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.