Sitka (with Otters, Eagles, and Puffins)

After seeing so many Harbor Seals sunning on ice floes (go figure), we were excited to go on a smaller excursion. We ventured into the quaint town of Sitka, situated at the edge of the Sitka Sound with pretty dramatic terrain.

The local fishing is going well. Here is an early morning crew with nets strained by the size of their catch. It turns out that the TV series “Deadliest Catch” has many episodes that film out of Sitka.

We boarded an Allen Marine chartered catamaran out of Sitka. It was a very cool boat driven by four diesels that drive four jet thrusters. These are the same catamarans that rescued the passengers on the plane that Sculley landed on the Hudson River. The locals are deservedly proud of their local success story. Very cool boats. Unbelievably maneuverable. They enabled us to get very close to these playful Otters.

These three look like they are saying prayers to keep us from getting to close.

As we ventured south, we entered Redoubt Bay. They’ve had a good enough summer that they are opening the entrance to Redoubt Lake for Salmon fishing.

This seems like an unusual way to catch Salmon heading up stream but they were there quite a while.

We were also fortunate to spot a couple of Puffins (Mary was quite pleased).

We saw a number of Bald Eagles (I was pleased).

This one was fishing (not a big catch put he does have a fish in his talons).

And enjoy the scenery.

To end the evening, we entered Silver Bay and spotted the fluke of a Humpback Whale. Quite cool.

Hubbard Glacier (part 2) – The Seals

This is the second post from Hubbard Glacier. The weather was amazing. Partly to mostly cloudy but the air was clear and no rain. As we neared the glacier and again as we retreated I had a chance to get up close and personal with a lot of Harbor Seals that were sunning themselves on the ice floes that calved off of Hubbard. It was quite an experience. Here are a few examples.

Well – it is time for me to go. More tomorrow.

Hubbard Glacier

On Thursday we visited Hubbard Glacier. It is the longest tidewater Glacier in Alaska with a face that is 6 miles wide. Here is a shot as we pulled into Yakutat Bay. It was very impressive even from a distance. Fortunately, the weather was very nice and calm, allowing us to get closer.

At this distance it looks more like an ice wall since you can’t see the top. At this distance you can hear the glacier. It is almost like a low level rolling thunder as the ice groans and creaks readying for the next calving when a large chunk breaks off.

Up close the blues are amazing. Almost reminiscent of the waters of the Caribbean (but a lot colder).

The bay was littered with mini icebergs created by the calving process. None big enough to get in the way of the ship but I imagine a kayak trip would be an adventure. The flows also provided a haven for seals.

Alaska – Anchorage to Seward

We made it to Alaska. Not that it was really in doubt, but we are here nonetheless. I have now been to all fifty states. It took more than 50 years but I am pleased.

We arrived Tuesday night in Anchorage. It was about 6:30 by the time we got to the hotel (a 5+ hour flight and three time zones from MSP). It was a nice flight, with bulkhead exit row seats. Alas, no upgrades. It was the first flight I have been on in some time where twelve out of fourteen in first class paid for first class tickets. All rookies mind you, since the attendant told us that many asked how much the drinks were.

We freshened up and decided to take the advice of a nice flight attendant who suggested a local watering hole called Humpy’s. Being in seafood country we decided to have Halibut Tacos and Fish and Chips (also Halibut). They were both quite tasty. I think that others must agree since it was packed (and on a Tuesday night no less).

Wednesday morning we took a nice walk around town before heading to the airport/train station.

We boarded the Grandview train for our ride to Seward. It is 112 miles but took four and a half hours winding through the beautiful Grandview Valley.

The train also had several dome cars. These allowed us great views of the magnificent countryside.

The best action however was hanging out the window of the area between cars (no reflections off the glass, etc.).

The train frequently paralleled the highway but often ventured into the wild.

Finally about 5:30 we arrived in Seward to board our ship. More on that in the next post.

Santa Barbara

Mary and I took a long weekend to Santa Barbara in early May. I had miles and a free ticket (I fly too much) so we decided to check out another area.

We landed in LA, stayed one night in Santa Monica and then drove up PCH 1. Beautiful drive. We stopped once or twice to look at the breakers, and even though it was overcast I had to snap a couple of shots.

We stayed at a friends place and he had this huge fig tree in the front yard. It really got my attention and I had to try to capture it. I liked this one the best.

On Sunday afternoon (after visiting a neat Covenant Church in Montecito) we headed to Wine Country. This was near Los Olivos. Beautiful countryside, rolling hills and fun little towns. We really loved it. The Church service was great too!

We also visited a couple of Vineyards. Firestone and Andrew Murray to name two. We bought red at both. Yummy. This truck was at Andrew Murray.

Santa Barbara is on our short list of places to return to, and could make the finals!

Owlets fledge!

On May 15th the last of the owlets decided it was time to fly the coop. I first noted the Mama in the nest on April 9th. It is amazing how quickly they grew. Here are the last couple of shots as he hops on branches near the nest and finally takes off.

Well step one, I am out of the nest.

I hopped over here, now what.

This reminds me of a cat licking its paw.

Off we go!

I saw both of the juvies last week down near the lake. I think that they were dividing their latest hunt.

Lake Elmo Owls

Ok, I’ll admit it, I am way behind. A month ago I posted the last update and showed our local owl family with the two fledglings.

Here is an update.

It has been a rainy spring. The last shot with the gaping craw was on 4/17. This is only two weeks later. They grow fast!

One reason they grow fast is that they eat a lot. This is the final remains of a local crow that was pestering them. One way to quiet the neighborhood.

Now the first week of May has arrived and things are heating up. Here the pre-licensed pilot is testing the left…

and right flaps. getting ready to leave.

Now on the fifteenth, he got brave and ventured about ten feet from the nest. As I watched he was still very tentative.

Finally – he is good to go. The nest is a memory. He is now emancipated. Truthfully, he is only about 50 yards away. However, we have not seen him return to the nest. he is now hunting on his own.

Great Horned Owls

About a month or two ago I started hearing a deep throated “hoot hoot” in the early morning hours. After a couple of days, there was an echo.

I should have realized that this was the mating game.

A couple of weeks ago Mama found an old squirrels nest and decided to make it home.

She looked cozy and vigilant at the same time.

And then…two owlets emerged. This is about ten days or so after hatching.

I know they be flying eventually, but from the looks of the feathers on this wing, it won’t be tomorrow. I hope to get some more shorts as they develop.

They have quite the appetite. The parents spend a considerable part of the day, away from the nest hunting. I am quite pleased that they chose to nest here. Not only are they fund to watch, I have fewer chipmunks and mice to worry about.

Lake Elmo Hooded Mergansers

It warmed up this week, finally! The ice went out on a couple of nearby ponds and the migrators came out of the woodwork. These were among the first waterfowl I saw.

These Hooded Mergansers were amazing to watch. They clung close together, spent most of their time diving and looking for food.

It is great to see our feathered friends dropping back in for a visit.

The season is afoot. I am going to enjoy it. We have a Great Horned Owl nesting in the backyard. I hope to get some good shots to share.

J.N. “Ding” Darling – finale

About halfway into the refuge, there was a crowd watching a crowd. There must have been a hundred White Pelicans. I have seen them in my neighborhood during their migration but only ten or twenty at a time. I have also never witnessed them feeding this way. Normally I see them dive bombing the fish as they fly across the water. These ones just seemed to be fishing with a net. They would swim, twenty abreast, and in unison dip their heads under the water trawling with their throat pouch.

They stuck pretty close together but I finally got one on his own.

Near the end of my visit I saw these beautifully colored Roseate Spoonbills. The early morning light really accented their color.

They were more skittish than most of the other species but I did get a pretty good shot from afar.

All in all, a very nice place to visit. Next time I am back in the area, I might pass on the Venice Rookery and spend more time here.