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Anyone who says there are no sexy gulls has never seen a Ross's Gull like we did! (Photo by guide Eric Hynes)
From a guide's perspective, a tour principally targeting one species is as scary as it gets, especially when the likelihood of encountering the species hinges on the weather! Much to my relief, predominantly strong northerly onshore winds blew during our stay in Barrow and we were spectacularly successful.
This tour was less about quantity and more about quality. Our trip list is brief, but the species we tallied and the looks we enjoyed of each were marvelous. Little did we know when we all scrambled to get bins on that first Ross's Gull that we would spot them at almost all of our stops along the coast.
A significant surf with waves breaking right on the beach really churned up the zooplankton and generated a phalarope and gull feeding frenzy literally at the water's edge. Red Phalaropes, Glaucous Gulls, and Black-legged Kittiwakes were numerous and cooperative. Present in lower numbers but no less cooperative were the beautiful Ross's Gulls and first winter Thayer's Gulls. What made our views of these birds so memorable was the glorious light. How could you ever forget those pink bellies?
The number of Snowy Owl encounters exceeded my wildest expectations. Clearly the lemming population around Barrow is high right now. It was a wonderful study in the variability of dark markings on Snowy Owls. We observed nearly white birds and some individuals that only showed clean white on the facial disk.
Witnessing the Inupiat people sustainably harvest Bowhead Whales was a profound cultural event, enhancing our overall experience immensely. Other highlights included the first winter Sabine's Gull, Hoary Redpoll study at Mike's feeders, good looks at Yellow-billed Loons, seeing Glaucous Gull and all its variability so well, the white Arctic Fox dashing across the ice, and the bonus Polar Bear on our last morning!
Thanks so much for choosing Field Guides for your Ross's Gull adventure. Tom and I had a blast and really enjoyed birding with all of you. Hopefully we will be raising bins together again somewhere down the road.
Peace, Love, Pink, and Polar Bears,
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
Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (WESTERN) (Anser albifrons frontalis)
Yellow-billed Loon was not far behind Ross's Gull for most sought after species heading into this tour. Thankfully we enjoyed a number of good looks. (Photo by guide Tom Reed)
BRANT (BLACK) (Branta bernicla nigricans)
GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)
SPECTACLED EIDER (Somateria fischeri)
KING EIDER (Somateria spectabilis)
COMMON EIDER (PACIFIC) (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum)
WHITE-WINGED SCOTER (Melanitta fusca)
The howling winds and nearly horizontal snow give a sense of how hardy Red Phalaropes really are. (Video by guide Eric Hynes)
LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)
PACIFIC LOON (Gavia pacifica)
YELLOW-BILLED LOON (Gavia adamsii)
Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)
RED PHALAROPE (Phalaropus fulicarius)
Stercorariidae (Skuas and Jaegers)
POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)
This juvenile Pomarine Jaeger was a great learning experience. (Photo by guide Tom Reed)
Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)
BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKE (Rissa tridactyla)
SABINE'S GULL (Xema sabini)
ROSS'S GULL (Rhodostethia rosea)
Structurally, this is an elegant gull with its graduated tail, lengthy primaries, and delicate bill. But no field guide could prepare us for how beautiful Ross's Gulls are. The amount of pink was highly variable. This was a particularly sexy individual showing more extensive and intense pink than most. (Photo by guide Eric Hynes)
THAYER'S GULL (Larus thayeri)
GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)
SNOWY OWL (Bubo scandiacus)
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)
COMMON RAVEN (Corvus corax)
The plethora of Snowy Owls around this fall was a real treat. We saw a broad spectrum of plumage patterns -- everything from dark birds like this one to nearly clean white as well. (Photo by guide Eric Hynes)
Calcariidae (Longspurs and Snow Buntings)
SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Fringillidae (Siskins, Crossbills, and Allies)
COMMON REDPOLL (Acanthis flammea)
HOARY REDPOLL (Acanthis hornemanni)
NEARCTIC BROWN LEMMING (Lemmus trimucronatus)
BOWHEAD WHALE (Balaena mysticetus)
ARCTIC FOX (Alopex lagopus)
POLAR BEAR (Ursus maritimus)
Totals for the tour: 22 bird taxa and 4 mammal taxa