What better way to cap a trip than with a day on the ocean? The day-long Northwestern Fjord boat tour out of Seward, just over a two-hour drive south of Anchorage, would be my last bit of birding in Alaska this time around. On board I was lucky to meet Peter Burke (CO) and Kevin McGowan (NY) on the bow, and the three of us stood watch for the duration of the trip.
We lucked out with great weather yet again. Calm seas really aided in alcid spotting.
|view from Resurrection Bay|
The harbor itself held a few PIGEON GUILLEMOTS and many SEA OTTERS. As we motored out of Resurrection Bay, our first HORNED PUFFINS and MARBLED MURRELETS appeared and hinted at what would follow. The sheer number of birds nesting on the offshore islands was staggering. Seabird colonies in peak breeding season are total mayhem. COMMON MURRES, TUFTED PUFFINS and BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKES were particularly abundant, swarming at times.
Our Captain knew the birds quite well and knew exactly where to take us for those highly sought-after species, the first of which was RED-FACED CORMORANT. We ended up seeing six or seven of these birds today.
The Chiswell Islands held good numbers of PARAKEET AUKLETS, my one lifer of the day. As we crossed the last bit of open sea before entering glacier waters, we spotted our first RHINOCEROUS AUKLETS. The narrow zone where the glacier water meets the ocean water is what produced a handful of the local KITTLITZ'S MURRELETS.
The Northwestern Glacier itself was magnificent. We saw and heard a bit of calving, which added to the experience. It's a shame to think how quickly glaciers like this one are retreating thanks to our rapidly changing climate. The talk on the deck among both passengers and crew was heavily laden with educational points about said climate change and the plastics problem that our oceans are facing. It was refreshing to hear honest and objective conversation about issues that rarely seem to get a fair shake from most mainstream media outlets. These are sobering topics that should not be avoided, but rather discussed...calmly and impartially.
As we began our journey back towards Seward, the three of us remarked that we had seen eight species of alcid to this point but still had a shot at a couple more. Moments later, while we were really moving northeastward, we kicked up an ANCIENT MURRELET that paced the boat for several seconds for all to see.
As we approached the Beehive Islands, a THICK-BILLED MURRE crossed the bow, and we added another 18 of them on the Beehives themselves. Alcid species #10.
|Thick-billed and Common Murres|
We encountered two species of whale on the ride back: HUMPBACK and FIN. The Humpbacks were their usual cooperative selves, while the Fins were steadily on the move, as they always are.
We were still adding species as we crossed our final section of open water: SOOTY SHEARWATER, PARASITIC JAEGER, and LONG-TAILED JAEGER.
It's safe to say that I was in my happy place all day out there. I cannot recommend this trip enough. Eight hours may sound like a long time to be out there, but it really does fly by with so much life to see. There was always something to look at, even while we were running at high speeds between islands.
Dinner and drinks were had in town with Peter and the just-arrived Ithaca crew, who would take the same tour the following day. They did even better, seeing all the specialties noted above plus ORCA!
(In chatting with the crew, they estimated that Orcas are seen on 20% of the trips. This remains the only place in the world I've seen Orcas, when I was last out there in 2012.)