Saturday, May 16, 2009

Katchemak Bay Birding

Homer and Katchemak Bay specialize in scenery. Mary arranged for a boat and bird tour of the bay with Bay Excursions. And birds we did see! This birder type opted to leave the camera at home so as to better focus on the watching part of birding. We saw three species of loons, cute little Tufted Puffins, rafts of thousands of Common Murres, Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants, Harlequin Duck, Marbled Murrelet, and Barrow's Goldeneye, among others.

We also saw the ubuquitous Bald Eagles of Katchemak Bay. For many years, a woman that lived on Homer Spit had fed the eagles that gathered each winter, feasting on the natural and human-made food supply. The woman, whose name I did not learn, passed away during the winter of 2008-09, but her supporters continued to feed the wintering population of eagles. With only good intentions, some locals believed it necessary to continue the food source until the natural supply increased in the spring. The eagles thrived. Unfortunately, these same predatory birds that were being nurtured had a devastating effect on populations of other species that nested in the bay, including Arctic Tern, Black-legged Kittiwakes, and many others. Next winter, there will be no deliberate feeding of eagles in the hopes to return Katchemak Bay avifauna to a more natural balance.

Throughout our stay, the weather was perfect in every way and the waters calm.
We also had great views of Grewingk Glacier. The unseasonably warm and dry weather did have its drawbacks, however.
We witnessed the start of this wildfire about 10 miles east of the main village. By the next day, it had grown to over 500 acres, and folks were being evacuated. Three days later, I learned that it had reached 5,000 acres and some homes had been lost. This area had been hard hit by spruce beetles, leaving dead standing trees as a reminder of the infestation. Unfortunately, the combination of the diseased or dead trees and glorious weather had a devastating effect.

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