This chapter is all about feathers, specifically puffin feathers. And a volcano. And a bit of furry sea otter.
The sea is a bit rough today as we load up and head for Duck Island, about an hour's journey by boat north of Silver Salmon Creek. Part way through the journey, I look at my Fitbit and see that it's giving me "exercise" credit--the bouncing of the boat on the waves is fooling the Fitbit into thinking I'm walking. just as it does when I'm riding my lawn mowing tractor or paddling around a choppy Tern Lake,
Because the tidal flats are shallow far into the inlet, the lodge's boat is anchored far from shore. Oliver kayaks out, then brings the boat closer in. We still have to wade through shin high water, but that's no problem.
|Oliver's kayak is just off the stern. He'll bring the boat in closer and we will wade out to it. I cropped this photo so Oliver and the kayak can be seen. It was way out there.|
Usually. Usually, that's no problem. Today I am wearing hip boots supplied by the lodge but selected by me, and though they're a size smaller than I wear, there is a lot of room for foot movement inside them and my feet are pushing the limits of moving about and still keeping me upright.
We are joined on today's excursion by Michelle Theall, CEO and Executive Editor of Alaska magazine. She operates out of Denver, CO, and a few times a year gets to jaunt around Alaska with her photo gear.
|Ken, Ron, and Michelle|
|David, Andy, Kate, and Gary|
|David, one of the owners of Silver salmon Creek Lodge.|
|Kate, Lynda, and Ken.|
We approach the mis-named Duck Island at the mouth of Tuxedni Bay. I say it's misnamed because it is populated by hundreds of horned puffins and cormorants. It rise precipitously out of the salt water--a tiny six-acre rock part of the Tuxedni Wilderness Refuge for seabirds, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons. The other part of the wilderness area is the nearby, much larger Chisik Island.
|Duck Island. Snow-capped Mt. Redoubt is in the background.|
|Puffins are auks.|
There's a lovely sandy beach but Ron suggests we start out on the shady side of the island because the bright white breasts of the puffins tend to "blow out" photographs, so around the island we go to a small rocky beach. "Beach" is a misnomer; it's a pile of rocks, boulders, slabs, etc., with teaspoons of sand in between.
There are puffins everywhere you look and their comical appearances suggest something only Disney or Pixar artists could create. The black mark above the eye is a fleshy "horn."
|An unusual rock. It's about four feet high. To the right, you can get an idea of what our "beach" looked like.|
Up high, almost at the top of a cliff, is a lone tufted puffin. My attempts to get an in-focus photo are in vain. I can barely see it until I look through the camera viewfinder with the lens extended to its full 600 mm strength.
|The golden streaks down the back of the head are feathers, of course, but long "loose" feathers, hence the name tufted puffins. It is their breeding plumage.|
My hip boots add to my clumsiness as I try to navigate the rocks. The excess lateral room in the boots means I don't dare hope from rock to boulders and back again, and there is little "beach" in between the rocks. Stumbling around with that expensive lens is adventurous!
Ron opens a cooler and passes out fajita wraps and juice for our lunch, and we sit on rocks as we eat, watching puffins and cormorants launching themselves off vertical cliffs and flying over the water. In the distance, 10,197 foot Mt. Redoubt provides a background for photos.
Redoubt, as we call it, is one of four active volcanoes on the west side of Cook Inlet. It last erupted in March of 2009, catching a KLM jetliner in its 45,000 foot high plume of ash. The jet was able to land safely in Anchorage, as did a lot of volcanic ash over Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. It is nasty, gritty stuff and does a lot of damage to engines of all kinds.
|This is a photo from Wikimedia Commons of Redoubt's 1990 eruption, as seen from the Kenai Peninsula.|
After exercising our shutter releases for a while, we load up and move to the sunny side of the island. Sometimes, it's possible to a photo in the bright light that's in focus.
|I think these two are a "couple."|
|Lots of beak-touching.|
|They notice they aren't alone.|
|And look who's all puffed up!|
|I could tell from its body language what this puffin was going to do.|
|First, a stretch....|
|And then, even a bird doesn't poop in its own nest. The white spots in the lower right are from projectile pooping that I missed.|
|And then it looks. Do you think it's looking to see who it spattered?|
|The sunny beach.|
|The fascinating pillar.|
Back in the boat, David takes us a short distance around the pillar of rock and close to a sea otter that is more than accommodating. Unfortunately it's in deep shade and thus the photos are so-so.
|Amazing what a 600 mm lens will do!|
And then, it's back to Silver Salmon Creek and more bears.
We pass historic Snug Harbor cannery on he south side of Chisik Island. It has been closed for a long time, but the owners are hoping to remake it into a tourist destination.
|The ruins of Snug Harbor cannery. Operational from 1919 to 1980, the 30 acre site is the only private in-holding on Chisik Island within the Tuxedni Wildlife Refuge.|
|Note the large bay that juts inland just south of Redoubt. That's Tuxedni Bay. Duck Island is located in the mouth of the bay, too small to be seen on this map..|