Saturday, July 7, 2012

Alaska: Anchorage, June 22, 2012


Because we were going to have such a long day in Anchorage, seven a.m. until 11 p.m., we decided to rent a car and drive along Turnagain Arm, birding, taking in the scenery, and grabbing lunch along the way.

We were joined by Nobby Coburn, a new friend we met on the Cruise Critic boards before our cruise.

We took the free shuttle bus from the ship to Egan Center. There, we were picked up by Enterprise and taken to our rental car.

The drive along Turnagain Arm was, in a word, spectacular. To our right was the Arm, with its enormous tidal changes – up to thirty feet over six hours. To our left were the mountains, with Dall’s Sheep, Bald Eagles, and dramatic altitudes. There was also Potter Marsh, a great birding spot.

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Our first stop was at the section of Potter’s Marsh with an extensive boardwalk over the marsh.


We spent a good amount of time birding this section of Potter’s Marsh, even adding a couple of life birds to our list: Black-billed Magpie, Alder Flycatcher, and Fox Sparrow (Sooty). The Tree Swallows seemed fairly acclimated to people, allowing us to take good portraits of them.


As we continued along the Arm, we stopped by Beluga Point. We didn’t see any Beluga. However we saw small white dots high on the mountain. When we got our scope on them we saw Dall’s Sheep on the cliffs overlooking the highway.

When we turned our attention to the water side of the highway and saw the tide receding. It was a process visible in the moment, with water movement and more and more flats appearing at the water’s edge.


What was uncovered is glacial silt. I’ve heard the silt can be as deep as eight feet and acts like quicksand. Every year people walk out on the silt and sink in. Many times rescuers can’t get to them before the tide rushes in and drowns them.


We stopped for lunch at the Turnagain Arm BBQ. We never would have expected to find good southern BBQ in Alaska, but here it is, chop, brisket, great beans, and just-like-home fried okra!


After lunch we stopped at Indian Creek, hoping for an American Dipper. We parked in the parking lot, but didn’t know which way to go for the Creek. We asked some bicyclists and they replied they didn’t think there was a creek nearby.

We followed a short trail and, voila, Indian Creek! There were interesting fernlike grasses, wonderful photographic textures, and an encounter with Alaska mosquitos (thank goodness for DEET and permethrin). But we dipped on the Dipper.


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As the day went on, we began to realize how lucky we were. The weather was quite unusual for Anchorage, sunny and in the 80’s. In fact, it was downright hot.

As we continued driving, we saw damage from the 1964 earthquake, many dead trees, killed by seawater when the earth sank ten feet during the quake.


We all decided to stop in and visit the Wildlife Conservation at end of Turnagain Arm. It offered us a close-up look at Alaskan wildlife, most of them orphaned animals which couldn’t be released back into the wild. I’ll only include a few photos, since there were many, MANY we took.

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The end of Turnagain Arm happens to be on the Wildlife Center’s property. We were there at low tide and the bed was almost completely devoid of water. It had been sucked completely out of that portion of Turnagain Arm.


As we left the Wildlife Center we began the drive back toward Anchorage. Along the way we made a few more stops at Potter’s Marsh, since there were turnouts on our side of the road.

At the different stops we saw a variety of ducks, breeding Mew Gulls and Arctic Terns on their nests. Most of them were considerably closer than I thought they would (or should) be, offering good opportunities for photographs.

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A final stop back at the boardwalk area of the Marsh proved to be proof we had reached the end of our day physically, mentally, and geographically.

Our last bit of birding and bird photography was a good contrast between a Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs.


We arrived at Enterprise just in time to get a ride back to the cruise ship pier. We arrived just in time to find them repositioning the gangway to accommodate the most recent change in tide. Apparently it had been changed twice before and, at one point (or so we heard) the Amsterdam was sitting on the ground, listing slightly. Ah, those Cook Inlet tides!

The list:

Canada Goose
Green-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
American Wigeon
Common Merganser
Bald Eagle
Northern Harrier
Sandhill Crane
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Short-billed Dowitcher
Common Snipe
Mew Gull
Arctic Tern
Rock Dove
Belted Kingfisher
Alder Flycatcher
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Northwestern Crow
Common Raven
Townsend’s Solitaire
American Robin
Savannah Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Common Redpoll


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