I'd say this first run of the Barrow: Search for Ross's Gull tour could be termed an "overwhelming success"! Despite knowing the lay of the land very well from my past June tours here over many years, I still really didn't know what to expect at this season. And all the while searching for a bird that I thought would be there, but wasn't certain would be there!
Our favorite restaurant in town, Pepe's North of the Border, burning to the ground in August proved to be a bigger monkey wrench than I anticipated, since it also forced the closure of the Top of the World Hotel next door. A mad scramble at our office ensued after we got word of this, but, thanks to tour manager Maggie Burnett, we were able to secure enough beds in enough hotels to make this tour run for all who signed up. A little inconvenient for us on the ground once we got there, but we managed well. Sam & Lee's Restaurant and Arctic Pizza got more of our business than I thought they would, but I'm sure they were thankful for the unanticipated patronage.
I didn't think that there would be all that many birds in and around Barrow before this tour commenced, and I was mostly right. The one bird that we did come to see, the fabulous Ross's Gull, was, thankfully, present in dizzying numbers during our stay. I had seen a grand total of nine Ross's Gulls up to that point in the world over nearly thirty years of guiding tours (the Pribilofs, Nome, Barrow, and Churchill), and we blew by that number in the first 30 minutes out at the base of the Pt. Barrow spit! By the time we left Barrow on Day 4 of this tour, we had tallied well over 1200 individuals, most of them streaming by in small to medium-sized flocks from the Chukchi Sea to the Beaufort Sea, or feeding in the surf at Pt. Barrow itself. This spectacle was a dream that I think we all shared going into this trip, and I'd have to say we all left completely sated.
Besides the Ross's Gulls, it was thrilling to see several Polar Bears out on the ice of the Elson Lagoon on the Beaufort Sea! I wasn't really anticipating seeing these at this season, but I was happily proved wrong. Several Snowy Owls were crowd-pleasers, as were the many Yellow-billed Loons that we saw on the Chukchi Sea. Flocks of eiders, all in winter plumage, streamed by on a regular basis, and we even spied a few distant Short-tailed Shearwaters on the horizon during a windy spell -- an unexpected 'lifer' for several folks.
Pepe and I had an absolute blast sharing this adventure with each of you! It was a great way to tick this one off your 'most-wanted' lists! We hope that our paths cross again on another tour somewhere soon. Have a wonderful Holiday Season!
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
Totals for the tour: 21 bird taxa and 3 mammal taxa