Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Hello Alaska

First day was on up the Kamchatka Peninsula to Kaminestaya Bay and the Chazma River, and then back the next day to the Zhupanova River, where the change snow and ice in even a few days was incredible. We did a landing in the afternoon at Morzhovaya Bay, and amongst other things a relatively freshly dead Steller’s sea eagle was found. We were able to really see the massive talons and huge bill of this magnificent bird.

Then it was back to Petropavlovsk where we checked out of Russia, did all the formalities, and then headed towards the US! A day at sea across the Bering Strait brought very little in the way of birds or mammals, but as we reached and passed some of the outer Aleutians we started to encounter good numbers of birds, many of the same we had been seeing in Russia of course. We did a cruise past Buldir Island in the late afternoon seeing a lot of good seabirds, and even managing to spot a few red-legged kittiwakes flying amongst the flocks of black-legged kittiwakes. Ancient murrelets, crested auklets, and even a few whiskered auklets were all spotted, as well as a few Laysan albatross.

We were supposed to have cleared into the United States at Attu Island, but we had severe fog and strong winds and the customs officials were not prepared to land in those conditions. So we had no choice but to continue to Adak, where there was a better all-weather runway…just as well as the weather was still foggy and raining, gusting 50 knots in the morning, and not much better in the afternoon. So we got the clearances out of the way and then continued on our passage.

The next day we spent another very wet and foggy morning on Atka Island, with not a lot of birds of note, but some nice flowers and a rather lost B-24 bomber which is in rather a state of disrepair after going down here during WWII. The afternoon however, started to fine up, and we explored an absolutely incredible little island which was swarming with breeding seabirds. As we pulled in to the anchorage a small group of Dall’s porpoise came in and gave an awesome display playing and feeding around the ship. We explored the coast of the island where there were thousands of breeding seabirds – black-legged kittiwakes, guillemots, but best of all least, parakeet, crested and the odd whiskered auklet. Thousands of them! We spent almost two hours out in the zodiacs just enjoying the spectacle. That evening as the ship headed further along the Aleutian chain we had a massive pod of more than 30 killer whales around the ship, with some of the smaller sub-pods coming in very close to the ship to check us out.

Next morning we did a hike up to a waterfall on Chuginadak Island, with lots of beautiful wild flowers, and a few birds, plus a little sunshine. The weather got a bit windier in the afternoon so our exploration of Chagulak Island was in a sheltered bay (well somewhat sheltered!), where we had great views of Steller’s sea lions and a few birds, plus some incredible cliffs and small sea caves.

Next day into one of the famed places of the region – Dutch Harbor – on Unalaska Island. We led a short bird walk along the shore towards town, and then I went and checked out some of the fishing supply shops…absolute heaven! Spent far too much money on bits and pieces, caps, clothes, etc. A pretty cool town, would love to see it in the winter when all the fishing boats and fishermen are coming and going! As we left Dutch Harbor we had a couple of humpbacks, with a well grown calf getting a little playful and doing a few breaches for us.

The next day we had a little coastal cruising, with a few distant brown bears, and a very wet zodiac cruise in the morning, then an even wetter one in the afternoon at Unga Island. Wet wet wet! The following day however we struck better weather and some stunning sun and cloud around the Alaskan Peninsula and then the afternoon on the Semidi Islands. We did some stunning zodiac cruising around the Semidi Islands, with lovely little caves and waterfalls and massive cliffs of breeding seabirds. Mainly guillemots and black-legged kittiwakes, but also a few cormorants, and some great action with Arctic skua chasing guillemots to force them to drop fish. Really amazing!

The next morning dawned foggy again, but we were ever hopeful, and as the morning wore on the sun burnt the fog off…we were in one of the true meccas for Coastal brown bears – Geographic harbor. This place is incredible and we were in luck as we launched the zodiacs, having already seen a couple of bears from the bridge as the ship came in. Out in the zodiacs we had absolutely fantastic close views of several really large bears feeding on grass right on the shoreline. Over the course of the day we probably had 10+ bears at close proximity, and really nice close views with them being completely unperturbed by us. The scenery showed itself off spectacularly in the afternoon, with clear blue skies and warm calm conditions. Hard to believe it was the last day of the trip, with the ship arriving into Seward, Alaska the following morning. Disembarkation day again!

Cruising northwards along the Kamchatka Peninsula in stunning conditions.

The opening leaf bud of an alder bush. Kamchatka.

A small herd of reindeer with stunning mountain backdrop. Kamchatka.

Evening light through the willow catkins. Kamchatka.

Beautiful purple ground orchids of some kind just starting to appear as the temperatures increased and the snows melted. Kamchatka.

Foggy early morning conditions just off the Zhupanova River, Kamchatka.

The ship against a stunning backdrop of snowy mountains in Morzhovaya Bay, on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

The massive talons of a relatively freshly dead Steller's sea eagle. Kamchatka Peninsula.

Evening light in Morzhovaya Bay. Kamchatka.

The birch woodland near Petropavlovsk just starting to burst into leaf. Kamchatka.

Small group of ancient murrelets about to hit the water just off Buldir Island, another massive seabird breeding site. Aleutian Islands.

One of the volcanic islands in the outer Aleutians.

Fantastic least auklets taking off from the water - tiny little things. Aleutians.

Flock of crested auklets just off one of the breeding islands in the outer Aleutians.

Stunning little crested auklet resting on the water. Aleutians.

Black-legged kittiwakes nesting on the rock ledges. Aleutians.

Zodiac cruising along the shore of one of the outer Aleutians.

Another pod of killer whales which we encountered. This was a massive pod of maybe 30+ animals, many of which came in and investigated the ship. Aleutians.

Taken from Chuginadak Island looking towards Chagulak Island across the water. Aleutians.

Stunning waterfall on Chuginadak Island. Aleutians.

A slightly tighter view of the waterfall on Chuginadak Island. Aleutians.

Looking back at the waterfall on Chuginadak Island with incredible cloudscape. Aleutians.

Zodiac cruising in aquamarine waters on Chagulak Island. Aleutians

Harbour seal peering out from the kelpy water surrounding Chagulak Island. Aleutians

Grey-crowned rosyfinch perched on the shoreline in Dutch Harbor. Aleutians.

Young breaching humpback whale as we left Dutch Harbor. Aleutians.

Sunshine as we reached the Alaska mainland and skirted through some of the wild Alaskan Peninsula.

Beaut little waterfall on one of the Semidi Islands. Alaska.

Looking back out from a navigable crevice on one of the Semidi Islands. Alaska.

Common guillemot in flight near the Semidi Islands. Alaska.

Black-legged kittiwakes calling to each other as they fly overhead. Semidi Islands, Alaska.

Sunning rock formations and lichens on the Semidi Islands, Alaska.

Coastal brown bear feeding on grasses at Geographic Harbor, Alaska.

Coastal brown bear feeding on grasses at Geographic Harbor, Alaska.

Young coastal brown bear walking out over the exposed sandflats looking for food. Geographic Harbor, Alaska.

Young coastal brown bear walking out over the exposed sandflats sniffing for food. Geographic Harbor, Alaska.

Bald eagle sitting majestically against a blue sky. Geographic Harbor, Alaska.

Young coastal brown bear looking for food on the exposed sandflats, with zodiacs in the back ground. Geographic Harbor, Alaska.

Stunning scenery and blue sky day in Geographic Harbor, Alaska.

Stunning scenery and blue sky day, with all the zodiacs out in Geographic Harbor, Alaska.

Young coastal brown bear feeding on grasses right on the shoreline in Geographic Harbor, Alaska.

Young coastal brown bear pretty relaxed whilst feeding on grasses right on the shoreline in Geographic Harbor, Alaska.


  1. great ! wonderful Brent.Thank you.

  2. Great post. thank you. Magnificent image of Black-legged kittiwakes