The Dalton Highway is the only road from the northern coast of Alaska, USA to the rest of the North American continent. It links Prudhoe Bay on the shores of the Arctic Ocean with Fairbanks, which lies roughly midway between the north and south coasts and one quarter of the way west from Canada to the Bering Strait. Almost its entire 666 km pass through pristine wilderness, except that some 160 times a day in summer, rising to 250 in winter, a truck roars past. That’s about one every 6-9 minutes. Typically, the last truck may still be rumbling in one direction while the next starts to become audible in the other. Indeed, to drive the road, Arnoud and René had to rent a small truck themselves, as passenger cars were not allowed. Roads through the wilderness always chase silence away. 

Nevertheless, there were many opportunities to sound record and photograph birds along the journey. The truck traffic was spread unevenly throughout the day, so there were periods when Arnoud could record without frustration. At a site just north of the Brooke Range, there were American Golden Plovers Pluvialis dominica and Long-tailed Jaegers Stercorarius longicaudus, and at a rocky flatland along the Sag river, halfway across the tundra, Smith’s Longspurs Calcarius pictus sang. On the way south again, in a valley in the southern part of the Brooke Range, there were Upland Sandpipers Bartramia longicauda, Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes and Short-billed Gulls Larus canus brachyrhynchus. All within easy range of the highway, and all within sight of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, taking oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez on the southern coast of Alaska. An ominous presence, even during those precious moments of silence.

Dalton Highway, Alaska

American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica, Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, USA, 15 June 2004 (René Pop)

American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica, Dalton Highway, Coldfoot-Deadhorse, Alaska, USA, 21:11, 10 June 2004 (Arnoud B van den Berg). Song in flight. Background: Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus and Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis.

Dalton Highway, Alaska

Long-tailed Jaeger Stercorarius longicaudus, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, USA, 15 June 2004 (René Pop)

Long-tailed Jaeger Stercorarius longicaudus, Dalton Highway, Coldfoot-Deadhorse, Alaska, USA, 00:13, 11 June 2004 (Arnoud B van den Berg). Varied calls of two adults attacking a Red Fox Vulpes vulpes. Background: Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus and Savannah Sparrow Passerculus sandwichensis.

Dalton Highway, Alaska

Smith’s Longspur Calcarius pictus, Dalton Highway, 80 km south of Deadhorse, Alaska, USA, 11 June 2004 (René Pop)

Smith’s Longspur Calcarius pictus, Dalton Highway, 80 km south of Deadhorse, Alaska, USA, 15:47, 11 June 2004 (Arnoud B van den Berg). Songs: one male at close range and two more distant on left and right.

Dalton Highway, Alaska

Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda, Dalton Highway, north of Coldfoot, Alaska, USA, 10:34, 17 June 2004 (René Pop)

Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda, Dalton Highway, north of Coldfoot, Alaska, USA, 10:34, 17 June 2004 (Arnoud B van den Berg). Long trill while taking off, then song at a distance.

Dalton Highway, Alaska

Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, Dalton Highway, north of Coldfoot, Alaska, USA, 16 June 2004 (René Pop)

Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes, Dalton Highway, north of Coldfoot, Alaska, USA, 22:13, 16 June 2004 (Arnoud B van den Berg). Song in flight.

Dalton Highway, Alaska

Short-billed Gull Larus canus brachyrhynchus, Anchorage, Alaska, USA, 31 May 2004 (René Pop)

Short-billed Gull Larus canus brachyrhynchus, Dalton Highway, north of Coldfoot, Alaska, USA, 10:51, 17 June 2004 (Arnoud B van den Berg). Long call of an adult. Background: Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes.

Dalton Highway, Alaska

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos, Atigun Pass, Brooke Range, Alaska, USA, 11 June 2004 (René Pop)