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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Birding Kachemak Bay

Limited internet - here's a post I prepared yesterday....

Location: Homer, Alaska
Population: 5454

Yesterday we made our way from Anchorage down to the Kenai Peninsula and the city of Homer. Not much of note happened along the way other than a 30 mile planned detour to the city of Kenai to look for beluga whales (we didn’t see any, though we did see some bank swallows – year bird 199) and an unplanned 30 mile detour due to misreading the signs about which roads were closed.

Today we set out early to go on a three-hour birding trip departing from the Homer Spit and touring Kachemak Bay. Right away we saw a long-tailed duck, two pairs of greater scaup, a few white-winged scoters, and yellow-billed loon (year bird 200!). The yellow-billed loon I’ve only seen once before – last time I was in Alaska, which, as my dad pointed out, was half my lifetime ago!

Next we headed over to check out an impressive bait ball made up of glaucous-winged gulls, black-legged kittiwakes, and common murres feeding on fish. Check out these guys diving in from above:

And look at that mouthful of fish!

Next we headed over to Sixty Foot Rock and Cohen Island, which are part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge that includes more than 2500 islands extending all the way to Aleutians. In addition to a bald eagle, some more kittiwakes, and a pair of black oystercatchers, we saw a boat load of harlequin ducks:

As we continued around the islands we saw several rafts of sea otters, and over the course of the trip we probably saw a couple hundred. This lone otter cruised alongside the boat for a while:

We also came across several nursery groups made up of females and their pups hanging out together. The young ones stay with mom for about a year, and in some cases they weren’t that much smaller than the adults. Nevertheless, they wanted to ride on mom’s tummy or hitch a piggback ride. This pair was curious about us, too:

The highlight of the tour was Gull Island, a rocky outcropping that hosts as many as 17,000 nesting sea birds. Remember how excited I was for that flock of several thousand Bonaparte’s gulls in the San Juan Islands a month or so ago? This was a total birder’s paradise!

The vast majority of the birds on the rocks were nesting black-legged kittiwakes:

In the water were a couple large rafts of common murres that easily totaled several thousand birds:

Mixed in were a few other species, including a pair of pigeon guillemots and what may have been an immature glaucous gull. Photos were taken, but some more time will have to be spent with the Gulls of the Americas reference book before I can reach any conclusion. Of course, you can show an immature gull to five different birders, and you may very well get five different IDs. Given that it’s a gull, we’ll probably never know for sure! I was sure, however, of the tufted puffins:

Most exciting of all, a life bird for me, was about a half-dozen red-faced cormorants (year bird 201, NA life bird 331)

I’m always excited to see a new life bird, but this one is especially awesome. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes it as follows: “The red-faced cormorant may be the least known of all North American species. It breeds in a narrow, latitudinally compressed band from the northern Sea of Japan, along the Kuril and Aleutian Island chain, and far east into the southeastern Gulf of Alaska. Possibly owing to its shy habits and inaccessibly colony sites, it is one of the least studied and least known birds of the North Pacific: little is known beyond distribution and rudiments of ecology.” Cool!!

After getting back from the boat trip we were excited and had a celebratory drink at The Salty Dawg Saloon, a locally famous bar with carved wooden tables and dollar bills plastered to all the walls and ceilings. Before going in we actually had to sign a release because the Discovery Channel was on scene filming for The Deadliest Catch. One of the boats featured in the show, the Time Bandit, is based out of Homer and they were filming the co-Captains at the local watering hole. While there we also got to meet some of the residents, including a man who was a crab fisherman for 30 years and had plenty of tall tales to tell.

Since there is a lot to drink but not much to eat at The Salty Dawg, we went over to the boardwalk to get some halibut fish and chips for lunch. Homer is the self-proclaimed halibut fishing capital of the world, so it was only appropriate to try some of the local fish. It was delicious.

When we mentioned to someone that we went out on the water this morning they asked, “Did you catch anything?” There are a lot of charter boats in Homer, but as you can imagine they specialize in fishing charters. It took a little looking around to find the guy who specializes in taking folks out to look for birds and wildlife! Tomorrow we will be back on the water again, not to fish, but to take a private ferry over to Halibut Cove, a small artist’s community across the bay. You can bet I’ll be birding on the ride over and back, though!


Warren Baker said...

Those two sea otters look so cool ! Nice post Monika

Daniele Caccia said...

congratulation Monika....
very good shot...dcdc