Saturday, 9 June 2012

The Chronicles of Alaska: H&T Puffins'n Stuff

I didn't get sea sick!

That's right.  I took all the proper precautions I failed to take in Florida and survived 9 hours on a pelagic trip in the Kenai Fjords off the coast of Alaska.  I started at 4 am with 2 dramamine and took 2 more every 3:45 minutes and though I was at times queasy, I was never sick.  At times I was sleepy, though that got everyone about halfway into the trip, for when I opened my eyes, it appeared that it was nappy time for everyone on the boat, as I looked up, all 6 of the other passengers were sitting or slouching in various poses of sleep.

But I didn't ride the boat just to see if I could beat the sea sickness.  I was there to see sea birds.  And sea birds I did see.  Along the way there were whales and porpoises, and sheep and mountain goats and black bears.

The day started in the rain and it only got worse from there.  It was cold and wet, which is fine when you're in a swimming pool, but not when you're on the ocean in a boat.  There were seven passengers on a boat that normally carries 17 souls.  The 7 of us had to continuously go back in the cabin in between short bursts of birds, to try and stay warm and dry inside when the weather was at its worst.  Had there been 17 of us,(there was only room for 8 bodies indoors), I am sure we would have had to draw straws to decide who had to remain outside in the storm.  There was only one other couple who were birders, and the rest wanted to see any wildlife, so we had to compromise and I decided to not pull a Sandy Komito-like mutiny and went along with the majority rule.  Besides, Sue would have been very upset with me if I didn't return with photos of whales and bears, and well, anything else I saw besides birds.  The glaciers weren't bad to look at either.

The boat, Captained by the very able Sherry and assisted by a trainee Captain and our Steward Justin, sped along at a nice clip and then would slow down any time we came upon birds or other wildlife.  That was our cue to leave the comfy warmth of the cabin and venture out on deck with our cameras.  First up were the Red-faced Cormorants.  I had all the other Cormorants in my hand, so this one made up the Full House.  White butts like the Pelagic Cormorant,(which we also saw), but a distinct red face.  I only got one good photo where you can see this, but the bird was in flight so it's not the best.

Trying to take great photos on a grey day on a rocking boat with a wet camera is not impossible, but it's not easy either.  So photos will be shown for purposes of seeing porpoises but will not necessarily be art in every case.

We visited a few glaciers including a huge one at the halfway point of our trip, the size of Niagara Falls.  A frozen Niagara Falls.  We were a mile from the monster ice wall but it seemed like no more than a hundred yards.  Perspective at the base of a glacier does not work.  It was an awe inspiring sight.

But I was there for birds, and along the way saw 10 new species for the year, including Pigeon Guillemot, Marbled and Kittlitz's Murrelet, Northern Fulmar and Rhinoceros Auklet.  We saw, not just Black-legged Kittiwakes, but were able to enjoy what they call the Kittiwake Highway, as hundreds of them fly back and forth to "Home Depot" for nesting material.  It's a two way street and accident free, unlike human highways.  My favourites, naturally, were the Puffins.  We found the Horned Puffins early in the trip but it wasn't until on the way back that Sherry finally found us a pair of Tufted Puffins, to complete the set, and make my day.

By the time we returned to the dock the sun had come out, the weather was beautiful for walking around the city of Seward, named for U.S. Secretary of State William Seward, who negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia during the Lincoln Administration.  If Alaska had stayed in Russian hands Sandy Komito would have never reached 748 in 1998.

Here are the Puffins.  I will post more photos when I return to civilization on Sunday.

Horned Puffin:

Tuffted Puffin:

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