Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Island and Beyond.

Continuing our visit to Gull Island I got this shot of a window in the rocks.
It will probably be a long, stressful Summer for these kittiwakes if they keep squabbling for space throughout the whole breeding season. Wait until there are growing chicks in the nests to take up even more precious room.
The lower rocks just above the waterline were occupied by hundreds of Surfbirds. They will only be present for a few weeks. We have also had a lot of Surfbirds along the coastal trail in Anchorage this Spring.
I got close to them but the light was harsh and the barnacles partially camouflaged the bird in the composition.
Another Surfbird blends into the background as well.
The top of the island was dominated by Common Murres.
The murres and everything else give way to a Bald eagle. This sub-adult eagle had an unusual amount of white in its plumage. Nobody was crowding this youngster.
Tufted Puffins nest in burrows on the island. These may have taken to the water to seek some relief from the relentless onslaught of pestering flies.
From Gull Island, our boat moved on to other parts of Kachemak Bay. This is one of several glaciers that we passed. It used to empty into the bay, but almost all of the glaciers are losing ground alarmingly fast.
Across the bay from Homer, some people have built vacation homes.  There are no roads nor utilities on these inhospitable slopes. It must have been quite a feat to construct this home. Another feat just to trudge up and down those steps. Imagine if your boat breaks free from its mooring, leaving you stranded!
This little house did not even have a staircase. I would hate to be in this place during an earthquake.
I will finish up the posts about Kachemak Bay next time.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Island

Early one morning during the shorebird festival I boarded a boat with some fellow birders for a trip through upper Kachemak Bay. The birds in the foreground of the photo above are Black-legged Kittiwakes. In recent years they have begun breeding under the wharves at the end of the Homer Spit. 
The weather was calm and unseasonably warm. Nevertheless, standing at the front of the boat was cold and windy. I spent more time in the back.
The highlight of the tour is just across the bay from Homer. It is tiny, Gull Island. From this distance it looks like a barren rock.
There are many sea birds in the bay, especially scoters like the birds above. We saw all three North American species.
There were also hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes. Difficult to photograph from a moving boat. We also saw, Common, Pacific, and Yellow-billed Loons, Marbled Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, and more.
As you approach Gull Island, you can see that it is far from barren. The boat in the photo is not the boat that I was on.
Pelagic Cormorants breed on the island. Until recent years, Red-faced Cormorants also bred on the island. People believe that the warming climate is the reason that the Red-faced Cormorants disappeared. They have been pushed further North.
Common Murres are so abundant that it seems that all of them cannot fit on the island at the same time.
The boat that we were on soon filled up with swarms of flies. It must be nearly unbearable to be on the island itself. Maybe that is why so many of the birds preferred to float on the water.
Every available space appears to be taken up by the constantly jostling birds.
Black-legged Kittiwakes also maintain a presence on the island. After all, it was named after them.
Every nook and cranny has a kittiwake nest.
We were there early in the nesting season, (early May) so the birds had yet to lay their eggs.
The best of Gull Island is yet to come.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Spit

How many birds do you see in this photo? I count 24. Any guesses about what they are? Read on.
The reason that Tom and I went to Homer and Kachemak Bay was to attend the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival during prime shorebird migration. All of the shorebird action happens on the Homer Spit.
The spit is a narrow peninsula of land that juts out into Kachemak Bay for about four miles. It has wide beaches that are rich in invertebrates to feed hungry migrants. 
This year, Homer and the spit were unseasonably warm with calm weather except on the last day.  On the last day, when this photo was taken, The winds picked up like normal. It was sunny but cold. These Western Sandpipers, (The most common shorebird) were hunkered down among beach debris.
I like this old boat on the spit.
The harbor is also on the spit. These Pelagic Cormorants were hanging around the harbor entrance. 
While Tom attended various lectures and presentations that were put on by bird experts and so forth, I borrowed Tom's bicycle and pedaled up and down the spit. These Western Sandpipers flew past. There were many hundreds, if not thousands. Lots of other kinds of birds, sea lions, seals, and Sea Otters as well. Gary's gallery, The Sea Lion is also on the spit.
I shot hundreds of group photos of the foraging shorebirds. These are mostly Western Sandpipers with a few larger Dunlins.
Black-bellied, (Grey) Plovers are very striking in their breeding colors. They only wear this plumage for a short time. Other shorebirds that I saw on the spit were Black Turnstones, Surfbirds, Rock Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, and Semi-palmated Plovers. Other people saw many other species that I did not see.
I very slowly moved closer to some resting Westerns.
I did not want to spook them. They allowed me to get very close.
These Western Sandpipers were in their prime breeding coloration.
I was happy to get all these nice photos without ever causing the birds to fly. Most of the time they dozed peacefully and seldom even raised their heads.
Stay tuned for photos of my journey out into Kachemak Bay. It was thrilling.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Glorious Kachemak

Do you remember the pop/folk singer Jewel? She grew up on a homestead about five miles outside of the beautiful town of Homer, on the shores of Kachemak Bay. Her old homestead called, Seaside Farms, is where Tom Choate and I stayed last week. It is run by Jewel's aunt, Mossy. I got to meet many of her relatives and hear them sing. They are a very talented and friendly family.
There are a number of funky little bungalows scattered around the property. The rustic shack above is where I stayed for the duration of the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival. It was quiet and comfortable. 
Early one morning there was a strong earthquake that knocked a glass covered picture off the wall. It landed on my pillow about two minutes after I got up. A close call for me.
There was a lot of bird activity all around the farm. The loudest of them were the Sandhill Cranes.
If I had more time to spend on the farm, I could have gotten much better photos of the cranes. We were only at the farm in the early morning and late evening.
Bye bye cranes.
Homer has no shortage of Moose.
Beluga Lake in the middle of town had a few Trumpeter Swans.
Way cool.

Among other ducks were these Pintails.
Not a raven, this is a Northwestern Crow. They do not occur in Anchorage, but they outnumber ravens in Homer.
There is more to come from Kachemak Bay.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Stinky Gets a Makeover

Meet Stinky. He is a Wolverine. He has been languishing, unsold, in the Sea Lion Gallery since 2009. Recently he came home.
Maybe he never sold because he has stinky feet like my brother.
Stinky is the main subject of a 16x20" painting called, 'Lair of the Skunk Bear'. Personally, I really like the basic idea of this painting. The rocks behind the Wolverine and Stinky himself came out just the way I wanted. For some reason I could not get the rest of the painting to look right. Finally I gave up and called it finished.
For this new version I worked on the rocks below the Wolverine's feet and added the big tree to help frame him. I know that I rushed it and should have further refined the tree to make it look more natural. Is it better? What do you think?
On Wednesday I went back to Spenard Crossing, Westchester, and the coastal Trail. This Steller's Jay was cavorting on the banks of Chester Creek. Once again Blogger made all of these photos paler than they actually are.
This Bald Eagle was quietly overlooking the scene from a tall cottonwood.
The eagle allowed me to stand right beneath the tree and it never flew. That is not unusual, I have gotten within about four ft from other eagles that also never flew away.
Westchester Lagoon is still mostly frozen over. The ice will not last long considering that the temperature rose to 70 degrees  today. Most of the ducks I saw were Buffleheads. They stayed at the edge of the ice.
This pair of Bufflehead dove in sync with each other.
There were also several Red-necked Grebes. There was nothing much of interest along the coastal trail. It is still too early for most migrants. Any day now the frantic horde of mugrant birds, (and tourists) will arrive.