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National Wildlife Refuge

Volcanoes simmer in the distance as brown bears wander the shores of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge
1 Izembek Street
P.O. Box 127
Cold Bay, AK   99571
E-mail: izembek@fws.gov
Phone Number: 907-532-2445
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Pavlof volcano during the 1996 eruption
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  Wildlife and Habitat

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Izembek Refuge is perhaps best known for the huge number of brant, a small sea goose, that stop over during spring and fall migrations on their way to and from their breeding areas in Alaska, Canada, and Russia. The entire Pacific population of black brant, approximately 150,000 birds, can be seen in the Izembek Lagoon area every fall. The brant begin to converge on the area in late August, with numbers peaking by late September. They spend up to eight weeks feasting on eelgrass and preparing for the arduous non-stop migration to their wintering areas in Mexico. Most of the brant depart abruptly in late October or early November, leaving only 8,000-10,000 brant to brave the stormy winters of the southern Alaska Peninsula.

Most of the world population of Steller's eiders traverse the Bering Sea from nesting grounds in arctic Alaska and Russia to molt and/or winter on the southern Alaska Peninsula and Izembek Refuge. The eider has assumed special importantance in the Refuge's biological program after the Alaska population became listed as a "threatened species" under the Endangered Species Act in 1997. Steller's eiders are highly dependent on the continued health of the lagoons and bays that foster eelgrass growth. Eelgrass communities are among the most diverse and productive in the world, providing food and nursery areas for fish, crabs, and many other invertebrates. The invertebrates, in turn, provide an essential food base for the Steller's eider and other species.

The entire world population of emperor geese, estimated at 70,000 individuals in 2003, migrates through Izembek Refuge each spring and fall. The Emperor goose is a Bering Sea species, nesting primarily in western Alaska and wintering along the Alaska Peninsula and throughout the Aleutian Islands. They forage on eelgrass in the lagoons, mussels and other invertebrates along the shorelines, and the abundant crowberries on the surrounding tundra. More than 20 percent of the Emperor goose population overwinters in Izembek and Kinzarof Lagoons.

Approximately 150,000 ducks and 55,000 Taverner's Canada geese stage in the Izembek Refuge each fall. Many waterfowl species also nest within the Refuge, including approximately 9,000 mallards, 1,200 northern pintails, 4,700 greater scaup, 2,200 black scoter, and 600 tundra swans. The tundra swan population is unique in being the only essentially non-migratory breeding population in North America. In addition to the Steller's eider, numerous species of sea ducks, including long-tailed ducks, harlequin ducks, and black scoters, winter in coastal waters.

Over 78,000 individuals of more than 30 shorebird species pass through the Izembek area during migration. The most abundant migrants are rock sandpipers, dunlin, and western sandpipers. Rock sandpipers are also common during summer and winter. Many seabirds, including storm-petrels, cormorants, puffins, oystercatchers, guillemots, gulls, and terns, nest on the rocks and islets offshore. Raptors, which prey on the many species of birds and fish in the area, include bald and golden eagles, rough-legged hawks, gyrfalcons, and Peale's peregrine falcons. At least 10 species of migratory songbirds nest within the Refuge, while five species of songbirds are resident year round.

Brown bears, giant symbols of Alaska's wilderness, make their summer home along salmon-rich streams throughout the Refuge. During peak salmon runs, as many as nine bears per mile have been observed along these streams. The Joshua Green River Valley is prime brown bear habitat, producing many of the bears that disperse throughout the southern Alaska Peninsula. Nearly one bear per square mile has been seen in this remote area during late August. In addition, the steep slopes of the Joshua Green River Valley provide world-renowned brown bear denning habitat.

The Southern Alaska Peninsula Caribou Herd ranges from Port Moller to Unimak Island. They move from the Black Hills and Caribou River calving grounds, located north of the Refuge, to the Izembek area late in the fall to spend the winter. Wolves follow the caribou, but only lucky and diligent observers will see these elusive hunters.

Marine mammals are common in the productive waters surrounding the Refuge. Harbor seals, Steller's sea lions, and sea otters inhabit nearby coastal waters and lagoons. In August of 1999, 615 sea otters were counted in Izembek Lagoon. Harbor seals frequently haulout on sandbars in the lagoons and along the coast. Killer, gray, and minke whales can be seen as they migrate along the shoreline and, on occasion, inside of Izembek Lagoon.

Dolly Varden, Arctic char, and steelhead trout can be found in streams of the Izembek Refuge. Beginning in mid-summer, red, pink, and chum salmon return to spawning grounds within the Refuge. Hundreds of thousands of salmon begin and end their life cycles within the Refuge, enriching streams and lakes with nutrients they bring from the sea. Silver salmon arrive in early fall. Since the 1960's, an annual Silver Salmon Derby has been held in Cold Bay each Labor Day Weekend, to raise funds for the local Emergency Medical Technician Squad. It is quite the event for the small community of less than 100 residents.

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