Sunday, July 8, 2012

Kachemak Bay near Homer

Tuesday, June 5th we met up with Bill Sweetman of Bsweettours, LLC at the Coast International Hotel and is nearest the Ted Stevens International Airport.  It's the hotel where many birding groups stay to start or finish their trips.  It's across the street from Lake Hood which is the largest parking lot for small sea planes in the country.  I took the photo below for the dog as co-pilot in the sea plane.    

It was a hurried meeting at the hotel.  We loaded up luggage and set off immediately for the Kenai Peninsula with stops in between.  Our first stop was at Potter's Marsh where we saw, amongst other birds, these copulating Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor).  It's also where Bill lost the keys to the van and his wallet - thankfully both found quickly.  I think it must be hard to get off a plane after a long flight, gather a group together and begin a big trip.  

Landscapes like the one below are common in Alaska.  Throughout the trip, and as I learned when I visited the Grand Canyon over twenty years ago, the immense beauty of vast landscapes is nearly impossible to capture in a photograph.  I didn't allow this to stop me from trying.     

In 2009, I went to Montana and Idaho to look for my life American Dipper.  I saw two that trip - both in Glacier National Park and both flying up river and away from me.  Finally, this perched American Dipper (Cinclus mexicanus) under a bridge over Indian Creek was half of a pair and a viewing that I could count for my life bird.  The other dipper flew upstream before I could get a photo of both.  Not a good photo, but identifiable.  

The fast-moving water that interfered with focusing for a good still photo of the dipper can be seen and heard in the video below.  

The video is 0.57 seconds of the American Dipper under the bridge. 

Next stop enroute to our motel accomodations in Soldatna was Summit Lake where we found a female goldeneye species and, unexpectedly, two Wandering Tattlers (Tringa incana).  The tattlers were seen well through the spotting scope, but in the heavily cropped photo above is a gray speck.  We surmised that these birds were still in migration.  As can be seen by the grassy shoreline habitat, this is not exactly typical tattler nesting habitat.  When we returned to Summit Lake three days later the tattlers were gone.  As it turned out, they were the only Wandering Tattlers we found on the trip.  More about this later.

After our overnight stop in Soldatna, we were on the road again to Kachemak Bay with a stop at Anchor Point.  The photo above shows a boat being towed to water by an earth moving machine.  Because of the lay of the beach and the tide a boat launch cannot be built in this location.  

Northwestern Crows (Corvus caurinus) were common at Anchor Point. This bird was seen relatively often in the coastal locations we visited.

By now we were a little late to arrive at our destination at Kachemak marina for our trip around the bay with our privately chartered boat trip with the sole purpose of looking for Yellow-billed Loon (Gavia adamsii).

Above is our captain (blue jacket) and mate with Bay Excursions of Kachemak Bay.  For two to three hours we scanned the waters of Kachemak Bay for our target bird.

Above the two Aleutian Terns (Onychoprion aleuticus) floating on a log, so cooperative for close views and photographs, were thrilling to see.  We saw Aleutian Terns elsewhere but none so well as these.

Black-legged Kittiwakes (Risa tridactyla) are the most numerous, by far, gull on Kachemak Bay.  Along the cliffs of Gull Island they have a breeding colony of thousands.

Black-legged Kittiwake with wings "dipped in ink."

So did we see the Yellow-billed Loon?  The short and long answer is no. We roamed the bay chasing one Common Loon after another with the hope that it would reveal its long, up-pointed pale yellow bill.  No luck. 

Having already had such great views of the Aleutian Terns, we saw a lot of other birds too, including this great flotilla o' murres above.    

Along with the kittiwake, Common Murres (Uria aalge) nest by the thousands on Gull Island. 

Finally, the bay excursion gave me one of my nicest photo opportunities of the trip with this Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata).  The bird was one of a flock of five which allowed the boat to get close enough for this really nice shot.  What a great bird!

The little boat above was beautifully restored and for sale for $18,500, OBO.  When I was a child I read a novel about a little girl who lived on a boat with her father.  As I recall, conflict arises when the "authorities" want the little girl to live on the mainland so that she can attend school. Of course, and no surprise, she doesn't want to leave her father and her idyllic life on the boat.  The title and author of this children's novel is long forgotten by me, and not revived by a google search, but this charming boat for sale in Kachemak marina reminded me of illustrations I recall from the novel.

The photo above does not capture the beauty of the village of Kachemak so you'll need to take my word for the fact that this green haven, when viewed from the water, was breathtaking. 

I've lived and vacationed in Maryland for a number of years and watermen have a large presence along Maryland's extensive coastlines. In coastal Alaska, the term "waterman" took on new meaning for me as we plied the waters of the huge Kachemak Bay looking for Yellow-billed Loon.

Finally, just as we were leaving Kachemak, I picked up video of this singing Alaska subspecies Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) with one clear recording of the slightly different vocalization.  Then the bird got distracted by the activity on the ramp.

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