Alaska Highlights Jun 13—25, 2018

Posted by Barry Zimmer


Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer has been birding since the age of eight. His main areas of expertise lie in North and Central America, but his travels have taken him throughout much of the wo...

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Our 2018 Alaska Highlights trip was wildly successful on virtually every front, but perhaps no day epitomizes this success better than our all-day boat trip into Kenai Fjords National Park.  On a nearly picture-perfect day (except for the first 15 minutes or so), we ventured out on the Alaskan Explorer into Resurrection Bay and beyond, covering over 150 miles in our journey to Northwestern Fjord and the Chiswell Islands.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl— Photo: Barry Zimmer


After some great Sea Otter viewing and a quick stop at Fox Island to drop off kayakers, the action began in earnest. Marbled Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, and Horned Puffins liberally dotted the water, as we exited Fox Island and headed toward the open waters of the Gulf of Alaska. A couple of Humpback Whales were soon spotted, and as we watched these marvelous giants feeding, we enjoyed numbers of Tufted and Horned puffins sailing past our boat. Common Murres also began to appear in numbers, followed quickly by our first pod of Dall’s Porpoises and then two rather unexpected Fin Whales. Soon we were nearing the beginning of the Chiswell Islands, and the captain pulled up to a known nesting spot of Black Oystercatchers. One of the oystercatchers sat out in the open for superb views, and we continued on our way. We circled around another small island, where numbers of Double-crested and Pelagic cormorants were resting on rocky crags. I noticed another cormorant flying in to join the perched birds and was quite surprised to see its bright red face, yellow and blue bill, and large white flank patches—a Red-faced Cormorant! This species has declined so drastically in south coastal Alaska that it has become quite unexpected on a boat trip here. This bird landed on a rock next to its cousins and allowed lengthy views.

We barely had time to enjoy the cormorant, when we discovered a group of Parakeet Auklets on the water near Cecil’s Cove. Watching these rather comical alcids, it was hard not to be distracted by the puffins that were everywhere around our boat. Dozens upon dozens of both species covered the water and kept zinging past the bow almost at arm’s-length.

Read Barry’s full report in his Field Report.