The Great Bird Migration of Prudhoe Bay

A few years back, I got involved in bird watching in South East Alaska through some friends. One of them was a marine biologist. That’s a pretty credible background in birding as any I could think of. The other was her husband. Just as valid credibility I’d say. I’d go fishing with these two quite often and have heard the biologist banter about the sea birds and their different breeds on more than one occasion. Ever since I was little, the eagle has always been my favorite animal so to hear these two talk about the birds of Alaska was incredibly interesting to me. I then saw a movie about a year later about traveling the country in search of spectacular species of birds. It was titled The Big Year. It had Jack Black, Steve Martin, and Owen Wilson (among other prominent actors) and it had beautiful scenes of the Pacific North-West and Alaska in it (Pictured Left). What more could you ask for? Ever since then, my interest in the amazing species of birds where ever I’m at has been close to the forefront in my mind.

In Utah, I was always spoiled with an abundant amount of climates and regions that facilitate hundreds of species of birds. I also grew up going to the Tracy Aviary, an 8 acre bird sanctuary in the heart of Salt Lake City, Utah. Some of my fondest memories as a child was watching the Birds of Prey Show, which featured different hawks, eagles, and owls. This sparked my love for bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, different types of owls, and peregrine falcons, among other birds. There are hundreds of species of birds in Utah alone so when I found out Prudhoe Bay was a huge migratory stopping point in North America for sea birds and many other species, I was elated. I also found out that I wasn’t going to be spending my summer up here in Prudhoe Bay, making me worried I wouldn’t be able to see this spectacle. Having not seen literally any other living thing in the arctic besides an occasional flash of a tail from an arctic fox, I felt even more defeated at the prospect of seeing this migration.

As I just got back from my week long vacation in Utah, I expected the usual vast stretch of white, flat land with just freezing snow covering it. When I got off the plane to come back to the lodge, however, I noticed an amazing spectacle had happened all across the tundra while I was away. As I walked to the van that picked me up, I noticed the road was actual gravel. As I drove down the road, I noticed large, snowy caps of drift snow reduced to puddles along the flat expanses. The biggest differences I noticed was the fact that I actually saw water outside. To explain a little, the tundra is essentially a giant bowl of freezing cold wind that turns any sign of water into stoney ice in an instant, making most living things too vulnerable to live here. I walked outside once with a wet shirt from the washing machine needing to be dried and in the few seconds I was outside, it turned into a plank-ice shirt. I could have probably picked it up and smacked someone over the head with it. So for me to see the drastic transformation the tundra took on through the Sagavanirktok river and multiple lakes scattered around town in a week was shocking.

This also gave me hope. Hope that I would indeed see the great migration after all. My new found hope was sparked by the tundra’s drastic change. It was later ignited by an account of a single, beautiful snowy owl perched on top of our hotel sign and HUGE ravens scaring me half to death while I walked down our icy steps from our main facility. All this, coupled by the fact that the tundra has turned into a giant slush puddle of doom makes me pretty excited that I’ve been extended to the end of the month for my stay in Prudhoe Bay. The migration of caribou (reindeer, essentially), musk ox, copious amounts of birds, and bears all are coming within the next month, leaving me with hope that I’ll see at least some of this. I found a few pictures of some of the birds that are indigenous to this area during migration. Snowy owl (Pictured Left), King Eider (Bottom Right), and Spectacled Eider (Bottom Left) are just a few of the species that I’m hoping to see.

***An update on me, I just got back from a week long “vacation” at my home town in Utah. It was packed full of family, friends, medical testing I needed done for Antarctica, and fun! Haha. I saw The Amazing Spiderman 2 (which I loved, obviously), I went on a hike through the mountains close to my house with some friends, I saw most of the family I wanted to see while home (sorry Jake and Uncle Steve), and I got to spend half a day in Salt Lake City walking around with two of my favorite girls (besides my momma, haha), my sister and Kimmy. I only had enough time to see a few friends though, sadly. Unfortunately, most of my time was spent getting my medical evaluations done for Antarctica. When I come home in September, I’ll have a little more time to spend traveling around to all the people I really miss before I’m pushed off to Antarctica. I’d like to go up to Bear Lake some time in September and spend some time eating raspberries and relaxing on the lake.

My time in the arctic has been fantastic and I’ve loved every minute of it but I’m also excited to get back to an area that has mountains around it. The landscape here is as flat as can be for miles all around me and I’m not used to that. Also, I’m going to a camp that has no cell service and limited internet in about 3 weeks so I’ll try to keep up on writing in this. I may have to keep a digital journal of things I want to write about and post out of that every week. If you would like to write me letters while I’m there, I’ll gladly give you the address if you ask. It would be nice to hear from familiar people while I’m in the middle of nowhere. Here are a few pictures from my trip to Utah. They are pictures from my hike with my friends’ Kevin and Brooke and a picture of the cutest little girl on the planet, my niece Ava. Thank you to everyone that’s supported me through all of this and has helped me throughout my journey. Until next time!