Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Icy Strait Point

May 17 Hoonah!  Icy Strait Point

On a map, it’s a pretty short trip between Juneau and Icy Strait Point, but on a cruise ship, it takes a lot longer. Instead of going the shortest route, the ship headed south, puttered around an island and arrived at the dock after daybreak. I suppose there may be nautical reasons that's necessary, but it seemed like the ship was just biding its time.  Unlike the entry to Juneau, the early morning birding was very light with the first hour yielding just one Marbled Murrelet and two gull “spuh”.  Mary and I were the troopers, but even we didn’t bother to do a second hour.  I headed for tea, and Mary went for a pre-breakfast nap, creating a whole new concept for the day.   Rob showed up just as we were about to give up, and said he’d put in 20 minutes or so to see if things had changed.  The hadn’t. At least the scenery was beautiful.

Early morning en route to Icy Strait Point

We have been incredibly lucky with the weather on this trip.  There has been very little wind or rain, and the seas have been from glass calm to mild all the way across from Russia.  As any pelagic birder will tell you, though, calm seas can make for boring birding, and we were there today.

Onshore, things were a little more interesting.  Icy Strait Point is a small First Nations community of about 800 people.  They have formed a corporation that works with the cruise ship to bring what looks like a pretty lucrative suite of businesses to the area.  In addition to the numerous gift shops and food outlets at the dock site, there were zip line rides, whale watching tours, fishing trips and a paid shuttle to town. Most of us decided to just putter around a bit.  I can imagine the impact of 3000 people in town on cruise ship days!
The dock at Icy Strait Point was one of the nicest we came across on this trip.

Dock crew tying up the ship

Shoreline walkway. Nice, but a long way to town!
The birding community is a wonderful thing. In this tiny community in the middle of nowhere, Alaska, I had a contact that I had met through birding festivals.  I sent Erin a text and within minutes, I had some suggestions for those of us who had not signed up for formal tours.  There was a light drizzle, but nothing that would keep Vancouver Island birders inside. We wandered towards the town along a seaside walkway where we’d earlier seen a humpback lolling around.  Along the way were Varied Thrushes, Wilson’s Warblers, and a handful of other species.  A highlight was watching a Belted Kingfisher building a nest cavity in a cliff face high above the road.  There were a few Pigeon Guillemots calling from the water, and Bald Eagles putting in the obligatory appearance. By the time we got halfway to town, though, we all realized that we didn’t really want to walk all the way in and back to the dock again, so we sauntered back to the dock area/visitor center.  There was a short nature trail, where we added a few more species to the day list, including a singing Hermit Thrush.

An early departure had us back on the route to Ketchikan, our last land stop before Vancouver.
I think the west coast of North America is turning out to be a bit of an anticlimactic end to the trip.  None of us are expecting to see new species, but we are kind of hoping for another spectacle.  There are possibilities ahead.

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