Trip Report - June 9 - 14, 1998

After returning to Anchorage from the Denali Highway area, we headed toward the Kenai Peninsula. Our first stop, after leaving  Anchorage was Potter's Marsh, just south of town, and well sign-posted off the Seward Highway. 
Canada Goose family at Potter's Marsh
We spotted our life Alder Flycatcher in the parking lot for the marsh, and things generally went downhill from there. The boardwalk parallels the main (and very busy) highway out of Anchorage, and there were few birds to be seen (we had slightly better luck at the Potter's Road turnoff, and, retracing our steps in the opposite direction, at the pull-off between Potter's Road and the turn to the marsh). 
We were quite concerned to see a Canada Goose family with three goslings living under a bush between the boardwalk and the highway. I wonder how many goslings made it to adulthood? Other birds spotted at the Marsh included Common Snipe, Scaup, Northern Shovellers, Green-winged Teal, Mallards, and many Tree Swallows. 

We continued down Turnagain Arm, watching the tidal bore rush in, and spotted a Bald Eagle concentration towards the end of the Arm. We found 21 Bald Eagles and 2 Osprey through our scope, gorging on the fish coming up the Arm. A side trip to the Portage Glacier netted us our first Arctic Warbler (as well as Red-necked Grebes, Yellow Warbler, Common Loon, and the ubiquitous Black-billed Magpie). We were surprised, and delighted, to see a Rufous Hummingbird at a coffee shop in Portage where we stopped for a bite to eat.

After checking in at the Box Canyon Cabins in Seward (and playing interminable games of "Catch the Frisbee" with the resident dog), we took a drive out along Nasim Road, where we spotted more Bald Eagles, Stellar's Jays, Trumpeter Swans and 2 pairs of Harlequin Ducks. 

The next morning we headed down to the Seward docks at an ungodly hour, and left on a pelagic trip to the Kenai Fiords National Park. Captain Mike Brittain took good care of the birders!!!! 

Just throw that Frisbee!
Although the birdlife  was the focus of the trip for us, the sea mammals were everywhere. We saw  Sea Otters, Dall Porpoises, Hump-backed Whales, Harbour Seals, Stellar's Sea Lions, and Mountain Goats. One Hump-back entertained the entire boat with unbelievable antics, swimming on one side and waving a VERY large fin at us, sounding and leaping entirely out of the water, and culminating the performance with a head stand and waving his incredible tail at us. All of this happened very close to the boat!
Tufted Puffin - Photo copyright Don Baccus
Tufted Puffin
Photo copyright Don Baccus


Marbelled Murrelet - Photographer unknown
Marbelled Murrelet
Photographer unknown
Red-faced Cormorant - Photo copyright Marcus Martin
Red-faced Cormorant
Photo copyright Marcus Martin
Thick-billed Murre - Photo copyright Marcus Martin
Thick-billed Murre
Photo copyright Marcus Martin
At one point, Captain Brittain stopped the boat, with the announcement that he was waiting to see if the Dall Porpoises wanted to play today. Luckily for us, they did, and for the next half an hour we were entertained by a pod of porpoises leaping in and out of the water within arms-length of the boat. When the captain eventually started up the engines again, and we proceeded on our way, the Dall Porpoises had a great time playing in the bow wave. One of the defects of my camera (or its operator) is the noticeable lag between pushing the button and the photograph actually being taken. I have very many pictures of splashes, as the animal disappeared into the water, but no pictures of the actual animals (sob....)!

However, as the following photos show, the scenery was fantastic!

Seal-sunning Rocks
Chisolm A - Bird Island
Life birds came thick and fast on this trip, including Common and Thick-billed Murres, Ancient and Marbelled Murrelets, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Black and Pigeon Guillemots, Black Oystercatcher, Sooty Shearwater, Red-faced Cormorant, Rhinocerous Auklet and Black-legged Kittiwake!!!!
Duncan and I at the Glacier
Duncan treating his sunburnt eyes with wet tea bags! 

Returning to Seward
The next day, we left Seward and headed for Homer, at the very end of the Kenai peninsula. The Homer "spit" has a well deserved reputation as a birder's paradise, and it certainly lived up to it for the two days we were there. 

Birding the Homer Spit

Homer was a fascinating place, with birds in every direction, and many interesting distractions in the multitude of native crafts shops. If we only had the money and a place to display those wonderful things..... Life birds on the spit included Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Common Eider, and Whimbrel. The highlight was Kittlitz's Murrelet, flying by in a series of small flocks, just above the water. Common and Ancient Murrelets were also present in fairly large numbers, so every little Murrelet had to merit a close look to distingish between the three species. Common Eider - Photo copyright Don DesJardin
Common Eider
Photo copyright Don DesJardin

Anchor Point - the most westerly highway point
in North America
Our last two days in Alaska, we stayed at a fantastic place, Marlow's on the Kenai, just south of Soldatna. Our hosts, Ken and Judy Marlow, were just in the process of expanding their property to include four new cabins right beside the Kenai River. There were some interesting road side stops in the area, as these two pictures indicate. You wouldn't believe what you can make out of antlers!
Duncan with Ken Marlow, our host
We did some birding in the area around Soldatna, picking up a few additional life birds - like Parasitic Jaeger and Hermit Thrush. 

Then, what turned out to be the highlight of the trip.... Ken Marlow offers a drift boat trip down the Kenai River that was just out of this world. Early in the morning, Judy Marlow drove us to the starting point, towing the boat, and dropped the three of us off at Skilack Lake, at the start of the Kenai Swan Preserve. Surprisingly, we didn't see a single swan!


Motors are not allowed in this section of the river, so Ken rowed when the current slowed down. Very quickly, we spotted all four local loons, Common, Pacific, Red-necked and Arctic, as well as our first ever Surf Scoter. Then the birds started coming thick and fast... Other life birds for us included Swainson's Hawk, Aleutian  Tern,  Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and Bank Swallows. The "score" for the drift boat day was 39 species. 
Common Loon - Photo copyright Don Baccus
Common Loon
Photo copyright Don Baccus
Red-throated Loon - Photo copyright Shetland Wildlife Tours
Red-throated Loon
Photo copyright Shetland Wildlife Tours
Pacific Loon - Photo copyright Don DesJardin
Pacific Loon
Photo copyright Don DesJardin
Arctic Loon - Photo copyright Naoto Kitigawa
Arctic Loon
Photo copyright Naoto Kitigawa
Part way through the day, Ken pulled into an inlet opening on to some fairly open woodland. This was to be our bathroom break. After we reconvened from our own personal bushes, Ken spotted a Downy Woodpecker nest, with some very hungry (and very loud) chicks inside. The two parents were being run ragged, and paid us little attention as we watched the circus.

After getting back into the boat, we proceeded on our way, startling a young moose, who then followed us for a little way. After losing the moose, Ken pulled over and cut several stalks of something growing at the side of the river. It turned out to be wild chives. A little later, at an idyllic point along the Kenai, Ken anchored the boat, pulled out a picnic basket and fed us a gourmet lunch, starting with home-made smoked salmon pate and crackers. The chives, it turned out, were added to our halibut sandwiches. All in all, a wonderful day, and a fitting  climax to our Alaska adventure.

Drifting down the Kenai River
Sum total for our Alaska trip? 107 species with 48 lifers! If we were better at identifying birds merely glanced at or heard, it would have been much higher... But we were delighted with our two weeks nevertheless!

Too soon, our Alaska holiday was over, and we returned to the humdrum of life and work in Edmonton, vowing to return someday, perhaps by driving the Alaska highway.

Sunset on the Kenai
Our last Alaskan Sunset