Alaska: Barrow Extension Jun 27—29, 2014

Posted by Barry Zimmer


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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Shortly after our arrival in Barrow we headed out onto the Gaswell Road. It was difficult to make much progress, as we made frequent stops for dapper Long-tailed Ducks, stunning Red Phalaropes, and displaying Pectoral Sandpipers, all of which were wonderfully numerous. A parade of other birds caught our attention as well, including the likes of Greater White-fronted Goose, Tundra Swan, spiffy Dunlins, Pomarine and Parasitic jaegers, Lapland Longspurs, and brilliant Snow Buntings. Eventually we made our way to a short side road where a couple of pairs of Steller’s Eiders had been reported earlier in the day. Luck was on our side, as we quickly found a male and two females on a small tundra pond to the right of the road. Exiting the van for scope views of the Steller’s Eiders, we noticed a male Snowy Owl perched up on a small hummock near the end of the road. We had one scope on the eiders and one on the owl when a pair of King Eiders was spotted to the left. Where to look first? All this excitement in our first two hours at Barrow!

Late that evening, we encountered three more Steller's Eiders on a post-dinner option.

Three more Steller’s Eiders on our post-dinner option.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Over the ensuing two days we had myriad highlights. After some searching, we ultimately found a wonderful male Spectacled Eider with a harem of four females in tow. We tallied a very impressive 37 King Eiders, several of which gave incredibly close views. A total of nine Steller’s and eleven Commons rounded out our eider experience. Three Yellow-billed Loons in view at once on a lake near the Dew Line was another treat. This species is seen on only about half the trips and usually only as flyovers. The same lake hosted two Black Guillemots which seemed out of place away from the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Just across Stevenson Road an elegant Sabine’s Gull danced above the pack ice, displaying its wonderful wing pattern before alighting on the ice and posing for pictures. An equally stunning Pacific Loon in full breeding plumage glided by within feet of the gull.

Another spectacular male King Eider sitting on the pack ice along the road to the Point. Wow!

Male King Eider on the pack ice along the road to the Point.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Breeding-plumaged shorebirds in full display were everywhere. Most common were the eerily hooting Pectorals flying low over the tundra with manes of breeding feathers bulging down below. Brilliant American Golden-Plovers patrolled the tussocks, as did the occasional Baird’s Sandpiper. Phalaropes of two species, Red and Red-necked, dotted every pond on the tundra. Our best shorebird was a very responsive White-rumped Sandpiper along the road to Freshwater Lake. This species does not even occur annually here, and we enjoyed superb views from just feet away at one point.

Although it was a down year for lemmings (which often results in few owls), we had repeated, excellent studies of Snowy Owls throughout our visit. In all, we had 21 sightings, with a minimum of 15 different owls seen. Having so many encounters with this iconic species was a real treat!

We were also treated to several rarities, including a Bufflehead, three Gadwall, four Red Knots, a Bald Eagle, and two very lost Barn Swallows. In all we tallied 45 species and had fantastic looks at all of the prime targets of Barrow.