The Arctic Sounder

Kotzebue residents spot and sketch birds returning to Arctic

With birds returning to the Arctic for the summer, residents had a chance to observe and sketch them during a bird walk last weekend.

A new Kotzebue park ranger, Christina Nelson, led a birding and naturalist walk. During the event, 15 participants walked from the Heritage Center to South Beach, spotting and identifying bird species and practicing nature journaling.

“After a long and quiet winter, waves of migratory birds from all across the world begin to arrive in this region in the month of May, filling the sky, water and land with song, color and the flutter of wings,” Nelson said. “In Kotzebue, many birds will stop to rest and refuel in the lagoons, ponds, tundra and in front of town to feed and rest as they make their way to their nesting grounds further up the coast or inland.”

Some of the bird species that the group observed were glaucous gull, or nauyasugruk in Iñupiaq; long-tailed jaeger, or isuŋaq; red-necked phalarope, or qayyiiġun; scaup, or qałutuuq; pintail duck, or ivugaq; Arctic tern, or mitqutaiḷaq; common redpoll, or saksakiq; white-crowned sparrow, or nuŋaktuaġruk; American wigeon, or uggiihiq; and red phalarope, or augruaq, which Nelson said was an exciting sighting.

Each spring, the National Park Service staff at the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff from Selawik National Wildlife Refuge organize bird-themed events, said Jon Nicholson, interpretation and education program manager and public information officer at the Western Arctic National Parklands.

“These events honor the migration of birds back to the Arctic, offer an introduction to bird watching, and present a perfect opportunity to relish the pleasant spring weather,” Nicholson said.

During the event last weekend, Nelson led a nature journaling activity. She said that incorporating a field notebook into the birdwatching experience “allows the observer to make more detailed observations and make notes on sightings that are hard to identify in the field, such as describing a unique flight pattern, sketching out the silhouette of a backlit bird, phonetically writing down sounds in a bird’s call or song or noting unique behaviors.”


“Whether one prefers to write, sketch or take photographs, taking time to intentionally slow down and engage all senses can create a deeper connection between the observer and the land and wildlife around them,” she said.

To conclude the bird walk, Nelson hosted an art workshop where participants learned to transform their field notes and sketches into finished art pieces, Nicholson said.


Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.