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Harrowby Bay (NT040)


Harrowby Bay (NT040)

Bathurst Peninsula, Northwest Territories

Latitude 70.151°N
Longitude 127.462°W
Altitude 0 - 15m
Area 1,046.77km²

Site Description

Harrowby Bay, on the Beaufort Sea coast of the Northwest Territories, is a deep bay that faces westward, in the centre of the Bathurst Peninsula. The site contains the open sea of Harrowby Bay, Ikpisugyuk Bay, and the area around the Old Horton River bed. The north shores of Harrowby Bay are composed of low bluffs and sand and gravel beaches and spits. The mostly marshy south shore leads to a series of terraces and finally to a plateau that surrounds the muddy Ikpisugyuk Bay. The oxbow lakes of the Old Horton Channel, created in about 1800 when the Horton River made a new outlet for itself on the east side of the peninsula, are surrounded by lush sedge-grass vegetation. The southern parts of this site are underlain by Cretaceous shale, while the northern parts have more recently seen alluvial deposits.

Several large mammal species, including Caribou of the Bluenose herd, Barren-ground Grizzly Bear, and Polar Bear are found on the tundra, while Bearded and Ringed seals are found in the waters of Harrowby Bay.


From mid-summer through to autumn, the Harrowby Bay area is an important location for several waterfowl species. Between 10,000 and 20,000 Canada Geese, and between 5,000 and 15,000 Greater White-fronted Geese regularly spend about a month and a half moulting in the Old Horton Channel area. This represents between 2 to 4% of the Short-grass Prairie (subspecies parvipes) Canada Goose population, and up to 2% of the mid-continent Greater White-fronted Goose population. Greater White-fronted Geese and Brant are also found along the shores of Harrowby Bay and the eastern end of Ikpisugyuk Bay.

At the same time of year, the waters of Harrowby Bay host many thousands of moulting Oldsquaw, scoters and sometimes scaup. In August 1986, it was estimated that about 20,000 of these seaducks were present in the bay - but it is not known if this was a typical year or not. The distribution of the birds within the bay varies; in times of high wind the ducks are concentrated in large flocks near spits along the shore, whereas under lighter wind conditions, the ducks are dispersed throughout the inner bay.

In late summer and early fall, a third goose species, the Snow Goose, uses the Old Horton Channel as a staging area. In September of 1973, 16,600 Lesser Snow Goose of the Western Central Flyway population were observed. Although now close to half a million, at that time the population of this group of Snow Goose was about 169,600. Thus about 10% of this population passed through the area, and may still do so if numbers at Harrowby Bay have kept pace with the increase that the whole population has seen.

Small numbers of other birds are found in the area: migrating eiders, moulting Red-breasted Mergansers and brood-rearing and staging Glaucous Gulls. The largest number of Glaucous Gulls so far recorded was in 1980 when 197 birds were observed in the nearshore areas of Harrowby Bay.

Conservation Issues

The isolated location of Harrowby Bay, first identified as important by recognition as a Key Migratory Bird Terrestrial Habitat site of the Northwest Territories, means there are no problems potentially or currently affecting the bird life of the area.

IBA Criteria Habitats Land Uses Potential or Ongoing Threats Conservation Status
Number Year Season