Monday, June 27, 2011

Homer Alaska

Two days ago we made the 460 mile drive from Denali NP to Homer. With a short lunch stop it took about 9 hours. Our "home away from home" while in Homer is the Two Sisters bakery and B&B. The bakery is open during the day beginning at 7 AM except Sundays when it opens at 9. It is a hot spot in town based on how busy it has been throughout our stay. On the drive down we saw quite a few bald eagles including the one in the photo just below. I also have posted below the eagle a shot of one of the willow ptarmigan chicks we saw at Denali--remember to click on any photo to enlarge.

The sun was shining as we pulled into Homer but most of the time since we arrived it has been cloudy which makes the mountains and glaciers surrounding Kachemak Bay all the more breathtaking. I am not sure that I have been anywhere that has as dramatic a setting as Homer based on the proximity of the mountains to the town and the bay, and the clarity of the air.

The main purpose for visiting Homer was for us to take a morning boat ride out onto the bay to look for seabirds. Our trip was not scheduled until this morning, so yesterday after sleeping in and eating breakfast at the Two Sisters, we drove down the Homer spit which is 4+ miles surrounded by water. There were not all that many birds about but we did see pacific and common loons, black-legged kittiwakes and white-winged scoters.

After dropping my wife back at the B&B, I drove out East End road to look for boreal species and had the good fortune to locate a northern hawk owl shown in the photo just above. This is a bird that is seen more here in the winter than in the summer, but is never common. I also found some pine siskins feeding with the male common redpoll in the photo just below.

This morning we were up before 7 to have time for a quick breakfast before heading down to the Homer Spit to meet Karl Stoltzfus, the captain of the Torego. There were 2 other couples from New York and Ohio respectively who joined our trip out onto the bay. It was windier than yesterday which made the water a bit rougher than normal, but nothing to keep us from getting across the bay to reach the better seabirding spots. The first was a group of rock islands on which mostly black-legged kittiwakes breed, but also red-faced cormorants--an Alaskan specialty bird. You can see 2 perched on the rocks in the photo just below.

We then began a slow meander up the bay in search of kittlitz's murrelets. On the way we ran into the tufted puffin in the photo just above, plus 100's of common murres some of which you can see on the water behind the puffin. For the next hour we would check out all the murrelets we came across in search of the kittlitz's. We found lots of marbled murrelets, and then finally located a single kittlitz's that flew away confirming by its outer white tail feathers that it was a Kittlitz's. Its quick departure precluded my getting a photo.

We returned to the dock just before noon wishing we had seen more than one Kittlitz's, but still pleased to have seen the one plus the red-faced cormorants. All in all I have to feel good that I was able to see both of these birds plus the gray-headed chickadee last week which are all life birds for me.

I was asked by Aaron while on the raft trip how many ABA area breeding birds I had left to see. I realized I had never thought about that question. Now that I have seen these 3 birds, and having done some research on Aaron's query, I can say that I only have 6 remaining breeding birds that you would reasonably be expected to see in the ABA area. The group includes McKay's bunting, red-legged kittiwake, spectacled eider, whooper swan, common snipe and whiskered auklet--all Alaska birds that will require some additional effort to see on some future trips to Alaska.

There is also the aplomado falcon and CA condor to see again once they are back on the ABA acceptable list. Finally, there are five code 4 (white-tailed eagle, Eurasian dotterel, white-winged tern, eared quetzal, and Eurasian jackdaw) and one code 5 (lanceolated warbler) birds that have been known to breed in the ABA area but seeing them is another matter. For now my wife and I are looking forward to visiting Seward tomorrow before heading back home. Stay tuned!

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