Thursday, June 25th: When we gathered to walk over the boat, we got the news that we may not be able to visit Northwestern Glacier. The seas may be too rough to leave Resurrection Bay. However, the captain of our ship, the Alaskan Explorer, was optimistic that it would be possible. We'll know when when we try to leave the bay.
We left the harbor around 9 and started seeing birds while still in Resurrection Bay, but we'd already seen most of them on the trip. The lone exception were the Double-crested Cormorants. Resurrection Bay itself is a beautiful fjord. Combined with the cooler temperatures today, our trip down the bay was a true Alaskan experience.
Although the seas were high, we were able to leave the bay. We continued past Cheval Island, No Name Island, the Chiswells, and Granite Island into Harris Bay. Finally reaching Northwestern Glacier at the head of the bay. On the way, we found Black Oystercatcher, a Short-tailed Shearwater on the water, Sooty Shearwater (and many unidentified dark shearwaters), Horned and Tufted Puffin. Although some Parakeet Auklets flew by, our best sighting was of three in a small cove that climbed up on a rock. They were fairly easy to see. They would have been easier to see if the boat hadn't been moving up and down so much (a problem much of the day).
Northwestern Glacier, named for Northwestern University, has retreated since I saw it in 2001. By then, it had already reached the point where little of the glacier was in the bay. Fifty years ago, it extended far out into the bay. It now barely reaches the water and consists of three separate pieces. Unlike 2001, we saw little in the way of calving. What we did see were some awesome icefalls, where a big chunk of glacier would break off high above us (up to 3000 feet above) break into smaller pieces as it slid down the slope, then drop over the rim to form a “waterfall” of ice—an icefall. I've seen glaciers calving, both in 2001 and this year in Prince William Sounc, but I've never seen anything like this!
We then move back down the bay a bit to some other glaciers, where we good good views of a number of Kittlitz's Murrelets. Then we headed back out. Somewhere in here we picked up Rhinoceros Auklet. We also visited a breeding colony of murres and kittiwakes. Most of the murres were Common Murres, but there were also double digit numbers of Thick-billed Murres.
We also saw a number of mammals on our trip: Harbor Seals, Sea Otters, Humpback Whales, Dall Porpoises slashing through the water and creating rooster tails, a small group of Orcas and Steller's Sea Lions.
It was about 6 when we returned to Seward. It was a tremendous experience. So why was this so much better than the Denali trip? Part of it was just the comfort level. Eight or nine hours on a large boat is much more comfortable than on an old bus. We also spent more time with the wildlife and scenery. It was possible to get good photos (difficult to impossible on the bus), and when it rained, you could still see instead of having bus windows covered with mud. Also, the cloudy weather had much less impact on the fjord scenery than the haze did at Denail.
I ended the day with 24 species of bird, 9 of them new for the trip. This brought by trip total to 160 species of bird including 4 lifers. One new mammals means the mammal count increase to 16.
Holiday Inn Express, Seward