Saturday, July 7, 2012

Alaska: Gulf of Alaska Take One, June 21, 2012

Today is the summer solstice. Sunrise this morning was at 4:48 am and sunset will be at 11:16 pm. We spent most of this longest day of the year on deck (well, several decks) birding in the Gulf of Alaska on our way from Icy Strait Point (Hoonah) to Anchorage.

There’s a certain skill set we developed over the course of the day and I now share it with you, my readers.

1. Bird with your binoculars, not your naked eyes. With rare exception, those pelagic birds are rather small, making them difficult to see against the broad swathe of water.


2. Be sure to move about the ship, using different locations (forward and aft, port and starboard) and heights. On the Amsterdam we birded low on the aft part of the Main level, only a couple of “floors” above the water, one level higher on the side of the ship at the Lower Promenade level, and up on the aft of the Lido deck, about 8 to 9 stories up.


3. Bring your scope and use it! An investment in a fluid head for your tripod will make it a great deal easier to follow the birds. The ship is moving and the birds are moving. The fluid head keeps things smooth and moving as well.


4. When you get “on” a bird, stay with it for as long as possible. Get as many details as possible including location, relation to the water, wingbeats, proportions, and, if there are other birds around, relative size.

5. Don’t just look at the pictures in your field guide, read the descriptions. A big aid in our birding today was our copy of The Birds of Alaska by Robert Armstrong. Even though photographs aren’t a great way to identify birds, the information in the book often helped us name a bird by its behavior and geographic likelihood.

6. Be a dork. Wear long underwear, lots of layers, gloves, and a warm hat. Even though it might be a nice day out, that wind from the moving ship and off the Gulf can begin to cut through you after some time outside. Remember, you can always take layers off, but you can’t put them on if you don’t have them at hand.

We’re looking forward to more time on the Gulf between Homer and Kodiak, and between Kodiak and our day cruising the Hubbard Glacier.

Here’s a photo of us, taken at about 10:15 p.m. on that day, followed by the day’s bird list.


The List:

Black-footed Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Northern Fulmar
Shearwater sp.
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel
Leach’s Storm-Petrel
Black Oystercatcher
Mew Gull
Black-legged Kittiwake
Common Murre
Tufted Puffin


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