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Homer to Dutch Harbour & return

9 - 16 July 1996

by George West

Trip from Homer, Alaska, to Dutch Harbor at the base of the Aleutian Islands, and return on the State Ferry Tustumena.

Mechanical problems delayed departure from Homer by 13 hours.  We left at 1230 on Wednesday, July 10.  Around the Homer dock were many Glaucous-winged Gulls and Black-legged Kittwake, and smaller numbers of Surfbirds, Black Turnstones, and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrels, and one Black Oystercatcher.

It takes about four hours to reach the Barren Islands in the northern Gulf of Alaska.  Fog, rain, and rough seas limited visibility, but the usual occupants were seen: Gl.-w.  Gull, B-l.  Kittiwake, Horned and Tufted Puffins, Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemot, Parakeet Auklet, Northern Fulmar, Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters, and F-t.  Storm-Petrel.  Several Humpback Whales were seen.

Normally, about eight hours is spent in Kodiak and the traveler can wander the city, go to the museum, or get out to the edge of town and look for birds.  Our delay put our arrival at 2230 and in an attempt to make up for lost time, we departed again at 0030 on July 11.

Short-tailed Shearwaters were mixed with Sootys north of the Barrens, but south of Kodiak on both sides of the island, Sooty Shearwaters predominate.  Very few Short-tails were seen again until the area of Unimak Pass.

Southeast winds and 10 to 12 foot seas persisted through Shelikof Straits.  We found three Leach's Storm-Petrels near the Semidi Islands and the first of many flocks of Ancient Murrelets and Cassin's Auklets.  A brief stop in Chignik was allowed between 1920 and 2040.  On land, we found Common Raven, Golden-crowned, Fox, and Song Sparrow, Wilson's Warbler, Bank and Tree Swallow.

The next brief stop was Sand Point in the Shumagin Islands at 0545, depart at 0645.  Normally there is enough time to get off and wander the area, but we were trying to make up for the delay.  The large nesting colonies of sea birds in the Shumagins are south of the ferry route.  However, there is almost no time when birds are not in view.  puffins, fulmars, shearwaters, murres, etc.  are present continuously throughout the trip.  After a brief stop in King Cove (1245-1345), we saw several Northern Fur Seals in the water.  East of King Cove were Marbled and Ancient Murrelets, Parakeet and Crested Auklets.  At Cold Bay (1500-1545), we found Harlequin Ducks and several cormorants.  Coming into the bay at False Pass (1900-2030), we spotted two large Brown Bears on the hillside and then a large sow and two cubs.  Many Red-faced Cormorants, Horned Puffins, and Ancient Murrelets were in this area.  We added Savannah Sparrow and Yellow Warbler to the land bird list.

July 13 at 0615 it was barely light enough to see as we passed the Baby Islands, furthest east nesting location of Whiskered Auklets.  We saw flocks of several hundred over the water, but never got a close look at birds sitting on the water.There were two Laysan Albatross and one Black-footed Albatross in this area.  Thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters and hundreds of Northern Fulmars were seen up to Dutch Harbor.

Dutch Harbor - arrive 0930, depart 1330 - not much time for land birding, and not enough time to take a boat trip back to the Baby Islands.  We drove around for two hours and found hundreds of Bald Eagles and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.  Also seen were Black Oystercatchers, Savannah Sparrow, Bank Swallow, Lapland Longspur, American Dipper, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Raven, and a Red Fox.

We did not stop in the scheduled stop of Akutan but continued through Unimak Pass where we saw six more Laysan Albatross and over 100,000 Short-tailed Shearwaters, thousands of fulmars and many Ancient Murrelet, Red Phalarope, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, and Tufted Puffin.  There were a few Crested and Parakeet Auklets.

July 14 - Cold Bay around 0400 and King Cove from 0700 to 0800 in fog and rain.  We arrived at Sand Point in the Shumagins at 1345 and departed at 1500.  In the Hay Stack islands east of Sand Point were large colonies of kittiwakes, Ancient Murrelets, and Cassin's Auklets.  One Cassin's came aboard the boat (was shown to interested passengers and released unharmed).  This bird is larger and chunkier than guide books indicate.  The white mark over the eye is only about 3 mm long and the white spot at the base of the lower mandible, 4 mm long.  Not great field marks from a distance.  The bird is very white below - not gray.  We added Black-billed Magpie and Belted Kingfisher to the land bird list in Sand Point.  There were many Fin Whales in this area and we also saw a few breaching Humpbacks.  Kittlitz's Murrelets and a few Thick-billed Murres were found between the Hay Stacks and Castle Cape on our way east to Chignik (2400 - 0045).

July 15 we crossed Shelikof Straits and went north of the Trinity Islands.  In this area we found our second Sabine's Gull, several dak phase Parasitic Jaegers, and a Long-tailed Jaeger.  Short-tailed Shearwaters had disappeared but now there were thousands of Sooty Shearwaters.  Into Old Harbor on Kodiak Island we found several Aleutian and Arctic Terns.  Mew Gulls and a few Northwestern Crows were here.  (1530 - 1630).  More Kittlitz's Murrelets on the east side of Kodiak, Arctic Terns, Black Oystercatcher, some Ancient Murrelets, Parakeet and Cassin's Auklets along this stretch.  Large numbers of Steller Sea Lions and a few Harbor Seals.

July 16 - arrived Kodiak at 0030 and departed about 0200 for Homer.  Clear and sunny from southern Kodiak Island to Homer except for dense fog in the Barren Islands.  Many Humpback Whales around the Barrens.  We encountered many Dall's Porpoises along the whole trip southwest of Kodiak.  Arrived Homer at 1230.

George West
Homer, AK & Green Valley, AZ

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