Barrow, Alaska Jun 25—27, 2005

Posted by Barry Zimmer

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Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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When birders think of Barrow, they conjure up images of two things:  eiders and Snowy Owls! Our 2005 Barrow Extension to our Alaska Mainland and Grand Alaska tours was a wild success in producing superb views of the birds people come to Barrow to see. The past decade or so has seen a rather dramatic decline in numbers of both Steller?s and Spectacled eiders, with both seemingly harder to find each passing year. This trip, however, saw a reversal in fortunes. We tallied an amazing 15 Steller?s Eiders along the Freshwater Lake road our first afternoon in Barrow. A few pairs were right next to the road providing excellent views. Fabulous Red Phalaropes seemed to be on every little roadside pond, and hooting Pectoral Sandpipers hovered about the tundra at every turn. Later we ventured out the Gaswell Road and found three Spectacled Eiders (two males and a female) in a pond about 200 yards off the road. We were able to walk right up to these incredible ducks for mind-blowing views. We saw about ten Snowy Owls as well that afternoon, a good count after the lemming crash of 2004. None were particularly close, but scope views were satisfying. An evening drive out to Point Barrow yielded two flocks of King Eiders migrating by, one coming within 30 yards of the group, and a wonderfully close Black Guillemot foraging in an ice lead.

The next day produced more of the same success. We added another seven Spectacled Eiders (including a flock of five males), another pair of Steller’s, and three marvelous Kings on a tundra pond that allowed close approach. Two Snowy Owls on this day were right next to the road, allowing incredible studies and nice photographic opportunities. Another late night along the Point yielded more migrating King Eiders, a lone Common Eider (completing the eider sweep), and a Yellow-billed Loon on a small pond in the pack ice!

Combined with the regular fare of Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, all three jaegers, and wonderful displaying shorebirds, our trip to Barrow was nothing short of fantastic! Seeing 24-hour sunlight and standing on the northernmost point in North America were just the icing on the cake.