Saturday, July 7, 2012

Alaska: Sitka and Saint Lazaria Island, June 26, 2012


During the planning phases of this cruise, I became online friends with Nobby Coburn via the Cruise Critic boards. We discovered we had similar interests in finding birds, he as a photographer and we as birders, so we joined forces and chartered a trip out to Saint Lazaria Island on Sitka’s Secrets, a small company out of Sitka.


Our ship anchored just offshore and we caught one of the early tenders to shore. A short walk later we were at Sitka Harbor. We were a bit early, so we spent a little time watching Common Ravens and wandering around. At the appointed time, Kent, our captain, met us and we walked down to our small 27 foot boat.

The water was a bit rougher than as necessary to make it out to the Island, fifteen miles away from Sitka in the Sitka Sound. Kent wasn’t positive we’d be able to make it out, but stayed in contact with researchers on the island and told us to let him know if the going got too rough for us.

Along the way we stopped by an active Bald Eagle nest and Kent “chummed” the adults with some frozen Herring, allowing us to get some close-up photos of these magnificent birds. It seemed as though the Eagles knew the boat was a good source of food, approaching as soon as we stopped in the water.

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After quite a bit of rising up and slapping down over whitecap waves followed by a great deal of rocking and rolling, we were dubbed “seaworthy”, taking that as high praise.

We slowed down and checked out a few of the Alcids on the water. We added three birds to our life list when we picked out the Thick-billed Murres in a small group of Common Murres. Avie managed to get a couple of halfway decent photos of the Thick-billed Murre, in spite of the boat’s movement.

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We also saw a lone Cassin’s Auklet who was unable to make it out of the water, try as it might, giving us an opportunity to see it well enough to add it to both our Alaska and life lists. Another life bird for both of us was a lone Ancient Murrelet in summer plumage. Avie also added Rhinoceros Auklet to his life list, a bird I had gotten during a previous trip to visit our son in Seattle.

Happily, the winds died down a bit by the time we entered open water, permitting us to make it to Saint Lazaria. Kent met one of the researchers from the island. He picks up their empty propane tanks, bringing them back full ones when he makes the return trip.


Then we began our slow trip around both the alee and windy side of the island.

We saw breeding areas for a good number of birds including Murres, Puffins, and Cormorants. Also there, but not emerging until nightfall, were nesting Storm-Petrels and Auklets.

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In addition to the birds, we also saw many Sea Otters in the Kelp beds near the Island. Several of them had pups with them.

The trip back to Sitka was calmer and more direct. After thanking Kent (and paying the balance on the charter), we wandered around Sitka a bit. The Russian Orthodox church in town, St. Michael’s, offered a great photo op with two Bald Eagles sitting atop the distinctive cross for that particular sect.

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After a bit of shopping, Avie and I headed back to the ship. We tried to do a bit of pelagic birding as we pulled out, but it began to get a little late and we were still too close to land to begin to see numbers of birds. We DID however, see a Humpback Whale blow and dive a few times before we headed inside for the night.

The list:

Common Loon
Sooty Shearwater
Double-crested Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Harlequin Duck
Bald Eagle
Glaucous-winged Gull
Black-legged Kittiwake
Common Murre
Pigeon Guillemot
Marbled Murrelet
Rhinoceros Auklet
Tufted Puffin
Rock Pigeon
Common Raven
Fox Sparrow (Sooty)


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