Seward and Kenai Fjords, Alaska Part 2
The second part of my time at Seward and the Kenai Fjords was an opportunity to go out and try to see some of the spectacular wildlife and scenery Alaska has to offer.
A morning sea kayaking was the first opportunity to get a up close and personal with the coastline and hopefully some sea life. Setting off from Lowell Point after the safety talk from the Kayak Adventure Worldwide tour guide we were pushed off into Resurrection Bay and paddled out past the breakers to wait for the the rest of the group. Sitting out in the bay with the tree lined shore and distant glaciers it was a very peaceful and beautiful scene. Paddling close to the shore we searched for any bird life and mammals that could be hunting in the shallower areas. After 1.5hrs of paddling we headed into a beach area to have something to eat and search the river mouth for Salmon and possibly bears!
Walking along the beach and climbing over the silvery coloured driftwood, looking into the forest that stretched up the steep bay shore, it really felt that I was staring into the edge of true wilderness. Rounding the edge of the river exit i was hoping to see a bear fishing for Salmon, but it was not to be. There were some Pink Salmon getting ready to head further upstream to their spawning grounds.
On the way back to the kayaks I noticed a large bird in one of the leaning trees. It was a juvenile Bald eagle. Speaking to the tour guide he said that the juvenile birds sit along the shallow shoreline and river entrances awaiting easy prey from the Salmon heading to spawn from the sea.
The trip back towards Lowell Point was more challenging due to the change in wind direction and I definitely felt it in my shoulders when we got back to the beach. Back on dry land and after some food in an old school american bar we headed for Exit Glacier to get closer to one of these giant slow moving frozen destructive forces. The braided river that ran out of the glacier covered a vast area and was washing large amounts of sediment down stream into Resurrection Bay.
An early start the next morning and back down to the harbour to head out whale watching. Parking the RV we met the captain and crew mate at a local cafe and walked down the jetty to our small boat. With the safety talk and everyone in their positions for the day long trip we set off in hope of whales but mainly i wanted to get close to a Sea Otter.
Powering out into Resurrection Bay it wasn't long before Bald Eagles were spotted in the trees along the coast. Their white heads standing out against the green background. The array of sea birds was quite staggering, flying from the cliffs and diving into the deep blue water to catch whatever fish were near the surface.
Having never seen a Puffin before it was fantastic to see two different species flying low across the waters surface with their brightly coloured beaks showing against this dark background. The Horned Puffin is very similar to the ones found in the UK but the Tufted Puffin is mainly black with a white face and two tufts of yellow on the side of its head. These were a real challenge to photograph due to their speed and small size.
Part of the trip was to head to a Glacier at the end of Holgate Arm. As we were heading up Aialik Bay the skipper called back to say Orcas had been spotted in the area. Everyone on board sprung to life and started actively looking for the tell tale black dorsal fin. Off to starboard the crew mate Clay called out that he had seen one breaking the surface. There it was, a loan tall fin surfacing and diving every 20m. This was the tallest fin i had seen and we were informed that it was a lone male but to look out for the rest of the pod in the area. It wasn't long until three more Orcas were seen heading towards our position. With the boat in idle we waited to see how close the three Orcas would get to us. We were not disappointed as their course came from the port side and they dived under the boat and appeared 6 feet off the bow. Now that was close!
Onward we travelled further along Aialik Bay and into Holgate Arm. The wind picked up as we got closer to the glacier and the temperature dropped considerably. What a sight it was with the vibrant blue compressed, air bubble free ice changing in colour as the sun struck it. As we looked at the glacier the captain pointed out some dark shapes at the base of it and as I photographed them I could see they were Seals. Wow! This gave the glacier some real perspective. There were chunks of ice floating around us and more was created as pieces of ice calved off the glacier.
Soon it was time to start the long trip back to Seward. Moving away from the glacier the boat slowed and Clay grabbed a net and hooked out some large pieces of the floating ice, which were used in the coolers to keep the drinks cold. I couldn't resist grabbing a small piece of this crystal clear ice and licking it to see what ancient water tasted like. It was a very distinctive taste and amazing to think how long ago this water fell as snow.
After chatting to the captain about Sea Otters he said he knew of some quieter bays that he has seen them in on a regular basis. This filled me with hope in seeing one of these stunning mammals. Passing small islands sticking out of the ocean there were both Seals and Sea lions basking out on the lower rocks and again a wide variety of sea birds.
Heading into the bay was a real change from the windy open ocean with the water being relatively still. Glancing across the surface there was a small group of Horned Puffins which we managed to get close to and see these unusual birds up close. Looking up at the forest all around the bay a Bald Eagle sat towards the top of a tree contrasting well against the deep blue sky and vibrant green Spruce trees.
I looked along the edge of the bay and could see something bobbing on the waves. After a couple of shots I looked at the back of the camera and could see it was a large Sea otter. The captain stopped the boat and we drifted on the tide closer to the sleeping Otter. Awaking to look at what we were and to see if we were a threat the large male Otter lay back and continued to float close to the shore.
After that experience I was happy enough to be getting back to the harbour. Coming in with the rest of the tourist boats it felt like we were back to civilisation when sat up on a guidance light was another Bald Eagle. Thinking that would be our last wildlife sighting of the day I couldn't have been more wrong. Close to one of the other jetty's was a Sea Otter. I couldn't disembark to boat quick enough but to no avail as the otter was soon gone. Damn!
Before heading back to our RV there was time to look at some of the catches that fishing boats had bought back after their day out in Resurrection Bay. There were some large Halibut and other species of fish amongst people catches. All of these fish were weighed and then gutted and for the paying customers to take back with them.
Climbing into the RV I thought we may as well have a quick drive around the harbour to see if there was an Otter still within the area. Parking up at the last spot I wandered to the edge of the sea wall and saw quite a few men with rods casting into the still harbour water. They were casting into the clear water and aiming to hook the Salmon swimming close to the surface. I saw them catch a couple of these large King Salmon and as I watched one being reeled in I noticed something large floating between two jetty's.
I quickly walked down the slipway and onto the jetty. Five metres away from me was a Sea Otter that was busy preening itself. I couldn't believe how close I was to this stunning creature. In the late evening sun it looked amazing.
The drive back up to Portage I couldn't stop smiling thinking about such a fantastic day full of close encounters. And they didn't stop as once we had connected the RV and had some dinner a Moose calf wandered into the RV park. Definitely a memorable day.