Sunday, November 16, 2008

Winter Wildlife Viewing

Homer has a very large moose population which can become more apparent in the winter after the leaves have fallen. The colder weather causes the moose and other local wildlife to change their behavior somewhat. Many of the birds migrate to warmer climes but others stay through the winter and even become more visible. Probably the most often viewed winter wildlife around Homer are the bald eagles which hangout on the end of the Spit where they are fed daily by "the Eagle Lady", 85 year old Jean Keene. Jean lives on the Spit and has been feeding eagles since the early 1970's. Naturally, this practice became controversial as other people began feeding eagles, too. So the city of Homer ruled that feeding the birds is a "no-no"- except for Jean who is "grandmothered" into the practice until 2010. The daily feedings between Dec. 20 and April 1, are a real opportunity for photographers who come from all over the world to hang out of their car windows to capture these scavengers on digicards.

Jean feeds fish scraps from the processing plant to the eagles which seem to calmly wait for their turn at the trough. Normally these birds would be searching out other prey such as these mallard ducks which remain in the Bay area all winter. When strong northeast winds blow down the bay these ducks gather in Mud Bay to shelter from the storm. They sit so still on the ice that they appear to be frozen in place.

Mud Bay is also a favorite wintering area for many of the 1,800 sea otters that inhabit the Bay. They float on their backs with their heads and back feet poking out of the water and often use their furry bellies as a table while they eat clams from the muddy bottom. Sometimes sea gulls bob around the otters hoping to steal a morsel of clam right off their tummies!

Other marine mammals are also visiting the Bay right now that we don't see so much in the summer. Humpback whales pass by from northern waters on their way to Hawaii and Baja. These 40 foot leviathans spend some time feeding nearby and occassionally we see their spouting exhalations from our living room windows. Persons in small motorized craft really have to watch for the whales.

The newest creature that has caught our attention are Stellar sea lions. This Fall two of them have been feeding and lounging off the end of the Spit while we were paddling out toward the "green can" navagational buoy. These 1,000 pound seal-like creatures don't look like much until they raise their heads high out of the water to inspect us. The other day two of then were floating just 200 feet off the spit in front of the Glacier Boardwalk. At first they looked like a new boulder projecting above the water line. But then they lifted their noses for a breath and let out a loud spraying exhalation. Their heads are very similar to the largest grizzly bears we've ever seen and it is reported that they can be aggressive if you invade their territory too closely. They are also quite curious and several times have suddenly appeared very close- 30 feet- to our boats. They raised their heads well out of the water to get a good look at us and then followed at a distance as we paddled. One was apparently surprised to find us nearby and let out a loud hissing growl. When they are inspecting us we try to hold still and hope they don't decide to try and climb up on the back of our kayak like some smaller seals are known to do.

See his little head just to the left of Linda's boat. They look a lot bigger when they haul themselves out of the water to rest on the beach....

Friday, November 14, 2008


It is starting to get a little colder out on the Bay as winter approaches. The air temps are right around freezing so we only paddle on the bay now when it is sunny and the winds are light. And with the water temperature getting down close to 35 degrees we avoid going into the water.

We are still able to practice our bracing and rolling techniques in the high school pool thanks to Tom Pogson and his Alaska Kayak School. Tom offers a series of pool classes from beginner level to advanced rolling and bracing during the winter months and then leads classes and trips out on the Bay during the warmer times of year.

In the pool sessions we use shorter river boats so there is plenty of room to manuever. Tom brings out the much longer sea kayaks for rescue practice but they are difficult to paddle and turn in the limited space of the pool.

I took our Olympus waterproof camera (click for review) to the pool the other night and filmed some of the crew practicing different techniques. This session was for paddlers who have trained with Tom before and want to practice what they have learned. It is a good chance to learn from other paddlers and observe each others methods. As you can see everyone puts their own slant on rolling...

Tom supplies all the boats and other equipment for these practice sessions plus he circulates around the group and gives everyone advice and makes sure we're being safe. It's a fun activity...

BTW- the above was taken with the same Olympus 1030SW camera. It's a pretty good little camera- about the size of a deck of cards- uses xD card memory and seems to really be waterproof. See it here. The video seems grainy here on the blog but is much better when viewed in full digipot at home.


Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bear Hunt...

My last post contained a "cute" bear scratching his back on a park sign. Most of our bear sightings have been less enjoyable. And sometimes a little scary. When we floated down the Kobuk River a few years ago we saw a bear intently trotting up the river bed in hot pursuit of a cow moose and her calf....


The bear disappeared into the brush about two minutes after the moose so he certainly could have caught up with them. Later we did hear the sound of running moose hooves on the rocks of a dry channel but we'll never know if the calf escaped.

You can see photos from our Alatna River float trip here.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Bear looks out of the Mountain....

Right out our front windows and across the Bay there is a dramatic mountain called China Poot Peak. When the first snows fall the slopes of the Peak get dusted in just the right way to produce a dramatic bear face looking out of the the mountain. Here he is....

In a past life we lived furthur north where brown bear sightings are quite common. We once had a big grizzly sniff noses with one of our sled dog pups while we were out on the trail. We also had one walk up to our water barrel right outside the back door and take a big drink before Linda's scream scared him away. Normaly brown bears are shy and avoid people but in Denali National Park the big bruins become accustomed to people and their vehicles and just ignore them. In the mid 90's I took a job as a tour bus driver and saw many of these bears along the Park road. This one was busy scratching his back on a campground sign and really could not have cared less about all us humans in a big bus watching him. One of the passengers on my bus shot this video and sent me a copy...