As the weekenders from Whitehorse piled into Tagish for graduation celebrations, my Mom and I packed up and left with our camper for Skagway. Dad had booked us each a ticket with Alaska Fjordlines Inc. to go to Juneau for a day via the M/V Fjordland, a fast and sleek catamaran. We were both excited to get out on a road trip to do something new – neither of us had been to Juneau before.
It was a gorgeous evening in Skagway – the sun was out in full heat, and after a delicious Halibut dinner at the Stowaway Cafe we did some birding/exploring. A Townsend’s Warbler was up the hill by the docks, while a few Hermit Thrush and Winter Wrens sang from deep in the woods. A Great Blue Heron stood stock-still at the waters edge, eventually darting to catch a small fish.
When our captain, Glen and his daughter, Libby pulled up in the Fjordland we were first onboard. Unlike the evening before, the sky was heavily overcast and a light breeze hinted at rain that was predicted to be coming. We passed waterfall after waterfall, and after about half an hour Haines came into sight. Harbour Seals lolled with smiles on the sun-warmed rocks, their shining white coat spotted with black. While the seals only gathered in few numbers, the Sea Lions collected en masse on the exposed rock along shore.
Glen slowed the catamaran as we neared wildlife to give everyone onboard a good viewing and photographic opportunity. Once the noise of the engines died down we could hear the rude groans, bawls, and grunts of the Sea Lions. There were females with their pups, and here and there a male lay. The males were massive – it seemed a miracle they could move their fat blobs anywhere. They brawled with each other, hurling insults across the rocks and sometimes falling into the water with a big splash.
Humpbacked Whales appeared to and from Juneau, along with a couple of Dall Porpoises. Some whales were mothers with their babies, and we were lucky enough to see them fluke several times. The highlight was one our way back to Skagway when Glen pulled the catamaran ahead of a pod of six, then shut off the engine and waited. Four came right up to us, their smooth gray backs flowing in and out of the water. A couple playfully fluked, and we were close enough to see the barnacles that had attached themselves all over their skin. Not many people are lucky enough to see these majestic creatures at such close range, but now Mom and I can count ourselves among those few.
The ride both ways was rich with birds, but the trip back especially had some cool stuff show up. I got to see my lifer Pigeon Guillemots (which I was expecting), and my lifer flock of Surfbirds (which I was not expecting). There were hundreds of Surf Scoters and Marbled Murrelets, lots of Glaucous-winged Gulls, and Bald Eagles. During the times we stopped close to shore, I could hear forest birds singing such as Townsend’s Warbler and Varied Thrush.
There were several loons out in the water, mainly Common Loons, but there was a Pacific Loon and 2 Yellow-billed Loons as well. Four juvenile Black-legged Kittiwakes flew by, looking distinctly different from the mottled brown, gray and white gulls in the water. Another happy surprise was seeing American Black Oystercatchers on the same island as the Surfbirds. The birding was so good, I hardly had time to do anything else. Every time I picked up food – such as the delicious salmon chowder Libby served – and began to eat, something else would come by.
It was a memorable trip, made so by the excellent work of Glen and Libby. I strongly recommend the Fjord Express to Juneau for anyone who wants to get away for a day, see beautiful rugged scenery, have amazing wildlife experiences, and do some salt-water birding. It’s a unique experience that anyone with a love of the outdoors would enjoy. Thank you to Glen and Libby for a wonderful day, and thank you Dad for the tickets!
You can check out Alaska Fjordlines here.
My list of birds from the boat tour:
Barrow’s Goldeneye, Harlequin Duck, Surf Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Common Loon, Yellow-billed Loon, Pacific Loon, Marbled Murrelet, Pigeon Guillemot, Spotted Sandpiper, Surfbird, American Black Oystercatcher, Mew Gull, Herring Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull, Arctic Tern, Black-legged Kittiwake, Bald Eagle, Varied Thrush, Townsend’s Warbler, Dark-eyed Junco.