Chapter 8.  Coastal Alaska

Day 43 - June 27 – Turnagain Arm to Seward

(Bert) The tide is out from Turnagain Arm, exposing gray mud sometimes flat, often in mounds creased by rivulets. A Bald Eagle passes overhead. With Velcro feet, four Dall’s Sheep cling to the cliff close to the road. Rain hesitates, then releases and Shari and I contemplate what tomorrow’s weather will be like on the boat through Resurrection Bay. Our planned stop at Turnagain Basin, still partially covered in snow drifts, is cut to a minimum because of the rain. It is nearly stops when we reach the campground in Seward and at 1 PM the group carpools to the SeaLife Center. I’ve visited the center several times before and look forward to this afternoon’s again as I like photographing some of the exhibits. This time I get some sharp photos of colorful fish and a neat shot of a small girl holding a camera in front of the glass aquarium wall just as a Steller’s Sea Lion swims by, its size easily five times that of the girl. And, in the free flying room above another aquarium I photograph close views of King Eiders, puffins and other seabirds. When we leave, Bent, Marie, Shari and I continue along the coastal road, watching sea otters, harbor seals and Harlequin Ducks. Near the end of the road we stop at the sea and study the aerobatics of Northwestern Crows and find one wearing color leg bands.

(Shari) “Curt, would you please stand up?’ I ask at the travel meeting this evening. “Let’s give Curt a round of applause. He washed his car yesterday so it would rain today and be nice tomorrow.” I mean, there has to be some reason it rained all day today and we hope it does not for our boat trip tomorrow. The rain started as soon as we crested the mountain and has continued all the way to Seward. No one stopped at the suggested stops and we all arrive pretty early. That gives us ample time to eat lunch before we travel to the SeaLife Center. The museum is dedicated to live specimens of Alaska critters found in or near water. We are able to see puffins and King Eiders up close and personal as they swim above and below in a huge glass-walled tank. We see various types of salmon and halibut swimming in another three story tank. Afterwards we gather for a social. Now the room above the laundry is full of sunshine and warmth as we chatter about our trip and eat from the array of snacks brought for our finger food potluck.

Day 44 - June 28 - Kenai Fjords National Park & Chiswell Islands

(Shari) I know the men have mixed emotions about our captain. First of all, the captain is a woman. Second, she is petite and good looking. And third, she is very young. Andrea handles the situation with ease and explains the Coast Guard rules and safety procedures before we even leave land. The 22 of us have the whole boat to ourselves and can tell the captain what we’d like to see and how long we’d like to see it. I remember Bert’s frustration another year as the only birder in the group and the boat hardly spending any time at the Chiswell Islands, the only reason Bert took the trip. Not this trip. Captain Andrea is a birder too. She even mentions an Ancient Murrelet, a would be lifer for almost all on board, including Bert. The weather is so so: not sunny but not rainy either. We are glad that we are wearing our long underwear and many layers of clothes as the temperature is chilly and damp. Andrea motors away from the dark rain-filled clouds and we all hope that we stay away from bad weather during the day. First Mate Chris hands out a yogurt cereal snack after we get underway. We see nesting puffins and cormorants and other birds with exotic names like murrelets and auklets. Bert insists that I see the white line that distinguishes the Thick-billed Murre from its cousin the Common Murre. The boat is rocking so much and making me queasy that finally I say I see it just to be able to move on. Poor Marlene has been queasy all morning and looks as white as a sheet even though she took two Dramamines. After soup and sandwiches for lunch we travel to the Aialik Glacier. Ice floes litter the water and we can hear them thud against the hull as we approach the glacier very slowly. Choices have to be made: look at the glacier or look for the Kittlitz’s Murrelet. When we are ¾ mi. from the glacier, Andrea turns off the motor so we can hear the sounds of the ice. Thunder and cracks and creaks assault our ears. We see ice fall from the face of the glacier hitting the water with a huge splash. Seconds later we hear the sound. The glacier is 1000 ft. high and ¾ mile wide and its size dwarfs our boat. Majestic in its bluish beauty and daunting in its size and sounds, I feel defenseless and awed in its presence. Yet I am mesmerized and could watch it for hours but alas we need to start back. Although it has been cold and cloudy, the smiling faces of the group generated by the sights and sounds today have made its own sunshine. We join Chris and Curt, Curtis and Ann for dinner at a local seafood restaurant to top off a really great day.

(Bert) The 22 of us have the whole boat to ourselves, with Captain Andrea and her first mate as our assistants. Knowing we are anxious to see pelagic birds, Andrea is certainly up to the task. “Misty” is a good name for a boat plying the often foggy fjords, but today we have mostly gray skies, low seas and we drive away from the darker rain clouds. As we cruise through Resurrection Bay, Bald Eagles display prominent white heads contrasting to the dark green spruce atop which they perch. Glaucous-winged Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes are multitude and we also find Pelagic Cormorants and Pigeon Guillemots, but the real prizes are yet to come. We are headed to the Chiswell Islands and before we get there we stop for Humpback Whales and then are treated to a much rarer whale in these waters, a pair of Fin Whales. Andrea tells us they are the second largest whales – up to 78 ft. and much longer than R-Tent-III towing our SUV - and from what I see I’d have to agree. Unlike the Humpbacks, they don’t display an obvious blow and they don’t fluke and dive like the others. Instead, they just glide slightly above the surface with long dark backs like an almost submerged submarine, with one small dorsal fin protruding.

Andrea idles the boat at the Chiswells and we drift in front of tall cliffs, almost barren but for a few brightly colored flowers. On the cliffs we watch nesting Pelagic and Red-faced cormorants, hundreds of Common Murres and gulls, and dozens of Horned and Tufted puffins. The air above us and the sea in front of us churn with birds. Andrea edges close to one particular cliff and gives directions of following a vertical crack to a horizontal crack and looking at the few black – not dark gray – murres nesting along a narrow edge. With only a minimal bounce from the calm waters, we can train our binoculars on the still distant birds, enough to see the white chin lines on the Thick-billed Murres. Andrea now maneuvers to a cove where a flock of Parakeet Auklets are feeding. We are close enough to hear their parakeet-like chirping and can see thick orange bills and the white plume extending back from each eye.

Leaving the Chiswell Islands, Andrea heads to Aialik Glacier for our next target bird, the Kittlitz’s Murrelet. Along the way she stops for Rhinoceros Auklets and more Humpback Whales. We have been in view of Aialik Glacier for some time and even when I think we are close to it, Andrea’s radar says we are still 7.5 mi. away from the face. She maneuvers through iceberg waters, passing an occasional Harbor Seal or Sea Otter. We scan for murrelets and the first ones we see are always Marbled, best identified by the dark heads on brown bodies. We see a black and white murrelet and think we have something different. It turns out to be a juvenile Marbled Murrelet. Then we see uniformly brown murrelets and for confirmation that these are the Kittlitz’s Murrelets, they take flight and we can see the white outer tail feathers. Now we are within a third mile of the glacier wall and we can hear it crack and groan and periodically see a waterfall of falling ice. Another boat, much larger than ours, is at the face also and it looks miniscule in front of the three-quarter mile wide and 1000+ ft. high face. We drift soundlessly for a half-hour, awed by the wonder before us.

We have almost made a clean sweep of all the birds we could expect to find, yet one remains. On four previous trips to Kenai Fjords National Park I have not seen Ancient Murrelets. Andrea thinks she might be able to find some. For the first dozen miles of our return from the glacier she scans the sea surface, slowing slightly when she sees a murrelet and then accelerating again when it is another Marbled. Bill is in the wheelhouse when she announces she has spotted an Ancient Murrelet and I rush to the bow for a closer look at the black and white bird with the prominent white mark along its neck. It’s my first life bird since Gambell and one I had not expected to get on this trip.

By the time we reach the Seward harbor, I hear many comments from our group on how fantastic this boating trip has been with sea otters, sea lions, seals, porpoises and whales, as well as many pelagic birds rarely seen, overwhelming glaciers and spectacular scenery. Back at camp I chip off a chunk of 1000-year-old glacier ice from a block we netted from an iceberg in front of Aialik Glacier. Putting the pristinely clear and dense air-bubble free ice wedge in my Luigi Bormioli Italian glass, I pour in a shot of 10-year-old Laphroaig single malt Scotch whisky. The dense glacier ice chills the scotch, barely diluting the strong peat smoke taste of my favorite. What a way to end another marvelous day in Alaska.

Day 45 - June 29 - Exit Glacier and Homer

(Bert) A simple sign “1894” is posted 0.6 mi. from the Visitor’s Center. My grandfather was two years old when Exit Glacier reached to the sign’s position. Not far beyond the parking lot and center and where we find a pair of Steller’s Jays, another sign marks the year my father was born and the edge of the glacier in 1917. Now an alder forest borders the blacktop pathway we walk toward the glacier. We pass a dark and wet pile of bear scat deposited on the walkway. The forest continues beyond the year I was born and when I was in high school the glacier reached a point where a thin stream now runs over the alder roots and along the stony path. I climb up and over huge boulders, making my way toward the glacier and rising above the highest one I can now see the glacier ahead of me. I reach a roped off area and a large sign. A photograph shows a couple touching the glacier here in 1998, the same year as our second visit to Exit Glacier. Since two years ago the park has an additional trail leading toward the glacier. I can see the scars on the recently exposed boulders, deeply grooved evidence of the glacier that passed this way. I take photos from many angles, trying to capture how much this glacier has receded since my first visit to Alaska.

Day 46 - June 30 - Kachemak Bay

(Shari) Captain Josh and First Mate Johnny are crew of the Born Free, the halibut fishing boat we take out on Kachemak Bay this morning. Once more I checked the weather this morning and winds recorded at 5:30 AM were zero miles per hour, with gusts of zero. So far so good! Our 90 min. ride goes quickly and we keep ourselves busy looking at the snow-capped mountains on either side of us, the pods of floating Sea Otters and the birds. Finally the motor is shut down, the anchor thrown out and rods assigned to individuals. It is only the nine of us on the Misty this morning, so we have room to spread out. Josh threads a chunk of herring on a hook the size of Montana weighted with a 3 lb. lead block and throws it over the side. It takes 30 sec. to hit bottom, 150 ft. below the floor of the boat. Not too long and all of us are hollering: “Fish on”, “I got one”, “I need more bait”, or “Good one”, as we reel the long line in. I wind it up three times only to find an empty hook. I wind it up four times only to have Josh throw back the fish claiming it was too small. Finally I wind and wind 120 times and I have a keeper. I am quite out of breath after that and decide to take a rest, noting the status of the rest of my group.

Bent has landed the first fish of the day, but Bill T gets the biggest with John M a close second. After each of us gets a keeper, we get picky and want bigger ones than the 12 to 15 lb. fish we’d been bringing up. Poor Donna takes forever to get a keeper and I hear her tell Josh on more than one occasion please not to throw it back. But he invariably does and she is back winding some more. Bent is the first one to call it a day with his limit of two fish. I ask Bert to keep his next one and he can help reel in a big one for me. He instead takes pictures and is never around when I call him to help me reel. More empty hooks and more “too small” fish. John S says it is like bringing up a garbage can lid. We always called it a barn door. The halibut are like flounder, flat and bottom feeding. They do not come vertically but horizontally up through the water, offering more resistance than you’d think for a 12 lb. fish. I’d hate to pull in one of those 80-200 lb. whoppers that are caught each day on the all day trip. Donna gets her two and thinks she is about to collapse when she sees Betty struggle with her rod. She feels so sorry for Betty that she just has to help her, and the two of them work on getting the fish up, Donna holding the rod and Betty winding. They are spending a lot of energy just giggling and I am surprised that that fish stays on the hook that long. Bill, after getting his big fish, has thrown many back wanting another big fish. We think he has a giant on but it turns out to be a huge sting ray. He will have to settle for a lowly 12 lb. second fish like the rest of us. As we motor back to shore, we take pictures of ourselves with our prizes, watch Johnny clean our catch and rest our weary muscles. I make 18 baggies of fish to stuff into the freezer, a guess of about $400 worth at market price.

(Bert) Keeping in mind the bad experience of rough seas when we went halibut fishing two years ago, Shari has been watching the weather reports. Last night she decided this morning would be the best weather conditions and booked the fishing boat at the last minute. Now nine of us – Jim & Donna, Bent, John M. & Betty, John, Bill and Shari & I - board the boat at 6 AM when most other boats are still docked in the Homer Spit harbor.

Not only are the waters calm here near the harbor, but they continue all the way into Kachemak Bay and to the 125-ft deep waters where we stop an hour and half later. All of the Cook Inlet volcanoes are visible and Mt. Augustine is smoking. Snow-covered peaks on dark mountains line the southern shore as well, yielding a picture perfect view in all directions. Our crew, Josh and Johnny, are quick to help us bait the hooks and unhook our first catches and release the halibut they deem too small. We reel them in almost as soon as the 3-lb. weight hits the bottom. If we don’t have a fish on in a few minutes, we reel the line in anyway, because most likely the fish have stolen the bait. Reeling in the heavy weight and fish is hard work and I hear lots of groans from the crowd. After Donna and Betty have brought up many lines, with or without fish, they cannot do it anymore and they help each other with one holding the pole steady and the other turning the crank. This starts them giggling, making their progress even slower, yet more entertaining for us to watch their comedy act.

I’ve noticed that we haven’t seen shearwaters or fulmars and mention this to Johnny. He says he hasn’t seen shearwaters yet this season – two weeks late is the common refrain – but that we will see a fulmar soon. Not long afterward in comes Frank the Fulmar. camera.GIF (1399 bytes) Apparently Frank comes in every fishing day, looking for Johnny’s boat and expecting the handout that Johnny always tosses to him. This gives me good opportunity to get close up photos of the Northern Fulmar and even a good shot at its tube-nose, the feature that allows this species to live at sea and filter the salt out of the water it drinks.

I soon have two halibut of a size I decide to keep and then go to help Shari reel in her second one. Before I reach her, she has reeled one in again on her own. Now only Bill is left with one more to catch. His first one was so big he thought he could get another that size and threw back many smaller ones. Now he may have to settle for a tiny one. He hooks another fish and by the way he struggles with the reel, it must be a big one. After much effort he brings it to the surface. To our surprise it is not a halibut, but a Big Skate (Raja binoculata). It is huge and must weight 30-40 lbs and has a wicked looking sting ray. Carefully, Johnnie and Josh release the skate at the water’s surface. While the skate may have been a thrill to catch, it means Bill now has to settle for the smaller halibut. He still wins the prize for the biggest fish, his first catch.

On the trip back to Homer Spit we see birds, mostly Common Murres and Glaucous-winged Gulls, and best of all a flock of Black Turnstones. Although birds have been few in Kachemak Bay, Sea Otters have not. We saw big rafts of them on the way out and we see more on the way back. One raft alone has over 100 Sea Otters and all told I estimate we saw 200-250 this morning.

Day 47 – July 1 – Gull Island & Seldovia

(Shari) The late departure on the Discovery, the wildlife tour boat today, allows me to sleep in late. My kind of trip! I am nearly first in line to board the boat and I think Bert will want to sit outside. I go to the second deck and save seats. Bert decides he wants to sit on first deck outside up front in the wind. I know who the group likes best when they all follow him and not me. Boohoo! I sit alone and get good looks at the birds on Gull Island but as soon as the boat reaches full speed again I am too cold to stay outside even in my wind-protected seat. I go down and spend some time in the cabin. I join the group outside when we slow down again to view Sea Otters and rock formations.

We reach Seldovia and all except Nancy and Steve and Bert head for a restaurant for lunch. The three of them are going to take a hike to the beach instead of eating out and viewing the town. After a hot meal of fried halibut and fries, I walk to the original boardwalk of the town. This is the quaint part of Seldovia. I had never walked to this area in past visits and find it lovely. For lack of a better word, “quaint” houses hug the shore above the boardwalk overlooking a calm lagoon. A small area at the end of the walkway has a bench for sitting and enjoying a small town garden all abloom with varying arrays of colors. I visit the two gift stores but find nothing to buy. Bert is already eating four dips of ice cream when I reach our meeting place. His Moose Tracks flavor is sooo good that I just must have a scoop of my own. A single scoop is really a double so I ask for a child’s size. By the time we board the return boat, all inside cabin seats but one are occupied. I share the seat and try to nap on the way back and don’t rejoin our group until we reach the Homer Spit dock. It has been another lovely sunny day and I rejoice in the calm seas.

(Bert) After all the chasing we did trying to find a Surfbird on its alpine nesting grounds I am surprised when I see a small flock of them feeding on the rocks at the end of the harbor. Have they already finished nesting and beginning their fall migration? The 73-ft. Discovery carries us out of the Homer harbor and to Gull Island on yet another sunny day. On and around the tiny island are thousands of Black-legged Kittiwakes and Common Murres camera.GIF (1399 bytes), many Pelagic Cormorants and Tufted Puffins and one each of Red-faced Cormorant and Horned Puffin. Sea Otters are out in good numbers again today and this time we see many with pups. When Mother otter dives below the surface, her pup cries for her return. Other pups lie on the stomachs of the adults that are floating on their backs. The Discovery continues along the coast of Kachemak Bay, weaving in and out of the small islands. I mention to Betty that we should find Black Oystercatchers on these islands and not 3 min. later she spots one on the gravel shore and then another on the next island. Pigeon Guillemots and Harlequin Ducks are present in the same cove I saw them two years ago.

When we disembark at Seldovia almost everyone heads to restaurants and shops and walks around town. Steve, Nancy and I hike to the opposite side of the peninsula, birding along the way. We find a Steller’s Jay perched atop a bird house built for a smaller bird and watch a Chestnut-backed Chickadee flying in and out of a knot hole in a dilapidated shed. Along the road is Sitka Spruce that are much greener and fuller than the White Spruce we’ve been seeing throughout our trip. Many are lit up like Christmas trees with bright young red-orange cones. My target bird is Townsend’s Warbler and Steve spots one atop the spruce. When we reach the opposite side and look out again at the volcanoes opposite Kachemak Bay we hike along the gravel shore to where I intend to cross a point covered with large black boulders. Instead we face a stream and see salmon jumping out of the water. We cannot find an easy way to cross the deep stream and consult our map. It says the creek is only crossable in low tides, an event that must have occurred on my previous three visits. So we cannot take the forested Otterbahn Trail back to town and will need to double back at double time speed. We do, and still have time for a double scoop ice cream. Talking to the others I hear John found the dark form of Song Sparrow and Chris got Pine Siskin, but none of us found any Rufous Hummingbirds, although we saw many vacant and filled feeders.

I sit in the wheelhouse on the return trip. I’m surprised that as soon as the captain exits Seldovia harbor he puts the boat into autopilot and for the next hour the boat steers around the islands and keeps its distance from shore without him touching any controls. Back at the Homer Spit harbor we see the Surfbirds again at the same rocky point. This time the captain announces the location and all of the birders in our group get to see the flock as we pass by.

Day 48 - July 2 – Homer and Beluga Lake

(Bert) Bill and Ginny lead the way, since they visited the Wynn Nature Center yesterday and know how to get there now. They found a Spruce Grouse and the rest of the group is anxious to see one too. We travel via Skyline Drive and stop at a pullout for a panoramic view of Homer, Beluga Lake and the 4.5-mi. Homer Spit jutting into Kachemak Bay. With all we have learned about glaciers, it is easier to imagine how this bay once was covered by a glacier and the spit is the remnant terminal moraine. Homes built on the hillside above Homer have a million-dollar view and may have paid that much for the privilege.

Birding is good at Wynn Nature Center and although no one finds the Spruce Grouse – even though John spends an extra hour patrolling the area where it was seen yesterday – we do get some special birds, including close looks at White-winged Crossbills, listening to “Quick, three beers” and then finding the Olive-sided Flycatcher responsible for the call, and a couple of brightly colored Townsend’s Warblers. Flowers are plentiful – although still seem two weeks from their usual wide blanket across the meadows – and many are nicely labeled. My favorite is Chocolate Lily, most of which are just beginning to open their blossoms. Alpine Forget-me-not, Nootka Lupine and Yellow Paintbrush are in full bloom, though a field of Fireweed has yet to show a red flower.

When we leave the nature center, a male Ring-necked Pheasant crosses Skyline Drive directly in front of us and earlier we saw a moose and her two calves cross also. We meander downhill to Beluga Lake and carry our spotting scopes to the boardwalk. Many Red-necked Grebes are scattered across the lake and one pair is nearby and building a nest. July 2 seems too late for nest building, so either the pair has already brought off young and this is a second nesting or the first nest failed and they are trying again. Near shore two Mallard hens lead troops of ducklings behind them and a large flock of scaup gather in the center of the lake. Far across the lake we can just make out the white forms of Trumpeter Swans, recognizing a family of two adults and two one-third-size cygnets.

(Shari) I decide just to rest today, confirm reservations for Kodiak and Dempster Highway and prepare my dish for the potluck. We have a final bird count before our break, a travel meeting concerning our side trips and then eat an array of wonderful foods. Marlene has made cupcakes to die for and the frosting is even better than the cupcake. Casseroles, salads and desserts abound and no one goes home hungry.

Day 49 - July 3 - Ninilchik

(Shari) My favorite activity is scheduled for today. I just love to dig for razor clams in Alaska. We are lucky to have tides at their lowest level of the year for the next three days. Our limit is 60 clams per person. Armed with shovels, rubber boots, rubber gloves and raingear we carpool 38 mi. north to Ninilchik in persistent rain. Just when we arrive the rain stops and does not start again until we leave. I have not clammed this beach before and am anxious to compare it to Clam Gulch, a place I have visited often for clams. I hand out rubber surgical gloves to all who have come along and tell them to follow Bert if they do not know what to do. Bert is the best digger ever. Marie and Bent and Bill T. have brought clam guns: plastic tubes that fit over the clam hole. Personally, we find them too much work and I am not able to push the tube down far enough. Theoretically, the tube should fit over the clam hole and after shoving it down 12-18 in. the tube fills with sand and then is pulled up, hopefully with a clam inside. Bert and I dig, me with a shovel and he with his hands. We look for “dimples” or dime-sized impressions in the sand. I find dimples but when I dig, I usually cut off the neck of the clam with my shovel and the rest of the clam is gone. I am told they can dig one inch per second, apparently faster than I can dig. Bert is having trouble finding dimples. I can find dimples but can’t dig fast enough. So we team up and work together with me spotting the clam holes, pointing at them with my shovel and Bert digging. He gets close to 90% of those he digs. If he is busy digging and I find lots of dimples, I dig too but only retrieve 15% of those I try. I am wet and muddy but continue to dig as we want to get our 120 clams before the tide forces us to quit. Bert has a bucketful and I have 15 so we switch buckets. The tide is coming fast and we are forced closer to shore. I am having trouble finding “dimples” and I call it quits. Bert continues for awhile more. We meet the group up on the bluff and find Jim, Donna, Betty and John in the parking lot, all clean and pretty. They tell us they got their clams already cleaned and cooked at the restaurant down the way.

We drive home and the rain starts up again. I open our awning, set up a table and chair and begin the tedious job of cleaning the clams. Bert counts 102 clams but as I clean them I think there must be 1002. It takes forever. Bert washes the fine gravel from them. Running a knife blade around the shell, I remove the shells. Bert finishes washing and takes over the shell removal while I cut open the necks, clean out the guts and clean the foot. Soon he cleans the feet while I continue opening the necks. In and out of cold water, my hands are freezing – it is about 55º outside - and I am chilled to the bone but we have to finish this tedious task. I finish with the necks, leave Bert to the remainder of the feet and take a big bowl of clams inside to finish washing in the warmth of R-Tent-III. I divide the clams into freezer bags and count that we have ten meals. I use Marie’s recipe and find that the clams are the best I have ever tasted. Better than any restaurant, they are hot, crispy and tender and well worth all the effort in my book. Yum! Bert says he will go clamming again tomorrow if he only has to dig and not clean. I say that is a deal, but only on his part.

(Bert) Previous years we have tried clamming at Clam Gulch, but on our last visit we found far less than our 60-per-person limit. In fact, the combined catch of the 16 that went clamming two years ago was only 90 clams. So, this time Shari wants to try clamming at Ninilchik. We have a smaller group this time: only Steve and Nancy, Bill and Ginny, Bent and Marie and the two of us. Also, John S. tries for a short time but after digging six clams he decides he’d rather be birding. The others in the group decide ordering a clam dinner at the local restaurant is the easiest solution. Bent and Bill have clam guns that can make the job easier, or at least less messy. The guns are simply 5-in. diameter tubes with a stout handle on one end and the operator forces the tube over a suspected clam hole and pulls out the gravelly mud by suction. Others have clam shovels and attempt to dig the clams out. I rely on a smaller and wider shovel to take out two scopes of mud and then complete the digging with my hands. Although I avoid cutting off the clam necks with my shovel and I have more control over digging, including digging faster than a shovel can, it is very hard on my hands. Last time I wore two pairs of American Red Cross latex gloves, thin enough for fingertip control and not open at the wrists to catch mud. However, it didn’t take long for my fingers to push through the latex. So this time I put on four pairs of gloves and an hour later add two more pairs when my middle fingers are bare. Clamming is much better this year, although I have trouble finding the dimples in the mud that mark a clam below the surface. Shari helps me by spotting the dimples and I dig more often than she does, because I’m better at getting the clam before it digs its way out of reach. Although Shari and I don’t reach our limit before the tide rolls in, we get quite close with a combined catch of 102 clams. I’m quite exhausted, so getting another 18 clams would have been tiring anyway.

Next begins the tedious task of clam cleaning. We work outside with R-Tent-III’s canopy protecting us from the light rain. The mid 50s temperature and the icy water makes my fingers numb in the process. Perhaps Shari will explain the process in her journal; I’ll jump to early evening when I sip on Beefeaters poured over glacial ice and dine on superbly prepared clam fillets. I’d say the day’s work was worth it for the ending, but I tell Shari I don’t want to go clamming again tomorrow if I have to clean them also. Once a year is enough for me.

Day 50 - July 4 - Homer

(Shari) I am so sore I can hardly get out of bed, much less walk down the RV steps and even less go clamming again. Bert is not sore. I know I can’t go clamming again today and wonder if I will be able to go on my next trip to Alaska.

The sign reads, “The line starts on the other side”. The RV park is putting together a 4th of July halibut and hot dog barbeque and we are on time but find many people already waiting for the food to be served. By the time we get to the front of the line, the hamburgers are gone. The halibut is the most important anyway and there is plenty of that as well as all the side dishes you could imagine. As we eat we listen to numbers called and look at our tickets. We are so happy when Carol wins a prize. Soon John M. and Ginny follow. Then it is Jim, Bent and Bill T. I wonder when it is my turn. I move over to the “lucky” table just before at my previous table Steve’s number is called. I move back. It seems that Bill A, Bert and I are the only ones from our group not winning a prize. We moan and groan and cry in our soup to no avail. Everyone is getting up around us. Some man feels so sorry for us he gives us his tickets. Now I have 4 tickets to watch. Finally one of my numbers is called. I WIN some coasters. I give our extra tickets to Bill A. He has to wait until the very last before one of his numbers is called and he wins the grand prize. He gets a beautifully carved ivory pen knife. Later I find that Betty did not get anything either, and I offer my coasters to her. Seems everyone else has offered their gift to her also but she has refused. As we leave we all want to see Steve model the trout-adorned boxer shorts that he won. He thinks not, though.

(Bert) I have finally caught up with entering bird and mammal sightings into my computer database and I print lists to hand out to the group. For Alaska we’ve identified 191 bird species and for the whole trip thus far the total is 228. Our mammal list comes to 40 species.

Day 51-56 - July 5-10 - Homer Spit

(Bert) July 5 starts our summer break from caravanning, although most of us will meet up again in a week for a trip to Kodiak Island. Shari and I move to a beach campsite on Homer Spit with the nose of R-Tent-III pointed to Kachemak Bay, not more than 25 ft. from high tide. At low tide the rocky beach expands to a couple of football fields in length. Bald Eagles and Common Loons are almost continuously present. The eager eagles search for fish remnants left by fishermen and pose in proximate range of my camera lens. Up to six loons can be seen at one time, all of them adults and usually congregated together. It seems too early for post breeding dispersal and why don’t we see any chicks or juveniles?

A few days later a flock of 100+ shorebirds feeds at the rock flats during mid tide. They are Black Turnstones mixed with just a few Surfbirds and together they form a peeping chorus of short sharp notes, their equivalent of “Whistle while you work”. In mid afternoons Shari and I walk along the spit, once to the end of the spit where we pay for the forthcoming ferry trip and another time almost to the mainland end of the 4.5 mi. spit in search of a geocache hidden in the boulders that shore up the road. Every evening at 5 PM we sit at the picnic table in front of R-Tent-III, out of the chilly cross-spit breeze. Within minutes we are joined by Jim and Donna and/or Steve and Nancy who are camped nearby and we tell stories of how we spent our days. One evening we gather for card games at Steve and Nancy’s 5th-wheel. This time the men trounce the women at 500, winning game after game. Steve and I now have bragging rights for the weeks to come.

Day 57 - July 11 - Homer Spit

(Shari) We move from our no-hook-up cheap ($15 per night) site facing the bay to an expensive ($37 per night) electric site facing condo construction. Here I do wash and we recharge our RV batteries since we will be parked without hookups at Faith Lutheran Church for the following three days. The past week we have been on a break from the caravan. Bert and I stayed in Homer and did things we never had time to do in previous visits. We went to the well laid out Visitor Center free museum and listened to a very enthusiastic woman tell us about Homer’s birding hot spots. I watched a movie about summer research on the Aleutian Islands and got an appreciation for the work done there. We went walking every day, usually to find a cache. And we had happy hour at 5 PM at the picnic table in front of our rig overlooking Kachemak Bay. One night we played 500 with Steve and Nancy. The men just beat us to death and took no mercy. I guess it was payback time for when we beat them last year. All in all it was a relaxing few days and both Bert and I accomplished a lot. Just going through our mail took a full day. But I am excited about our trip to Kodiak tomorrow and wonder if I have packed the right clothes.

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