Barrow, Alaska 2019

Dates:
June 18 - 22, 2019

Fee: $3700 (deposit plus final payment)  includes 5 days total of guided photography in the field and ground transportation.

Target Group Size: 5 participants

From: Barrow, Alaska

Leaders: Dan Behm or Matthew Studebaker

 

Barrow is the only place in the world you can photograph the three rare species of Eiders during the day of the never setting sun, and then return to modern luxuries like hotels and restaurants. Just outside the northernmost town in the United States, we walk the tundra and photograph from the small gravel roads searching for loons, shorebirds, jaegers, owls, and more. We rarely set our gear down, and fill up our cards fast in Barrow!

 

 

Look through the gallery below to see some of the amazing images participants have made on this trip in the past: 

 

Why go to Barrow with Studebaker Photo Tours?

  • We know the small areas of the tundra that are productive and worth the hike
  • Our experience with the species in Barrow helps stalk the birds and even read the bird's body language
  • We know the only couple ponds out in the tundra where Red-throated Loons nest
  • We know the couple places Baird's Sandpipers and Hoary Redpolls nest
  • We take care of driving and trip logistics
  • Setting a schedule and fostering motivation and enthusiasm helps us all have a productive and fun time in the field
  • We have a 100% success rate finding and helping the group photograph Steller's and King Eider
  • We use calls and create set-ups to attract land birds to photogenic locations, such as getting Snow Buntings to land on a clump of flowers
  • vehicle rental is included in our trip fee
  • working with a group, we have more "eyes" looking which results in more good finds.

 

Some extremely rare photo opportunities my research may be able to produce include the 3 rare species of Eiders, Red-throated and Pacific Loons, Snowy Owls on breeding territory (some years), and shorebirds on breeding grounds. Other Barrow specialties will include Red Phalarope in breeding plumage, and a chance of seeing Yellow-billed Loons or Buff-breasted Sandpiper.

This photo tour is about more than getting you close to these species. we will show you how to take a good photo to the next level, how to use light and backgrounds to portray our subjects in the most beautiful way possible, and how to control every aspect of each photo, from where the birds land to getting them to give you that perfect head turn. We also know exactly where to set up and when, how to take advantage of the bird's daily patterns and work with the wind and light.

Travel considerations: Fly to Barrow, AK. Alaska Airlines usually has at least two 737 jets in and out of town every day, which means you don't have to worry about a cramped small bush plane like you would in many Alaskan towns. Plan to arrive the day before the photo tour begins, and fly out the day after. Let us know your flight time and we will either pick you up or have a taxi for you. 

Equipment: Bring a digital SLR with your longest lens. On this photo tour, the longer your lens, the easier it will be to make outstanding photos. Anything less than a 500mm prime lens will probably not be enough. I also recommend bringing a wide angle if you have an interest in photographing the artic ocean as the ice breaks up, or the polygon tundra blooming with wildflowers.

Physical Activity Requirements: Strenuous activity. Walking through the wet tundra grass will be unavoidable, with hikes up to a mile many days. You don't have to be an athlete, but if you aren't in good physical condition this trip is not for you. If you have knee or back problems, or have difficulty walking while carrying your equipment, this photo tour is not for you.

Hiking short distances across the tundra can be tiring, but the never setting sun also presents a challenge. In order to take advantage of the best light, our shooting schedule will involve splitting up the day's sleep into a very short night's sleep, and then a longer mid-day's rest in the afternoon. While not easy, the results will be spectacular. We will try to make sure we have at least 8 hours of rest per day for the whole group. Each participant can elect to skip several hours of shooting sessions if more "down time" is desired as well.

Likely Species on the Barrow Birds Photo Tour - species in bold are species most frequently photographed on the trip.

  • Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata)
  • Pacific Loon (Gavia pacifica)
  • Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii)
  • Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)
  • Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons)
  • Brant (Branta bernicla)
  • Northern Pintail (Anas acuta)
  • Greater Scaup (Aythya marila)
  • King Eider (Somateria spectabilis)
  • Spectacled Eider (Somateria fischeri)
  • Steller's Eider (Polysticta stelleri)
  • Long-tailed Duck (Clangula hyemalis)
  • American Golden-Plover (Pluvialis dominica)
  • Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus)
  • Long-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus scolopaceus)
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)
  • Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri)
  • Baird's Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii)
  • White-rumped Sandpiper
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper
  • Ruddy Turnstone
  • Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)
  • Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
  • Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)
  • Red Phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius)
  • Pomarine Jaeger (Stercorarius pomarinus)
  • Parasitic Jaeger (Stercorarius parasiticus)
  • Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)
  • American Herring Gull (Larus smithsonianus incl. Vegae subspecies)
  • Sabine's Gull (Xema sabini)
  • Arctic Tern (Sterna paradisaea)
  • Black Guillemot (Cepphus grylle)
  • Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
  • Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
  • Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea)
  • Hoary Redpoll (Carduelis hornemanni)
  • Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
  • Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)
  • Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)

Below are some photos by Matthew Studebaker taken in Barrow during photo tours

Native Lands Permit:  We will be photographing on lands owned by the Eskimos. Everyone will need to apply for a native lands permit ($150.00 application fee) from the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation.  Permits are good for one calendar year so waiting until January to apply is advisable to avoid any confusion.  I will be in touch with each of you and provide the forms after the first of the year.

Waders: We will probably do just about everything but sleep in our waders. When we do wade into water I don't intend to get deeper than about two feet, but I recommend chest waders so that we can set our cameras low to the water and can crouch down and photograph at a low angle.  I recommend going to your local sporting goods store and trying on several different types to find a comfortable pair before making a selection if you haven't already. 

Boots:  We have brought boots along in the past, but never have a chance to use them. Basically, if you aren’t in the hotel, you’ll want your waders. You can leave boots at home.

Jacket:  Waterproof and breathable are imperative. I wear a warm but lightweight jacket. If I need more warmth, I layer sweaters underneath.

Hat and Gloves:  Waterproof gloves are often too bulky for operating camera controls.  I prefer a light to mid weight glove for my right hand and will often wear a heavier waterproof glove on the left to aid in getting up off the wet tundra.  Gloves and hats made of wind-stopper material is a plus in Barrow as strong winds off the ice pack prevail when we are near town.  I will be bringing at least two hats and up to 3 pairs of gloves. On warm days where mosquitos are a problem, a good option is to bring medical latex gloves. This provides a barrier for the insects without being too warm.

Bag Blind and/or Gillie Suit. I do strongly recommend one or the other because we will be in Barrow during nesting season, and may encounter a situation that can only be photographed from a hidden vantage.

Bug Spray:  Could be necessary if the winds shift from the south and the temperature spikes up to near 60 degrees. We often don't worry about insects, but it is good to be prepared and they can occasionally become vexing if the conditions are right.

Eye Mask:  I prefer complete darkness to sleep.  The hotel will have heavy curtains but light will still get into your rooms.  If you need complete darkness to sleep definitely pack an eye mask.

Ear Plugs:  We will sometimes be sleeping when most of the rest of the town will be up and about.  Road noise and loud people in neighboring rooms should be planned for.

Cell Phones and Internet: 
The hotel has wifi. It’s a bit on the slow side, but works fine for checking e-mail or the weather. We’ll have cell phone reception in town to about 5 miles outside town. After that it can get a little spotty, but we should have reception 95% of the time at least for Verizon users.

Weather and Schedule: 
Most days it will be common to wake up in Barrow and have an arctic wind which drops the temperature to the lower 30's. Some afternoons we could easily see the 50's so dress in layers and be prepared for some temperature swings. Barrow is north of the Arctic Circle so the sun never sets while we are there. Our typical schedule is to photograph from 5am - 11am, and then again from 5pm to 11pm. Sometimes I'll have additional outings for the photographers who want to push really hard and make the most of every minute. The schedule is a little crazy and can take a couple days to get used to. I want each participant to be totally honest with me and let me know how you are doing on sleep, food, etc and keep me abreast of your needs. It will be almost irresistible to push ourselves somewhat hard but it will be my job as the leader to pace us so that we aren't total zombies after the first day.

Sleep:
On most of my trips, I have a mix of two types of participants. The first kind of participant may want to maximize every minute of shooting time, forgo sleep, and push really hard. I will accommodate this type of person and try to push hard as well. There may be others who would rather take a more relaxed pace and would not enjoy missing so much sleep. For these people I want to encourage them to not feel like they have to join the group for every single session. This is YOUR trip, and I want you to enjoy it, and get exactly what you want out of it. I try to structure the schedule so that you can shoot anywhere between 8 and 16 hours per day if the weather cooperates – ITS UP TO YOU.

Transportation and gas: that's included in the tour fee during our scheduled tour days. If you arrive early or want to stay late, please arrange your own transportation. Feel free to contact me for recommendations or for help with the arrangements. I have a full sized van for our use during the trip with more than enough room for everyone and their gear.

Laundry:  – Our hotel has guest laundry. Personally, I'm just packing enough socks/underwear so I don’t have to worry about laundry. 

Meals:  On the first day I'll take us to the grocery store so we can buy ourselves some granola bars or cereal or whatever you like to tide yourself over in the morning until lunch as well. Lunch and dinner will be at one of the five local restaurants. There is a subway, a pizza place, and an Asian restaurant. Each of the restaurants serve both a specialty menu and an "American" menu with burgers, salads, etc. The food will be pricey but we should have no trouble accommodating everyone from vegetarian to burger lovers.

Early Arrivals:  Feel free to arrive in town as early as you like and stay later. Unfortunately, I can’t accommodate early arrivers in my vehicle. I may not even have a large vehicle until the actual workshop, and I won’t be doing much, if any bird photography before the workshop starts – instead I’ll be trudging the tundra with binoculars trying to find the best places for us. Having other people along inevitably slows me down a lot as I move very fast and push very hard during my pre-workshop research.

Learning / Slideshows: 
I have good intentions and will be well prepared to have thought provoking and educational slideshows on the trip, but these will be more of a backup plan if we have heavy rain or other delay. Unless you tell me otherwise, I am presuming that everyone is taking this trip more to maximize productivity than anything else. I will at least do a brief photoshop demo for some tips and tricks for editing the shots. I will also talk about my photographic vision for each situation and spout off my camera settings in the field as well as peek over everyone's shoulder from time to time to check histograms and exposures. Aside from that, I'll need YOU to tell me if you have additional questions, learning objectives, or concerns. Most people who take this trip know their way around their camera but please don't hesitate to let me know if you have questions. If I don't know the answer, I'll do my best to find out. 

Photographic Objectives: 
 This trip's date range will make it ideal for photographing King Eider, Spectacled Eider, Steller’s Eider, Red-throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Jeagers, Lapland Longspur, Snow Bunting, and a variety of shorebird species. Snowy Owls are in the area but are not always approachable. Long-tailed Ducks, Greater White-fronted Geese and a few other species of waterfowl may be possible. Red Phalaropes and Red-necked Phalaropes are a lot of fun and can be almost tame at times. Birds are our primary focus and will probably take up 97% of our shooting time, but if we happen to see an arctic fox or a beautiful sunrise over the arctic ice shelf, we’ll spend a brief time trying that as well.

Our job is to know the area, do many hours of research, know and be able to ID the birds instantly and understand their habitat and behaviors, drive you to the most productive areas at the right time of day, be prepared to attract the birds or assist the group in stalking them, advise on how to make the most of each photo opportunity, ensure that everyone has their physical needs met, and ensure that everyone gets the most and highest quality images in the time we have. To learn more about the trip leader Dan Behm, read his bio on our about page.

 

To sign up for the Photo Tour, please add the deposit to your cart at the top of this page. E-mail me with any questions at matthewstudebaker@gmail.com