Monday, July 26, 2010

Bulletin #117 – Alaska #5 – pelagic trip

David McDonald Photography
Friendswood Texas
July 26, 2010

Bulletin #117 – Alaska #5 – pelagic trip

Hello friends,

I had a great trip to Alaska with TOS (Texas Ornithology Society). They run an annual trip to Alaska in early June. We visited Anchorage, Nome, Barrow, Denali Highway and had a pelagic trip out of Seward. It was a fantastic trip with most usual birds seen and photographed along with numerous mammal species.

The pelagic trip out of Seward was a great success with many alcids seen as well as mammals. The alcids are a family of sea birds in the northern oceans that occupy the same environmental niche as the penguins in the southern oceans. The main difference is that the alcids can fly. As you know, all penguins are flightless. To be totally correct, there was 1 alcid, the Greak Auk, that was flightless. But it has been extinct since the early 19th century, having been rounded up and exterminated for their feathers.

Everybody loves the comical looking puffins. There are 3 species worldwide with 2 in the Pacific. The Horned Puffin (Fratercula corniculata) has a beak that is yellow at the base and red at the tip. The face is white with a black horn above the eye. Both puffins were life birds.

The Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) has a mostly red beak with long yellow tufts extending down the back of the neck from the eye.

The Common Murre (Uria aalge) is a large (17.5") seabird IDed by dark upper parts (brown in breeding, black in winter) and white underparts. It has a long thin bill. It occurs from Alaska to central California and in the north Atlantic as well.

The similar Thick-billed Murre (Uria lomvia) is IDed by the shorter bill and white line along the bill. We saw several of these birds on a ledge where they were nesting among a large colony of the Common Murres. This bird was another lifer for me.

Murrelets, as the name suggests, are smaller cousins of the murres above. The Ancient Murrelet (Synthliboramphus antiquus) is a small (10") black and white seabird IDed by the black hood over the head and neck, white line on the back of head and yellow tipped bill. This is the breeding plumage.

Two very similar species were both life birds for me. The Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus) has the unusual nesting habit for a seabird of using old growth forests to nest in treetops, as much as 50 miles inland from the coast. It has a plain back.

The Kittlitz’s Murrelet (Brachyramphus brevirostris) is similar but has a speckled back.

Two other small alcids are called auklets. The Rhinoceros Auklet (Cerorhinca monocerata) is a 15" black seabird with 2 white stripes on the side of face, and a red bill with white horn on it. This is the breeding plumage.

The 10" Parakeet Auklet (Aethia psittacula) has a short red bill and single stripe on the side of head. This was another lifer for me.

There were 3 members of the cetacean family of mammals (whales and dolphins). None of them were lifers for me, but this was the first time I obtained photos of these species.

The best was the Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). I had tried to photograph this whale breaching on a previous pelagic trip out of Monterey CA, but only ended up with big splashes. On this trip, there was a mother and baby who were breaching repeatedly. The boat raced over to get closer to the pair and I got several photos of the whale. One can see barnacles all over the throat of the whale. In the second photo, a large pectoral fin is straight up out of the water. The front of the fin has the knobs. Notice that there are even some barnacles on the tip of the fin.

The Killer Whale or Orca (Orcinus orca) is the creature of legends as the most feared predator in the dolphin family. I’m sure that you have seen photos of them eating seals, other whales etc. However, these orcas in the North Pacific off Alaska and British Columbia primarily feed on salmon. It is IDed by the very tall dorsal fin with white patch behind the fin.

Lastly, we had a pod of Dall’s Porpoises (Phocoenoides dalli) riding the bow wave of the boat. These porpoises occur only in the North Pacific. They are IDed by their shape with a very thick body and small head. They have a small dorsal fin and white underparts.

I will be leading a 9 day bird photography tour to Costa Rica in conjunction with Lillian Scott-Baer of Baer Travel March 3-11, 2011. We have worked out an itinerary to visit La Selva Preserve, Savegre Mountain Hotel in the central mountains for Resplendant Quetzal and other montane species and Wilson Botanical Gardens (Las Cruces). We have also retained the services of local guide Rudy Zamora to accompany us and locate and ID the birds for us to photograph. We will also have beautiful flowers and hopefully some mammals - tamanduas, monkeys etc.

I will be giving several talks in the evening on bird photography, Photoshop etc.

The price will be $1960 double to $2380 single. This includes hotels, all meals, guide, transportation in Costa Rica etc. The only other cost will be airfare and personal purchases (alcohol, souvenirs etc) . Space is limited to 10 persons to maximize our opportunity to see and photograph the birds. I have birded in Costa Rica previously. It is a wonderful country to visit and the bird life is exceptional. I hope that you can join us.

Here is the schedule of payments for the trip.

$ 25 reservation fee (not refundable)
$ 575 due April 30, 2010
$ 600 due July 30, 2010
$ 740 due January 15, 2011
Please send deposits to:

ScoBar Inc.
34 Galway Place
The Woodlands, TX 77382

Note - we will try to pair up singles and triple would be $1890 per person.

There are only 2 spaces left for this trip as of today, so please email me, if interested.

All comments and suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald


photos copyright 2010 David McDonald

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