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New Blog Adventure!

Hey all,
I dunno if anybody still receives updates to this thing, so I thought I’d try this. If you’d like to hear about my week-long excursion to Costa Rica back in March, check out my new blog at lizanoandmotmots89.blogspot.com. I’ve switched sites so that I can (hopefully) upload some videos this time around!
Hope to see you soon!

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Today is my last day working at the SeaLife Center, so forgive me if this gets overly sappy.

Yesterday was actually my last day working with the eiders. I checked in on Uno one last time in the morning…he’s as big as an adult Steller’s now. I wish I could stay and watch him grow, slowly but surely, into another one of those big, goofy ducks I’ve become so attached to over the past few months. I count myself fortunate to have been a part of the conservation effort for these beautiful birds, if only for a little while.

I’ve slowly been saying my silent goodbyes to the residents of the SeaLife Center: Lulu and Felix, Woody, the eiders, the birds, little Cordelia. I now understand how keepers get so attached to their animals, and how miserable it is to leave them behind.

The wildlife is one of the things I will miss most about this place. Eagles calling through the morning fog; a mother moose boldly striding down the street, its calf in tow; herds of caribou, traversing the mountainside; sea otters, floating on their backs down the bay, usually crunching on some tasty shellfish. This land is truly unique, and I almost feel like there is no place in the continental U.S. that could match it.

See that? A moose, a caribou, a fox, and a bear. All seen in Denali National Park. On the same day. We’ve allowed Nature to call most of the shots here, and the results are breathtaking.

It is not just the life that is wild that I will miss; I would not have enjoyed myself nearly as much if not for the great people I’ve met here. As much as I liked my job working with the eiders, I enjoyed working with the people of the SeaLife Center just as much. They’ve truly enhanced my Alaskan experience, telling me where the best places to bird are, what to bring to Denali, how best to prepare the fresh rockfish I picked up from the market…the things that I have really enjoyed about my time here.

I won’t easily forget the friends I’ve made here. I count myself lucky that I have been able to share this experience, this great Alaskan adventure, with them, and will miss them in the months to come.

Life must go on though, so I must leave this place, this fair green country behind. No more waking to see the sun risen high over the mountains, no more looking out into the bay to see otters, sea lions, and gulls enjoying the bounty of the ocean. No more walking through the spruce forests, or sitting by the great waterfalls, or laying about on the beach. No more Hobo Jim performances, no more fresh salmon and halibut, no more Alaska…

…for now.

First of all, YAY, I have a phone now.

With 4th of July weekend past, I finally had a little time to sit down and upload some pictures and update the ol’ blog. Sorry for the epic fail lately…this whole ‘enjoying life’ thing is really time-consuming.

So if you all didn’t know, apparently Seward is THE place to be in Alaska for our Independence Day, and everyone flocks here within a day or two. The town became crazy rather quickly; one day, it was just normal old Seward, and the next, the streets were lined with vendors and packed with people. There was literally everything; clothes stores, souvenir stalls, even the NRA had a booth. Which was kind of ridiculous.

They were also selling raffle tickets to win an operational Thompson submachine gun (or the Tommy Gun, aka the gun that mobsters carry in nearly every depiction of them) at only $50 a ticket. If I had been in possession of a little more money at the time, I would’ve considered it…because it came with a violin case to carry it in.

And don’t get me started on the food stalls. Fish and chips, corn fritters, reindeer sausage, tacos. The king of it all, though was…wait, you might want to sit down for this.

Chocolate-Dipped Bacon.

It was chocolatey. It was crunchy. It was everything great and horrible about this country. And it was actually palatable. Not something I would eat on a regular basis (if only for the sake of my personal well-being).

We watched fireworks at midnight from the beach, and had a barbeque the next night. It was no West Point fireworks show, but it was a good time for all.

Some Sea Life Center stuff…first of all, we have our first duckling!! The happy mother is Mrs. Black the Spectacled Eider, who is a first-time mother. The baby is adorable…unfortunately, there will be no pictures on Facebook or my blog. We also have two new baby Guillemot chicks, who I may see soon.

Bird department isn’t the only one that has new additions; meet C(K)ordelia.*
 

*Note: I refuse to spell her name with a K. It’s ridiculous.

I first saw Cordelia the morning after she was born. She has plumped up to a ridiculous level since then, meaning she looks less like a harbor seal and more like a swimming, rolly polly pudgeball.

I also got some pictures and video of her with her mom.

Today, I shadowed Aquariums department, which was a lot of fun. We fed the salmon in the exhibit, which was a little more intense than I expected…they would jump when feeding, making anywhere near the opening of the tank a splash zone.

During my lunch break, I got to spend a little time in the aviary, and FINALLY got some good pictures of one of the male Long-Tailed Ducks, in addition to a molting male Harlequin, and some Kittiwakes in their nests.


After lunch, I went on my first Octopus Encounter. Lulu was particularly grabby today.

She hung onto one of the guests’ arms, and wiggled her arms all the way up to the nervous tourists’ elbows. Even when the encounter was done, she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

On the way home, I found this photogenic Steller’s Jay.

That’s my update. Stay classy, listeners.

I’m ALIVE!!!!!

I wish I could say the same for my phone, though.

First, some more pictures from the Sea Life Center.

On to the adventure. A couple of nights ago we went to the other side of the bay to just walk around the beach. There were also some grassy parts, full of cool plant life.

The dark one is a chocolate lily…don’t let the name fool you. It probably doesn’t taste like chocolate; in fact, if it tastes like it smells, it would taste like moldy bread dipped in sour butter and rolled in month-old gym socks.

We also found a really comfortable bed of grass. With no ticks or snakes here, you can actually enjoy fooling around in the long grass (I’ve heard no word on the presence of velociraptors though).

 

We came across an old rig too, climbing up (in spite of how rickety it was) and getting some great shots.

A few of us had broken off to climb the rig, and tried to find another way back to the parking lot. We ended up in the woods, which wasn’t bad until we reached the nearly hip-high creek (hip-high on me, anyway).  I ended up walking barefoot through, and about half-way through I realized my phone was in my damn pocket. It wasn’t soaking wet when I got out, but apparently, it was enough to make my phone start acting loopy.

So if you are trying to reach me and the call won’t go through, it’s because I have the phone off. When my phone is on, it’s nearly impossible for me to text, so don’t text me…because in all probability it will end up being something like this:

You: Hey, what’s up?

Me: JDFLK:DSJE)(#0923i4r4jedslkf;ajOQflknmals;ekj1231231p0-01rjef;lkmdaknsnf;asjglkn890piok;l)(&*(!#)k;ldkjfalksjdfoiw; nscvxzpow1;lsf

Eeeeyup. That’s all folks.

­­­­­­­Today’s day-off-adventure was tidepooling at Lowell Point beach.

That’s the beach. Pretty nice, until all the darn tourists started showing up. I’m starting to regret having Saturdays off…it’s usually tourist day.

Still, there were some parts of the beach that tourists didn’t seem so keen of (basically, anywhere there wasn’t good fishing access or space to sprawl out on the sand), so I decided to walk that way, seeing a mud flat in the distance that looked like a hub of bird activity. I never made it out that far, though, since I was tired from the walk to the beach. I ended up looking for tide pools and turning up rocks and stuff to see what critters I could find.

These are limpets. They were all over the place, though admittedly not as much as the barnacles. I thought they were just dead shells until I plucked one off a rock.

Then there were these little snails. I don’t know what they’re called (I’m not a mollusk person). Also found in nearly every tidal pool I came across.

Hermit crab time!! You have to be quick to nab one of these little buggers. At first they just curl up inside their shell, but if you keep your hand still for long enough, they’ll come out and start to explore.

The rarest pool life forms were small fish called tide pool sculpin about the size of my pinkie finger. These little guys zipped around if I made any sudden movements, often darting for cover beneath the seaweed. Fortunately, I got this guy when he was just sitting out in the open.

Finally, I had a real stroke of luck on the walk back. I heard a commotion among a small family fishing, and they were taking something off their line. I got there just in time to see what it was; a sizeable sunflower star!!!

Pretty successful day, for a day without birds. Off to prepare for the week ahead.

Yup. I was on a boat.

This is also the I-was-too-lazy-to-load-individual-pictures-so-here’s-a-gallery edition of this blog.

I got on the boat at about 9:30 AM…I was on the Tanaina, a Kenai Fjords Tour boat. I also took a picture of a boat I thought just looked weird.

We deparated a half-hour later, sailing out into Resurrection Bay. The first critter we saw was a sea otter, cruising along on its back. We were able to get really close to it, since the otters in the bay have become habituated to boats. Apparently, the thought of a giant white thing swimming on the surface doesn’t bug them particularly.

After the otter we continued on our way out of the bay…and encountered our first humpback whale of the day. I don’t have any pictures of any of the humpbacks that we saw, because honestly I figured why try to waste time getting pictures of it if it was only to going to show an eighth of itself for a few brief moments at a time; I might as well just enjoy it without the camera.

As we got further away, we encountered a small group of Dall’s Porpoises. These guys were way too fast for me to even take a video of, much less a picture. They seemed curious as to what the boat was, and spent a good twenty minutes just cruising around us.

As we entered Kenai Fjords National Park, I started seeing puffins and cormorants everywhere. The cormorants were mostly of the Pelagic variety at this point, but both species of puffins, Horned and Tufted could be found. I also managed to snag a Black Scoter while I was here…a good find.

Of course, nobody else really seemed to be interested in the occasional bird; understandably because the captain had announced a pod of orcas ahead. When I turned my attention to them, they were fairly far off still, and we were getting closer. The boats try not to get within 100 yards of whales, so we steered around them and waited for them to come, figuring they would dive under and avoid getting close to the boat. Thankfully, nature doesn’t always play by the rules.

The orcas had gone under, at which point the captain and everyone started looking towards the other side of the boat…I had already taken the pictures above, so I figured I would just keep trying to look for birds for the life list. Suddenly, the orcas surfaced about 20 yards from the boat, and swam alongside the stopped boat. They were within a pole’s reach when I got some sweet video of them. It was truly an electrifying experience.

After the pod headed off, we continued on our way to the Aialik Glacier. Along the way I snagged some more life birds (Common Murre, Thick-Billed Murre, and Marbled Murrelet). When we started getting closer, it got pretty cold (no big surprise there). The water was full of floating chunks of ice.

There were a lot of harbor seals around there…stands to reason, as they make use of ice for resting and giving birth (there’s a degree of protection from predators).

We got really pretty darn close to the Aialik glacier…and yes, it was cold. I can only imagine what this place would be like in the winter (apart from being impossible to access).

Eventually, we had all had enough of freezing and taking pictures while freezing, so we started on our way back. We had a few more stops to make, though. We stopped off in a bay where there was some humpback activity…but we had no idea just how much there would be. Three or four whales were feeding here, and they weren’t the only ones. A good 1000+ seabirds could be found here as well; cormorants (Pelagic, Red-Faced, and Double-Crested), puffins, gulls, murres, guillemots, and (one of my personal favorites) Rhinocerous Auklets. The whales were really active, but again, I just wanted to watch, not try to capture every moment.

Eventually we left the whales to their own devices, and sailed to the Chiswell Islands, a veritable haven for seabird and sea lion alike. While we didn’t get close to the Steller’s Sea Lion rookeries, we did get our fill of them along the island, basking in the sun.

The islands were also full to the brim with puffins and kittiwakes. The kittiwake colony was like a beehive, with birds swarming all around. It was really quite a spectacle. The video I took of it really doesn’t do it much justice.

On the way to Fox Island, we encountered another pod of orcas. Again, the captain tried not to get too close to them, and again, they came right up to us. The captain dropped an underwater microphone into the water so we could hear them…it was amazing.

On Fox Island, we enjoyed an all-you-can-eat buffet of rice pilaf, corn on the cob, salmon, and prime rib. Which was nice, because currently the only thing I have been enjoying for dinner was pasta with butter and onions.

Overall, a successful day. I highly recommend Kenai Fjords Tours, particularly this tour of the National Park and Aialik Glacier (and no, I am not getting paid for this endorsement). I hope to try the other main tour, Major Marine, sometime soon, or take the Captain’s Choice tour (more catered to birders) since we get a fairly nice discount…and I still have some seabirds to find!!

Total Alaska Life Bird Count: 38 (Thick-Billed Murre, Common Murre, Horned Puffin, Tufted Puffin, Black Scoter, Marbled Murrelet, Red-Faced Cormorant, Rhinocerous Auklet).

Be sure to check out my Youtube!! I’ve uploaded the orca and kittiwake colony videos there.

Mountain Mayhem

Mount Marathon is beautiful. It’s quiet, the vegetation is lush, and the animal life is everywhere.

And I’m never going back up.

Why? Oh, I don’t know, maybe it was that the mountain was out to destroy me utterly (and, I suspect, devour my soul).

It began innocently enough at first. I walked the parts I had walked yesterday without a hitch. Apparently, yesterday, when I thought I reached the bowl of the mountain, I had only reached the bench…the bowl is still way up there. On the way, I got some nice snappies of Seward from a high vantage point.

And then I hit the waterfalls. Or snowfall. Or snow-water-I dunno whatever it’s DEATH ON A STICK- fall. The falls were running beneath the snow, which was surprisingly deep. It was softening, too, so it wasn’t stable. At any time, I could’ve sunk up to my midsection in snow. Which I did.

See that? That’s where my leg fell through. That’s where I almost became trapped in an icy prison of DEATH. I almost turned back…but then I saw this.

A ptarmigan feather. The little white bird was MOCKING me. I knew I had to keep going.

I finally made my way up to the bowl to find…

A near-barren, snowy wasteland, where the fog rolls in and out, at some points getting so thick I couldn’t see 10 feet in front of me. Seriously? SCREW IT. I started to walk back down…when I heard it.

I could only imagine that the bird was far off…still, even if I got to see it from afar with my binoculars, it would be enough. I moved closer to the source of the sound, walking through fog and snow. What happened next was the closest thing to a religious experience I can imagine will ever happen to me.

I heard the sound again, and the white bird, only a little bigger than a pigeon, swooped out of the fog and landed on a rock, looking at me, as if saying,

“ ‘Sup, brah?”

I was stupefied. I was amazed. Mostly, I was tired. But still, it was all worth it. I didn’t try to get really close for a good picture, because the rock was surrounded by snow that I imagined was a death trap. I did, however, get some cruddy ones.

There was a bunch of interesting crap on the bowl of the mountain. Literally, in some cases. Some scat for you all:

Ptarmigan Scat

Moose Scat

Plus, this wacky-looking mushroom.

I dreaded walking back down the waterfall, knowing that the snow was treacherous. So I did what any reasonable human being would do when presented with a steep incline of deep snow that could potentially give way at any moment.

I sat down, and slid my way to glory.

Was it stupid? Undoubtedly. Did it work? Yes.

Well, partially. When I went to get up, I stepped from one death-hole into another. And another. AND ANOTHER. The snow looked like Swiss cheese where I had gone to get up from my wild ride.

I took care when going down, only to find that the trail had become a lot muddier since I first passed through. Which made the trail a lot more slippery and dangerous. Which made me say, “Aw, hell…”

Thankfully, the walking stick I had picked up off the ground at the base of the mountain yesterday saved my sorry backside (literally, in some cases) more times than I can count, not just now, but throughout the hike. Which is funny, because it’s a fantastically unimpressive-looking curved stick. There were times I was sure it was going to snap, sending me hurtling to destruction, but it just bent like freaking rubber, holding in place long enough for me to get back up. My little walking buddy has found a new home with me, for the next time I go hiking, or feel suicidal and come back up this stupid mountain.

So in the end, I returned home, battered, bruised, dirty, and soaking wet, but one life bird richer.

Like I said. Totally worth it.

Total Alaska Life Bird Count: 30 (Rock Ptarmigan).

Mountain Magic

Lots of nature in this blog post.

This is the waterfall behind the other intern apartment. It has some of the cleanest drinking water around, except for the water that comes off of Exit Glacier (which tastes delicious).

I went there yesterday just because I could, and went home. When I got home, Dan was there, and he told me about his hike up Mount Marathon, where he saw a Rock Ptarmigan. I looked out the window,  narrowed my eyes, and thought, “Challenge accepted.”

So I woke up this morning at about 9:30 and started my trek up the mountain. There were some cool sites, trees and the like. It was also an avian paradise; I heard and saw Varied Thrushes, Townsend’s and Wilson’s Warblers, and Ruby-Crowned Kinglets. I finally arrived a clearing outside the forest…

…..and I was only about halfway up, if that. I walked along the stream, and stopped to take a drink. Turns out the water isn’t as nice.

I spat it out and got up…to find myself looking at an American Dipper that had interrupted its normal routine to briefly see what the heck I was doing. It quickly went back to dipping its head in the water, looking for food. Don’t worry, I got pictures and video.

Unfortunately, I turned back after I got to the bowl of the mountain because of the rain (oh yeah, that’s right, it was raining. And cold. And there was snow) for two reasons: first, the ptarmigans would probably be a no-show: second, I was colder than an ice cube in a freezer in Antarctica. There were nice picture opportunities, though.

As I was walking down, I noticed movement behind me. It couldn’t have been a moose or bear though…because it was coming from above.

Yep, I was getting divebombed by ravens. For some people, it might have made the experience less enjoyable. Me? I LOVED IT.

I didn’t want to bother the ravens anymore than I was, so I left the area (that, and I didn’t want to get poop on me…I get enough of that at work, thank you very much). Still, it was an awesome experience…I’ll just need to be more careful when I come back up. Oh you thought I was done? I didn’t see my damned ptarmigans, so I’m going back up soon to SEE MY GODDARNED PTARMIGANS.

Okay, back to bed, people.

Total Alaska Life Bird Count: 29 (Townsend’s Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Varied Thrush, American Dipper).

Sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep is gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood.

Or it will be, once I get some.

Remember how I said no food prep this week? Yesterday, I found out that I was scheduled for food prep today. I proceeded to stay up until 1:30 AM .

That totally worked out well. I must have looked like a zombie walking to work, moaning and shuffling…I’m surprised I didn’t get shot.

Egg laying news!! All but two of our spectacled eiders have given us eggs. One of them is having a little trouble though…she laid an egg in the pool, and it was soft (as in, bad for an egg).

And now it’s my weekend. Yay for me. I may go out on one of the tour boats to get some birds (the sea life center gets us some pretty effing sweet employee deals, like passes to get on the boats).

Alright, enough of this crud, I’m going to bed. I’m getting too old for this.

 

 

Uh…

…I am a bit confused. I typed my blog entry for today, yesterday. I am actually on time.

So I’ll take a day off, darn it. Don’t like it? Take it up with Woody.