Wednesday, September 1, 2010

From Homer to Seldovia, part 2 of an Alaskan Adventure

For many Alaska is only but a dream. I have been very fortunate to have experienced in more depth and fully taking advantage of all the opportunities at hand. For me Alaska is raw beauty, from the moist wet Temperate rainforest's of the South Central and Southeast, to the more dry and vast tundra of the far north. In other words Alaska is huge, far too big to experience in a week or even two. So compared to those who only come for a week or two, I have been blessed with being able to take advantage of wonderful opportunities to experience nature, raw and rugged, steeped in myth and legend, from Ice carved glacial valleys to remote beaches and parks. Recently as mentioned in my previous post I went to Katmai National Park in Southwest Alaska where I got up close an personal with the largest Carnivore or actually Omnivore as Brown Bears feast on a variety of foods. That in in itself was a major thrill and I will hold that in my heart for a long time. The following day after the Katmai adventure I took a Boat trip over to Seldovia. Seldovia is a very well preserved Village on the peninsula down from Homer, yet only accessible by boat or plane. Charming boardwalks and colorful houses predominated the scene here in Seldovia. Well preserved from earlier times this really felt like true Alaska to me even rather quarky with amusing signs throughout town. When we docked I took part of the walking tour that follows the creek and past some beautiful gardens being maintained by a local woman who has taken care of the towns gardens for many years. I admired all the beautiful flowers that managed to thrive despite a short growing season. I noticed the strong fall scent in the air and the grasses in the wetlands were illuminating a glowing shade of gold. This far north fall comes early sometimes in August. When the fireweed goes to seed you know winter is just around the next corner. I was very blessed with sunny skies this whole trip. The day trip over to Seldovia was gorgeous and I couldn't of asked for more. If you want to experience a traditional Alaskan Fishing village Seldovia is definitely worth the trip. Still maintaining a traditional small village feel and friendly locals to boot. Upon returning back over to Homer we docked in the slip in the Homer Harbor. The Harbor sits out on the spit and I began to wonder, here is this long strip of sand spanning around six miles. Small galleries and Tourist operators line up and down the spit. What is a huge wave was to come and literally wipe it all out. It seemed so vulnerable to me yet also quite fascinating. Homer is much bigger than Seward and a completely different feel. Much more spread out and the Mountains further back with Cook Inlet as it's Seaport. Even though Seward is much more scenic I liked Homer, it seemed pretty hip for a town that boots probably some of the best fishing in the world. Well as my 2Nd day was coming to a closure I watched a beautiful sunset beginning and casting a spell of gold and orange of the wetlands. Sandpipers and other birds were busily feeding in the small ponds and I just felt a sense of deep appreciation for the relaxed beauty and raw nature that is something so near and dear to my heart and soul. Stay tuned for more in part 3.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rollover Beartoven, adventures in Katmai National Park and beyond

I am not one of those who is usually at a loss for words, however this week I got to experience something that truly put me at a loss for words. I took a couple of extra days off from work to travel to the more western side of the Kenai Peninsula visiting Homer and Seldovia. I was extremely lucky to be able to get to go on something that everyone who travels to Alaska should experience, a flight adventure over to Katmai National Park to see the Great Alaskan Brown Bears. In other places they are known as Grizzly Bears or even Kodiak Bears and here in these part they are simply called Alaskan Brown Bears. Katmai has one of the highest concentrations of Brown Bears in the state, and during the last couple of months of summer they are busy fishing for the salmon running in the rivers. I was ever so grateful for securing a nice discount on this adventure as these trips can be quite costly. After the day was over I understood why. The amazing skill of the pilot landing on a long narrow Beach in a remote part of Katmai beside the Halo Glacier was a feat in itself. The outfitter known as Alaska Bear Adventures and K-Bay air fitted us with waders so we could cross the river safely and free of getting soaked for our adventure. Flying over the Alaskan Maritime Wildlife Refuge and over the Volcanoes they refer to as the Ring of Fire was amazing. The views breathtaking everywhere you looked from high mountains to braided rivers over Kodiak Island, Mt. Illiama, St.Augustine and Mt. Redoubt we made our way to the Northern Coast of Katmai National Park. I was overwhelmed by the beauty and as soon as we started to descend to the beach I could see the Bears and immediately overtaken with emotion. Wow it was unreal. We circled a few times as he manoeuvred the landing gear and then safely landed on the beach. We didn't have to walk too far to cross the river to where several Bears were fishing. Mike, the guide and Naturalist knows these Bears well as he has been doing this for a very long time. He understands their behavior and we were all very respectful as the 10 of us on the trip huddled close together on a log and sat and watched these bears only a few feet away fishing. I have had many fun adventures, yet this experience was in my heart and soul as one of the most incredible adventures I have ever had. I couldn't believe we were in this wildly primitive and beautiful place watching Bears in there natural habitat living their daily lives. What a gift and I feel truly blessed. All together we spent around 3.5 hours observing them, feeding, splashing, playing, resting, sleeping and a few bouts of aggression between alphas and young ones, yet this felt so real and so raw, why would anyone call Reality Shows today reality when they are not. Nature is reality and this was truly magical. I will long remember this experience. As the day began drawing to a close we observed an older cub that the crew call Stix whose Mom they call Melissa. Poor little Stix I guess had been messing around with a Porcupine and got a quill in his paw and was struggling to set himself free of that quill. Watching him limp and try to keep up with Mom on three legs was heart breaking to watch, yet this is nature. Mike the guide told us that the quill would work it's way out, so hopefully Stix will be free of that pain in his foot soon. We left the park and I was filled with joy and love for all this raw beauty. As we ascended over the snow capped glaciers and river valley's I felt such a sense of peace truly a magical day that captured my heart and spirit.

All Photos I took and are soley the property of Dawna Raven Sky 2010.

Stay tune for blog part 2 when I share my day in Seldovia, a Historic Alaskan Village untouched by modern things.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sacred Waters Of Kenai Fjords

A fair bit of time has past since my last post, mostly I have been busy working, then on my time off I go out on the boats and have not been pouring much energy into writing lately. As much as I enjoy it, sometimes I just prefer to be still and reflect.

My summer here in Seward is slowly coming to a close and I am taking full advantage of my time off and just enjoying the beautiful surroundings. The ocean here is teeming with so many wonderful things, and the diversity of life is incredible that I just want to jump in and embrace every moment of my time off. Yesterday could not of been a more amazing day out on the waters. The day began with two Sea Otters lazily floating around in the bay enjoying their feast of some tasty crustacean. I adore these guys and the fact they have bounced back from near extinction here in Alaska is remarkable. During the days of Russian Influence, the fur traders literally took thousands and nobody thought they would recover from this. Yet they have and that is something we need to be grateful for. As we headed out further into the bay and then into the chilly waters of the Gulf of Alaska we encountered a group of Dalls Porpoise, the smaller black and white cousins to our larger friends the Orca. Dalls are very social Porpoises and they often just love to ride the bows of boats. This group however was in feeding mode so we decided to leave them alone. Soon after that on the Northern side of Cheval Island one of the islands near the entrance to Aialik Bay we spotted a Mother Humpback Cow and her Calf. We stayed with them for quite awhile while they fed and stayed closed to the surface. The Echo from their blows was mesmerizing and I just enjoyed listening to them. After we left the Humpbacks and continued our journey towards Granite Pass and Harris Bay, we spotted a pod of Orcas on the outside of Cheval Island. Mostly they were porpoising which is a funny term considering they are the largest member of the Dolphin family and not a porpoise, yet that is the term that is used when they are only jumping out of the water a bit and traveling. I was excited when I spotted a newborn calf which still showed it's fetal fode and the orangie color of his/her blubber indicating it was a newborn. The calf actually was quite exuberant and did a breach for us leaping out of the water. I quietly observed and opted out of any attempted photographing. They are just to difficult to photograph anyway. We stayed with the Orcas for quite some time,yet we still had to make into Harris Bay to get to the Northwest Glacier before lunch which we did successfully. When we arrived at the glacier we encountered more ice than I have seen all summer so obviously the glacier had been quite active during the night yet it still put on a show for us and did some big time calving. After our stay we continued on into Cataract Cove which is a popular spot teeming with several waterfalls and an abundance of Lion's Head jellyfish in the water. The waterfalls are so refreshing to stay with for awhile and just stare at the beauty which we did. All in all the day was truly spectacular so far and continued to be that way throughout the afternoon.

After lunch and our time with the glacier we headed west and into the Chiswell Islands. These islands are not part of the Kenai Fjords National Park, yet are part of the Alaskan Maritime Wildlife Refuge. A heaven for many pelagic seabirds and also the location of a Steller Sea Lion rookery. Today the air at Big Hive Island was extremely active with Puffins everywhere. I have never seen so many flying and looking like little bees in the sky with their stubby wings, hence the name Hive Island. Today we were able to spot also some of the Kittiwakes Chicks and a few Horned Puffins in their little cliff burrows who more shy than their tufted puffin cousins. I feel pretty blessed to be able to go out on our boats regularly to be able to see this. After spending some quality time with our winged friends, we continued our journey towards home via the Gulf of Alaska. We were lucky for a relatively calm day on the seas so it made it easy for viewing today. Not too long after we left the Chiswells I noticed some very tall spouts coming out in the distance. Could it be for the second lucky week in a row the Second Largest animal on the planet, the Fin Whale. The Captain headed in their direction, yet Fin whales are definitely a challenge to watch, it is more like Whale Waiting and you need patience. Fin Whale down time can be up to 45 minutes so we didn't hold our breath (no pun intended) for a closer viewing. However, we got lucky and soon after that we noticed a Mother and Calf right next to us. Wow so incredibly huge it was a very special sighting for all and I am happy everyone got to see that. The day just couldn't of been better. I have had two weeks in a row with some amazing time out there and feel very lucky. Anyway, I will do my best to be more up to date with postings, only a month and half more to go and I will let you know what is next when it gets closer. Stayed tune for more to come form South Central Alaska.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Lady Ice, a revisit to the Northwest Fjord

By now I am sure everyone knows one of my favorite things to do on my time off is go out on one of our Wildlife Cruise trips. Last week I revisited my favorite place in the Kenai Fjords, The Northwest Glacier. The trip takes you 150 miles round trip from Seward out Resurrection Bay into the gulf of Alaska, around the Cape Aialik to granite Pass and Harris Bay. This area is one of amazing beauty, carved out by glaciers millions of years ago you feel yourself stepping onto another planet at times. All of the glaciers in Kenai Fjords descend down from the Harding Icefield, one of the largest icefields in the world, since I do not yet have a photo of the icefield I will have to find one that really shows the vast somewhat endless and immense stretch of ice anywhere.

Once again, captain Bob was at the helm and I really enjoy his trips. His narration is easy to understand and he is really passionate about what he does. We were also very lucky to encounter an incredibly calm day on the water, I barely even realized we had gone around the cape, which has a conversion and the water can go off in many different directions. Today however it was like glass. One of the sweet features of this area is that there are multiple tidewater glaciers in the fjord. Unlike the other trips which go to one glacier, usually the Aialik, the largest one in the park. Here you have several, and also hanging glaciers which appear to cling to dear life over the tops of the cliffs. At the entrance to the Northwest Glacier, Harbor Seals spend their summer here hauled out with their pups on icebergs. Here they are free from danger and predators do not come up this channel due to lack of other food source. So, they are very shy of boats and usually dive into the water if they sense you are too close. I still managed to capture a couple of photos that were decent. We spent time observing the glacier calve a bit, then we headed out to do some more exploring. We pulled up into Cataract Cove which has an amazing amount of waterfalls that cascade down the cliffs like something out of a fairy tale novel. Bob did a Pierette or 360 so everyone had their video settings on their cameras so we could get a panorama, he also did this at the glacier. It was very magical the whole experience.

By now the sun was really beginning to reveal itself and the day was gorgeous. We still had a few hours to go, so with the calm seas we headed out to the Chiswell Islands which are part of the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge. Here Pelagic Birds number over the thousands, and my little black and white friends, the puffins were everywhere.
After our tour around the Islands, we went a bit further out and to our amazement we spotted a group of several Fin Whales spread out on the east side of the islands. My first time seeing these amazing giants, the second largest mammal on this earth. Wow what an experience. They are not fond of boats and are much shyer than Humpbacks, so mostly you see them spouting, however as we spent several minutes in the area hoping for a closer look they seemed to be spreading out more. Also, they move very quickly and be gone quicker than the eye can spot them. We were about to give up, when suddenly one popped up pretty close to the boat, that was a thrill and I captured a pretty good photo. Anyway, the day really did turn out amazing and now with our weather turning to drippy droppy everyday, I feel pretty lucky that we had such awesome weather. So another amazing day on the chilly waters of Kenai fjords is memorable. Photo of harding icefield borrowed from stock photo online.. all other photos are mine...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Orcas Alaska Style

Golden sunny skies woke me this morning and even though my eyes were still clouded in sleep dust, I bounced out of bed so I could go and standby and hopefully get on our Captain's Choice tour this morning. The Captain's Choice is our posh tour. The boat caps out at 16 pax unlike our single haul and cat's which cap @ 138. The trip is tailored for those with a strong interest in photography and bird watching, up close and personal. The bigger boats get crowded and when there is a sighting everyone excitedly crowds everyone else in hopes of that perfect shot. Anyway, I was very excited when I got on and I knew it was going to be a fabulous and magnificent day on the high waters of South Central Alaska. Captain Dan O who is also our Orca Id guy met everyone and took us down the M/V Misty where would spend the day gallivanting around chasing tails and feathers around Kenai fjords. It didn't hurt that the day was golden sunny and it appeared that the seas were calm, at least for now. Once we untied we were on our merry way in hopes of spotting those black and white friends of mine that call this their home. Actually today was literally a black and white day when I think about it. Not long after we began our venture out, another boat had spotted a Humpback. Lately the humpbacks have been further out, not so much in Resurrection Bay. This Humpback wasn't very active and we didn't get the opportunity to view it's fluke. Humpbacks can be Id's by their fluke and all the Humpbacks here in Alaska have been identified. Most of the resident Orcas as well have been id'd, yet there are more here than in the San Juan Islands, so recognizing them can be a challenging task.

Not long after that we got a report from another boat that there was a pod of Orcas. Lo and behold it was the AK6's one of the more commony sighted pods in the area. This family has gone through a lot of changes apparently, however due to the excellent ID knowledge of Captain Dan O we knew exactly whom we were viewing. There was the big Male Eldorado, and his Mom Cheval... also followed by another male whose Dorsal fin is seen in my photo here named Hive.... funny he doesn't exactly look like a bee... they traveled with us for quite awhile and there was a lot of fun activity as you can view in my short video I took. Also, Dan put the hydrophone into the water so we could listen to them. It really was joyful and brought tears to my eyes. This was a great start to an absolutely amazing day ahead. As we headed out of Rez Bay as I call and about to get closer to the Aialik Cape we spotted another group. This time we were seeing the AD8's.. also pretty awesome. AD22 known as Skana was showing some signs of maybe a possible dance out of the water, yet we were pretty happy to just be with them.
Once we went around the cape we entered Aialik Bay en route to the largest tidewater glacier in the park, The Aialik glacier. Before getting closer to the glacier, another group was spotted, although Dan did not know these whales and since they were resting we kept our distance even more and continued to the glacier. Dan climbed on top of the boat to spot a good navigational route through the ice, I am sure a challenging venture, yet he did a fabulous job and we made our way within a quarter of a mile. Observing the glacier and a few thunders later we viewed some calving. This was also our lunch spot and to quietly observe the Mother Harbor Seals and pups hauled out on icebergs. The day could of not been better. We lucked out with great weather, lots of Orcas and two pods of Dalls Porpoise who rode our wake for quite awhile. A simply fantabulous adventure. I feel such gratitude to have all these opportunities to see this vision of beauty all around me.

The day continued it's course of outstanding weather, we had sunny skies the entire day, however we did run into some choppy water. Even though the sun was golden and nicely warm, the wind began to kick up so we had some chops.. Not to worry it only last 20 minutes or so, then you are back in a bay where it is protected. The Captain's Choice tour tends to attract people who are Bird Watchers and or Pro or almost Pro photographers. We had some French people on board who really wanted to see Pelagic Birds, and believe me there were more than enough Puffins for everyone. It was awesome as usual with all of them flying low or swimming gracefully in the water. After a full day, the tour is nine hours long, the boat was beginning to rock me to sleep, and I kept catching myself nodding off and almost falling off my seat. Thankfully this was on our way back in, and most of our sightings had been earlier in the day. All I can say is Awesome, Amazing, Incredible and stupendous.... can't really describe it.

Today was mellow, just hung out in town and then went to a Sales Workshop which I was paid overtime for. I am glad I did the trip yesterday since today seem to really be one of downtime. So stay tuned for further adventures and reports of my glorious adventures.

Don't forget to watch the video, I took this early in the day, and Captain Dan O had just dropped the hydrophone in the water to listen to the Orcas. Awesome and amazing it was.... brought tears to my wee eyes......

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Road to Wander, Trip to Denali and Talkeetna

Well lucky little me, another adventure under my wing's or belt whichever you may prefer. .. I was very fortunate to be able to secure a couple of extra days off and head up to Denali National Park and visit my old haunts from summer 04. From Seward I hopped on the Park Connection Bus which for our staff is free a great benefit for sure. The trip is long, almost 8 hours with an intermediate stop in Anchorage to change to a different coach. In Anchorage they gave us a free pass to the Anchorage Museum which has a great Native Alaskan Exhibit which I thoroughly enjoyed. We had about an hour and a half in Anchorage so I was also able to grab a bite to 3:00 we all hopped back on the bus and continued to Denali with one more stop in Talkeetna which is a true Alaskan town. The town was the inspiration for the former television show, Northern Exposure where we only had a brief stop to drop some people off and pick up a couple others.. not to worry I would be spending one night here on the way back. The ride up was beautiful, although it really didn't show promising signs of any sunshine until we were almost to Denali. The lodge in Talkeetna has probably the best view of Mt. McKinley from it's deck on a clear day and this wasn't one of those days. As we neared Denali the sky began to brake and some blue was peering through. We arrived in Denali around 8:30 and I had to wait until 9:30 for my shuttle to the Denali Morning Hostel where I was going to be staying for the next two nights. The row of gift shops and Restaurants on what is affectionately called "Glitter Gulch" looked pretty much the same that I remembered from my summer season of working in the park in 2004. Some new markets had popped up and the Princess Hotel added a new section, other than that it was still pretty much a made up town that draws thousands of tourists every year. I stopped in the market to pick up a few goodies for the next couple of days and then the Shuttle arrived around 9:30. The hostel is 13 miles south of the park on the Nenana River, 6 miles south of where I used to work at McKinley Village. It was rather charming, with a large Octagon that housed the community kitchen, bathrooms and some private rooms upstairs. I was going to be staying in one of their walled tents so I could have my own private space. I felt as though I was in the movie Mash, old army type cots which big old sleeping bags, which I was thankful for to keep me warm as the nights were quite chilly. The setting was beautiful right on the river and I imagined a Big Moose hanging out on the river at night which did not happen. Despite how tired I was, I was not able to sleep at all that night... I managed to squeak in two hours or so of shut eye. Even with the lack of sleep, I awoke early so I could get the Hostel's first shuttle out so I could go out into the park. I decided on a 8:00 am. shuttle to Eielson where the Visitor Center out there has been completely revamped. Eielson has an amazing view of Denali on a clear day, and we were extremely lucky as the sky cleared that morning and we had the mountain out early on. I was the first one to spot it and we had a good view on many stops. Great start for a fabulous day. Our first animal viewing were 3 Bears fairly high up on a hillside. Even though they were high we could still see them with our naked eye. What was really amazing is that someone thought they had spotted another bear a little further over, and it turned out to be a Wolf. I was very excited about that.... It was a solitary Wolf and a beautiful light Gray in color. ... too far away for any kind of decent photo, yet I was able to observe the Wolf well with my binoculars. Mind you we were around mile 30 at that point, so the morning held lots of promise. A little further up we spotted several Dall Sheep Ewes pretty high up on the mountain, I attempted a photo which came out blurry, yet you can still tell what they were. We also saw a Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska's State Bird, Four Golden Eagles, A Pika a member of the Rabbit family hanging out on a lower cliff side, a Red Fox, a young Bull Moose, and then the most exciting was when we were past Polychrome a few miles and noticed a Bear very close to the road...another shuttle had also stopped, and we both just stayed quiet and still. The Bear which turned out to be a Mama and a yearling cub walked literally next to our bus, it was pretty awesome seeing her beautiful coat and face so close. The Grizzlies in Denali are known as Toklat Grizzlies and are very light in color. They are really quite blond and some only way 300-400 pounds. Considerably smaller than their more southerly Brown Bear cousins who are twice the size. The size difference is due largely to the difference in diets. The Denali grizzlies feed on roots, shrubs, ground squirrels and early on young moose and caribou calves. Although Caribous are usually too fast for them to catch up with. Their cousins due south of them feed on Salmon so this is why they are so much larger in size. The day was pretty spectacular as we saw all the biggies of the larger animals who inhabit the park. We also saw some of the smaller ones who are equally important to the health of the ecosystem in Denali. I was pretty tired by the end of the day with no sleep, however I had made plans with a friend who is working in the park this summer to connect,so I had a late in the day latte which helped me stay awake a bit longer. In any case it was awesome and a very lucky day, considering I was only going to be getting out in the park that one day. That night after a hearty soup dinner I zonked out and slept the entire night.

The next morning I awoke again early as I was going to be catching the noon train to Talkeetna and wanted to visit the new visitor center that was completed in 06 after I left the park. It worked out well, since the visitor center is located next to the train station. The new Visitor Center is great. It is constructed out of all recycled materials inside and out which I thought was pretty amazing. The movie they showed was breathtaking and it really brought tears to my eyes because it was so beautifully crafted. After spending time in the visitor center I grabbed breakfast and spent time looking around the Alaska Geographic Bookstore which had all kinds of cool things Fun way to pass the morning.

My train ride to Talkeetna was also fun. I had ridden the Alaska Railroad when I worked in the park summer 2004, yet only the portion between Fairbanks and Denali. The ride between Talkeetna and Denali had some beautiful scenery following the Nenana River and the Talkeetna Mountains. We also went over Hurricane Gulch which was a huge gorge that was carved out by glaciers with a massive river flowing downwards. It was spectacular. No view of the mountain though as it wasn't quite clear enough. The ride to Talkeetna took four hours so this trip I had my share of buses and trains. Alot of time traveling, yet it was a great way to see things. We arrived in Talkeetna just before five... the shuttle to the Alaskan Talkeetna Lodge was waiting when I arrived. The native corporation that owns the company I work for, also owns this lodge so I received a substantial discount. The lodge is barely 10 years old and really gorgeous.. On a clear day they have the best view of Mt.McKinley. I checked in and got my things settled in my room and then went up to catch the next shuttle into the downtown. Talkeetna was the inspiration for the television show Northern Exposure which was one of my favorite Television shows so I was excited to check it out. The town only has a couple of hundred year round residents, yet in the summer it booms with all sorts of activity vendors, from flight seeing and glacier landings, to river rafting and jet boating. They are are all over the town, along with numerous Moose sculptures, and quaint shops. I ate at a famous grill which has the worlds largest Hamburger for the biggest state.. what a hoot. the thing was piled high, and I hope the people who are them..shared them.. I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the town as it was really quite cute. I enjoyed it. After my little sojourn around I went back to the lodge, watched some television as i do not have one and passed out... lots of activity in a couple of short days... yet very fun days...

This morning I awoke and caught the Park Connection back to Anchorage and then home to Seward. I am beat to say the least, yet it was an action packed and great experience once again.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Kenai Fjords Adventure

This past week I had the great opportunity to stay at our Wilderness Lodge on Fox Island in the middle of Resurrection Bay as well as cruise to the Northwestern Fjord which is the furthest fjord in the Kenai Fjords National Park that has multiple tidewater glaciers. How lucky can one get to have a job that allows them to stay at an 800.00 a night lodge on a remote Island, get fed some incredible food and relax in an unspoiled wilderness. No phones, no Internet and no electricity. Our lodge is solar powered which I think is great and you have a chef cook for the small number of guests that are staying. Wow what a treat and I have to rave about the food as it was outstanding. Being treated like royalty and pampered was most certainly a gift.

I spent most of the day relaxing and hiking along the very rocky beach that fronts the lodge. Most of the beaches here are rocky and of volcanic origin as there are no sandy beaches to speak of. It was most certainly a wonderful treat and I cannot stop gushing about it. The following morning our 9 am boat, The Alaskan Explorer arrived and a few of us that had stayed the night boarded the boat for our cruise to the Northwestern Fjord and glacier. We are the only wildlife cruise company that goes to this area and it is 150 miles round trip to get there. I feel so lucky as that day was truly remarkable, both the weather and the seas cooperated and we saw such abundance of wildlife that I could not stop smiling. The route of this trip follows Resurrection Bay south and continues out into the gulf due west towards the Chiswell islands before reaching the fjord and up to the Northwest Glacier. The Chiswell Islands are teeming with Birds right now, everything from Common Murres to literally thousands of Puffins. I was elated to see this many Puffins, as well as some rare Kittlitz's Murrelets and Red Faced Cormorants. What really got my heart gleaming with joy was when we encountered one of our resident Orca pods. When we spotted them, thanks to another boat that was already out there, they were in rest mode. When Orcas rest, they huddle together very closely and swim slowly. They are actually not sleeping, as they are not involuntary breathers as we are. Anyway at one point they began to porpoise and were more in a faster travel mode, most likely following one of the Salmon runs we have currently. I feel pretty fortunate as I was able to get a couple of good photographs as you will see. We have several family groups that reside the majority of the year in this area, and through some careful id'ying I was able to identify the large bull who was ahead in the group as AK-1 or Skana as he is named. The Orcas stayed with us for quite awhile, yet we had to keep heading west to make our destination. We also had several humpbacks, actually 20 total by the end of the day on our trip, including a mother and a calf. We got lucky to see the fluke a few times, although my camera was not quite fast enough for that photo, however I did get some dorsal shots. That was very exciting to see so many. After about three hours of cruising we arrived at our destination, the Northwest Glacier in the Northwestern Fjord. A breathtakingly beautiful spot, and also an area that is a Harbor Seal pupping ground. I was amazed to see so many hauled out on icebergs that was quite endearing. We stayed at the glacier for about a 1/2 hour and it did calve a few times. Hearing the thundering from within the glacier was quite intense. After our visit with the glacier we continued at a slow pace through the fjord where there are at least three more tidewater glaciers in the area. Also are some hanging glaciers which you begin to wonder if they will come crashing down at some point. In any case this area was truly of spectacular beauty and I was in awe. We stopped at one area that had amazing waterfalls cascading down into these turquoise pools of very icy and freezing water. Although they looked enticing I am sure you would freeze within a few minutes. At this point as you stared out into the gulf of alaska the sun was beginning to shine brightly and deep sea blue skies were looming across the horizon. Since the seas were pretty calm Captain Bog decided to take a different route back and we spent a fair bit of time out in the Gulf of Alaska, perhaps hoping for a possible Fin Whale or other sightings we hadn't yet seen that day. We did have a couple of groups of Dall's Porpoise who often loved to park take in riding the wake of the boat, however these guys were in fishing mode so they were not interested in us. We then headed back into the Chiswell Islands and the captain decided to quietly approach one of Haul outs where Steller Sea Lions have their pupping grounds. We turned off the engine and observed them for a bit, seeing a couple of new pups so that was pretty sweet. Steller Sea Lions are endangered and their numbers have dropped 80% here over the last several years. Alaska Sealife Center does research out here in these islands and looking at all the factors that are surrounding this decline. They are not sure as to what exactly has caused it. A number of reasons could be involved, toxins, predation possibly by Transient Killer Whales, although they are not common in this area, so they do not really know. In any case it was pretty special to see the pups, and hopefully there numbers will continue to climb.

As our day began to come to a closure and we were coming around Cape Resurrection back in to the bay, we spotted Orcas again. Probably our friends from early, yet this time they were Porpoising more and there were more in the family group. Resident Orcas live in much larger family groups than transients and stay together with their pods all their lives. When several families come together usually later in August they call this superpod and months later new little calves pop into the picture. So I am excited to get out then and hopefully see superpod. They were with us for quite awhile, yet we had to continue our way towards home. once we got back into the bay, and were near one of the many coves, the captain spotted down very close to the water's edge a Mountain Goat Nanny and her kid, actually there were two Nannie's and two kids. We watched them for awhile and one of the little kids was struggling getting back up to it's mom that was up a notch on the hill, yet finally after a few attempts it made it... so so cute. Anyway, I have to say that this day far exceeded any of my expectations. So amazing were the thousands of Puffins, Murres and other birds that call this their home, and we must remember that we as stewards are in their home. We are visitors and respect and gratitude for being able to view such beauty is a gift from Mother Earth, that allows us to be so close to the amazing wildlife that this planet has. I feel blessed and lucky to be able to share this with each and everyone of you.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Surprise, Surprise (Glacier that is)

Life is a Surprise and I was prompted to titled this post Surprise, since on Tuesday a number of us from work visited the Surprise Glacier in Prince William Sound. Mind you this was a training trip for work, to be able to call a Cruise on the Majestic Prince William Sound work is probably baffling to most. Departing Seward in the Early morning in route to Whittier just a hop, skip and a jump from Anchorage. Here you go through a 2.5 mile tunnel that opens and closes every fifteen minutes, and historically has even had cave In's. A bit mind boggling to even fathom going through such a thing. In some ways it reminded me of a hike I did when I worked in Glacier National Park called the Ptarmigan Tunnel. Entering on one side a very specific type of environment and literally coming through and seeing the light of a different world. Our driver was very nervous, as he kept telling us that our allot ed time for getting there was too short and we probably would not make the 10:30 tunnel opening.,, I had no time for such pessimism and kept visualizing us gliding through the tunnel and cruising through the sound. Lo and behold we made it as I had seen.. and the day was amazing. Though the sound has less Wildlife than where I am in Kenai Fjords, the scenery was much more dramatic. Cruising through here is so placid, and the water is like a jewel that glistens in the dim light. The entire way you cruise through small passages and are surrounded by dense Rainforest's of Hemlock and Sitka Spruce. Along the way we passed a few Sea Otter Rafts where the cuddly little critters were hurdled together in groups of 4 or more on icebergs floating in the sound. Here in Prince William Sound the Sea Otter's are much more skittish and as soon as they hear the boat they dive down. We tried to be quiet when we neared them, and we did have a couple of good sightings. We also got very lucky through one of the passages and spotted a Humpback Whale very close to the shoreline who graced us with visions of her fluke and made a few appearances.

The Wilderness Explorer as the journey is named is definitely a pristine wilderness. We reached our destination of Surprise Glacier after about 4 hours of cruising. Several Tidewater glaciers are in this area with Surprise being the largest. We stayed there for awhile waiting for the glacier to calve, listening to the eminent sounds of thunder coming from it's core. The day was a memorable one and I still find it hard to believe I was paid to go on this trip. I feel pretty grateful for this job and the perks I have.

After the day was over, in a last minute decision I decided to go to Anchorage for the night and have a taste of big city for a bit. The ride to Anchorage from Whittier follows the Turnagin Arm which extends out from Cook Inlet. It was a time of day and the light was reflecting through the clouds and it was a beautiful ride into the city. Turnagin Arm has two low tides a day, and it was a low tide when we passed by. I had been hoping for a high tide since this is when the Beluga head out from Cook Inlet down the arm to follow the traveling herring. I love them and had really hoped to catch a glimpse, hopefully someday I will.

After spending the night in Anchorage, going out for a meal and running errands the following morning, I took an afternoon shuttle back down to Seward. This was the first time ever that I had been on this road when the sun was shining and there was blue skies. Mostly it has been great, so I felt pretty lucky to see it in a totally different light. The scenery once again was magical and I kept snapping away on my camera. The tide was still a bit low and was slowly starting it's journey back out. The driver even mentioned the possibility of seeing Belugas which would of been awesome. It would of been perfect as the sea was so jewel like and calm and it would of been easy to spot them. Just to let you know the Cook Inlet sub species of Belugas are on the endangered list after a long battle with federal bureaucracy they won their rightful spot on the list. Their population has dwindled dramatically since the 70's even when sustenance hunting was halted. Once numbering in the thousands, they are down to barely 300. Their waters need to be cleaned up some of the officials are still fighting the battle of wanting to drill in the inlet... thankfully this has not yet happened.

So this was another beautiful weekend for me. Gorgeous scenery and the blessings of being in a magical place.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Glacier's and the Wild and Free

My intention was to really keep my blog up to date, however work has kept me more occupied mentally and physically so my intentions have fallen a bit to the wayside. In any case better late than never.

It is hard to believe I have been here over a month, going on two. The time is flying by, and I want to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way. No wasting time here.

Of course the real reason I am here is to enjoy the breathtaking beauty, the abundant wildlife and all the adventures that are available to me. Working for this company definitely comes with perks and believe me I am grateful. I have now gone out on five boat trips. As the season progresses we are increasing our trips, so this past Thursday on one of my days off, I took our six hour Kenai National Park Tour. We begin the day by cruising through Resurrection Bay, a Long and protected Fjord that on one side is surrounded by the Kenai Mountains to the west and the Chugach mountains to the East. We past Islands and coves that teeming with Wildlife everything from Mountain Goats to Black Bears. The Bird Rookeries where Common Murres and the sounds of Kittiwakes awaken your inner freedom. The puffins are beginning to build their summer nests in the rocks, and the Steller Sea Lions are lazily hauled out on rocky cliffs. Playful Sea otters floating in the water, and off on a high bluff a mature Adult Bald Eagle is eagerly awaiting a free meal. I love this place and of course I am anxiously awaiting to see my special friends "The Orcas".. I have now been out five times and haven't seen them, and on all the other days they have been out. What is up with that? must be my timing and my days off... in any case I trust that soon I will reunite with one of the pods that frequent these waters from the middle of May til Mid June. Humpbacks have been around big time, and on this trip we ran into Humpback Hannah as one of our captains refers to her. We see her after a rocky crossing of the rather turbulent Cape Ailiak where there is a conversion and when the seas are high.. it can be quite rough. As we head into the the Holgate Arm up to view the Tidewater Glacier called the Holgate we notice some major fluke activity.. Soon she switches sides and we also notice another whale. Wow! this was amazing right in the middle of the icy Holgate arm and I was lucky to capture a good photo of her. That made for some excitement and it was also the first day we were really able to get close into the Glacier. We waited patiently for some thunder and the glacier to begin to calve... a few minutes later big chunks of ice broke off into the already chilly sea... and one of the deckhands with a net scooped up a big chunk of glacier ice for people to photograph with and have a touchy feel. Pretty awesome. The weather was amazing that day... very little wind and sapphire blue skies which made for a memorable day.

We continued back stopping in a cove to observe some little black dots on the mountainside, Black Bears..... who took off when they saw we were watching. We also saw a Nanny Goat with a new kid.. hiding in the Hemlock and spruce which was wonderful. We also saw Red Faced Cormorants... a pretty rare sight..and even an Oystercatcher flying. I feel very lucky that on my days off I have the benefit of being able to hop on a boat to be part of such a magical backdrop.

So as the time continues I am excited to be able to take in lots of beauty and wonderful new sights and hopefully soon a hike or two.....I will do my best to keep everyone filled in on all the excitement.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wings over Alaska

Welcome to my first blog post from Alaska. Having arrived in Seward just over a week ago and starting to get settled in at home and at work. Now my Blog Title, Raven Spirit talk is even more suitable for my writings. Their shiny black wings are ever present in and around town. From the local garbage dump to atop the light poles, my Sisters and brothers are here with me. Eagerly speaking their awesome Raven Talk. From loud kwonks to small sounds as though they just swallowed a gallon of sea salt. I adore them and I intend to write about them quite a bit.

My first week as been extremely gratifying, outside the slight cold I have, seeing wildlife daily and looking out at the tall snowy peaks has brought a smile across my face. I felt at home from the start when my shiny winged Sistah's were everywhere... notice I call them Sistah's as though they are all female... sometimes they just seem that way... busily chattering as though they are all gossiping about someone. In addition their larger winged Relatives of the predator variety are frequently in the area as well. Yes, My Sister Eagle is here too. I have seen them daily and I never tire of their beautiful white heads. Well, with the exception of the youngsters who have been around quite a bit lately.... They are still dark headed and their awkward movements and clumsy takeoffs are still a joy to observe. Bless all the winged spirits around me, they bring me so much inner freedom and joy.

One of the great benefits of my job is to be able to go out on the boat trips. Right now we are running spring Gray Whale Watch tours, and last Friday and Saturday I went out on them. Both days were great, although the snow fell the entire trip on Friday. We also got to experience a lot of motion on the ocean, yet the captain certainly had a knack for steering us in a positive direction and for the most part staying out of the high waves... We had many sightings including Mountain Goat all along the mountains cliffs that drop down to the ocean... that was exciting! I love them, and it is getting close to Kidding season, so soon there will be cute little Kid Goats hanging out with their Nanny Mom's. We also had Dall Porpoise groups both days, and they are so much fun. They are very social little Cetaceans, and adore bow riding the boat. Often referred to as Speed Demons... too fast to get any sort of photo.... as we got closer to the Gulf of Alaska, which if you steer a straight course, you will eventually end up in Antarctica.... we stopped at a cove to observe La Familia Stellar Sea Lion... snoozing away on their haul outs.... thousands of Seabirds, which included Black Legged Kittiwakes who are Gull like birds... Pigeon Guillemots, Thick Billed Murres who are probably the closet bird to a Penguin that we have...plenty of gulls, mostly Glaucous winged and of course resident Bald Eagles. Two great trips in a row, and believe me I am excited for more.

Well I think that is pretty good for my first entry. I am going to attempt to keep this blog up... keep your fingers crossed and look forward to more.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spring Forward

It has been way too long since I last blogged. Over the course of the last few months I have spent quality time with my Winter family, aka Beau, Max, Millie and Sox and enjoying quiet reflection. Funny thing is I was keeping their blogs going yet ignoring my own. Anyway, we have had a very mild winter this year. Many sunny days which I am eternally grateful for and not too much rain or snow, except for the last few days. Beau and I have enjoyed many walks to the Beach and fabulous views to say the least.. unbelievable sunrises and sunsets and plenty of winged activity to observe. Lately the Bald Eagles have been really busy. with Nest activity which is close to the house, and hunting trips down to the shore where I am afraid their favorite meals have been gulls and ducks. I have really enjoyed watching them and capturing them on film. The flowers began blooming in early February which I am sure is a record breaker. There are Procus and Daffodil everywhere, and now I have been seeing some Hyacinth and various tree blossoms coming alive. The deciduous trees are coming out of their long slumber and beginning to burst new life as well. I have also taken in a couple of extra Doggie Friend clients this winter which was an added delight. Hershey, a Red Aussie came for a couple of weeks, and he and Beau became instant hiking buddies.. it was Great for Beau to have a younger friend with so much vitality to walk with... I am sure it sparked the youthful puppy hood in him again. Then we also had Mollie, a 13 year old Black Lab who I thought would bond with Max being he is a yellow lab, yet once again, she and Mr. Beau jangles became passionate buddies. It was so cute seeing them walk side by side together. Mollie has what is probably Canine Epilepsy, yet her medication seem to support it... however, she did have a cluster of seizures a few days prior to her going home. I just would massage her after administering some Aconite and Rescue Remedy... it was pretty intense and Millie the Kitty was scared at first. Anyway, it was a joy taking in some new friends and it also helped my pocketbook as well.

My other big news is that I leave on April 9th for Seward, Alaska to work for Kenai Fjords Wildlife Tours for six months. I am thrilled to return to Alaska where I lived from early 04-late 05... I can contribute my many years in the tourism industry as well as My Marine Naturalist work. I also hope to Volunteer at Sealife Center while I am there. I had the interview already and since I really want to be in an Educational Interpretive position, which they do not have right now, so I hope one comes open. I will be working the evening shift, so I will also contract the Animal Shelter to see how I can support them... after all 25 years of animal care, Wildlife Rehabilitation I want to maintain my work in that field. So it should be a busy and fulfilling summer. Now that I have my new computer I hope to blog on a regular basis as opposed to every couple of months so I will try to keep the photos coming and news.. however for now this will be all I hope everyone is well and had a reasonably mild winter. Peace and Joy to all.