Monday, May 31, 2010

Alaska Holiday - Day 15, heading home

Friday morning and another prompt start, to make sure we got to the airport in good time for our 23-hour journey home.

We were sufficiently early to stop off at Potter Marsh, south of Anchorage, spotting amongst others, a Tree Swallow in drab plumage:

A Wilson's Snipe perched on an exposed tree stump:

Lesser Yellowlegs wading around the marsh:

Black-capped Chickadees fed and moved around the trees around the Boardwalk:

As did Lincoln's Sparrow:

Leaving Potter Marsh we still had time to stop at Westchester Lagoon where the mood had turned to offspring:

We really enjoyed our trip to the US, and every bit of it too. All in all a fantastic holiday... now to pay for it!

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Alaska Holiday - Day 14, Seward, the glacier

So here is the glacier doing its thing (you'll need sound on for these!).

The Captain calls it:

The first cracks and crumbling:

More movement and sound:

A large section of the glacier falls into the ocean, displacing a lot of water, causing a big wave. The noise you can hear then is ice hitting the boat, the impact of which knocked me sideways, hence the ending of the tape:

I enjoyed the comments of the crew and fellow guests too. This was another fantastic experience and thankfully a wholly natural one as this ice field and its glaciers are all functioning normally. What a trip!

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Alaska Holiday - Day 14, Seward

For our last full day in Alaska and learning from past holidays where we start to get itchy feet and want to get home, I booked a 'finale' boat trip for the last day, a six hour Kenai Fjords National Park cruise. We hoped for a quiet trip, it turns out the boat was full but actually that didn't impair the experience at all.

The Captain, Tim, had a very dry sense of humour and kept everyone entertained, he is also a very experienced eye at spotting wildlife.

To start with, then, some views taken at various points on the cruise through the Park:

The first wildlife spotted on our cruise was the Sea Otter:

These were nearly hunted to extinction by the Russians, who, once they could no longer find them, had no further use for Alaska, hence their willingness to sell to the United States...

A creature encountered reasonably regularly was the Steller's Sea Lion, though according to the skipper their numbers are down by 85%-90% and they are now a protected species (unless you're a native of course where, outside of national parks, they still have hunting quotas, the same insane situation facing the Polar Bear):

As well as the mammals we did of course see plenty of birds, including Tufted Puffin:

Nesting Pelagic Cormorants:

Tim knew where to find the Orcas as he was in radio contact with a long time (30 years plus) researcher who was out on his boat. The Orca pods gather together into super-pods at this time of year for breeding, so we got to see at least two distinct groups of them during our trip:

Our next encounter was the wildlife highlight for me, Humpbacked Whales, spotted by the mother spouting used air:

And with her calf spending a lot of time leaping from the water, and apparently really enjoying itself:

We didn't see much of the mother apart from the occasional tail:

Please, please, please stop hunting them. There's no scientific basis for the sham research programmes and whale meat is increasingly unpopular even in traditional communities. Put the guns down and go grow some crops or do something else useful instead....

Other sightings included Pigeon Guillemot:

and a new species, Horned Puffin! We'd really wanted to see these on St Paul Island but had arrived just a day or so too soon, around the Park though we saw plenty of them, in the water:

and on rock faces:

Where there are nesting sea birds there are scavengers and predators to be found, like this Glaucous-winged Gull:

I had hoped we go to the glacier which is frequented by the Kittlitz's Murrelet but due to floating ice hazard we had to go to a different one:

The colours in the ice are fantastic:

As we approached we could hear loud cracks from the glacier. My next blog post includes a series of clips taped as I thought this would better capture the experience. More Glaucous-winged Gulls along for the show:

We did also get to see some land animals from the boat including Mountain Goat (thank you Linda), here a mother with kids:

Thankfully for the sheep, this Black Bear was in another cove altogether:

And more seabirds, including these Common Murres:

and Black-legged Kittiwakes:

The entire voyage was fantastic. It wasn't cheap but the crew were excellent, the boat good, the Captain superb and very knowledgeable; all in all a fabulous way to round off our first visit to Alaska.

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Alaska Holiday - Day 13, Seward

Another early start - by now we'd decided to start to adjust back to the UK time zone (fat chance - I've woken up at 4am then 2am, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, the first two days we've been home!), so skipped breakfast and headed up the road towards Exit Glacier.

We watched a Bald Eagle having a go at a gull, missing then settling in a tree, so pulled into the adjacent turn-out and took a picture:

This is the view down-river from said turn out:

Further along the road, before entering the glacier area proper, we stopped at another turn-out by a bridge. The glacier is on the far right hand side of the picture:

Down in the glacial river valley below a Spotted Sandpiper was fluffed up, I presume in display:

We headed into the car park. The trees around us were alive with activity and song, though it was hard to actually spot the birds so we headed up the trail towards the glacier, passing mounds of fresh moose poo - it turns out a moose felt it safer to be around humans with her calf than in wilder (bear) lands.
From the trail we enjoyed spotting Wilson's Warbler:

Yellow Warblers:

Orange-crowned Warblers:

and Common Redpoll:

We passed a number of date signs as we approached the car park then along the trail. It took me a while to figure out these were markers of the extent of the glacier at different points in time. Shockingly, by the looks of it, there's only a few years left before it disappears completely...

From the Exit Glacier car park we headed back to the highway, spotting on the way this Coyote:

It found what I suspect was some roadkill so hung around:

Whatever it had found must have been frozen though as it had a hard time eating it!

We headed for the other side of the bay from Seward. A small river alongside the road contained a pair of Common Mergansers, called Goosanders in the UK:

While watching these birds an Eagle flew over the crest of the mountain and caught a thermal, between me and the sun so hard to capture, but I think it's a year-old Golden Eagle:

We explored the end of the road, the park and some wetlands, seeing various ducks and passerines we'd already encountered so headed for the unmade road south of Seward to what looked like the most promising birding location in the area. We stopped before going on to the road, looking out over the water.
Locally they only get Pigeon Guillemots but judging by the shape of the white patch on this bird I suspect it could be a Black Guillemot:

Also visible close to shore, a couple of sea lions:

We drove to the park (Lowell Point) at the end of the unmade road, paid our fees then started up the trail. Almost immediately we were in the middle of a small group of Chestnut-backed Chickadees:

We watched this bird in particular and it appeared to go into another bird's nest, chase it out then proceed to remove the nestlings and nest material and drop them from a height, returning repeatedly to finish the job. Most unusual...

Another spot along the trail, our first sighting of a female Varied Thrush:

This is the view from the furthest point we reached, about a mile and a half out:

We headed back along the trail and then down to the beach for lunch. It was a lovely isolated spot and a very pleasant place to relax for a while.

Heading back to the car I was intrigued at how rusty/burnt orange the pine cones on this tree looked, maybe it was to do with the clear blue light of the day:

We'd pretty much exhausted the accessible local birding locations but checked a few more out before heading back to the hotel to pack. We wouldn't have time the following day, as I'd booked a boat trip.

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