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.