Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A Family Portrait - Mom and Cubs

Mother Polar Bear and Cubs

The cubs were two years old and she was starting the process of pushing them away which she does in their third year. She was nervous as there were several large males on neighbouring ice floes.

Most of the Ice is Under the Water

as this picture shows.

One of the Fantastic Ice Formations

I saw on my first "Unexpected Adventure".



Or as Norma refers to it, A Priceless Polar Bear Bonanza! We were cruising the Victoria Strait looking for sea ice. Both Ulukhaktok and Cambridge Bay are on Victoria Island which is the eighth largest island in the world.
Norma declined her ticket for the Unexpected Adventure which was a zodiac trip through the sea ice. I was on the first zodiac that left the ship and we saw some spectacular ice formations and colours. The water was so clear, we could see the bottom. No one knew anything about birds but I confirmed with Nigel that the flocks of ducks were Long Tails. As I stepped back on the ship, the Captain was making an announcement: A polar bear had been spotted by the Inuit guide, Stevie. Bad luck for me. The later zodiacs got up really close to the ice floe the bear was on. I met Norma who was heading up to the 13th deck to look for it. We got to watch him from one of the terrible scopes Crystal wasted their money on before heading down to the 7th deck where I had much better views with my binoculars. This is one time I wished I'd brought my scope.
We treated ourselves to some champagne at lunch in honour of our seeing our very first (and we thought maybe only) polar bear.
We no sooner got back to our room when another announcement was made. More polar bears were spotted. Back we went to the 13th deck where Nigel's birding scope was being used. We found out the ice floes they were on and watched them. They were still too far away for me to get pictures but we had good looks through Nigel's scope and my binoculars. We added another seven - now we've seen eight. Once the ship got too far away for good views we headed back to our room. We were just about to fall asleep when my computer pinged with another alert. A mother polar bear with two cubs was swimming near the back of the ship. We hastily pulled on our parkas and headed out. This time the Bears were close enough for me to get a picture with my point-and-shoot camera and when I expand them on my IPad they look quite spectacular. Then someone spotted a male bear near a fresh kill. Got great looks at this one guarding his kill which looked like a bloody mess on the ice. Then we noticed two more bears trying to get in on the pickings. In all, we saw 14 bears. I should note that the mother bear was quite wary of the big males. Her two-year old cubs looked very healthy. This spot obviously was a good feeding ground to support so many bears.
Last night we enjoyed a sapphire martini - very boozy before heading in to dinner at Silk Rose where we stuffed ourselves on wonderful Japanese food and I taught Norma how to use chopsticks.

Cambridge Bay Bilingual Stop Sign

A Retired Sled Dog

as one of his legs had been amputated.

Me with the Polar Bear

Norma and Our First Polar Bear

The 500 Million-Year-Old Fossil I Found

The rock expert said it was Algae.

Caribou Bones

How Hunters Store Their Meat

so the animals cannot get at it.

An Ancient Willow Tree in Fall Colours

You can see the main trunk running along the ground.

Late Blooming Flowers in Cambridge Bay

A Glorious Sunrise

I was lucky enough to be up early enough to catch it.



A word of warning - the Internet is extremely slow and intermittent this far north, so I won't be adding any pictures until we have better satellite coverage.
I was back to my usual sleeping habits last night as I awoke at 4 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. That gave me the opportunity to take a couple of pictures of the most beautiful sunrise. After a leisurely breakfast, we wandered down to the centre of the ship where we were treated to some throat singing, Inuit games that required Olympic-style athleticism, and a handicraft sale.
We were zodiaced ashore for our hike where I was disappointed to learn that the ornithologist, Nigel Redmon, was not one of the leaders. Nigel has written the definitive field guide of the birds of the Horn of Africa amongst others so he knows his stuff. A botanist/birder, Conrad, took his place. He was good but didn't have a scope. On the hike along a shale strewn beach and into the tundra I saw: Thayer's Gulls (lifer), snow buntings, American pipit, Lapland Longspurs, Snowy Owl, Cackling Geese, Greater Whitefronted Geese, Sandhill Cranes, Northern Pintail and a Mallard. We also saw an Arctic Fox and Arctic Hares. I am afraid that the Inuit guide and I drifted away from the group as he had spotted the hares and was determined to track them down. Luckily he found them. They are enormous!
After the hike, we decided to take the shuttle into the town. We were so happy we did.
The townspeople went all out for our arrival. A number of them had donned neon-coloured vests to indicate that they were there to direct us to various sites and answer any of our questions. The population of the town is 1,608. The ship accommodates 1,000 passengers and 600 crew. For one day we doubled the population. We were made to feel so welcome. We tootled down to see the wreck of Admusson's ship, The Maud, which was brought up from the depths just three weeks ago. It is sitting in a barge being emptied of mud before being towed to Norway. We stopped in at the Visitor Centre which had an amazing collection of Inuit art, prints and carvings. There were also taxidermy skins of many animals including one of a wolverine. We took our picture in front of a polar bear on its hind legs. We hope that it is not the only one we see. We stopped to take a picture of a beautiful husky and spoke with his owner. This one was a pet and not a working dog as one of its legs had been amputated. As we left, we spotted an Arctic Fox crossing the road right in front of us! Three of our Inuit guides were all smiles - they were walking towards us and saw us see it too. We next dropped in at an Art Show where one of the prints at the raffle table was by one of my favourite artists - Teevee. We browsed the handicraft table where Norma discovered that mitts without nearly the workmanship of the ones she bought in Ulukhaktok cost $50 more than she paid. Then it was off to the school where some northern delicacies had been prepared for us. We tried Narwhal (sushi style), Muskoxen sliders (delicious), smoked Arctic char, homemade jelly from local berries, and bannock, a deep fried dough like a doughnut. We split a bannock and wished we had each taken an enormous piece each as it was so tasty. From there it was back to the shuttle, zodiac, and ship for dinner with Jim, Phil, Hugh, and Kathy. We closed the dining room and didn't get back to our room until midnight. In the mail slot we discover tickets for a 7:45 a.m. "Unexpected Excursion".

Tuesday, 30 August 2016



Last night we were joined by Jim, Phil, and Hugh before dinner in the Saloon. We have a new woman, Kathy, (87 years young) at our table. She asked to be moved as didn't like her tablemates at the previous one. One of the lecturers joined us as well. Norma was greeted with a big hug from our waiter and told to expect a birthday cake for dessert which we all enjoyed.
This morning after breakfast, I went out to join the naturalist and Shirley to look for birds from 9 to 10 a.m. Snow buntings and American pipits were following the ship in small flocks. One tired pipit landed on the deck and even allowed one woman close enough to take pictures. At 10, I went to a lecture about Inuit printmaking. Those of you who have been in my apartment know of my love of Inuit art and of my collection of prints. One of the prints I own has even been used in art class on board.
After the lecture, I joined Norma on deck for our hour walk. Today was the best day yet - very little wind and sunny skies. What made it even easier was that on the sunny side of the deck, the wind was blowing into our face and on the shady side, at our backs. A most wonderful thing happened as I was walking on the sunny side by myself - I noticed a small bird coming toward me. I stood absolutely still as it hovered a few inches from me - I thought it was going to land on my hand, but suddenly veered off. It was an American pipit. It made my day!
After lunch, we both headed to a lecture on Birds of the NW Passage, given by Nigel. He mentioned that he will be on all the hikes until Nuuk in Greenland. Good thing Norma and I only booked hikes on this portion of the trip. After the lecture, I told him and Shirley about my pipit experience. Nigel was most jealous as he hasn't seen the North American race. I told him I would find him a pipit if he would get me a good view of the Hoary Redpoll. It's a deal.
From the lecture, it was off to Art Class where we painted in watercolours. Today's theme was Alaskan wildflowers. You'll have to ask us politely if you want to see our efforts.
Tonight we are planning the usual meeting in the Saloon followed by dinner and bed. We dock in Cambridge Bay tomorrow morning but we are on the afternoon hike so we get to sleep in!

Monday, 29 August 2016

Norma's Presents

The Inukshuk from me, the beautiful red mittens from herself, and the detested card from the Captain that would have been more suited as an Anniversary card. Our tiny uncomfortable loveseat is in the background.

I Loved the Patterns of the Lichen on this Rock

The Working Dogs of Ulukhaktok

They are not kept in the town. Someone comes out to feed them once or twice a week.

Fall Colours in Ulukhaktok

The yellow leaves are Willow trees!

Ulukhaktok with a Polar Bear Guide



We were up at 6:30 to get ready for our first zodiac ride to Ulukhaktok and our 4-hour hike. The north wind was blowing and it was cold on the ride. We were glad of our waterproof clothing and needed the boots as we disembarked into 6 inches of water. On shore, I noticed a man with a birding scope so approached him. His name is Nigel and he is the ornithologist for the trip and was accompanying us on the hike. We had some local guides as well as a full complement of expedition crew. The geologist from Scotland, Tom Sharpe, with the wonderful sense of humour also was on the hike. The rocks here range from being 795 million years old to 720 million years old. The hike took us along ATV trails and into the muskeg and hills high above the town. It was about 5 miles in length. The colours of the lichen decorating the rocks ranged from pale beige to yellow, to bright orange and even black. The plants were delicate and small but very beautiful with crimson or golden leaves. Willow tree branches zig-zagged along the ground and were probably a hundred or more years old. The trees grow 6 inches tall at most due to the windy conditions and poor soil. We saw Glaucous Gulls, Ravens, two Pacific loons (lifer), snow buntings, a couple of little bitty birds that I think were pipits, and three hoary redpolls flying (lifer). There was also a small flock of Cackling Geese. They are a subspecies of the Canada Goose and are much smaller. There is a good chance for better views of hoary redpolls in Cambridge Bay. Also saw an unidentifiable duck near the ship. We would have seen more wildlife but it seems to me that the residents here shoot everything that moves or flies. Many of the sled dogs were chained out in the muskeg where their owners came out every few days to feed them. No wonder our Inuit guide said he watched one of his dogs catch a Pacific Loon and eat it. The dog's reward - he wasn't fed for another couple of days.
We visited the community centre where the community was selling arts and crafts. Norma had left her mittens at home and wanted to get some for her birthday here. She picked up a lovely pair adorned with a picture of a musk ox. Her present from me was an Inukshuk (we each got one from Crystal). She was not impressed by the birthday card she was given by the Captain which pictured a couple dancing. She thought it was more suitable for an anniversary so the card now resides in the garbage pail.
We went to a Mitt-making workshop given by three Inuit women from Ulukhaktok this afternoon. We learned how to do the blanket stitch and an X stitch. We worked diligently for 3 hours and I only finished one of mine, but now have something to do on down days. We were given some extra wool before being sent on our way.
I much preferred meeting the locals one to one in a setting where they were teaching us and talking freely about their lives than I did watching the performances the night before. Tonight, we plan a visit to the Saloon and dinner in the dining room. Tomorrow is another sea day.
Internet access is way to slow to update the blog. It may be better on the high seas tomorrow.

Just One of the Many Beautiful Sunsets

we were fortunate to witness.

This Scene Changed Dramatically

as the light changed. This was taken as the sun was setting.  We are anchored off Ulukhaktok.

Our First Sight of the Shackleton



Yesterday after our hour walk on the Promenade Deck, we arrived at the small (population 415) community of Ulukhaktok. This was a cause of a flurry of excitement as we met up with The Shackleton, the ice breaker that is accompanying us to Greenland. All the zodiacs were launched along with the fast rib boat and both helicopters. The music blared the NorthWest Passage song. The landscape here is stark and beautiful. Hour by hour, as the light changed, so too did the rocks and colour of the water. Stunning.
At Art Class we finished painting our sculptures to make them look less like bars of soap or modelling clay. We were joined by an RCMP officer in his dress reds. He caused quite a flutter amongst the ladies.
We decided to have dinner in our room to prepare for our early hike the next day. We did sneak out of the room to see two local community dance troupes and singers who performed on the ship for us. (We had to sneak out as we were not dressed for dinner).

The Smoking Hills

For centuries these oil shales naturally ignite sending plumes of smoke into the air.

Friday, 26 August 2016



After Art Class (sculpture with both clay and a bar of soap), we headed for the room with our treasures. They need to harden overnight and we paint them tomorrow. We were greeted with our first sight of The Smoking Hills, situated on the east coast of Cape Bathurst in Franklin Bay. Columns of pungent smoke rise from the cliffs for approximately 50 miles. The smoke comes from places where coal, shale oil and bitumen deposits in the sedimentary strata are burning continuously. The temperatures are high enough to ignite the hydrocarbon-bearing rocks. It is estimated that they have been burning for hundreds of years.
While we were looking at the distant land, we heard passengers on the deck below us exclaim, "Whales!" Sure enough there was a multiple number of bowhead whales blowing, surfacing, and showing their flukes (tails). Very impressive.
We went to the Saloon for our usual pre-dinner libation - we enjoy the piano player there who plays all the singalong songs from WWI on that we know by heart - he hasn't played, I've Been Working on the Railroad" yet but maybe if asked???? We were joined by our friend, Jim. At Silk Road, we met the two women who are sharing the cabin next to us. One is Australian and one is American. They met while working in Singapore and travel together when they can. From there we went to an "Ice Party" where we met some of the Ambassador Hosts and I even managed a dance or two. Next thing I know, Norma is kicking up her heels with Jim! Then he asked me to dance. Turns out, he is a great swing dancer.

Thursday, 25 August 2016



Yesterday we passed Alaska and entered Canadian waters. We had hoped to catch sight of some marine life and birds but were thoroughly socked in with fog. We spent the day napping, House of Card-ing, Art (me), and Fashion Show (Norma), and eating.
I just read over the last blog and see that I called the gulls we saw on the ice, Glaucous. Learned this morning, that they were Ross's!
We have met up with Jim Wade, an 87-year-old from Florida, the last two evenings when we go to the Saloon for our pre-dinner drinks. He is quite a character with an eye for the ladies. He was seated at our table for the Vancouver-Alaska leg of this trip but the powers-that-be changed the seating for this leg of the voyage. I don't think he knows quite what to make of us but seems to enjoy our conversations especially the one we had about Norma's diaper pin collection.
At dinner the last three evenings we have been seated with some of the Expedition speakers and film-makers. We've met Stevie Audlakiak, an Inuit Guide from Nunavet, Linda and Flip Nicklin, she is a marine biologist and naturalist and he is a renowned National Geographic Photographer specializing in underwater pictures of whales. Last night we sat with Adam Lajeuness, an Historian/Lecturer from Ottawa who now lives in Calgary, who looks 15-years-old; and Kevin Freeny, who is the Expedition Videographer, a young man who has filmed all over the world. He also enjoys birds so we talked until we were the last ones in the dining room.
Tonight we are at Silk Road by ourselves so will miss out on meeting more of the Expedition staff. They are much more interesting than the Ambassador Hosts who were seated with us first voyage. We have yet to go dancing so haven't met the latest clutch.
Today is another sea day but it was different in that we awoke to blue skies and sunshine! The water is an incredible deep blue. The seas are remarkably calm and the wind has dropped considerably. After breakfast I joined Art Sowls, one of the birder/naturalists on board, and we spotted four yellow-billed loons - a lifer. I have also met a birder from Tennessee, Shirley, and this bird was a lifer for her too. I have enjoyed swapping many birding stories with her. Norma and I also took our Nordic poles and walked for an hour on the promenade deck.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

The Beautiful Colours of the Sea Ice

Our First View of Sea Ice



We are steadily heading north and expect to pass Port Barrow around 10 p.m. and expect to encounter our first sea ice at that time. Port Barrow is the most northerly point of the USA and well above the Arctic Circle. This morning we had breakfast in the room so we could join some of the expedition staff on deck to watch for birds and marine mammals. It was very windy and only one degree Celsius - brrrrrr - thank heavens we were provided with parkas. Saw some very distant gulls. After that we went to a mandatory safety briefing. If you didn't attend it, you wouldn't be allowed off the ship until the ship left Greenland. Once back at the room, I fell asleep until Trivia. We were terrible only getting three correct answers. After lunch, we have another art class followed by preparations for dinner. My stomach still isn't right and I am frightened of a repeat occurrence so am being very careful about what I eat and drink.

We had our first bit of excitement after lunch. We saw our first sea ice (and maybe our only). The colours of the ice and the water were a beautiful blue. The only gulls we saw were Glaucous. Wildlife is few and far between. The temperature is now below Zero with strong winds from the north which makes walking on deck less than pleasant. Unfortunately, while on deck viewing the ice, a gentleman with a smelly cigar insisted on puffing the whole time. We could even smell it in the elevator lobby.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Diomedes

The one on the left belongs to the USA and the one on the right to Russia. The International Dateline runs between them. The blue sky is the first we'd seen in days. There are hundreds of sea birds between us and the Islands.

Braving The Cold on Deck

this morning while searching for birds.



We were on deck by 8:30 this morning as we cruised by the Diomedes Islands in the Bering Strait. We are heading for the Chukchi Sea and the Arctic Ocean leaving the Pacific Ocean behind. The two islands that make up the Diomedes are unusual in that the Little Diomede is in the US State of Alaska and the Big Diomede is the easternmost part of Russia. The International Dateline runs between the two islands - so that today in Little Diomede is tomorrow in Big Diomede.
The islands are home to millions of sea birds and many of them were following the ship. I saw Least Auklets, Crested Auklets, Thick Billed Murres, Short Tailed Shearwaters, Black Legged Kittiwakes. It is only 4 degrees Celsius with very strong winds from the north but we have seen the sun! The waves are huge and spectacular and the ship is remarkably steady.
I met a young woman from Pond Inlet, part of the Expedition Team, who said that I should see lots of birds there. We'd have tried our hands at Trivia and actually the two of us did quite well today. Our next activity is another Art Class. We are off to dine at Prego, the Italian specialty restaurant, tonight. Oh, and on our prowls around the ship, we saw another room in the process of being sanitized so Norwalk is still alive and well on board. We are being extremely obsessive with our hand washing.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Just Ambling Along

Many Muskoxen stay close to town to get away from the Grizzly Bears who prey on them but this one was on his own. A real daredevil.

A Birding Highlight - A Muskox!



If you are not one of my birding friends, you may want to skip this post.
Thirty-one of us took the tender to Nome where we met our white bus and our guides, a husband and wife team (the woman was a native from an island far to the north of Nome). This number of participants is enormous for a birding trip. Most guides limit the number to eight.
Our first stop was to a spot where there were no birds but we were shown some of the native plants that the natives use as salad greens and for medicinal purposes. I caught sight of small bird with two white tail feathers. When I asked if it could have been junco, the blank stare I was given by the guide was my first inkling that all was not well. Things deteriorated from there. All small birds were "little bitty birds" (LBBs) - a new one to me. The sea gulls (there is no such bird) were 'ga la shus' gulls known to most birders as Glaucous (glah kus) gulls. We did see Red-throated Loons, Northern Shovellers, Long-Tailed Ducks. Lapland Longspurs fell into the 'LBB' category. We stopped at places where there were no birds and got out and looked around and barrelled right by places where there were birds. There was no spotting scope available and most birds were too far away to identify without one. Add to the fact that it was raining hard and the windows fogged up, we didn't see much. I saw some flocks of shorebirds but they were much too far away to identify.
There was a highlight: we saw our first Muskoxen. A small herd was right beside the road and at our furthest distance at the last Iditerod stop, another small herd. Later we saw a lone individual trotting along the muskeg.
We went for afternoon tea, where I regaled Shirley, a birder I met on ship, with the story of our birding expedition. She was quite happy she didn't go.
Tonight, Norma and I are hoping to enjoy a pre dinner drink at the Saloon before venturing into the dining room for dinner. We have five sea days ahead of us.



We are sailing into Nome on yet another foggy, overcast morning. Rain is to be intermittent all day. Perfect for bird watching. Just hope the birds aren't at a great distance as they will be difficult to distinguish in the fog. Colours also tend to get muddled in this light.
We ate dinner in our room last night as my system still isn't back to normal. I woke up singing "I'm so skinny, I'm so skinny, I feel skinny and witty and gay" to the West Side Story tune. We finished watching Season One of House of Cards.
Norma said she didn't sleep well last night as she was obsessing over her new-found painting talent. She has dreams of grandeur and fame. I told her she might be the new Grandma Moses. Trust a sister to bring you down to earth.



To try to make up for Dutch Harbor on the Island of Unalaska being such a bust, Crystal has reimbursed us for the lost day. I am still afraid to eat so have been subsisting on crackers, dry bread, bananas, herbal tea, and Sprite. I think I have actually lost weight! We spent the day yesterday binge watching House of Cards, Season One. I also managed to see my first puffin from our verandah - a horned puffin.
This morning after breakfast, we joined the naturalist on the 12th deck while cruising the Bering Sea to see both light and dark phase Northern Fulmars. There are also flesh footed Shearwaters and a few sooty shearwaters. We hit the deck literally for an hour's walk. The weather despite the light rain, wasn't too bad - very little wind. Then it was time for Trivia where we are now a duo. We left without giving our score.
We are just about to head out for art class and plan a nap after that. Think we may stay in for dinner tonight. I just don't trust my stomach yet and we have another birdwatching trip planned for tomorrow in Nome and I don't want to miss it.

Friday, 19 August 2016



Last evening began well as we ran into Phil and Hugh, our table mates, in the Saloon Bar where we each enjoyed our favourite cocktail, followed by dinner.
We were in bed less than an hour when I awoke feeling nauseous. I was so sick, that Norma called the ship's doctor. I don't remember ever being that ill before. At first he thought I had food poisoning but changed his diagnosis to the Norwalk-like Virus. Now we're both stuck in this tiny room for 24 hours in quarantine. The room is being sanitized as I write this. This entails removing all the bed clothes, towels, etc, and scrubbing down the whole room. We have no internet so I cannot let our private tour guide know that we cannot go on the birding tour I had arranged. I am bitterly disappointed. There is also a bird and wildlife viewing hour as we pull out of Dutch Harbour that I will miss. Usually Norma would be given a separate room while I am in quarantine but there are none available on the ship. Needless to say, she is not too pleased either. I am sure that I am not the only case on board. It has been kept quite quiet.

Thursday, 18 August 2016



sea days on this leg of our voyage and it looks to be jam packed. There is a lecture at 10:00 to meet the "Expedition Team", Trivia at 12:00, Art at 3:00. The seas today are quite heavy and we are really feeling the rocking motion. And, of course, it is raining again. It is too unstable for a walk on the promenade deck.
We had a delightful evening last night. We went to our favourite bar for a before dinner drink - Norma is working her way through the cocktail menu while I am sticking to the addictive apple martini. There we were joined by Jim one of our dinner mates from the previous cruise. On our way into dinner, we were met by Kurt (the birder) and another lecturer, Ed, who is also a birder. They managed to get themselves seated at our table. Unfortunately, both of them are getting off in Nome. There were two more women at our table - both from New Zealand. Didn't have a chance to talk with them as they were sitting across from us. Maybe tonight.
Boy, was I mistaken. It took me half an hour to realize that not only was Norma missing from the room but so were her poles. I hastily dressed and joined her on the promenade deck where she had been walking for almost an hour! We were buffeted by hurricane force winds as we rounded the front of the ship. Every time the prow of the ship hit a huge wave, it sounded like an explosion and there was spray everywhere.
On the way into breakfast, I met the one birder on the expedition team. He promised to be in touch so we could do some birding on deck together. Things are looking up.
Since Then:
We went to our first lecture that introduced us to some of the expedition speakers. All of the speakers were excellent, both knowledgable and humourous. At Trivia, we were in a team of three - everyone else were teams of eight. Needless to say, we did not do well and the host insisted on announcing our score. We were not amused. We have been to our art class - we are learning how to paint using acrylic paints. My polar bears turned out quite well. We are now preparing for the first of the black tie dinners. There is only one more.
Tomorrow, the island of Unalaska, port of Dutch Harbor and our private birding tour.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

View of Ocean from Fort Abercrombie State Park

Orange Fungi Growing on Tree Trunk

Moss Carpet

Norma said this moss was the same colour as my car.

The Enchanted Forest

Moss Covered Trees



Yesterday after I finished the blog, we watched the ship being loaded with provisions from our verandah. Case after case of mangoes, pineapples, papayas, oranges, carrots, soft drinks, eggs were some of the few items we watched being loaded. Doesn't look like we'll be running out of food.
And, our extra large size parkas arrived. We can wear something underneath them and zip them up. Hurrah! For some reason, the hoods on these ones are huge. Today, they were joined by touques.
We did go down for dinner and found that while we were seated at the same table, our other dinner companions had been moved to different tables. We met Phil and Hugh, a couple from Vancouver, and an ancient gentleman named Rick. There are still three empty spaces at the table so maybe tonight we'll meet them.
Our dreary weather was back with a vengeance this morning and this time accompanied by a driving rain. The one benefit of this was that someone turned in their ticket for the Fort Abercrombie Nature Walk and Norma could come with me. We bundled up into our rain gear and boots and headed out in a tiny yellow school bus. Our guide, a young, home-schooled charmer and one of eleven children, shared information about Kodiac's past natural disasters that included a volcanic eruption, and earthquake and resulting tsunami, and pointing out landmarks such as the Safeway, KFC, Subway, and Walmart in addition to the oldest Russian building in the USA.
 Despite the rain - which they hadn't seen in weeks - the park was stunning. Thick moss clung to the trunks of the Spruce trees (the only variety to grow on the island) and on the limbs with no needles giving the whole forest a surreal quality. We felt we were in an enchanted forest as the tree limbs twisted in ungainly ways. My pictures don't do it justice. The rain wasn't too bad until we reached an exposed hilltop where a small military museum was located. Here the rain was horizontal blown by the blustery winds. The museum showed the history of Kodiac Island's involvement in WWII. One of the artifacts was an Olympia typewriter, exactly the same model as the ones I used to teach typing when I started teaching. Don't even ask how old that made me feel.
We returned to the trail through the forest and alongside a fresh water lake admiring the various colourful fungi. I did see a black-capped chickadee. Those little birds are widespread.
After lunch, we both enjoyed a nap. We have nothing until dinner. Tomorrow is another sea day as we sail to Dutch Harbour where I have organized a private birding expedition. Sea birds aren't all that easy to identify unless they get close to the ship.

Mangoes Being Loaded On Board Ship

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Norma on the Beach, Seward

Look what we've been missing all these overcast days.

View of the Serenity from Seward Harbour



What a difference a day makes! We woke to sunshine! We could see the mountains! Norma was much more energetic than me still suffering from this chest cold and was walking with the Nordic poles by 6 a.m. When I finally lurched out of bed an hour later, I took the opportunity to do a short walk with mine. Then it was off to breakfast. I still have no appetite. Norma says I may fit into my parka if this keeps up!
After a few false starts, we set off for the town of Seward - we needed photo ID, then found out we didn't after we were sent back for it. We were just about to get on Crystal's free shuttle service which was almost empty when we were told we had to wait for the next one and it pulled away. Impatient to get going, I elected to walk to town - 2 miles. It was quite a pleasant walk once we left the port area - saw a magpie. Walked along the harbour and a trail along the bay. We still hadn't found the downtown. We did see a shuttle stop. Another couple was waiting so we sat down. Two Crystal shuttles went by and did not stop despite our frantic waves. We never did find out where we could catch it. Instead, we took the town shuttle, (after a half-hour wait) a yellow school bus.
Back on board, we went to book our extra specialty restaurants (we got 6 more sittings), then for lunch, followed by a nap, and a trip to the computer lab to get reconnected. Now we are waiting for the mandatory life boat drill then hope to get down for dinner in the dining room. I seem to have lost my voice so won't be much of a dinner companion tonight.
Tomorrow, we are in Kodiak, where I have a hike scheduled and Norma is wait listed. We hope someone cancels so that she can get on it too.

Monday, 15 August 2016

A Closeup View of the Hubbard

Kurt told us that in 20 years, this is the closest he's been to the glacier. Ships tend to keep their distance because of all the calving.

Our First View of the Massive Hubbard Glacier

Note the blue colour of the ice - yes, another overcast, rainy day.



I awoke feeling particularly awful as my cold has me firmly in its grip. I only got up as we approached the Hubbard Glacier, 75 miles long, and rising 300 feet above the ocean. This glacier is actively calving and we were lucky enough to see several large chunks of ice break off and fall into the ocean. The noise reminded me of thunder. We saw the splash and then heard the noise. Once again, we saw lots of the lovely colours of the ice as it was raining hard and overcast the entire time. I cannot remember when I last saw blue sky and sunshine.
Since we were dressed we went up to the buffet breakfast where we sat next to the only other birder on board, Kurt. Then back to bed. We ordered lunch in the room - a Thai spicy soup which felt wonderful on my sore throat. A large pot of ginger tea with honey and lemon also helped. After another long nap, I finally have enough energy to work on this blog.
The art show is from 5 to 6 this evening where we get to pick up our masterpieces. Think we'll have dinner in our room again tonight.
Tomorrow we dock in Seward where the rest of the passengers on the NW Passage cruise join us and we get our new parkas. It's another day to recuperate from this cold.

Sea Otters in a Kelp Field

Steller Sea Lions Relaxing



My cold has struck with a vengeance and we have two shore excursions planned today. Our first was a RIB boat ride where we suited up in flotation suits which are the ugliest fashion statement ever devised. We were also issued balaclavas and gloves to complete the look. There were only two other passengers from the ship with us which made us wonder, "What had we gotten ourselves into?" We cruised along the town of Sitka and explored different bays before heading out to the thrilling part of the ride on the ocean. We didn't see much wildlife - only a few heads poking out of the water which our driver said were sea lions and one otter. Oh, and we did see some harbour seals on a rock.
It was a rush to get back and ready for our second shore excursion. On this one, we were on a catamaran with quite a few other people. As we headed out, we first saw Steller Sea Lions lazing on a buoy. As we got further out, whales were spotted. We had wonderful views of these magnificent humpbacks as they surfaced over and over again - then the ultimate moment, a full breech. This is rare here as they usually do it on their mating grounds in Hawaii. We must have seen at leave two dozen individuals fishing. Apparently, the ones in the Sitka area do not bubble feed. They have to be taught to do this so one in the pod has to know how to do it in order to teach the others. I saw a Pelagic Cormorant and a Common Murre.
On both trips, of course, we saw the ubiquitous bald eagle.
Back at the ship, I headed for bed. We had dinner in the room.

The Infamous Size Large that I Can't Do Up

What We Saw In Glacier Bay

Note the blue colours in the ice that only show on a dull day.

What We Were Supposed to See in Glacier Bay



We could look at this two ways - When it is sunny and clear, the views are spectacular. When it is overcast with low hanging clouds, the glacier ice shows it beautiful colours. We enjoyed clouds and rain. As we sailed closer up the bay, the temperature kept dropping. Soon, small chunks of ice started to appear. Naturalists from the National Park Service were on board and made announcements every so often about what we were seeing. At one of the more spectacular sites, we decided to put on our NW Passage parkas and head outside. The first woman to see us commented, "Your parkas fit!" "No", we said. "If you notice, we cannot do up the zippers." It turns out that we were not the only ones having problems. Despite ordering the large size, neither of us could do up the zippers. We not only resemble but feel like stuffed sausages. Neither of us could imagine getting in and out of a zodiac in them. Apparently every woman on this part of the trip need a bigger size so more are being ordered. The only woman I saw with a parka that fit, was wearing her husband's size large and she was tiny! We are supposed to get our new larger sizes in Seward.
That night, we dined at Silk Road, the specialty Asian Restaurant, after indulging in a Apple Martini, a delicious drink that tastes like you are drinking an apple (with a kick). The food was delicious but my taste buds were a little blunted due to a cold I feel taking hold. We were joined by Scott who we had met before and who sat at an adjoining table. He retired from administration at the 40000 strong student bodied University of Arizona. He travels much of the year by himself. It made for a delightful evening.

Friday, 12 August 2016

What We Saw when the Clouds Lifted!

This was taken on the ferry. The town of Haines is in the background.

View Along the Chilcut River

The low lying clouds obscure the mountains.



We were up at 5:00 to join our early morning shore excursion that entailed a ferry ride to Haines, Alaska through the scenic Lynn Canal, a 2400 foot deep fjiord.  The clouds were low hanging but we saw lots of waterfalls caused by glacier melt. This fresh water mixes with the sea water to create a lovely emerald colour. The small town of Haines is connected by a two-lane road to Dawson City, Canada. We took this road for 24 miles to the dock to begin our river cruise up the many tributaries of the Chilkut River which is very shallow. We saw several Trumpeter Swans, one with a cygnet. There were not many other birds though we did see common mergansers, wigeon, and belted kingfishers. The other boat did spot a moose but it was deep in the trees. This was a disappointment as we had hoped to see not only moose but some brown bears.  Back at the dock, I saw three mountain goats through a scope that had been set up.  Norma managed to see one before they disappeared into the clouds.
We were deep in the wilderness according to our boat guide who insisted on relating the story of his life throughout the trip. He did quieten down at one point and turned off the engines so we could experience the quiet. Unfortunately, two very precocious young boys, who we met on the boat yesterday, chatted away incessantly in their high pitched penetrating voices encouraged by our captain and so we missed the feeling of being in the wilderness.  I should mention that back at the dock one of the employees trained a scope at a hill side where there were three mountain goats.  I got a glimpse of them but Norma only saw one when the clouds descended to obscure her view.
Back at the ship, we reported our lack of hot water to reception and tried to make arrangements to have the Nordic walking poles available to us for 6:30 in the morning. We both really like using them and find that our posture is improved while walking with them.
Tomorrow is a sea day spent cruising Glacier Bay National Park so the scenery should be grand that is, if the clouds lift. The day will be full of activities - Trivial Pursuit, Art Class, maybe even some dancing! We'll see.