Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cruising to Alaska's Icy Strait and Hoonah

After departing from Ketchikan we continued up the Inside Passage with the Coast Mountains on the right (north and east) of our ship. These mountains divide Alaska from British Columbia. Some of its peaks rise above 10,000 feet, and the mountain continues into the ocean to form the Alexander Archipelago, a 300 mile chain of islands that shelter the Alaska coastline. Chicagof Island is the fifth largest island in the United States, and lies entirely within the Tongass National Forest. 

Approaching Hoonah 3-20140616

We sailed through Icy Strait under clear skies to reach the City of Hoonah (population 860 in 2000) in the northern part of Chicagof Island. Hoonah is populated by the indigenous Tlingit people, and its economy depends upon tourism, fishing and logging. As we approached the port of Hoonah we could see the evidence of clear-cutting of the virgin forest.  Lowland areas selected for timber harvest include a disproportionate share of old growth, a density of about 12 times more per acre than normally found overall in Tongass National Forest. Logging roads fragment the wilderness and must later be maintained, at a cost to the US Forest Service of about $20,000 annually for each logging job that is created.

Hoonah clear-cutting 20140616

Our ship anchored offshore in deeper water as we rode in a tender to the dock.

Radiance of the Seas at anchor Hoonah 20140616

The Hoonah cannery stopped operating in the 1950s, and its buildings now serve as a spacious Visitor Center.

Port of Hoonah 20140616

I processed my photo of this old fishing vessel as an oil painting, juxtaposed to the cruise ship in the background.

Hoonah Alaska painting 20140616

Many Bald Eagles roosted and flew in the port area. 

Bald Eagle in flight 20140616

The majority of eagles were in their second and third years. Their heads and tails become fully white when they are 4-5 years old.

Bald Eagle immature 2-20140616

Bald Eagle immature 4-20140616

This bird is in adult plumage except for some dark tail feather tips.

Bald Eagle in flight 2-20140616

Although the salmon run had not yet begun, there was a bounty crop of herring, which the eagles devoured rapidly.

Bald Eagle eating herring 20140616

Our day started with a wildlife cruise, in search of whales, a very successful venture! Our granddaughters waved from the top deck of our catamaran as we pulled out to see wildlife.

Graci and Cari at Hoonah 20140616

Whale sightings were guaranteed-- money back if none are sighted (no refunds have ever been granted). This Humpback Whale is "sounding," waving its tail good-bye as it dives deeply.

Humpback Whale tail 2-20140616

Individual whales may be identified by the pattern of pigmentation, barnacles and scars on their tails, like fingerprints. See: Identifying Individual Humpback Whales

Humpback Whale tail 20140616

Humpback Whale spouting 20140616

Humpback Whale after spouting 20140616

Of course, I had my eye out for birds. This gull is probably a Western x Glacous-winged Gull hybrid.

Gull species 20140616

Common Murres were, well, common.

Common Murres 20140616

Following the cruise we took a bus into the forest in the northern reaches of Chicagof Island. As I related in an earlier postI saw my first Red-breasted Sapsucker, the third "lifer" of the trip (the earlier were the Rhinoceros Auklet and Red-legged Kittiwake). 

Soon after the sapsucker sighting, our daughter Jackie again proved her prowess as a wildlife spotter. As we walked across a wetland on the boardwalk she said she saw a very large yellowish tan bear very briefly up ahead of the group. No one else saw anything and I feared her credibility was at stake, so I kept a sharp eye out as we walked to a bluff that overlooked a wet grassy area. Sure enough, I spied movement about 1/4 mile away, and my telescopic lens view confirmed it was an adult Coastal Brown Bear, a "blond" sow known to our guide as also having a yearling cub.

Coastal Brown Bear 20140616

To our surprise, the cub, which weighs about half of its mother's 600 pounds, suddenly appeard out of the deep grass quite nearby, and waded across a small stream.

Coastal Brown Bear cub 3-20140616

Coastal Brown Bear cub 20140616

We had packed quite a bit into our short stay, and at 5:00 PM started steaming to our next port, Juneau.

 Visit these links to view the entire series of blogs on this Alaska trip:

Cruising to Ketchikan, Alaska

Cruising to Alaska's Icy Strait and Hoonah

Visiting Juneau and Skagway

Hubbard Glacier and Seward, Alaska

Denali National Park

Riding the rails from Denali to Anchorage


  1. i'd have been thrilled with eagles, but you got whales and bear, too!

  2. HI Kenneth What an exciting trip and loots to see. It must have been a wonderful experience to see the Whales. I would have loved that. Are you Common Murres the same bird as our Black Guillemots? We have them in my town breeding on the piers. that was a surprise to see the bear an get to get a shot of it. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.

  3. @Margaret-- Thank you! The Black Guillemot is entirely black while the murres are white underneath.

  4. A trip to Alaska is HIGH on my wish list. Your photos are making me want to book a cruise, stat! Gorgeous photos...from the snow-capped mountains to the wildlife. What a dream vacation.

  5. Ken. An excellent roundup of the wildlife seen around Chicagof Island. I can just image how thrilling this was for your Granddaughters.

  6. Wow!! Just wow!! What a trip. You saw things I'd like to see in a lifetime in one trip. Fantastic post.

  7. What fantastic sights! Love the eagles, whales, and bears!

  8. The eagles are awesome and the whales as well. What a great trip you had!

  9. A wonderful post.... I really am so jealous.

  10. wow- how fantastic to see all this wild-life when out cruising in the big ship; fabulous photos. Loved the eagles especially.

  11. I did not know that it took several years before the 'white' belly became a reality....awesome info. Lovely tour...the bear photos are superior.

    Thanks for linking up this weekend!!

  12. Great shots! What an exciting trip!

  13. The Alaska scenery is always breathtaking and you have captured it well! I love the "oil paining!"

  14. Wow Ken, fabulous scenery! All great shots, that first one is a beauty. I hate to see the clear cuts, there are a lot in the BC mountains where my brother lives. Pretty cool birds and critters!

  15. Just stunning and wonderful, it is really breathtaking.

  16. what a great trip with lots of sightings. And gorgeous nature with it. :)

  17. Wonderful scenery and the eagles are such majestic birds. Thanks for the info about the Stint turning up in Florida. Unexpected shorebird migrations are always very interesting!

  18. Wow - what an adventure! Those bald eagle shots take my breath away!

  19. A fabulous trip Ken. Both the landscape and the birds are stunning. I can only imagine seeing Bald Eagles like your photos.
    Those youngsters take some beating with their perfect vision don't they?

  20. The birds, the aquatic life and the scenery are all amazing!

  21. Since I was here visiting with you over the weekend, and you know I enjoyed it all....I will just send along my thanks for your compliment on Hootin' Anni's bird sketches today. Have a super day today...and again, thanks.

  22. What a glorious place! That Alaska trip looks amazing. What a perfect way to spend time with the family. And find birds:)


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