Alaska: Barrow Extension Jun 18—20, 2011

Posted by Kevin Zimmer

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Kevin Zimmer

Kevin Zimmer has authored three books and numerous papers dealing with field identification and bird-finding in North America. His book, Birding in the American West: A Han...

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This year's Barrow Extension to our Grand Alaska tour was simultaneously unremarkable and remarkable. The few rarities that had turned up earlier in the month were no longer around, and our short stay yielded no additional oddities. What's more, there was very little evidence of continued migration of even common/regular migrants, and, to top it all off, it was clearly a "down" year for lemmings and their major predators (Snowy Owls and Pomarine Jaegers).

Spectacled Eider

Spectacled Eider— Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Enough said for the unremarkable part. Despite a lack of the unexpected, we were treated to so much of what makes this High Arctic location truly remarkable, and given persistent sunshine and temperatures in the mid–high 40s, we had the nice weather that allowed us to enjoy our time out of the bus, including a few lovely stomps across the wet tundra. Most importantly, we scored breeding plumaged males of all four species of eiders, with spectacular, prolonged studies of each of the "Big 3" (Spectacled, Steller's, and King).

We were also treated to a barrage of breeding and displaying shorebirds, ranging from bizarre Pectoral Sandpipers and their otherworldly hooting, to dressy American Golden-Plovers, stunning Red Phalaropes, and singing Long-billed Dowitchers. Red-throated and Pacific loons in full breeding dress were also a treat, and the jaegers and Snowy Owls, although few in number, were much appreciated, as was the snappy Sabine's Gull that graced Freshwater Lake that first evening. All the while, we marveled at the spectacle of near shore ice (in this, the third week of June), midnight sun that never set, skeletal remains of multiple massive bowhead whales, the farthest north football field on the continent (and with blue artificial turf at that), and marshy tundra that swarmed with shorebirds and waterfowl for as far as we could see.

In summation, Barrow was simply Barrow, and you really do have to see it to believe it.