Alaska: Barrow Extension Jun 26—28, 2011

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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We arrived in Barrow at 7:30 PM and after quickly checking into our hotel and grabbing dinner, we headed out onto the tundra for a late evening excursion. It was a beautiful sunny evening and we were greeted almost immediately by some of the common Barrow birds. Snow Buntings sang from the rooftops and Lapland Longspurs skylarked next to the road. Red and Red-necked phalaropes, American Golden-Plover, Pectoral Sandpiper, Long-tailed Duck, Pacific Loon—the birds came in rapid succession. A distant group of Greater White-fronted Geese caught our attention and suddenly a pair of Steller's Eiders appeared on a tussock right next to them. We had quick distant looks before the birds took flight and disappeared a short distance down the road. Donning our waterproof boots, we headed onto the tundra in hopes of better views. After fifteen minutes of searching (and walking by myriad displaying shorebirds), we came across the male resting on the edge of a small pond. We were able to walk up to within 50 feet of this incredible and highly sought bird, marveling at its beautiful pattern of black, white, rust, and green. It was nearly midnight and the sun was still shining brightly as we exchanged high-fives and congratulations. When we returned to the van, a rare Buff-breasted Sandpiper was standing in the road. Such are the possibilities in Barrow!

The next morning we returned to the Freshwater Lake Road and very quickly spotted a pair of Spectacled Eiders—the other highly sought bird of Barrow. The male's lime-green head, white goggles, and orange bill made for a spectacular combination. For one member of the group, this was his 700th life bird! Five stunning Sabine's Gulls foraged at the edge of the lake along with small numbers of Arctic Terns. As we headed up the coast toward Point Barrow, three King Eiders were spied in the pack ice near the road. Stunning powder-blue crowns and bizarre orange bills made choosing a favorite eider ever so difficult. Flocks of Long-tailed Ducks and Brant passed by close, and frosty Glaucous Gulls sailed about the ice.

After lunch, we headed inland to the Gaswell Road. Our previous Barrow group had given us a tip on a Snowy Owl nest. We saw the female on the nest and the pure white male perched on a nearby telephone pole. It was 2:45 PM on our first day and we had tallied all of the Barrow targets! For the next 26 hours we just enjoyed birding without pressure. In all we tallied 24 King Eiders, 10 Steller's Eiders, and eight Spectacleds. We enjoyed baby Red Phalaropes being protected by a parent on the road, tiny Semipalmated Sandpiper chicks foraging on the tundra, graceful Tundra Swans, patrolling Pomarine, Parasitic, and Long-tailed jaegers, a flock of 32 Sabine's Gulls in one spot, and displaying Pectoral Sandpipers simply everywhere. As with our Alaska Mainland tour, we reveled in sunny skies throughout the extension.