Saturday, May 18, 2019

Water, water, everywhere

May 11, 12, 12, 13 – At Sea

As mentioned earlier, almost every day was affected by a time change, and May 12 had a day change.  We started out on May 12, then around noon, we crossed the international dateline and went back to May 11.  We’re not sure how eBird is going to handle this, but let’s just say that GPS units struggled more than a little. We were counting up to 180 degrees. 179.4, 179.6, 179.8, wait. 179.6?  179.4?  We were as confused as the GPS, because we forgot that when we crossed, the degrees would be West, whereas up to the dateline, they were East.  The GPS couldn’t tell where we had come from when we hit 180, so drew a track all the way around the world!  That was actually pretty cool!  Okay, we’re nerds.  We admit it. Oh, and there were two Mother’s Days onboard.

Laysan Albatross
For the first 2 ½ days, we were well offshore and well off the Aleutian range.  No peeks or peaks at Attu or any of the western islands.  But every day, a handful of birders would get up around dawn and seawatch for a couple of hours before breakfast.  All the way across, there were decent numbers of albatross (entirely Laysan for the first three days), fulmars, shearwaters, storm petrels, murres, and Tufted Puffins.  Small numbers of jaegers, phalaropes, Crested Auklets, and  kittiwakes. And there were a few special birds, not seen by everyone. A few of us managed to get on Parakeet Auklets and Least Auklets, but they are very small and far away.  Tracy managed a photo of a Parakeet, no small feat!  Probably the biggest surprise on the open ocean was a Bristle-thighed Curlew, which Rob photographed in flight. Since yesterday morning, we have often been able to see the mountains of the islands along the route, and crossing near Dutch Harbor put us in between a couple of islands. You'll have to wait for the eBird lists for photos and details.

Pomarine Jaeger
Speaking of eBird, we're finding a few "issues" and suspect that the local reviewers are going to have issues with many of our reports.  We are busting many of the numeric filters because of the sheer volume of birds we are seeing. Of course, many of our lists have to be made offline, which creates a process of several minutes to try to confirm the location, change the name of the file, etc.  (Look for Norwegian Jewel Birding May 2019.)  The bigger problem is that virtually no "spuhs" have reasonable filters set.  Add one auklet sp. or alcid sp., and the system declares it rare, requiring a comment before submission. THEN, half the time, the system crashes and ignores the entry, which we have to do again. Christian and I have been doing most of the lists, with Rob stepping up on occassion.  There will be a flood when we get home!

The makeup of the watching crew changes throughout the day, but we're still going!

Mark and Jan, Marilyn and Phil, Ashlea and Sam, and Jim and Jeannie have tried out some of the fancy restaurants, many of our participants took advantage of the comfortable seats in the Starlight Theater for their afternoon naps (during the guest lecturer’s presentations), and a few of us spent some time in the spa and the pool.  Spa treatments like massages are very expensive, but they hurt so good! Several of us also discovered that we are not strong enough stock for getting out of the hot tub at 2 C and a brisk wind.  The hail on the deck should have been a clue.

The seas for the entire crossing have been smooth to mild.  This is probably not typical, but allowed the ship to remain on course for the entire duration.  It might have been more fun if the captain had had to seek out the lea side of some of the western Aleutians, but we were happy to be able to get out on deck as often as we wished.
Dall's Porpoises are seen frequently, often only displaying a "rooster tail" of spray.

You know how good is trip has been when you ask others how it’s going, and their response is something like, “Quite slow.  Only 30 albatrosses, 500 shearwaters, and 60 fulmars in the last half-hour.”

Over the duration of the cruise, we have noticed and commented on the ocean environment.  It’s easy for us landlubbers to think of the ocean as a single environment, but as we pass through areas, the bird life can change dramatically, even in an hour.  For instance, some places are dominated by shearwaters, while in others, fulmars rule.  Even the makeup of the fulmars varies.  Once we left Petropavlovsk, we noted that the majority of fulmars were mottled or white.  Prior to that, and as we pass along the Alaska coast, the majority are gray. Some spots have many storm petrels.  Others have none. The ocean is like a box of chocolates…
Northern Fulmar

Tomorrow morning, the ship will dock in Seward, Alaska. About half of the group have signed up for near shore pelagic trips, holding their noses and paying the inflated prices charged by the cruise line.  The only advantage is that we will get off the ship ahead of the others, so the stress of our independent charter will be gone.  I suspect it will be a very different trip than Avacha Bay, with dozens of people on each vessel.  I’m hoping to get some good photo opportunities, as about 90% of my shots so far have been absolute crap, barely good enough for evidence shots.  I did not get the settings nailed down before I left Victoria, something I really regret.  Fortunately, there are enough good (enough) shots that I am not totally disappointed, but I predict some ferry crossings in my future! The problem is that everything is moving in three dimensions: the ship (cruising at about 20 nautical miles), the bird (unpredictable), and me holding the camera. But others have managed to get amazing shots, so I know it can be done!

This also marked our last full day of open ocean. Beginning tomorrow, we will be in inland passages except when we have to cross from Haida Gwaii to Vancouver Island, and much of the “good” stuff will be during the night.
More ships are appearing as we get close to the northern communities.

Only a couple more time changes to endure.  Some of us have inside cabins, so we never know when it’s day or night anyway, but those with windows can see the sun rise. It may not be jet lag, but 9 time zones in 15 days creates a problem of its own.

We should be able to get wifi or internet service in the rest of our ports, so my plan is to upload one or two  (maybe three) of these blogs and the eBird checklists at every opportunity. This will give you a chance to catch up with the ship!

1 comment:

  1. i had to laugh at the problems with gps and time differences that is a lot of work to figure out but yes pretty cool as you say
    congrats on so many cool albatrosses but the rarities some of the group saw are so cool like the bristle-thighed curlew, least and parakeet auklets! so glad you had nice weather too. too bad about the camera settings at least you have the best memories stored where most important!