Alaska By Sea

Speaking of epic, what better way to distract oneself from summer birding woes than to fly to Alaska?

 Aialik Glacier

When I noticed ticket prices out of PDX were under $200 it was a no-brainer. I once visited The Last Frontier with my family about a decade ago, and I was long overdue for a return visit. After landing in Anchorage, Tomas and I bused 3 hours south to Seward, and boarded a boat for a 6-hour tour along Resurrection Bay in Kenai Fjords National Park.

What a magical place. Words don’t do it justice. It helped that the weather was 70 degrees and sunny (!). In a locale that gets 11 fewer sunny days on average per year than Portland, OR, we beat the odds and for that I am so thankful.

Out from the gate, Bald Eagles. Because Alaska.

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles

A few things about birding by boat. This was my first time testing the waters and it’s tough! The boat is moving, the birds are moving, the light is changing. I’m glad it was sunny or else all my pics would be blurry. So many were anyways due to the motion, but it was still good practice. Also, this was not a pelagic birding trip specifically, so we didn’t spend a ton of time chasing birds. But that’s okay, because we did find whales and they’re pretty cool too. Orcas!

Orca Whales

Orca Whales

Orca Whales

Wow. And puffins! Horned and Tufted Puffins! Positively dapper.

Horned Puffin

Horned Puffin

Tufted Puffin

The two types are easy to distinguish in flight as Horned Puffins have a white chest and Tufted Puffins are black underneath. Here is an excellent puffin reference, where I learned I actually saw a third puffin species (out of four), the Rhinoceros Auklet.

Rhinocerous Auklet

Zoom in on that crazy face. (Also note the Common Murre with the two auklets on the right.)

Rhinocerous Auklet

Past the Stellar Sea Lions and a left at the Sea Otters, the captain honed in on a whale spout she noticed far off in the distance.

Stellar Sea Lions

Stellar Sea Lions

Sea Otter

Spout

Turns out it was a Fin Whale. Or more specifically, a pod of four Fin Whales.

Fin Whale

I’d never hear of a Fin Whale before, but now I’d seen four of them. Thanks Alaska. Fin Whales are the second largest mammal on earth (after the Blue Whale) and they are endangered.

We reached our glacial destination at Aialik Glacier shortly after.

Aialik Glacier

Aialik Glacier

We spent some time watching the calving icebergs, while I ran around the boat taking pictures of the Black-legged Kittiwake (small unmarked yellow bill, white underparts, black wing-tips, black legs).

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

Black-legged Kittiwake

On the return voyage to Seward, we saw Glaucous-winged Gulls  on rocks (pink legs, gray wing-tips).

Glaucous-winged Gulls

And Glaucous-winged gulls in flight (gray wing-tips, white underparts).

Glaucous-winged Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull

And to break things up, this bird, clearly not a gull, all black with a dark bar across the white wing coverts, a Pigeon Guillemot! Exciting find.

Pigeon Guillemot

And back to gulls. Herring Gull (First summer).

Herring Gull

And Glaucous-winged.

Glaucous-winged Gull

And because everybody loves a Humpback Whale tail! Ooooh, aaahhhh.

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whale

Finally, this trip report would not be complete without some Dall’s Porpoise action. Their job is to speed along at the bow of the boat, jumping enthusiastically, while the crowd cheers. Woooooo!

Dall's Porpoise

What a crazy-fun excursion. Did that really happen? And this was just day one of our Alaska adventure. The following day we would board a train en route to Denali National Park to explore the backcountry.

Pinch me.

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Epic Summer Trip Part III: Elk Meadows

On day 3 I got greedy. I thought I should have seen more by this point. Where were the owls? Where were the Gray Catbirds? As I drove east and into the heat of the day, I stubbornly watched that small window of summer birding opportunity close. Nevertheless, I passed through gorgeous canyon scenery, laden with oaks and fir along the Klickitat River.

Klickitat

While driving along the Glenwood Hwy, I spotted a snake in the middle of the lane! It retracted like a slinky, while I cringed unable to avoid driving over it. Hoping it wasn’t flattened, I pulled over to check, as two more cars drove by also just barely missing it.

Rattlesnake

Luckily, it survived crossing the highway intact. The Western Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) slithered along confidently (as it should) while my jaw dropped in awe of this impressive creature.

Rattlesnake

So cool. I’m happy I didn’t kill it (or find it while hiking or camping). It’s the first rattler I’ve seen in the wild in the Pacific NW. Or anywhere.

After this, with no solid plan in mind I called home to see how hot it was in the house. 92 degrees? Gross. I continued along, aiming for higher (cooler) elevation. Since it was a Sunday (so possibly less crowded), I decided on Elk Meadows, a 5-mile round trip hike in the SE shadow of Mt Hood and a backpacking destination I’ve been meaning to check out for a while now.

It was perfect except for one super sketchy stream crossing, where I managed to lose two (and recover one) water bottles.

Scary ass stream

Other than that unfortunate experience, it was a relatively tame and gorgeous hike to the camping spot.

Elk Meadow Camping

Along the trail, there were some exciting birdy surprises. Like a flock of normally cute, now not-so-cute, scruffy, molting Golden Crowned Kinglets.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

The best surprise, and winner for causing the highest spike in adrenaline while attempting to take a clear photograph, was this Nashville Warbler! Note the full eye-ring, gray hood, yellow throat, breast, and belly. So sweet and a cool find.

Nashville Warbler

At the campsite, opportunistic Gray Jays visited with or without (“accidentally”) spilled and crumbled pretzels. Ethics, eh-hem.

Gray Jay

A few youngins stopped by too.

Gray Jay

One grey bird that puzzled me was this one.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

That was until it turned around and showed me its yellow-rumped bum. Of course, Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

While leaving the campsite, I finally got a photo of the sparrow I’d seen on an off in the meadow. Buffy eye-ring, breast streaks, small bill, it’s a Lincoln’s Sparrow! The setting fits too, as Cornell’s All About Birds states: “A drab, but handsome bird of boggy areas.” I’d say so.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Elk Meadow is positively serene. Babbling brooks and bird songs audible from camping spots, deer wandering out munching on grass in the meadow after sunset, oh yeah, and the sun sets behind Mt. Hood. Be still my emotions.

Mt Hood Sunset

Mt Hood Sunset

Wait for it. Then in the morning, the sun rises and the mountain lights up. Not a bad place to spend a night or two- and in the mean time watch the birds!

Morning Hood

And on the way out? Plump huckleberries!

Huckleberries

Huckleberries

Epic. Thanks for reading!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey

Epic Summer Trip Part II: Mt Adams

After a night of camping near Conboy Lake NWR, I was ready for more exploring. I drove along the border of the refuge toward my next destination. There was very little traffic early morning in Glenwood, Wa., and it’s a good thing because I stopped in the middle of the road when I saw this “chicken”!

Ruffed Grouse

A little closer.

Ruffed Grouse

Closer.

Ruffed Grouse

Even closer.

Ruffed Grouse

I inched closer still until the Ruffed Grouse hopped on a nearby tree branch and stared at me. Nice start!

Ruffed Grouse

Later on, I pulled over when I noticed bird drama in a field along the road. Turns out there was a dead “item of desire” in the field attracting Turkey Vultures and a couple of Bald Eagles.

Turkey Vulture

Bald Eagle

The cows were displeased.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

And they proceeded to chase the eagles. I only wish I’d recorded the action on video. Such greatness.

Our national bird chased by bovine.

Our national bird chased by bovine.

I left Glenwood on route through the tiny town of Trout Lake, eventually ending the day on a remote logging road in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest near Mt Adams.

Mt Adams

Peace and quiet

I dodged the heat, enjoyed some solitude, and caught sight of a few birds including Pine Siskin, Hermit Thrush (that performed the distinctive tail lift), and Western Tanager.

Pine Siskin

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Western Tanager

Western Tanager (female)

It was a lovely spot to end a day after the scorching heat.

Lovely

But wait, there’s more!

Tweets and chirps,

Audrey