Alaska's May Migrations

09-17-2018

Wilson, Expedition Guide, Wilderness Explorer

Alaska is a land of epic seasons. Each one is dynamic and special. As the earth swings around the sun, leaning its northern hemisphere in, spring graces this neck of the woods with a shutter of warmth and the promise of summer.

Kayaking in Alaska

The warm part may seem like an exaggeration but it’s all relative. This new found daylight and heat is stirring up some rare prospects, and everyone is looking for a slice.

If you’ve ever been inspired to venture toward the mighty upper left corner of this continent, you’re not the only one. This week we’ve encountered some voyagers that really put the concept of vacation travel to the extreme.

It all started Monday in Glacier Bay National Park. As we were lowering our inflatable boats off the top deck and into the water, Boatswain Robert Dumford noticed some commotion about a mile up in the sky. After shutting down the crane, the symphonic calls of 50 squabbling Sandhill Cranes rang through the air. They were flying very high up and likely not stopping. They were on their way to the artic and following the rugged coasts of Southeast Alaska and the narrow corridor around the Fairweather range through Glacier Bay National Park.

Sandhill Cranes

The bird business didn’t stop there. Almost every bay we anchored in that week, when the tide went out, some new friends fluttered in. Shore birds like Sandpipers, migratory ducks like the Barrow’s Golden Eyes, and even a Caspian Tern all made a rare appearance as they followed the bounty north.

Golden Eye Duck

However, the craziest party crasher of all came at the end of the week. We spent Friday at The Magouns, a wild set of islands tucked away not too far north of Sitka. I was on a bushwhack navigating my group through a wondrous soggy rainforest maze when I heard it.

“Pouushhhhhhh…fwepp….Pouusshhhhh….fwpp!”

It was unlike anything I had ever heard in the woods before. We detoured toward the mystery sound and came to a clearing looking down on the water.

Whales!

But what were they doing here? They were only thirty yards off shore in a shallow black sand bay. As they surfaced, I noticed they weren’t humpbacks; the kind that we often see in the Inside Passage, their shape and color were different.

Grey whales

I had seen whales like this before but in a far off land thousands of miles south of here. They were GRAY WHALES!

Not a few months earlier I was encountering these same mammals on our Baja Sea of Cortez itinerary.

These lovely leviathans were also on the long journey north to their feeding grounds in the Arctic, stopping by Baranof Island for a tasty meal of mud burrowing amphipods.

Our bushwhack turned into a log-lounging shore excursion, and we watched as these hungry whales fed a stone’s throw away from us.



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