Friday, July 1, 2011

Home Again

We are back in Chapel Hill. Our flights home were pretty uneventful, but the overniter from Anchorage to Chicago was bumpy and too short to get enough sleep. After 3 weeks in Alaska it was good to sleep in my own bed again.

On Tuesday morning we headed to Seward from Homer which is about a 3 hour drive barring road work/traffic. We did stop along the way to check a couple of birding sites one of which was a beach that had over 30 bald eagles feeding along the shoreline. I also picked up an aleutian tern feeding out over the water. At another stop I finally found a varied thrush for the trip.

We arrived in Seward mid afternoon and went into town for an early dinner. Since we had not had any fresh salmon yet we ordered the sockeye special along with some local sea scallops. Our starter course was steamed clams that were delicious but did not look like the typical manila clams from the pacific northwest. When we asked about them we found out that they had come from Thailand instead of AK.

The next morning we took a hike up to see Exit Glacier which is part of the Harding Ice Field. The photo just above is of the glacier. To give visitors a sense of how much the glacier has contracted, as you are driving along the road to the parking area they have posted signs with dates on them. The first is like 1815 and just a 100 yards further along the next date is 1900. But then the signs get further and further apart. As you approach the foot of the glacier there is a sign indicating where the foot had been in 1998. In just 13 years the foot had moved about 100 yards further up the mountain. Roughly speaking, the glacier has contracted about 10 times faster over the past decade than it did from 1800 to 1900. One of the birds that we saw often during our time in AK is the sooty form of the fox sparrow in the photo just below--click on any photo to enlarge.

We made the steep climb on a trail that paralleled the glacier getting about 1/2 way up to the top of the glacier where it attaches to the Harding Ice Field before we needed to turn around to have time to make the drive back to Anchorage. The 125 mile drive between Seward and Anchorage is one of the prettiest scenic drives anywhere--snow patches and snow covered peaks abound with beautiful lakes and streams everywhere.

We stopped briefly at Potter Marsh just south of Anchorage to check the bird scene. The photo just above is of a lincoln's sparrow. Below is a sandhill crane.

At one of the pullouts a pair of arctic terns (just above) were squawking at the world. We ended our trip with a picnic in the park where we saw hudsonian godwits and short billed dowitchers, cackling geese, red necked grebes, greater scaup and mallards, a surf scoter, violet-green swallows, mew gulls, arctic terns, and our first starlings of the trip. The total bird count while up in AK was a bit above 100 species seen.

While I love being in Alaska, I have to say other than its unique glaciers and ice fields, you can see equally dramatic scenery in the western US and Canada, and it is easier to get there and less expensive. As a result, any future trips to AK will be to do birding in out of the way places like Adak and Gambell. For now I am home for a bit and may not post again for awhile, but you never know when a rare bird might take me birding, so stay tuned!