Day 2 |
Jul 20, 2014

The feeding frenzy

By Victoria Salem, Historian

Last night we went to sleep in Seward…but when we drew our curtains this morning we were anchored just off the Holgate Glacier, which was a fantastic sight to wake up to! Sustained by a hearty breakfast, I headed for Deck 5 aft to watch the Zodiacs being lowered. With 10 Zodiacs in the water we were ready to start disembarkation at 8:00am. There was a bit of a breeze, but generally the weather was set fair for our first Zodiac cruise.


Zodiacs travel in pairs in these regions – it’s safer to have some company and Expedition Staff can point out wildlife to each other. So my Zodiac followed Kit’s in the direction of the glacier, approximately 2.5 km away; it is amazingly difficult to judge distances around here, and the Zodiacs in front of us looked TINY with the Holgate Glacier looming behind them.


We cruised gently past wooded slopes backed by snow-covered mountains, enjoying the gradually-emerging blue skies and waterfalls tumbling into the cloudy ocean (filled with glacial silt). I pointed out a Horned Puffin flying past, many kittiwakes soaring at the ice front, some cormorants on rocks and even a Pigeon Guillemot drifting near our Zodiac. Yet it was the glacier itself that captured our attention – there were many ice falls and a few minor calvings, usually just after I’d put my camera away for a few moments! The thunder of falling ice and ‘gun shots’ sounding from the deep interior of the glacier kept pulling my eyes back to the solid white river spread before us.


Because we had had a fairly early start, we were able to enjoy a lecture once we had returned to Silver Discoverer. At 10:15am Professor James Floyd spoke on ‘Glaciers & Ice Ages’ in the Explorer Lounge.  His talk was well attended, since we were all keen to learn more about what we had just seen and put it into context.


An early lunch was welcome and during lunch Silver Discoverer anchored in Petes Pass, between Harbor and Natoa Islands. This is a wonderful spot for Zodiac cruising, with many islets, inlets and bays to explore in our search for panoramic views and wildlife. We soon became aware that, as we had expected, we had a fair bit of swell to contend with and despite the Zodiac drivers’ best efforts, we DID get splashed by waves from time to time (but then, that is why we wear waterproof gear). And we were rewarded not only by glorious sunshine and distant Alaskan vistas, but with various bird species: kittiwakes and gulls in a feeding frenzy, many Horned and some Tufted Puffins drifting in rafts and flying past our Zodiacs, glimpses of the beautiful black/green plumage of cormorants soaring through the air, scoters drifting on the ocean and even a Bald Eagle majestically perched on a Spruce tree branch.


Birds were not our only treat. From some Zodiacs guests watched Sea Otters playing amongst the kelp; from other Zodiacs we found basking Steller Sea Lions hauled out on rocks, competing noisily for very limited space. And I was also happy to point out life of a different kind – sea stars living in the intertidal zone, in beautiful purples and oranges.


It was a bumpy ride back to Silver Discoverer, but the sun continued to shine and on my return I enjoyed sitting on Deck 5 and sipping a cool drink, surrounded by Alaska’s magnificence.

Afternoon tea (with scones) was available to those feeling peckish, and at 5:15pm we gathered in the Explorer Lounge for our daily Recap and Briefing. This is a time we set aside nearly every single day for guests to ask questions of the Expedition Team about what they have seen and for staff members to speak (with passion!) about the most fascinating of the rocks, birds, marine mammals, weather, remains of civilisation, etc. witnessed that day. Highlights this evening were Claudia Holgate on the Holgate Glacier and Kit on sea stars and the Alaskan flag. It was also Expedition Leader Conrad’s opportunity to brief us about tomorrow’s activities in Katmai National Park.


After this we had time to spruce ourselves up to attend the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail, followed by dinner at 7:30pm. It has been a good start to our ‘Across the Bering Sea’ adventure. And so to bed…