Friday, June 13, 2014

First week in Alaska

Our first stop in Alaska was Tok where we washed off all the Yukon mud from the Al-Can Highway.  We took in some music and tales about Alaskan history and adventure at a folk theater.

We drove southwest down the Tok Cutoff stopping at this pond with Tundra and Trumpeter Swans, several species of ducks including Eurasian Wigeon, and 6 Moose in the background.

Alaska - the land of great contrasts where migrating Baird's Swallowtails and nesting Yellow Warblers are scant miles away from ice covered lakes and lingering drifts.  As we traveled north along the Richardson's Highway through Paxson to Summit Lake, we found Gyrfalcon, Arctic Warblers, Redpolls, and loons looking for holes in the ice.

We drove early to the east end of the Denali Highway (not the National Park) and ascended to the tundra that looks deceptively barren but is blanketed with colorful flowers such as these Alpine Kittentails.  The birds we encountered nesting here were Long-tailed Jaegers, Smith's Longspurs, American Golden Plovers, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-necked Phalaropes and Blackpoll Warblers.  We also saw 8 Moose and 4 Caribou and quite a few Alpine Ground Squirrels.

We stayed at Tolsona Wilderness Campground in a beautiful creekside spruce forest where the mosquitoes outnumbered the birds a million to one.

We then drove southwest along the Glenn Highway past the beautiful Sheep Mountain where gypsum and iron oxide give the rocks a rich hue.

We drove to and through Anchorage then along the Turnagain Arm toward the Kenai Peninsula seeing Dall Sheep on a high precipice.  We stopped at Potter Marsh in the rain where Arctic Terns were setting up nesting and Red-necked Grebes dove for fish among the reeds.

Onward south along the Seward Highway to Stoney Creek RV Park where we will spend a week.  On a walk around the neighborhood, we found Stellar's Jay, singing Varied & Hermit Thrushes, Pine Siskins, Pine Grosbeaks, Red-breasted Nuthatches and singing Fox Sparrows.

Our Alaskan adventure would not be complete without a boat trip into the Kenai Fjords.  Our nine hour cruise on a rare sunny day of calm seas through breathtaking rock islands, steep snow-covered mountains and calving glaciers was filled with sea life.

Rocketing Dahl Porpoises led us past sleeping sea otters through Resurrection Bay to Harding Gateway and the Gulf of Alaska.

Next sighting was a pod of actively feeding Orcas, this non-migratory species feed exclusively on fish.

Our tour boat made its way through the Harris Bay into the Northwestern Fjord.  In the distance we could see the huge glacier that heads in the Harding Ice-field which measures 50 miles by 30 miles and receives over 100 feet of snow annually.

The dramatic calving of the moving river of ice, towering 2,000 feet above the water, dwarfed our large boat and basking harbor seals with their pups on ice bergs below.  The cannon-like sound of car-sized pieces of ice avalanching down into the water was amazing.

Our return trip took us past the Chiswell Islands National Wildlife Refuge where we helped a bird group locate and identify many alcids.  We had 29 species of birds on the trip including: Horned & Tufted Puffins; Marbled, Kittilitz's & Ancient Murrelets; Cassin's, Rhinoceros & Parakeet Auklets; Pigeon Guillemots; Thick-billed & Common Murres (pictured); and Red-faced Cormorants.

There is a national on-going research project at this NWR on the Stellar's Sea Lions.  So when you see this species on TV programs you are viewing this colony.

For most people on the tour, the real stars are the Humpback Whales.  The captain/naturalist who gave an excellent narrative said it was "like Whale soup out here today".  We saw at least a dozen humpbacks.  First sign - the exhale blow, then the arched back and exposed flukes signaling a deep dive.

As we pulled back into the harbor, this glacier is a fitting scene to an impressive day.

We are looking forward to more days on the Kenai Peninsula then north to Denali National Park.

Blessings & Prayers,
Ty & Ida Baumann

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