Saturday, July 7, 2012

Alaska: Kodiak, June 24, 2012


Our ship excursion in Kodiak, the first of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, was titled Kodiak Highlights and Wildlife Cruise. Cruise wasn’t exactly the correct term.

We took a small bus over to the harbor and our group was split among 3 different small boats. Ours consisted of four passengers, the captain, and a lovely young man from Wyoming who was up in Alaska for the summer, working fishing charters and every other Sunday’s “Cruise Ship Sunday” to put himself through the University of Wyoming.

We didn’t get any new birds today. But it was wonderful to see some birds which had become a bit more familiar: Tufted and Horned Puffins, Pelagic Cormorants, Marbled Murrelets, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and Glaucous-winged Gulls. We also had a much better look at Red-faced Cormorants with their pompadour and beautiful red faces, quite apparent in the sun.


Avie got a couple of shots of Tufted Puffins, one quite accidental and humorous. Apparently, Puffins are one of very few species of birds who have solid bones, allowing them to dive deeply to catch fish. When they eat too much they become too heavy to fly and will just run along the water. We saw this several times during our time in Alaska and it never failed to amuse us, though I’m not sure it amused the Puffins.

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Mammals were an additional highlight of the trip. We saw plenty of Sea Otters, a couple of groups of Steller’s Sea Lions, a small group of Humpback Whales, and another, smaller whale we weren’t able to identify.


We walked back to the ship from the harbor, past fish processing plants with their freezer shipping containers, and singing migratory birds. We were able to identify several Yellow Warblers.



After lunch and some rest time, we went up on the Lido deck as the ship began to leave Kodiak, on our way across the Gulf of Alaska (take two).

The way through Chiniak Bay to about 60 miles out of Kodiak made for great birding.

We saw thousands upon thousands of Puffins, mostly Tufted, but with some Horned thrown in for good measure. We also saw a few Red-faced Cormorants sitting on breakwater rocks on the way out of the Bay.

As we got further into the Gulf we came across huge numbers of Shearwaters, both Sooty and Short-tailed. We took a lot of time trying to distinguish them, finally settling on the amount of white we saw on the underwings and the subtle slope of their forehead as our guides. The more we looked, the more we also noticed how stubby the bill is on the Short-tailed Shearwaters.

Puffins became a garbage bird, as they continually flew by in flocks or singly, drawing our attention to them rather than the birds closer to the water.

We got one Black-legged Albatross flying low on the water.

Finally, just before going in for the evening, even though it was still incredibly light out, we saw a few Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels.

For good measure, during our time up on deck, we also got Dall’s Porpoises, a good number of Humpback Whales, one so close to the side of our ship we could hear it’s breath, and a smaller gray whale in the distance, which we couldn’t identify.

Tomorrow morning we’ll go out again to do more pelagic birding before our arrival to Yakutat Bay and our trip in to see the Hubbard Glacier.


The list:

Black-footed Albatross
Northern Fulmar
Sooty Shearwater
Short-tailed Shearwater
Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel
Red-faced Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Harlequin Duck
Bald Eagle
Black Oystercatcher
Glaucous-winged Gull
Black-legged Kittiwake
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Marbled Murrelet
Horned Puffin
Tufted Puffin
Black-billed Magpie
Northwestern Crow
Yellow Warbler
Rock Pigeon


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