Archive for June, 2011


­­­­­­­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.

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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.

Our Spectacled Eiders have finally begun to lay in earnest!! One more egg from the first lay-er, in addition to another from a separate female. It was an exciting day for us duck-people.

With the upcoming AZA accreditation inspection, everybody is become frantic, getting ready for the big day. Getting recognized by the AZA will be a big step for the ASLC, so it’s important that we pass…and there is a fair amount to do to get ready. I personally think it’ll go well…the people here at the ASLC are in it to win it. There’s still a few weeks, too, so I’m confident everything will go

swimmingly.

Other than that, I got some good pictures of the resident male King Eider (there are never enough pictures of these birds, especially when they are so cooperative some days). I’ll upload them next blog post.

That’s all, folks.

Okay, so how about instead of posting every day, I just post when I have pictures and stories. Sounds good? Sounds good.