Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Alaska 2009 - part 7: Seward to Hope

After that incredible but cold trip, I spent the night in an inn, Breeze Inn to be exact. It's a nice enough place. I stayed in the not-yet-remodeled section, but it was very clean, had free wireless internet, and my bathroom window faced to the lagoon where a Bald Eagle gave me a wake-up call. It was average priced as well, and I would recommend them if you are in Seward.

I had yummy blueberry pancakes for breakfast and then headed off to the Alaska SeaLife Center which was formed in the wake of the Exxon-Valdez spill. It was pretty nice. It's rather new, so it is of course nothing like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

I really don't know what this is, but I like the picture, so I thought I'd share.

They had a cool salmon display with fish from all stages. These ones are in the smolt stage and if I remember, were Silvers.

I also learned that the shallow bowl the female salmon digs out is called a redd. One of my brother's dogs is named Redd, which had nothing to do with it, but it's a cool coincidence. Mostly it's a funky spelling on his color (red Siberian Husky) and his pedigree name is (So and So's) Colorado, which also means red.

About noon, I decided to head out of town. I saw about all I could in Seward. I drove to the Exit Glacier and took a quick hike to the toe. Eh, ice is ice, nothing special except it is one of the fastest receding glaciers.

After that, I continued on my way to Hope, Alaska, the site of AK's first gold rush. It was rainy and driving by the historic town I noticed it was just a bit too touristy for my tastes. But maybe if it was sunny, I'd have a different outlook, I don't know.

I stayed at the Porcupine Campground at the end of the road. The camp hosts were very friendly and they also warned me to put and keep all foodstuffs, etc. in the truck. They also asked if I was using a tent, which at first I thought was odd. They went on to explain that a mama bear in the area had a fondness for pouncing on tents just for the fun of it. She was also teaching this habit to her cubs. Not good, and I have a feeling she won't be around after this year. I wasn't using a tent anyway, and with all that rain, I was going to sleep in the truck. However, that solidified it for me. I wanted to see a bear, but didn't really want to play with it, lol.

The Gull Rock Trail begins from the campground. When the rain let up a bit that evening, I took a walk with wide, wide eyes. I wanted to see a bear, but not necessarily alone on a trail.
I imagined a bear would pop out any time from the edges hidden with large berry bushes like this Devil's Club, which by the way you don't want to touch and definitely don't want to eat.
There were also quite a few mushrooms along the trail. But while looking for those, I happened upon this lovely sight.
Notice it looks rather fresh? And a lot of berries?
I then spotted this, which appears to be where a bear scratched a log looking for insects. I turned around at this point and also noticed disturbed brush on the side of the trail that looked like a bear scampered off breaking branches.

The trail is punctuated with open spots looking out to the Turnagain Arm like this. I imagine it's gorgeous on a sunny evening as the sun goes down.

It's a nice, easy trail, but next time I'll have a bear bell with me and not be so paranoid.

Although, my paranoia was validated when I was back at camp rearranging things in the truck. A black bear wandered through the camp and disappeared back into the brush. I didn't have the camera handy, so I could only watch it walk away. Still, that was probably the best way to see a bear :)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alaska 2009 - part 6: Seward Day Cruise pt 2

After we supposedly got bored watching the Humpback Whale, we went back to the nesting sites.

We cruised by Black-legged Kittiwakes nesting on the cliffs.

Here's a couple of youngsters looking like they're going to squeeze each other out.

The next island featured Tufted Puffins nesting.

And then above them and more Kittiwakes was a big surprise; a Red-faced Cormorant!
We were told they were Double-crested but since a scope doesn't work out well on a boat, and my bins weren't super strong, I couldn't tell either. But on the computer at home with the ability to crop and view on a larger screen, it just has to be a Red-faced. There are similarities to be sure, but it was lacking that wispy white of the breeding plumage of the DCs and it had more color on the face going behind the eye and those funky little crests RFs have.

Here's one that is watching at least two nests... the nanny?

We then headed the boat for Aialik Glacier in the aptly named Aialik Bay. Along the way we passed a Rhinoceros Auklet.

Aialik Glacier at this point is about 400 feet thick and the water below is also about 400 feet deep. It's quite impressive and in our boat we were able to get quite close to it. It was cold out there on the Gulf and further out in bays, but it was very very cold at the glacier. Next time, I'm bringing woolies to keep me warm and not just a wind/rain coat.

Still, we spent about 30-40 minutes just listening and watching the landscape change. It was fun listening to the book of the cracks, but odd when you would see it happen, then hear it. There was quite a disconnect even though we were pretty much on top of it.

At the mouth of Aialik Bay we came across a mama and calf pair of Humpbacks! That was so much fun to watch and I took at least 100 photos and at least a dozen videos. Here's the highlights.
Simultaneous blow

Sweet flukes!

And as you may hear on the video, Captain Andrea called the mama a "BIG girl" and I believe she said she was a 40 footer. You'll also hear a lot of oohs and aahs and the guy mentioning the dorsal is First Mate Chris. It was the highlight of the trip and so beautiful.

After this video we put the boat in gear and headed back towards Seward as the day was nearing an end. The whales would dive for approximately 10 minutes at a time so we didn't wait around for their next surfacing. We probably watched them for 45 minutes or so anyway.

Marathon Mountain over Seward

Captain Andrea of the Mariah of Kenai Fjords Tours "Captain's Choice".

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Alaska 2009 - part 5: Seward Day Cruise

First off, I highly recommend the Kenai Fjords tours, and especially the Captain's Choice tour. It's all day, but worth that extra time and money. Although, if your goal is to just see glaciers, a different one is perfectly acceptable. You'll see much of the wildlife too. The Captain's Choice though gets you much closer to the wildlife and is for birders and photographers; perfect for me :)

Below is the view as we're practically flying out of Resurrection Bay towards where most of the wildlife hangs out, the Chiswell Islands.
Zooming by glaciers

We first saw an eagle, but my picture from that was so lousy I'm not showing it. The boat stopped, but there were 4 foot swells that made the small boat rock. In addition the lighting conditions weren't very good. So, even though I put my cameras up to ISO 800, the shutter speeds were still kinda slow. This of course made things difficult since I didn't quite have my sea legs yet.

The next birds we saw were Red-necked Phalaropes. I saw them for the first time last fall at the Monterey Bay Birding Festival from Moonglow Dairy Farm. I was wondering if perhaps these particular ones would be heading south to my area within the next month or so - about now.

Red-necked Phalarope

We saw some Dall's Porpoises not long after this. Shortly after the porpoise sighting, our captain saw a Common Murre (lifer) in the water being attacked by a Peregrine Falcon (lifer). I didn't quite get in position for this show in time as I was on the other side of the boat, but by the time I got over there, a Bald Eagle was attacking the falcon. It was fascinating to watch, so the only shot I ended up with (and I didn't think I did) was this eagle flying off after the Peregrine Falcon. The Murre looked a little injured, so my guess is the eagle came back later to finish it off. Or maybe the falcon, who knows.

Bald Eagle

A few minutes later, we came across several Common Murre floating around with a couple Horned Puffin (lifer). While I was taking a picture of one, he (I assume it's a he) showed off for me.

Common Murre

Puffins were on my list that I had to see along with whales. I really wanted Orca, but that didn't happen. Humpbacks were still fine to see.

Horned Puffin

Next up we saw the first of my thousands of Black-legged Kittewakes. The light was improving at this point, so I got a couple of decent shots.

Including the ability to have a high enough shutter speed for a flying pic.
Black-legged Kittiwake

There was one lone Ancient Murrelet (lifer)

And my first Tufted Puffin

Then we got to the nesting areas.
First we passed Steller's Sea Lions,
a threatened species everywhere, but endangered in Alaska.

Then, on higher islands, nesting Glaucous Gulls - I think a lifer

Nesting Common Murre

Nesting Horned Puffins

Then back past the Sea Lions

And past some Ochre Sea Stars way above the water.
It must have been low tide.

Then past a couple of napping Sea Otters

And shortly thereafter, my first Humpback Whale

to be continued... (the day's not even half over!)

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