Our journey to Alaska was going to be long, even before the fog-canceled flights in Columbus, Ohio and Atlanta, Georgia made us re-direct our trip via Dallas. But a mere 20 hours later we were trudging zombie-like out of the Anchorage airport and into the waiting arms of Janet Schmidt from Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and our friend Tricia Grenier and daughter Vivi who met us at the airport with snacks and gifties. A meal and a beer later we headed out on the three-hour drive to Janet's home in Soldatna, AK. Once there we slept the sleep of the undead for a few blissful hours.
The next day, as a "welcome to Alaska", the festival's organizers had arranged for us to go on a Kenai Fjords boat trip. We got up early (easy coming from the eastern time zone!) and drove down to Seward to meet the boat. Along the way we saw many coll things: Dall sheep, mountain goats, moose, and a distant brown bear, plus a mess of bald eagles. We also heard the ethereal fluting of varied thrushes. The scenery was just stupendous: deep forest giving way to soaring mountains covers in snow.
We made it to Seward just in time for our departure and a short visit with a representative of the cruise company Kenai Fjords Tours. Our boat was a very stable, diesel-powered catamaran with plenty of outside deck space for viewing, birding, and photography and an inside cabin below where you could get out of the wind (it was chilly on the water despite the sun). Inside was also where the food and hot coffee was!
Orcas appeared in small family groups and larger pods. Our captain knew many of them by name, using their fin shapes and other markings as ID clues. This was a lifer mammal for me. We later had one breach in front of the boat, but it happened so quickly that no one could get a shot.
As we got farther from the harbor, and into some of the protected waters of the fjords, we began encountering small flocks of birds. I'll get more into that in the next post.