Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Gull Island - Kachemak Bay, Alaska

Homer, Alaska is on the southwest side of the Kenai Peninsula and has a 4.5 mile long spit, known as Homer Spit, a narrow gravel bar which extends out into Kachemak Bay. Gull Island is about 3 miles out into Kachemak Bay beyond the end of the Homer Spit and is about 633 feet long and 93 feet high. It is a rookery for about 8,000 to 10,000 black-legged kittiwakes, which build mud nests on ledges and in clefts, 5,000 to 8,000 common murres and smaller numbers of glaucous-winged gulls, pelagic cormorants, red-faced cormorants, puffins and pigeon guillemots.  
These screen shots from Google help to place Gull Island. This screenshot is the bottom end of the Kenai Peninsula and shows Homer, the Homer Spit and Kachemak Bay.  

Gull Island does not show up here, but it is just off the bottom arm of the formation that has Halibut Cove at the top. Peterson Bay is the bay inside that bottom arm. 

This screenshot shows Peterson Bay and Gull Island is the small island toward the top left. 

The shape of Gull Island from Google Maps. 

A photo of Gull Island. The white all over the rocks is mostly birds (some guano), and most of the birds are black-legged kittiwakes. 
On Monday, July 20, 2016, we were in Homer and scheduled to fly to Katmai NP to watch grizzly bears. Our flight was canceled because of bad weather. So we drove most of the way out the Homer Spit to visit Mako's Water Taxi and asked if we could charter a trip out to Gull Island, something I'd read about in my trip planning. 20 minutes later we were on the boat and on our way with the driver of the boat for an approximate one hour excursion. We saw and followed a humpback while, my first experience seeing one, and saw it breach almost entirely out of the water. Unfortunately I did not get the breach in my photo, but I got the explosion of water when it landed. We left the whale and circled Gull Island. We saw lots of horned puffins, mostly on the water, a few tufted puffins, some sea otters, black-winged kittiwakes, common murres and cormorants. It was a blast and a great use of an hour. 

Some photos of this journey are found hereafter:
The humpback whale's tail. 

A portion of the large splash from the breaching whale. The trees in the distance are are on the other side of the bay in Kachemak State Park. 
Sea otters. 

Tufted puffin

Horned puffin

Common murre

Pigeon guillemot

Black legged kittiwakes

Glaucous-winged gull

Pelagic cormorants

I highly recommend a trip to Gull Island and the cost of our trip was quite cheap by Alaskan standards. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Kenai Fjords National Park - Alaska

Kenai Fjords National Park covers 1,047 square miles of a portion of the east side of the Kenai Peninsula and off-shore islands. 51% of Kenai Fjords NP is covered by ice because it contains a portion of the Harding Icefield, which receives 60 feet of snow each year, and has created up to 40 glaciers. The fjords are glacial valleys created by the glaciers and submerged below the ocean by rising seas and land subsidence. 
Map of Kenai Fjords NP from Wikipedia. 

A screenshot from Google Maps showing the Kenai Peninsula (which includes Kenai, Homer and Seward) south of Anchorage. 

A closer view of Google Maps.
We drove into Seward on Monday, July 20, 2016 and set out at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning the 20th  on the Major Marine 8.5 hour Northwestern Fjord Cruise, the cruise that went furthest into the NP. The cruise started in Seward which is at the head of Resurrection Bay. Resurrection Bay which is about 18 miles long and up to 5 miles wide, was named by Alexandr Baranov who retreated into the bay during a bad storm which subsided on Easter Sunday, thus the name. About 35 miles south of Seward we stopped briefly off the Chiswell Islands to see a small rookery of endangered Steller sea lions. The Chiswell Islands are uninhabited and part of the Alaska Martime National Wildlife Refuge. They provide nesting sites for horned puffins, tufted puffins, black-legged kittiwakes and various auklets. From the Chiswell Islands we went through Dora Passage and then northwest up the Granite Passage, between Granite Island and Harris Peninsula, into Harris Bay, then Northwestern Fjord and at the end of it, Northwestern Glacier (note that Northwestern Glacier is still very far north of the southern reaches of the NP). Northwestern Glacier extends 7.4 miles from the Harding Icefield on the southeastern side to the Northwestern Fjord. It was named for Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Harris Bay is named after Abram W. Harris who was president of Northwestern University from 1906 to 1916. There must have been Northwestern grads on the U.S. Geological Survey team that did the naming. We also stopped to look at Ogive Glacier, named after alternating bands of black and white on some glaciers from seasonal re-freezing. Ogive is on the western shore of Northwestern Fjord, south of Northwestern Glacier. We also stopped to view Anchor Glacier on the western shore of Northwestern Fjord at the head of Harris Bay, further south of Ogive Glacier. On the way back, we mostly followed the same route, except a little eastward, more out into the Gulf of Alaska, and we got caught in heavy 8 and 9 foot swells which had the boat really rocking.  About a third of the passengers got really sick, including Judy, which took most of the enjoyment out of the trip for her. I fortunately did not get sick and loved this interesting way of exploring the NP. We got back about 5:30 p.m. 
The map from Major Marine Tours. The cruise we took followed the blue dotted line up to the end of Northwestern Fjord.  
Photos of the trip into Kenai Fjords NP are as follows:
A bald eagle we saw in Resurrection Bay near Seward. 

Sea otters in Resurrection Bay. The second picture hints at one of the otters being extremely aggressive toward the other one evincing expressions of concern from some of the passengers. 

Harbor seals on rocks near the western edge of Resurrection Bay. They camouflage so well with the rocks that we kept noticing more the more we looked. 

A mountain goat parent and child on the steep western side of Resurrection Bay. 

We followed a humpback whale and got views of its blow-hole and fins. 

Horned puffins on the edge of Resurrection Bay. 

A tufted puffin in Resurrection Bay. 

One of the Chiswell Islands with Steller sea lions basking on the rocks near the ocean. 

Bear Glacier in Resurrection Bay. 

Northwestern Glacier. We watched it calve into the fjord. 

I believe this is Anchor Glacier. 

Harbor seals on floating ice beyond Northwestern Glacier. We saw lots of seals on floating ice throughout Northwestern Fjord, one of my favorite things about this excursion. 

The Chiswell Islands on our way back as the weather gets more testy and the swells start to increase. 
We saw a great variety of wildlife, some gorgeous glaciers close-up and saw a part of the world otherwise very difficult to get-to.