Sunday, 17 June 2018

Barrow Day 2

We were out at 7am, travelling the short network of roads that are open due to the snow and ice covering most of the surrounding tundra. As yesterday Red Phalaropes were amazing and everywhere, often beside the road and gave excellent photographic opportunities. The standout sighting was the 3 pairs of Steller’s Eiders loafing around one of the few roadside pools. We watched the males giving a short display, bobbing their heads and swimming around the females. The views in the scope were awesome! Later in the day we saw a group of 10 on a distant lake…

Will post some reasonable eider photos at a later date....

Our day comprised checking all the open roads where the tundra or pools were visible and we enjoyed fine looks at Snow Buntings, numerous Semipalmated and Pectoral Sandpipers, Sanderlings in breeding finery etc


Sanderling


Dunlin in breeding plumage - stunning

Red Phalarope

Semipalmated Sandpiper


Greater Scaup - female

Greater Scaup - drake


A walk across the tundra produced a single Buff-breasted Sandpiper that fed totally oblivious to our presence some 20 metres away.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper
After lunch we had a siesta before venturing out both sides of dinner and returned to the hotel again at 11pm. There was another flight view of Snowy Owl, some showy Short-eared Owls (at least 9 sightings), a distant Bearded Seal, Long-billed Dowitcher, a fine White-rumped Sandpiper, some Red-necked Phalaropes, and several Pomarine and Arctic Skuas amongst others.





Short-eared Owl

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Barrow

With just a couple of hours spare before we had to drive to the small airport for our flight to Barrow via Anchorage, we headed off along the coast road back to Safety Lagoon. A stop at Nome Point to do a short sea-watch resulted in 5 King Eiders, including a superb full adult male, 8 Horned Puffins, Pelagic Cormorants, Arctic Skua and a number of Brunnich’s Guillemots. At Safety Bridge we picked up the reported Common Sandpiper, as well as a pair of really close Harlequin Ducks that Chris initially spotted perched on the rocks right below the road. 



Harlequin Ducks

Soaking up the views as they slowly drift away and with camera shutters clicking away, it’s hard to find a better duck than this. Yet we might well have done, with the reappearance of the rare (in this area) Spectacled Eider, albeit this time two drakes are sleeping on one of the islands in the lagoon. But the early morning light makes viewing them through the scope a supreme experience and we soak up every aspect of their immaculate and rather sexy plumage. There are plenty of other birds to see that help while away our time such as Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swans, Red-throated Divers, Cackling Goose, a flyover Aleutian Tern, close singing Lapland Longspurs and more.


Red-throated Diver

Our flight to Barrow via Anchorage was painless and at 6pm we had arrived. After checking into our rooms we headed out into the snowy wilderness that is Barrow at this time of year, and it was totally amazing to see the Arctic Ocean under several metres of ice and snow. In fact the whole area was under a blanket of thick snow with some roads closed and I was a tad afraid we had arrived a few days too early as the thaw had yet to begin. However, there were a few open areas of marsh and water, and the ones we did find were full of Greater White-fronted Geese, as well as loads of shorebirds such as Pectoral Sandpipers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Dunlins in fine breeding plumage, American Golden Plovers etc. 

Pectoral Sandpiper

Greater White-fronted Goose - the most here for many years

But the Red Phalaropes completely stole the show and seeing them for the first time resplendent in breeding finery was like ticking a new bird. 

Red Phalarope - wow!!!

We saw many of them and had our first stab at getting some photos. We also found a Tundra Bean Goose – a very rare bird in Alaska. 



Tundra Bean Goose
Oh and a male Snowy Owl flew by, briefly joining a high flying Short-eared Owl before alighting on a wall of ice where I managed to fire off a few quick shots.  

Snowy Owl

It was 11pm by the time we returned to the hotel in broad daylight….


Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Alaska Keeps Rocking!


Headed along Teller Road this morning and into yet more wilderness areas with fantastic vistas. The highlight was a close male Rock Ptarmigan that was sat close beside the road and totally ignored us. 


Rock Ptarmigan

We saw all the usual suspects such as many Willow GrousePacific Golden PloverWilson’s Warbler, Golden-crowned Sparrow etc……… 



Willow Grouse or Willow Ptarmigan

Pacific Golden Plover


Golden-crowned Sparrow

We turned off to Woolley Lagoon and found a male Northern Wheatear perched on one of the boulders - this is  rare breeding bird in the USA and only breeds here in Alaska. 

Northern Wheatear

Northern Wheatear hunting...!

There was also a pair of Wandering Tattlers, Ruddy Turnstone and Black-bellied Plovers here as well. 

Black-bellied or Grey Plover

Then we hotfooted it back to town for a Subway lunch before setting off along the Council Road and our goose quest… 


Brunnich's Guillemot, also known as Thick-billed Murre

We birded our way along Safety Lagoon, finding a pair of Eurasian Wigeon, Brunnich’s Guillemot, and a Pectoral Sandpiper until the end and then headed inland, where in the first drizzle of the trip we found a Golden Eagle sitting on a nest just 10 feet up from the road on a small cliff! Wow! 

Golden Eagle

We followed that with a perched Gyrfalcon before heading back up to Safety Lagoon. Our first Snow Bunting was nice, and we sifted through the shorebirds seeing lots of Western Sandpipers, as well as the common Semipalmated Sandpipers

Red Knot in breeding plumage - stunning!

A couple Red Knots were on the beach, with a loafing drake Common Merganser (Goosander), and lots of commoner species. We eventually reached the hotel at 9.30pm for dinner…


Monday, 11 June 2018

Bristle-thighed Curlew

An early start saw us driving 72 miles along the Kougarok Road towards Coffee Dome and the displaying grounds of Bristle-thighed Curlew. Along the way we stopped to watch a couple displaying Bluethroats, and watched them song-flighting high into the air before parachuting down to land in the dwarf willow scrub. We were also able to watch some close Willow Grouse beside the road, followed by Greater White-fronted Goose, Tundra Swans, and a pair of Pacific Divers on a picturesque lake. The scenery was again outstanding, with snow-capped mountains, tundra, rivers, lakes – all bathed in sunshine. Oh and a Moose was pretty cool too!

Moose

A picture postcard scene en-route to see the curlew...

We’d almost arrived when a Long-tailed Skua was spotted close to the road, so we jumped out and soaked up yet more awesome views of this wonderful bird.

Long-tailed Skua
On arrival at the required spot we donned wellington boots and walked up the hill in bright sunshine, getting detained by a calling American Golden Plover doing its distraction display. 


American Golden Plover

Once near the top we were lucky to firstly hear and then see a displaying Bristle-thighed Curlew. It took another hour but we eventually tracked one down feeding on the moorland and then watched it for a good 45 minutes. Just as we were about to leave another bird began displaying, which prompted the bird we were watching to soar into the sky, calling and circled a few times high above us before dropping down just over the brow of the hill. Wow!



Leaving here we drove back along the road, this time seeing Snowshoe Hair, Alaskan Hare and Arctic Ground Squirrel. More Bluethroats were seen, a Rough-legged Hawk was sat on a nest, Cliff Swallows were nesting under a bridge, and there was also Northern Harrier, American Tree Sparrow, Grey-cheeked Thrush, and a few Wilson’s Warblers.

Grey-cheeked Thrush is a common bird here
American Tree Sparrow

At a river bridge a flock of Red-necked Phalaropes were feeding below us, and we watched them sail along with the tide under the bridge before flying back under us and upstream a ways before drifting back under the bridge again – just like avian Pooh Sticks! 

Red-necked Phalarope
Wandering Tattler

A pair of Wandering Tattlers were also present here and one began feeding on a snow bank below us where the above photo was taken. And that was our day...


Sunday, 10 June 2018

Nome & Spectacles!

We returned to Council Road this morning and headed some 45 miles out into the wilderness. Things were much quieter this time and the first couple of hours were spent driving, scanning and driving. We made frequent stops to peruse good areas without turning up anything new, except a distant White-billed Diver (Yellow-billed Loon). There were lots of Red-throated Divers, Black Scoters, Glaucous Gulls, a few Sabine’s Gulls, a close Arctic Redpoll, Lapland Longspurs and more of the same species we saw yesterday. 

Lapland Longspur

The scenery was stunning with the open tundra dotted with small lakes and snow-capped hills dominating the horizon, and the sound of waves crashing onto the shore from the Bering Sea. We were hoping for Emperor Goose along here, but alas we had no such luck, and had to content ourselves with quite a few Aleutian Terns flying around and over the road. We came across a few Cackling Geese, some Snow Geese, many Tundra Swans, Sandhill Cranes and a most unexpected drake Spectacled Eider. Holy cow! What an adrenaline rush that one gave everybody! It’s a rare bird here at Nome and not something I’ve seen reported in other trip reports. You expect it at Barrow but not here. This sighting even eclipsed the stunning grey-morph Gyrfalcon perched on a rocky crag high above the road. So by now it was well past 1pm and we had to return to Nome for lunch, so off we drove passing a distant herd of Musk Ox along the way.

The tundra near Nome

Teller Road was our destination this afternoon. We checked a few migrant spots around town before heading out into the bleak landscape, where we enjoyed amazing close views of a singing Blackpoll Warbler, as well as Grey-cheeked Thrush, Northern Shrike, Common Redpolls and some closer Harlequin Ducks along a fast-flowing river. 

Blackpoll Warbler

Moving on we saw Yellow, Orange-crowned and Wilson’s Warblers, Golden-crowned and Red Fox Sparrows, and a perched Rough-legged Hawk



We ended the day at Nome rivermouth where we were treated to our best views of Aleutian Terns perched on a sandbank before flying overhead after being disturbed by an Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger). 


Arctic Tern

American Wigeon