Day 5 |
Jul 23, 2014

The remains of the church

By Lars Maltha Rasmussen, Biologist

At 9.30, the Silver Discoverer anchored about a mile from Unga Village.

This Aleutian settlement had been subject to a small gold rush tripling the number of inhabitants to 300. When mining stopped after WWII fishing became the most important income.

Eventually the village was abandoned in the beginning of the 1960’s and now had a somewhat gloomy appearance. Many of the houses had totally collapsed and the rest of the buildings were all without windows and paint except one just outside that was maintained. A newer building that may have been the fish processing plant was also falling apart. From a distance the church with the tower seemed intact. Only standing close, you could see that the roof was standing on the ground, as the walls had collapsed.

In the fenced-in churchyard a couple of Great Horned Owls were discovered when flying from tree to tree. They had two young, and we had a nice opportunity to watch this huge owl at a close distance.

A group of 9 (heading for the long hike) went through bushes and thickets to reach a nice viewpoint from the hills above Unga Village. On the other side of the small bay a group of cattle was grazing revealing that a few people still make a living on these remote islands.  Salmon Berries were covering the hill side and we tasted these beautifully colored red and yellow berries. Fireweed, Indian Paintbrush as well as several species of orchids and other plants were coloring the green hill side.

A Zodiac cruise along the bay was very rewarding. A steep little island was virtually covered with breeding birds. Kittiwakes in the thousands were either feeding small young or still building nests. In between Double Crested and Pelagic Cormorants were nesting, as well as good numbers of Common Murres. In the turfs that covered the top of the small island swarms of Tufted Puffins were sitting in front of their borrows. When a Peregrine Falcon was hunting along the cliff the puffins and kittiwakes filled the air above the island, a very impressive show. A few Harbor Seals were hauled-out on the cliffs and we had a chance to see them at a close range.

A mile or two further at sea a Humpback Whale breached several times. From the Silver Discoverer we all had a very nice view of a Humpback mother and her calf when leaving Unga Village. Later in the afternoon another 30 Humpbacks and a group of Orcas were seen from the ship.

Sooty Shearwaters and Short-tailed Shearwaters were moving westward in the hundreds together with many dark Northern Fulmars and Fork-tailed Storm Petrels, and Leach’s Storm Petrels were foraging low over the surface.

In the afternoon Kit highlighted the features of the interesting intertidal ecosystem on rocks and Victoria gave a very interesting lecture on the history of the Aleut people and culture on the islands.