Date: June 10, 2013
Tonight’s Location: Seward, AK
Weather: brilliant sunshine
Temperature: start 52º
Wildlife count: Steller Sea Lions, (8 in 2 pods) Orca Whales, (7) Humpback Whales, Sea Otters, Mountain Goat, Dall’s Porpoise
Year List: 250; Life List: 366
Birds: American Robin, Violet-green Swallow, Arctic Tern, Bald Eagle, Bufflehead, Scaup, Pelagic Cormorant, Common Murre, Tufted Puffin, Glaucous-winged Gull, Horned Puffin, Pelagic Cormorant, Red-faced Cormorant, Parakeet Auklet, Thick-billed Murre, Pigeon Guillemot, Black-legged Kittiwake, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Rhinoceros Auklet, Ancient Murrelet, Barrow’s Goldeneye
What an amazing day! We boarded the Glacier Express tour boat and left Seward harbor at 9 am. Our tour, called the Northwestern Fjord tour, is the longest of the Kenai Fjord tours. The goal for John and I and Rachel, our ranger friend from the Alaska Maritime NWR was to see the islands that belong to the refuge up close and personal. However, in between, as well as including those islands, there is the most extraordinary grandeur.
We glided out Resurrection Bay to Fox Island, a private island with a wilderness lodge and restaurant, not part of the refuge. We often get the question, “why does the government own all of this land?” Our answer is simple. Governmental ownership of the land means that WE the people own the land; it is public land, and unless there is some safety reason, we ALL have access to that land. If it were private, like Fox Island, only wealthy people would be able to enjoy the beauty that now belongs to us all. Therefore, we highly value public lands for the good of us all. I digress…
From Fox Island, we journeyed out into the Gulf of Alaska to the Chiswell Islands, part of our refuge, and the birds were everywhere! We saw four birds we have never seen before, birds that are pelagic – they live their lives on the sea, but only come to land, to islands to breed and raise their young. Islands provide the relative absence of land predators like foxes, simply because they are islands! However, in the 1900’s, foxes were introduced to those islands by Russian and subsequently US fur trappers because there was a source of food (the birds), which were easy pickings for foxes, and the foxes also had a natural barrier – the island. Trappers could earn $10,000 a winter on their islands in real dollars, but the bird population was soon decimated, one of the major reasons for the land to be set aside as public land. With dedication by wildlife biologists and others, some bird populations, which were down to less than 500 birds (world wide), were saved from extinction – the Aleutian Cackling Goose is one example. Much the same is true of many whale populations in the area. Why care? To preserve the diverse majesty of God’s amazing creation!
We passed between and around many other refuge islands and into a huge fjord, which is the terminal fjord for seven huge glaciers. These glaciers are all part of the enormous Harding Icefield, located in the Kenai Mountains of the Kenai Peninsula. Actually, when we are in Homer, we are looking at the Kenai Mountains from the north, and now we view them from the south where they meet the Gulf of Alaska. After discussing the glaciers, the captain turned off the boat and we sat in silence and awe for about 15 minutes – no one said a word while we drank in the beauty of the place. It was incredible!
Other high points were to watch the whales – our captain called it “whale soup.” Altogether, we saw over 15 whales and easily 20 Dall’s Porpoises. One group of Humpbacked Whales was a massive mother, calf and nursemaid. We also saw several others of these colossal beasts, one of the largest animals in the world.
The two pods of Orcas we encountered were together hunting for King Salmon. One of our captains was a whale expert, and he was able to identify each whale we saw by the markings on the fluke (tail). He invited the three of us up to the bridge whenever we were close to whales or birds to view and photograph. He used several of John’s photos as comparisons to his own to identify each whale. What fun! We also observed several large flocks of birds feeding on bait balls – large schools of fish on the surface, viewing many new birds in those scenes.
It was an all day trip, arriving back in port after 6 pm. We had some delicious burgers at Chinooks, relaxing in the view of the harbor and arrived at our hotel around 8pm to view our photos – over 450 between us. What a day!