From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska
Jul 11, 2012 - National Geographic Sea Bird
Glacier Bay National Park
Delightful patches of blue sky greeted us as the ship pulled out of Bartlett Cove and made its way up bay. Sea otters stared at us nonchalantly as we passed. The captain steered the ship close to over a hundred that were sleeping near a long rocky island as we ate breakfast.
The Marble Islands are the perfect place for viewing nesting seabirds. Gulls and species in the auk family usually choose egg-laying sites that provide a central location of food resources, protection from land-based predators, cliffs and ledges. These places are often wave-beaten offshore rocks where people on boats have trouble keeping their food down and focusing their binoculars on the birds. Here in Glacier Bay it is usually as motionless as a living room where tufted puffins, common murres, pigeon guillemots, kittiwakes and glaucous-winged gulls thrive. Mounds of sleeping northern sea lions covered the rocks. Several inconsiderate neighbors chased each other, scrambling over the top of one of these furry carpets of bodies. Our last sighting as the ship left South Marble Island was of thirty speckled surfbirds.
A brown bear and cubs walked along a beach, while a humpback surfaced nearby. The whale breached, and the disturbance caused the mom to stand up on her hind legs and stare out before disappearing into the forest. Can we really call this bad luck for us, or just too much wildlife?
Gloomy Knob is a rounded mass of marble well known for its wildlife. Creeks emerge from both of its sides, and the southern one currently hosts a small run of salmon that enter on a high tide. This is an ideal spot for hungry animals to find food. As we drew near to this stream we saw a long-legged creature walking along the beach. It soon lay down on the sand and formed the shape of a long dark lump. To its right there were five other lumps. They were sleeping wolves. There are few sightings anywhere that conjure up such excitement. All on board were soon riveted to the beach. Two smaller black objects were moving about as well. These were pups that played, wrestled and crawled up a small bank. As we drifted closer, those using our spotting scope found a brownish pup as well. The adults were perhaps full of partially stranded salmon pulled from the creek on the last low tide and now were so satiated that they allowed our approach. A brown bear walked into view as it made its way up the creek, probably looking for other salmon. Four harlequin ducks foraged along the shoreline. We were in another Glacier Bay extravaganza, enabled by not allowing hunting, trapping or the disturbance of these fellow creatures within this protected wilderness. Mountain goats loafed high up on sunlit ledges as we passed onward.
We arrived at Margerie Glacier just after lunch. Brightness gave us all a chance to wear sunglasses or next to nothing as some of our hardy guests demonstrated. Calving happened often enough to brag about, especially the last sequence when bus-sized pieces fell from the height of a fifteen-story building. The splashes were like 4th of July firework explosions.
After wolfing down our dinner, sprucing up and bearing short hikes that left us puffin at Bartlett Cove, we went to sleep just like we otter.