sea state and tide but we hope to include a zodiac cruise at the tiny islet of Ariy Karmen which is excellent for close up views of numerous auks with Brunnich’s Guillemot, Parakeet Auklet and Tufted Puffin all possible.

Cruising along the southern coast of Bering Island can be fantastic for cetaceans due to a steeply shelving shelf edge and Sperm, Humpback, Northern Minke and Baird’s Beaked-Whales, as well as Orca (Killer Whale) are all possible, with the highly endangered North Pacific Right Whale also occasionally recorded too.

Other options for landings include North West Cape on Bering Island, where there is a large haul-out of Steller’s Sea-Lions and Northern Fur Seals, whilst on Medney Island, Peschanaya Bay is a great place to find Pechora Pipit and Grey-crowned Rosy Finch, as well as the endemic subspecies of Arctic Fox which is unique to Medney.

Day 13: At sea

Although the entire day will be at sea, there should be plenty to look on the outside decks with Laysan Albatross, Mottled Petrel, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel and Red-legged Kittiwake amongst the potential sightings. We can also expect a selection of auks with both Tufted and Horned Puffins being possible along with Crested and Parakeet Auklets.

If the visibility is good, this crossing can be excellent for cetaceans with both Blue and Fin Whales recorded on a number of previous occasions. We also stand an excellent chance of some final sightings of the ‘turbo-charged’ Dall’s Porpoise during the day.

Day 14: Disembark in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy

Our expedition will end in the remote city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy on the eastern side of the Kamchatka Peninsula where we will disembark after breakfast.

The city is located on the northern shores of one of the best natural harbours in the world and those who get up early may be able to enjoy the entrance and a final opportunity to look for some of the seabirds which make this expedition so special with the possibilities including Spectacled and Pigeon Guillemots, Ancient Murrelet and Tufted Puffin.

As on all expedition cruises, our exact itinerary is subject to sea, weather and government and
local permissions.

Red-legged Kittiwakes CPC 6S4A1987.JPG
Red-legged Kittiwakes © Chris Collins

THE SHIP

Heritage Expeditions have been running trips to the Russian Far East since 2007. For most of this period, these expeditions have operated on converted Russian research vessels, in particular the Spirit of Enderby (or to give it it's Russian name Professor Khromov), however, as from mid-2022 Heritage Expeditions will instead be operating Heritage Adventurer. This purpose built expedition ship (which was previously known as Hanseatic and Resolute) combines the highest passenger ship ice-class rating (1A Super) with extremely comfortable cabins and passenger facilities.

Originally designed to accommodate 184 guests, Heritage Adventurer will carry a maximum of 140 expeditioners ensuring spacious, stylish and comfortable voyages. There will be a fleet of 14 zodiacs to ensure all guests are able to maximise on their expedition adventure.

CABINS OPTIONS AND PRICES

Main Deck Triple - £6,750 excluding landing fees

Main Deck Triple Cabins on Deck 3 are a spacious 22m2 and feature two porthole windows, two single beds and one Pullman bed which folds down from the wall, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Superior Triple - £7,150 excluding landing fees

Superior Triple Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, two single beds and one Pullman bed which folds down from the wall, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Deck 4 Superior - £8,550 excluding landing fees

Superior Cabins on Deck 4 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Deck 5 Superior - £8,900 excluding landing fees

Superior Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Main Deck Single - £10,350 excluding landing fees

Main Deck Single Cabins on Deck 3 are a spacious 22m2 and feature two porthole windows, king bed, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Worsley Suite - £10,750 excluding landing fees

Located on Deck 6, Worsley Suites are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king or two single beds, comfortable chaise-style lounge suite, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Superior Single - £11,050 excluding landing fees

Superior Single Cabins on Deck 5 are a spacious 22m2 and feature large panoramic windows, king bed, comfortable lounge, writing desk, private en-suite with shower, ample storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Heritage Suite - £15,350 excluding landing fees

Located on Deck 6, Heritage Suites are an expansive 44m2 and feature large double panoramic windows, king bed, large living area with a sofa, coffee table and chairs and grand marble bathroom with a double basin, bathtub and shower, large writing desk, floor to ceiling cabinetry for storage and a flat screen entertainment system.

Please note: the above prices are per person and exclude a local landing fees payment of US$500 per person.

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