Aack!! Sorry for the lack of bloggage, I misjudged how long my after-work errands would take, and the Sea Bean closes at 7PM.

The drive to Seward was about 2 hours total…but there was so much to look at, I was barely paying attention to the time.  In fact, I was mostly taking pictures of mountains. Yeah, I know, but you can never have enough pictures of mountains, right?

Along the way we saw mountain goats…or rather, tiny white moving specks on the mountain that the bus driver called mountain goats. Works for me, at any rate. The bus driver, Bob, was actually from Hyde Park in Poughkeepsie (for you non-Yorkers, this is in Dutchess County, where I grew up).

Seward is populated by about 2500 people, and can be walked across in about a half-hour; that’s if you take it at a moderate pace. Uptown is mostly harbor area where there are fish markets, gift shops, and hubs for guided tours, and is where the coal barges pull in.  There are a few really nice, and expensive, restaurants up there that I have yet to try…I wasn’t to go all in on the first evening. I settled for the Railway Cantina, which serves Mexican food with an Alaskan twist. Burritos and quesadillas were there with the familiar fillings (chicken, beef, etc), but also could feature halibut, one of the target fish anglers come here for, as well as reindeer. I settled for a blackened rockfish burrito, with the second hottest salsa available (which was surprisingly tasty, and the heat didn’t hit me until I was almost done). The food was delicious, and staff incredibly friendly. I was tempted to want to go back a second time soon, but there is so much else to do, and sadly only so much I can afford.

Downtown Seward is home to many restaurants, more gift shops, and bars. And oh, are there bars. A grand total of 12, bested only by the number of churches, which stands at 13. I’ve since learned of a policy where for every bar built, a church had to be built, as if the church would cancel it out. Can’t blame them for trying, I suppose. It’s also the location of the Sea Bean, where I post these blogs from and get my morning caffeine fix.

The most important part of downtown, for me anyway, is the Alaska Sea Life Center.

There I met Dan Barth, who drove me and another intern, Nina, around Seward to show us the sites, and eventually to my apartment.

My first night I was alone, so I got to soak it all in by myself. And by soak it all in, I mean sit around and generally do nothing since there’s no internet or cable TV in the apartment (that’s why I have to go to the Sea Bean to write these up). Oh, and listen to some kid argue with his mom about playing outside late through the thin walls. I finally collapsed at 7:00 pm, intending to just take a nap. The fact that I had been awake for 40+ hours at that point probably helped.

I awoke about 12 hours later, bedraggled but well-rested. I got up and saw what I thought was a crow out the window…but then it turned around, and I saw its blue back half. The front half, on second glance, was dark red, and the bird sported a crest. I realized what I was looking at was a Stellar’s Jay; you know the day is going to be awesome when the first thing you do after waking up is get a life bird (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, a life bird is a bird you’ve never seen before that you have now seen. In other words, yay.).

My find led me to take a walk downtown along the rocky coast to look for some more life birds. I saw plenty of rabbits, which look domestic but seem to have become feral. They were all over downtown, often munching grasses in peoples’ backyards. I couldn’t help but think that if some folk from Holmes moved here, the rabbits wouldn’t be here for much longer…

Almost no invasive birds, or most familiar eastern species, are to be found here. There is a small population of pigeons, but they are mostly relegated to downtown. In town, there are Pine Siskins (sought in the winter by most birders in the continental U.S., they are fairly abundant here), gulls, Robins, various species of corvids (including Common Ravens, Northwestern Crows, and Black-Billed Magpies), and of course, the Bald Eagles. There are at least 3 that I’ve counted at a time that regularly hang out about the town, taking advantage of the easy sources of fish. Where else can you hear a Bald Eagle call from the top of a street lamp?

This one was being harassed by a Northwestern Crow (who you can see in the picture), but he didn’t seem to care too much. The crow was probably just a bit uppity, as he shortly flew off to harass a nearby magpie (seen in the picture below).

At one point, I sat down on a bench, and was greeted by a Glaucous-Winged Gull, who promptly settled to forage next to me, as if hinting that he was so very hungry. On a whim, I tossed him a piece of Nutrigrain bar. Of course, less than a minute later, I was surrounded by about 10 of the birds, and one ambitious crow.

Though most of the gulls departed after I stopped tossing out bits of bar, the crow hung around as I looked out over the bay, scanning for seabirds. I covertly rewarded him for his persistence with the last tidbit of my breakfast, which he dove for, greedily downed, and thanked me for with a hearty “Caw,” or at least as hearty as he could manage. Northwestern Crows are a bit more high-pitched than their bigger relatives, so he sounded like a toy representation of the crow that most of us are familiar with.

I went on my way, and eventually left the beach area, but not before nabbing two more life birds (Pelagic Cormorant and Pigeon Guillemot). I stopped at the Sea Bean, where I made my first blog posts, as well as to fill up on a breakfast burrito (for brunch) and some caffeine-infused delight. The drinks are all nautically-themed, at least name-wise; I had a mocha, vanilla, and caramel coffee dubbed “The Blackbeard.”

I met my roommate soon after, Dan from Minnesota, and a mammal care/tour guide intern. After hanging out for a little bit, we walked to the Sea Life Center, where we received our orientation, along with a diving intern from California named Sarah, from Dan Barth. We basically got a tour of the behind-the-scenes at the center, which was awesome, although I would have liked a tour of the part that’s open to the public as well. We were walking through the mammal corridor when Dan casually remarked, “Oh, and that’s Woody.” We turned around to be confronted (with an enclosure between us, thankfully) by a behemoth of a male Steller’s Sea Lion, weighing in at almost 3000 pounds and almost as tall as me!! Seeing new faces in the room, he put on his fiercest face and bellowed, letting us know who was in charge. To hell with bears…I wouldn’t want to be on his bad side.

After getting our ID cards made by the head of security (who has an excellent moustache) and having our pictures taken, we split to meet with our supervisors; in my case, Kristen, the main Eider technician, though she isn’t really my direct supervisor. That would be Tasha DiMarzio, who is currently off doing field work. I met the center’s Spectacled and Steller’s Eider Ducks, both really gorgeous birds. Unfortunately, I can’t post pictures of them on any public site, due to them being research animals. I can, however, take my own pictures so I suppose that will just have to do.

I didn’t have much of a chance to get to know the other Avian folks yet, but I know most of their names already. Heidi is the main curator of the avian department, and is from South Africa. Then there’s Natalie, who I’ll be working with tomorrow morning. Finally, there’s Seth, an alumni of none other than Ohio Wesleyan University. I’m excited to get to know him better and hear about his experiences here. While at the center I only met one other Avian Department Intern, C(K?)rystal, Alaska resident and Eider Research intern. Later when Dan and I were headed to the SLC to pick up a van to go to the grocery store, we ran into her and her roommates, Courtney, from California, and Kelsey, from Connecticut (it’s nice to meet someone who’s actually heard of Dutchess County). We went to the Italian restaurant in town, Cristo’s, for some pizza. Of course we didn’t have a traditional pie; we ordered a Gyro Pizza, which was delicious (essentially like eating a Gyro on a pizza…who would’ve thought?), especially with tzatziki sauce.

After dinner, we walked down the same coast I had walked down this morning. On the way, I noted a few Northwestern Crows mobbing a raven, and gained an appreciation for just how massive ravens are. This was cemented when I saw a raven perched next to a Bald Eagle, and found that it was actually half the eagle’s size, which may not sound like much, but is really something when you consider that’s bigger than some hawks and owls.

After parting ways with the girls, Dan and I decided to just walk to the grocer’s…which turned out was much farther away than we thought. We decided at one point to just turn around and pick up some cheap breakfast for tomorrow from a gas station. Again, so we thought. A dozen eggs? $4.30. A quart of milk? $2.39. Spam, the holy grail of crap foods? A whopping $4.75 per can. With a shared grimace, we purchased our food and departed, trying to spend as little as possible. Gas here is $4.59 a gallon, by the way. Think about that, and you’ll see why every day I am less motivated to drive…I went to bed, haunted by visions of dancing dollar signs floating away from me.

I started my day early, waking up at about 6:30 AM. I went out to try to get some birding in before work, and my efforts were not wasted. I saw my first wild Harlequin Duck, as well as some Fox Sparrows that I almost didn’t recognize because they looked so different than what I was used to.

I started work at 8 AM, accompanied by Natalie, the young aviculturist. We first did headcounts of the birds; the center is home to 10 Spectacled Eiders, and 46 Steller’s Eiders. The Specs are fairly friendly, waddling up to investigate you before nonchalantly going about their business. The Steller’s, on the other hand, are very flighty, and often will waddle away as fast as their feet will allow at your approach. In general, the Steller’s Eiders seem to be more difficult to care for.

We then gave the birds their food, a dry duck food that pretty much looks like kibble. Afterwards, we cleaned their habitats and part of the total enclosure. I should note that the Spectacled and Steller’s Eiders are not available for viewing by the public, really; they are mostly behind-the-scenes and research birds.

Natalie taught me how to make Trifectant, a chemical compound containing magical stuff that makes bacteria go away (really, I don’t care so long as it works). We use it for the footbaths, so it’s fairly important, since we use the footbaths every time we enter or exit the Eider enclosures. We also have to change from our shoes into big waterproof boots. I would later find this wasn’t the end; there are also wader-like overalls and waterproof jackets.

Finally, lunch break! I finally had some time to walk around the public part of the Sea Life Center. A lot of interesting fish from Alaska’s waters were featured, including a Wolf Eel, Pacific Cod, and Halibut. The center also has some cool invertebrates, like Blue King Crabs and various types of shrimp. Naturally one of the biggest attractions is the mammal area, home to harbor seals and the Steller’s Sea Lions. Big Woody wasn’t out today, much to the disappointment of many visitors.

Of course, for me the crown jewel was the aviary, home to Red-Legged Kittiwakes, Pigeon Guillemots, Common Murres, Black Oystercatchers, Crested and Rhinocerous Auklets, King Eiders, Long-Tailed and Harlequin Ducks, and Horned and Tufted Puffins. Sadly, I didn’t see the Oystercatchers or Crested Auklets.

I made sure to get some good pictures of everyone’s favorite alcids, the puffins. This particular Tufted Puffin was rather stoic-looking.

The puffins were fun to watch playing with each other, and especially fun to watch dive into the water below. Most of the birds (with the exception of the Kittikwakes and Oystercatchers) were divers, though the only other birds I saw dive that day were the Rhinocerous Auklets.

Sadly I couldn’t watch forever…work to be done. I met with Natalie again, and we headed off to the store to pick up wader-overall-things. I’m a giant compared to most of the people who work there, apparently, as there was only one pair of boots above size 10, and no wader things past large.

When Alaska does a fishing/hunting/outdoors store, they seriously do it. Fishing nets larger than me, all manner of binoculars, and double-barreled shotguns everywhere. I noted with a smirk that they made hunting rifles in a vibrant pink color, supposedly for daddy’s little girl when it’s time for her to learn about why we’re on top of the food chain (or so we’d like to think).

Afterwards we headed back to the center to finish up cleaning and close out for the day. I met the new Avian intern, Stephanie, while I was waiting for Dan to meet me so we could rent a vehicle to finally go to the grocery store, which would be so much cheaper than the gas station.

That was a joke. HAHA. Fat chance.

Everything is so expensive. I’m starting to wonder if the default is to figure a reasonable price for something, than double it for good measure. I can’t even imagine how much it would cost for people with more discerning tastes; as a college student, I’m perfectly fine surviving on pasta, canned veggies, peanut butter sandwiches, and hot dogs. I’m not going to list specific prices for the sake of the faint of heart…but even two hours after the trauma, it still hurts. I think my thrifty instinct is crying in a corner somewhere.

Tomorrow I’m working with Heidi, which should be interesting. I’ll talk to you all tomorrow (for real, I promise)

See more pictures, as well as my videos, on my Facebook! Don’t be afraid to add me as a friend if we aren’t already.

Total Alaska Life Bird Count*: 9 (Steller’s Jay, Pigeon Guillemot, Pelagic Cormorant, Glaucous-Winged Gull, Northwestern Crow, Steller’s Eider**, Spectacled Eider**, Harlequin Duck).

*I’m only going to list the new ones as of the blog entry in question

For those of you wondering, I’m not counting the Sea Life’s Center’s Birds on my life list…with the exception of the Steller’s and Spectacled Eiders. I figure I’m working with them most of the day so I’m pretty sure that counts…right? Well, I’m counting it.

Advertisements