Sunday, May 7, 2017

Whale Watching Practice

We here at Alaska Charters and Adventures are primarily known for our excellent, personalized trips to the world famous Anan Wildlife Observatory, LeConte Glacier, and of course, the Stikine River, but we also offer professionally guided whale watching trips to some of the best whale locations in the area.  John and Bob are our knowledgeable and experienced whale watching captains who are year round residents of Wrangell with thousands of hours on the water.  They are also avid amateur photographers who know how to set you up for that lifetime shot. 
I had an opportunity to practice and hone my whale watching captain skills this weekend on a personal trip to the deep waters of Clarence Strait about 45 minutes from Wrangell by boat.  Clarence Strait is one of the bigger bodies of water near Wrangell and can be intimidating place to navigate in but can also be flat and calm as a catfish pond.  Sea conditions for us were somewhere in between, closer to the catfish pond than the cold, frothy death at the other end of the scale and it was partly sunny and slightly warm so made for a pretty nice trip.
Clarence Strait is a great place to see whales, it might take some searching but there are nearly always whales somewhere out there.  Humpback whales are the most commonly seen whales here and are the most exciting to watch as they tend to be fairly active and acrobatic breaching and flipper and tail slapping or maybe bubble feeding in cooperative groups to herd schools of feed fish.  They can also be quite vocal and if near enough to the boat, you can nearly feel the vibrations of their communication in the hull of the boat.  Sea otters, Killer whales and Dall's Porpoise are not uncommon to see out there either..

Here are some examples of what you may see if you book a whale watching tour with us.  Please be easy on the photographer, he is an amateur!

The series of photos above are of a humpback whale calf enjoying a sunny morning with its mother in Clarence Strait.  It really seemed to be having a good time slapping the water and rolling over on its back while its mother kept watch close by.  I couldn't guess how many whales I've seen during my years here, thousands?, but I have never gotten bored with seeing them.  If you have a chance during a trip to Alaska, going on a whale watching tour somewhere is a worthwhile excursion.

If only this one wasn't blurry! 

The whale above put on quite an amazing show for quite some time!  The weather and water conditions had deteriorated significantly so we had to ride out some 5-6' seas and howling wind to get these few good shots.  This guy breached at least 20 times and "spyhopped" several times as well.  These were some of the worst possible conditions for photography but we were able to get several shots that we were happy with.  Another successful trip and one that has gotten me excited for sharing experiences like this with our clients.
Whales are one of the many aspects of Southeast Alaska that make this place so special and unique in the world.  We'd be happy to help you find this out for yourself!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Stikine River Birding Festival 2017

Another successful Stikine River Birding Festival just ended here in Wrangell yesterday marking the end of April and the beginning of May.  I don't know what the official numbers of visitors for the festival are but it was noticeable that there were new faces in town during the week specifically here for the event with several bird enthusiasts visiting Wrangell first on their way further north following their own migratory paths to keep up with the journeying birds. 
Here at Alaska Charters and Adventures, we had a successful festival with two incredible birding tours up the Stikine River with some very fun and knowledgeable birders from as far away as Colorado.  The events of the festival were well attended and we had a winning entry in the photo contest!  One of our birder clients was able to add a species to her life list with her first sighting of a small flock of Greater White-fronted Geese mixed in with a larger flock of Canada Geese.  There were two separate flocks of Snow Geese on the delta with one flock of thousands very close to the water where we could get some very close viewing and photography.  Shorebirds were present as well but not yet in the large numbers that will show up any day now.  Western sandpipers and Black Turnstones are around in some numbers with a few Ruddy Turnstones and Dunlins mixed in as well as some others I'm sure.

Bob Armstrongs's presentation on taking video of wildlife and birds was particularly interesting, informative, and just cool.  He gave us several new ideas on how to use GoPros as well as some new information to pass along to future clients.

Some other interesting bird sightings we saw while on bird tours were:  Rufous Hummingbirds, dozens and dozens of Bald Eagles still scooping up the last of the hooligan run, Savannah Sparrows, Golden Crowned Sparrows, a Kestrel, the first Tree Swallow of the year, hundreds of Western Grebes out on the saltwater, Surf Scoters, Barrow's Goldeneyes, Marbled Murrelets, Common Loons, and a rare sighting of a Rough Legged Hawk flying up the Stikine. 
We also saw our first bear of the year on one of our tours, a black bear sow with two small cubs of the year (COYs) down on the beach of one of the islands at the edge of the Stikine delta.

There was one Ruddy Turnstone and 2 Dunlins mixed in with this flock of Black Turnstones at City Park.

This was the winning entry in the "Other Birds" category for the photo contest entered by one of our guides.  Get out there and see stuff!