PART 3 - CRUISE SECTION
Saturday, 3rd August 2002
Our cruise was due to depart at 10pm, so we returned our car to the Airport and took the 4pm Princess Line shuttle bus to Seward. Our bus driver gave us a very informative narrative during the 3 hour journey down the Seward Highway and pointed out lots of interesting things. We saw a Dall sheep which had come right down to the highway and we even managed to get a photo through the bus window (above right). Later we stopped at the Big Game Wildlife Care and Rehabilitation Center, near Portage, where we saw some Black-billed Magpies, Dark-eyed Juncos and a Red Crossbill, singing from the top of a pine tree. Later, closer to Seward, we had another stop at a very scenic viewpoint (photo above left).
After boarding the ship, we went up on deck to look around the harbor, and here we saw several Northwestern Crows (lifer), Violet-green Swallows, Mew and Herring Gulls, Black-legged Kittiwakes and 2 Bald Eagles, one of which gave us a nice show as he swooped down to steal a tasty tid-bit from a gull on the water. We hoped he'd return to his perch on top of a lamp-post to eat his meal, but he flew off into the mist towards the woods in the distance.
Sunday, 4th August 2002
The first morning of our cruise on the Ocean Princess, brought us into College Fjord, off Prince William Sound, at about 6:30am, so we skipped breakfast to spend about 2 hours on deck nature watching. This was a most memorable beginning to our first cruise experience. The weather was fine and sunny, and the water calm, blue and dotted with small pieces of ice. Herring and Mew Gulls were very common, and we also saw 2 Arctic Terns and a Long-tailed Jaeger - a lifer for me. Other wildlife seen: harbor seals, 2 orcas and lots of sea otters, lazily swimming along on their backs! The glaciers here are named after the universities, such as Harvard and Yale.
The rest of the day was spent at sea as we covered the many miles to the beginning of the Inside Passage.
Monday, 5th August 2002
Our second day at sea was spent in the magnificent beauty of the Glacier Bay National Park, which can only be accessed by boat or plane. Glacier Bay was first discovered by John Muir in 1879 and just 200 years ago these shorelines were completely covered by ice. A Park Naturalist joined us from a launch at the entrance to Glacier Bay and with the help of the resident ship's naturalist, we had a commentary on all the nature watching aspects for the day. The weather was clear and sunny, but cold enough to require parkas, hats and gloves, (pity I'd left the gloves at home!) The conditions were perfect for viewing and photographing the glaciers and birds (where possible) and we were told that such weather is a rare phenomenom in this part of Alaska. We took the scope onto deck, which aided in identifying Pigeon Guillemots and 2 Tufted Puffins, both lifers. Also seen: Common Murres, Marbled Murrelets, a Long-tailed Jaeger, and 2 Pelagic Cormorants (lifer). By 1:30pm we had reached the end of the Tarr Inlet, where the Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers reach the sea. Our ship stayed here for 3 hours so we had good views of the new icebergs calving from the front of the Margerie Glacier. The large chunks of ice cause food rich water to come to the surface - a treat for the numerous Black-legged Kittiwakes, Glaucous-winged, Bonaparte & Mew Gulls, which were in abundance here. At 4:30pm the ship began it's journey back down the Tarr Inlet and we left the Glacier Bay National Park to sail on overnight to the next stop in Skagway the following day.
Tuesday, 6th August 2002
Skagway - Fine day with sunny periods.
We had booked a shore excursion on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, because my husband loves trains! The trip took up the whole morning, and really made my husband's day, when they allowed him to ride in the locomotive cab on the journey back down to Skagway. It was not really possible to bird from the train, but we did get a Vaux's Swift (lifer) and a Solitary Sandpiper along the Skagway River, just after leaving town. It is possible to hire a car in Skagway and drive up to White Pass, stopping wherever you want, but we wanted to experience the train ride and see the Trail of 98, which the prospectors took in the Goldrush days, over a century ago.
We returned to the ship for lunch and in the afternoon explored Skagway, and along the eastern side of this small town, near the railroad and creek, we found Chipping Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Common Raven, Northwestern Crows and Pine Siskin. Heading back towards the harbor, near the train depot and 3rd Street, we found a trailhead leading up into the mountains. We picked up a trail map and set off for Lower Dewey Lake, the shortest hike at 1.4 miles roundtrip. There were excellent views looking down onto the town and harbor and we saw a few birds: more Pine Siskins, Townsend and Blackpoll Warblers and a Hermit Thrush.
Wednesday, 7th August 2002
Juneau - very wet day
We had a very wet, windy, cold day (54 degrees F), so not very productive. Had to take a taxi to the Int. Airport to pick up the pre-booked rental car - a journey of 12 miles at a cost of $20. We had planned to drive the 41 miles north on Hwy 7 to Point Bridget State Park, but this turned out to be a total waste of time - we should have done more homework on this SP, as the only way in was by hiking through marsh and forest and with the terrible weather, we didn't have adequate gear with us. I suppose we were expecting a developed State Park with visitor center, decent paths and so on, like we have at home.
On the way back, we stopped at the Eagle Beach State Recreation Area (29 miles north of Juneau). The visitor center was closed and the main parking lot gate was locked, but there was another road leading to the estuary viewing area with sheltered picnic tables, so we were able to set up the scope and keep dry. Not enough light for any decent photography though - pity as there were some good shorebirds and Bald Eagles here.
Heading back into Juneau we took in the Mendenhall Glacier - take Mendenhall Loop Road, heading north off Hwy 7, near the Int. Airport, to get to the visitor center. Drizzling & misty, so didn't get much of a view of this glacier and the only birds seen were: Common Raven, Barn Swallow, Arctic Tern & Bufflehead. There are lots of trails here for anyone visiting on a nice day. Back on the ship by 2:30pm for a late lunch and in the harbor we saw: Marbled Murrelets, Glaucous-winged Gulls, Mew Gulls, Northwestern Crows and a Pigeon Guillemot.
More birding areas for Juneau:
Here is some more information on birding nearer to the center of Juneau, if you didn't have a car. Thanks to the member of Birdchat who sent this information as a result of an "RFI" I posted on Birdchat last year. We didn't do any of these trails as the weather was dreadful - we couldn't even see the mountain backdrop beyond Juneau:
There are some pretty good birding spots that are within walking distance of the pier in the Juneau area. The US Forest Service has an information location very near the docks and they can provide you with "Finding Birds in Juneau" by Armstrong and Gordon as well as a check list.
Bald Eagles can be found on the mud flats near the cannery and Marbled Murrelets can be seen from the pier itself. If you have time (the ride takes about a minute, the wait in line may be longer) to take the Tram up to the slopes of Mt. Roberts and then hike the trail above the upper terminal, Rock Ptarmigan and Blue Grouse are possible.
Gold Creek Canyon is not far from the pier. The guide uses the verb "drive," but as the distances are small, they are walkable. A quick run down of the route: Starting in beautiful downtown Juneau, head north up Franklin St., turn right on 6th then left on Gold Street with a final left on Basin Road. Access to the Birder's Loop, the Perseverance Trail and Granite Basin can be gained from the end of Basin Road. These trails will give you wide options in terms of time, habitat and bird life.
Thursday, 8th August 2002
Ketchikan - raining again, poor visibility.
We had been instructed to call the Budget car rental place on disembarking and they sent a car to pick us up - a much better arrangement than with Avis in Juneau, as it cost us nothing extra. The rental place was at a car dealership on the way north out of town on the N. Tongass Highway. This worked well as we needed this route to get to Ward Lake, which is about 7.5 miles from the center of Ketchikan.
In the small community of Ward Cove, you will find that Ward Lake Road (a gravel road) is not accessible from the N. Tongass Hwy, and is now closed by barriers, so continue about another half a mile, until you see a fairly major right turn. This is Pipe Line Road and heads northeast into the Tongass National Forest. After about 1.5 miles, take a right turn (south) onto Ward Lake Road, which drops down to the north side of Ward Lake, and park at the Picnic Area. It was pouring with rain again, and now I understood why picnic tables are inside shelters - some even had log burning fireplaces! We walked the 1.3 mile nature trail around the lake, even though the weather was terrible and the visibility poor. We didn't get a big birdcount - 2 Belted Kingfishers, 4 Mallards, 2 Pacific Wrens (lifer now that it has been split from Winter Wren), Stellar's Jay, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Northwestern Crow, Hermit Thrush, and then to brighten up the day, a group of Yellow and Townsend's Warblers working their way through the trees, but the experience of being in a temperate rainforest in such weather is unforgettable! I do regret not even trying to take any photos around Ward Lake, which I'm sure is very beautiful on a nice day, but the rain was just too heavy!
After returning to Ketchikan, we drove south of the town a little way, finding a very wet Bald Eagle (below left) perching on an old broken down jetty. We also looked around the Totem Bight State Park, but the weather was too closed in to find any birds, so we cut the day short and returned the car.
For more information on recreation facilities, hiking trails, etc, in the Ketchikan area, go to the Tongass National Forest Recreation website.
Friday, 9th August
At sea down the Inside Passage on the last leg to Vancouver
Overnight, the ship entered Canadian waters and sailed into Queen Charlotte Sound. The Ocean Princess was one of three cruise ships heading into Vancouver the next day. There was good viewing on deck and from our balcony and with my scope I was able to identify Parakeet and Rhinoceros Auklets, both lifers. I could never have done this with just my binoculars. There were lots of Bald Eagles perched at the top of pines along the route. Also, the usual seabirds were seen, plus Bonaparte's Gulls and even the flyby of a hummingbird. Had been told that Rufous Hummingbirds fly out to cruise ships, but this was so fast we couldn't identify it!
From Queen Charlotte Sound the ship passed into a much narrower passage called the Discovery Passage, where the Seymour Narrows were once a major problem for cruise ships, due to fast tidal currents and a dangerous submerged rock, only 9 feet down. The Ripple Rock was eventually blown up in 1958, making it much easier to navigate. On leaving the Seymour Narrows, we saw the Cape Mudge Lighthouse as we passed into the Strait of Georgia.
Saturday, 10th August 2002
We came in to Vancouver at dawn, seeing Canada Geese and some cormorants flying across the Burrard Inlet to Stanley Park, where the Lost Lagoon waterfowl sanctuary is located. It was about 10 am before we disembarked and were directed to our pre-booked bus to take us to the airport for our flight back to Houston.
If we ever do this cruise again, we will book a couple of days stay in Vancouver and leave at a more leisurely rate on a weekday. Getting through the airport was not a pleasant experience, with 3 cruise ships all docking that morning and throwing several thousand passengers into the airport system in a short period of time. The lines were horrendous!
© Helen Baines 2003
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