My last post was entitled “Arctic Bound” and was about shorebirds migrating thru Iowa on the way to their nesting grounds. In June, I had the opportunity to visit the Arctic. I headed to Utqiagvik, Alaska; formerly known as Barrow, AK. It is the northern-most town in the USA. The opening image is of me in chest waders standing in the Arctic Ocean; no polar plunge for me.
Barrow has been on my bucket-list of places to visit since my early boyhood years. I was not disappointed. And, I loved the 24 hours of daylight every day.
Since Barrow cannot be reached by driving, I arrived on a 737 jet. These jets also supply the town with most of their needs. Therefore, a little town of less than 5,000 people has a runway to accommodate a 737.
Driving the few short roads that lead out of town, a person could get the impression that the tundra is just a vast wasteland. At least that is how it might appear from the road. But a walk across the tundra reveals a large number of birds that depend on it to raise their young. Birds abound. Without this vital habitat, multiple bird species would perish.
Shorebirds do indeed nest on the tundra. With careful searching, eggs can be found hidden under a clump of grass. Even though the vegetation is very short, I never did see a shorebird setting on a nest. Only when they moved off the nest was I able to detect them.
I saw two of the three shorebird species I wrote about in my last post; the Long-billed Dowitcher and the Pectoral Sandpiper. The Ruddy Turnstone, however, eluded me.
The Pectoral Sandpiper surprised me from the standpoint of its general appearance. The male appears to be much larger on the breeding grounds.
The Long-billed Dowitchers tend to stay closer to water when nesting. They prefer low wet meadows, laying their eggs on a small tussock or hummock.
Two other shorebird species that I see during migration are the Dunlin and the American Golden Plover. I have seen considerably more of the former than the latter. Both have bold color patterns when in their breeding plumage.
The overall species vulnerability due to climate change for all of the above shorebirds is listed as “HIGH”. Their nesting habitat will sharply decline. The impacts are being observed earlier in the Arctic and there are more immediate and severe consequences.