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Alaska 2004

Part 8: Barrow

Next day I found Kevin out the side door at four a.m. (I said "Good morning!" and he said, "If you say so!") and we headed to the airport for our flight to Barrow. I was shocked at how full the plane was, and with mostly tourists! After we got our bags and van I asked Kevin about that, and he said that a lot of mainstream tour companies have these "One Day Wonders" where they fly people up here for the day, they have a "blanket toss" demo, and fly them out the next day. At first glance the place looks pretty poverty-stricken, but that's not really the case, evidently: up here, the weather does a number on the outsides of the buildings, but the interiors are quite nice, and I was indeed impressed with the motel (Top of the World Hotel) and the Mexican restaurant next door! The lady who owns it (Lyn Kidder) is quite a character herself, but in addition to government kickbacks from the oil industry, the average worker gets paid very well up here, so it's not as bad as it looks.


Left:  Arial shot of the Barrow area with satellite dish collection...  Right:  Since there's just four of us now, we get to rent a nice comfy little mini-van!

Bird-wise, I felt like I was back on Gambell: Snow Buntings were the "House Sparrows" of the place, and Glaucous Gulls were all over. We went out various roads, the main one before lunch being "Fresh Water Lake Road" (the real names are all Inuit, which can be confusing if you're relying on the names in the birding guides). We had an elegant Long-tailed Jaeger, which is the rarest of the three, and roadside Semipals, Westerns, and best of all, lots of displaying Pectorals, their puffed up chests hanging down in flight like a folded up heron's neck! We found a Short-eared Owl batting around the buildings, and had knockout views of both Red and Red-necked Phalaropes right next to the road! But the best bird was an adult Sabine's Gull at the end of the road who had staked out a "minnow run", and let Kevin walk right up to him, he was so intent on fishing! Gorgeous bird! A Red Phalarope also made her way towards Kevin until she was feet from him, then suddenly noticed him, yelled at him, and almost collided with him as she took off! A White-fronted Goose also flew by about then, which I was excited about because it was a trip bird for me.


Left:  Kevin scans for goodies along "Fresh Lake Road" for Sue, Pat, and myself.  Right:  Views of the tundra...


Center:  Wilson's Snipe.  Right:  Semipalmated Sandpiper


Pectoral Sandpipers


Red Phalaropes; the females (left) are much brighter than the males!


Glaucous Gulls fly overhead


This Sabine's Gull was so intent on minnow-fishing that he paid no heed to either my nor Kevin's approach for pictures!


The feeding Red Phalarope was pretty clueless as well...

Can't remember if we had the dark morph Parasitic Jaegers on the way back or after lunch, but we headed down Gaswell Road later, and going down a side road we stopped at the end, and a white blob way out there turned out to be a Snowy Owl! Sue was beside herself, because it was evidently a bad lemming year and a Snowy hadn't been seen for weeks, but here he was!


Left:  Heading down Gaswell Road.  Right:  Snow Bunting 


Left two shots:  Red-necked Phalaropes, the brighter female at left.  Right two shots:  More Pectoral Sandpipers, with a displaying male cocking his tail


Left:  Distant Snowy Owl.  Right:  Dark morph Parasitic Jaegers; in flight, they show short, pointed central tail feathers

We then went down the length of Gaswell picking up a few things like Pacific Loon and American Golden Plover, but at one point Kevin spotted what he thought was a male Spectacled Eider, and sure enough, it was! (Looked like an Oldsquaw from my angle…) So we all donned our waterproof boots and sloshed out for a better look, and I was even able to get shots through Kevin's scope! Unfortunately they booked shortly after that, but what stunning views!


Kevin spots a Spectacled Eider, so we all don our waterproof boots and tread carefully across the boggy tundra!


A great look at this rare duck through Kevin's scope (Spectacled Eider)

Happy campers after that trek!

Down the road we found a hen White-fronted Goose on the nest, right by the road! She had her neck stretched out as though trying to be more invisible, but it wasn't working very well (the next day her mate was next to her in the same posture)! Shortly thereafter we were blocked by a snow pile, but Kevin spotted another pair of Specs, which I opted to sit out on this time as they weren't even visible from the road (and while it was a gorgeous, sunny day, the temps were in the 30s with a blast of cold air flowing constantly!). In the meantime I was entertained by three kids in a pickup trying unsuccessfully to get around the snowpile!


Left:  White-fronted Goose keeping a low profile on her nest.  Right:  Kevin spots another Spec, only further out than the first one...


Left:  "I'd walk a mile for a Spectacled Eider!" (Can you spot them [the humans, that is...]?)  Meanwhile, some local kids try unsuccessfully to get around a snow pile blocking the road...

The gang returned and we headed on, Kevin spotting a pair of Kings on the way out. He then took us down to the point where the two seas (Beaufort and Chukchi, both still part of the Arctic Ocean) come together, and by the hunting shacks we found the "Barrow National Forest" I heard a guy on the plane talking about (three artificial palm trees made out of driftwood and baleen)! We added Semipalmated Plover and a Hoary Redpoll that almost blew in the car (which led to Kevin's story about the time he was scanning and heard this redpoll flight note coming, but instead of going off into the distance it stopped abruptly, and he looked up to see that the thing had landed on the end of his scope)! After finding a pair of Brant we headed back in, stopped briefly at their huge grocery store, had dinner, and crashed for the night.


Left:  Shore ice on the Arctic Ocean.  Right:  DEW line (which stands for Defense Early Warning, I believe)


Left and center:  Hoary Redpolls.  Right:  An "I was there, really" shot at "Barrow National Forest"!


Left:  The "palm fronds" are actually made out of whale baleen!  Right:  Our hotel; the buildings here look pretty spartan, but the interiors are actually quite nice! (The stilts are to prevent the heat from the buildings from melting the tundra beneath them...)

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