In which we find the feathers in amongst the fur
Today we board Silver Salmon Lodge's custom made aluminum boat for a trip north to Tuxedni Bay and a chance to photograph horned puffins, with owner David Corey as captain. Were it not raining and cloudy, we could have seen Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt, both semi-active volcanoes, in this part of Lake Clark National Park. Today, we use our imaginations.
We stay close to the shore and spot a Coastal Brown bear sow with a young cub. Someone remarks that she had lost a twin cub earlier this year and is being very careful with the remaining one.
Once we reach Tuxedni Bay, David pulls the boat close to a sheer cliff that is thought to be the largest black-legged kittiwake rookery in Cook Inlet. There are an estimated 500,000 birds that come to nest in the rocks and seams of this cliff face.
A small gull,the name kittiwake derives from the bird's shrill screech: kittee-wa-aake, kittee-wa-aake.
And screech they do! Constantly! Forever and ever, amen. Or, at least until the breeding and raising of more screechers is over and they return to the open sea where they spend the winters.
There are kittiwakes in every nook and cranny, every ledge and outcropping, and it takes nothing to disturb the whole bunch of them. Then hundreds leap from the face of the cliff and fly around in a dither before they land, screeching all the while.
It's impossible to take a photo that shows how many birds are here. From a distance, they blend in with the gray and white-washed rock. The cliff seems alive with birds, thousands of whom are in motion at any given time.
For that reason, it's necessary to focus on just a couple birds, or a small group, to get any kind of a meaningful photo.
|Unlike the murres, which lay their eggs on bare rocks, the kittiwakes actually have nests.|
|A small disturbance and a flock takes to flights. This photo is a small piece of the face of the cliff where the vegetation starts on the left.|
|A very small part of the rookery cliff face.|
The kittiwakes share their space (what's left of it) with common murres, who--like the kittiwakes--come to shore only to nest, then return to the sea. This past winter of 2015-2016, Alaska experienced an unprecendented die-off or murres, tens of thousands of them. In late January, an estimated 100,000 murres had died, andit continued on from there.
A common symptom was starvation and research into the reason continues.
Floatillas of murres are in the water and when our boat approaches, the murres burst from the water into a frenzy equaling the screaming kittiwakes's.
Farther up the bay is an historic salmon cannery built in 1911, and now being restored as a tourist attraction. This is the cannery as seen from the air.
A short distance away is the mis-named Duck Island, a nesting spot for puffins. Again we photographers are presented with the challenge of trying to get in-focus photos from the deck of a bobbing boat while hand-holding heavy mega-lenses. Rick gives me tips on how to hold the camera/lens, and tells me not to brace myself against the motion of the boat, but to go with it. Come to think of it, that's a good way to avoid seasickness, too.
Nonetheless, I get lots and lots of puffin feet photos, like this one:
Occasionally, I get whole puffins and only a couple of cut-off puffins.
|The puffins share their rocks with murres, too.|
And with several pairs of black oystercatchers.
Nearby is the most accommodating sea otter in Cook Inlet. It is so unconcerned about our presence, it goes back to sleep as we photograph it.
|"...and that fish I caught was thiiiiiis big!"|
Perched above all the puffins and murres and oystercatchers, a glaucous gull waits for a chance to raid a nest.
And then we're off, headed south to the lodge and more furry bears.
Where the heck is Tuxedni Bay!!!
This is a map of Cook Inlet. Silver Salmon Creek and the lodge are located on the western shore just right of the word Iliamna.
Tuxedni Bay is the water indent north of there.
A little closer. Duck Island, where the puffins are, is seen just right of Chisik Island at the top right of photo. The You are Here arrow points to the lodge location.