Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Kenai Fjords Birding Cruise Part 1

Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Along the road from Soldatna to Seward.

In mid-May, Julie and I were invited to be the keynote speakers at The Kenai Birding Festival located in Kenai, Alaska, on the Kenai Peninsula. Do you know what the name of the local bird club is? The Keen Eye Birders! I'd never been to this part of Alaska and Zick had never been to Alaska at all, so we said "heck yes."

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.

Dall sheep with lambs.

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!

Seward harbor.

Oohing and ahhing at the scenery in the fjords.

Right outside the harbor we began finding lots of birds and wildlife. I'll share some of the wildlife highlights in this post, and some of the birds in forthcoming posts.

Mountain goat.

We learned from the captain's narration that mountain goats come down in May along the lower sides of the fjords to forage on the new growth. Once your eyes adjusted to discerning between mountain goats and snow fields (goats are a bit yellower) it was easy to spot them along the nearly sheer cliff faces.

Spectacular views lay in all directions from the boat, even from the stern. And then the water around us came alive with a pod of marine mammals

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.

Sea otter.

Otters were encountered in several spots, often floating on their backs cracking open urchins.

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.


On July 20, 2012 at 5:31 PM Anonymous said...

Looks like a great experience in
one of God's orignal Cathedrals.
On another subject, was there a birdwatchers weekend in Cooke Forest in August posted or did I just dream it?

On July 22, 2012 at 6:05 PM robin andrea said...

It looks as beautiful there as I always imagined it would be. Can't wait to see the rest of your photos.

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