Alaska: Barrow Extension Jun 27—29, 2017

Posted by Kevin Zimmer


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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As usual, our Barrow Extension delivered the expected mix of high Arctic breeding waterfowl, shorebirds, jaegers, and owls, with a few surprises thrown in, that have made this outpost at the “top of the world” (more accurately, at the top of Alaska) a must-visit destination for birders.

King Eiders

King Eiders— Photo: Kevin J. Zimmer


All of Barrow’s ‘glamour’ birds were present and accounted for, starting with the eider ‘hat trick’ of King, Steller’s, and Spectacled eiders on the tundra.  Our eider quest got off to a slow, but encouraging start the first evening, when the only identifiable eiders we could muster were a somewhat distant pair of Spectacled Eiders (if you had to pick just one to see, this was the one) on the back of a large muddy lagoon off Cakeater Road.  Spurred by an unusual lack of eiders along the Freshwater Lake Road, and the knowledge that this was an exceptionally early spring (in which birds all over Alaska seemed to have accelerated their arrival and breeding cycle), I went on a midnight cruise out the Gaswell Road in hopes of pinning down more eiders.  Fortunately, I found all three of the main target species, allowing me a few hours sleep, secure in the knowledge that all of the targets were present and accounted for.  My serenity however, proved short-lived when the first few stakeout spots visited the next morning failed to produce any eiders whatsoever!  Fortunately, my ‘money spot’ came through, and in a big way, when we found all of the ‘Big 3’ hanging out on the same pond!  Amazingly, there were 6 Steller’s Eiders, 6 King Eiders, and 3 Spectacled Eiders all in fairly close proximity.  We slogged out across the wet tundra, and through some patient stalking, we were able to get close enough for crippling, scope-filling views of all three species.  The birds proved surprisingly confiding and allowed us to study them at length.  As is always the case here, Common Eiders were encountered only as migrants moving along the coast, but we did get them on our last day, thereby completing our ‘eider slam.’  “Eider Fever – Catch it!”

Read Kevin’s full report in his Field List.