Friday, July 5, 2013

Alaska: The Adventure Begins

My family and I just returned from a trip to Alaska, where we witnessed many incredible sights that I hope to share in my next few blog posts. Our adventure began at the Newark airport, where security caused no problems for us, so we arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare. When we boarded the plane, however, things took a turn for the worse. Even well after everyone was seated and the cabin door was closed, the plane sat the gate. Eventually, we pulled out, taxied about 100 yards, and then stopped. For half an hour. Hour. Hour and a half. It seemed as if no planes were taking off. To make matters worse, we suddenly began moving back towards the gate. Apparently one of the passengers had to be removed from the aircraft because of his lack of regard for instructions from the flight crew. Once he and few others disembarked, we still had to wait another thirty minutes before we made it to the runway. No one was happy about having to sit in cramped airplane seats for two hours longer than expected, and many, including us, had absolutely no chance of making our connecting flight out of Denver.

After over six hours in the airplane, we eventually made it to Colorado, where an airline representative promptly provided us with airplane tickets for the next morning (Denver to Seattle to Anchorage) as well as hotel and meal vouchers. It could have turned out a lot worse. Now, we'd at least be getting a good rest before arriving in Alaska, where we would have originally had to sit in the airport for several long, boring hours before the car rental service opened for the morning.

We awoke early the next morning for our flight and flew the first leg to Seattle, where we had a few hours in the airport. Having never been to the west coast, I immediately headed to the windows in search of new birds! I initially found a number of species with which I was already familiar: White-crowned Sparrows, Cedar Waxwings, and Bald Eagles. A small, gray bird caught my attention as it flew in a rather gnatcatcher-like manner across a small garden near the airport. It stopped for a moment to gather some sort of fuzzy material caught on a small branch, allowing me to get a decent view of my first ever Bushtit! Then, a Glaucous-winged Gull soared over the terminal giving me my second and final lifer in Seattle. We boarded this plane without delay, and we were off to the 49th state at last!

Our first Alaska birding experience was in the city of Anchorage. Much like in Pennsylvania, we found gulls patrolling the restaurant parking lots. The difference was that these were not Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, but rather Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls!

We were headed south from the city towards the Kenai Peninsula where we planned to spend the first few days of our trip. Not far from the city, we discovered a large marsh filled with friendly Mew Gulls...

...and cooperative Arctic Terns.

Bald Eagles lined the nearby river flats, watching wigeon flocks swimming around the marshy areas. The roadside ponds and meadows were home to the abundant residents of the region that welcomed us as we passed: Trumpeter Swans, Black-billed Magpies, small flocks of Pine Siskins, and Northwestern Crows.

As we headed deeper into the peninsula, the scenery became more and more spectacular, with large, rocky mountains jutting from the water's edge. We certainly were not in Pennsylvania any more...

By nine in the evening, we made it to the cabin just north of the town of Seward. We fell asleep to still-lit skiesexhausted from a long day of travel and exhilarated by thoughts of the adventures to come. We were in Alaska!