Today's expedition to Chagulak Island was another great zodiac cruise. I had to write the log for the passengers today, so I have decided for my entry today that I will just copy and paste it into my blog. The only thing I'd like to add (which will make more sense once you read about the thousands of birds we saw) is that I got pooped on during the zodiac cruise. I don't think the "American" birds liked my new "Russia" hat. I have attached a photo of Mason, Kara and I in our new Russian hats. The whole staff purchased these hats when we were in Petropavlosk. As you can see, there are three varieties representing the old, the new, and the spy.
Kara, Mason and I in our Russian hats
Photo credit: Wayne Brown
We awoke to foggy skies and a light mist of rain, but that did not deter us from our stop at Chagulak Island, the last of the Aleutian Islands we will visit on our expedition. As we made our way towards Chagulak, Dion Hobcroft assumed his position on the pool deck as "chum-master" once again, attracting Northern Fulmars, Laysan Albatross, and Black-Footed Albatross to the ship. The Northern Fulmars enjoyed gliding on the wind updrafts produced by the ship and seemed to almost guide us into our anchorage at Chagulak Island.
Northern Fulmar soaring next to the ship
Through the fog, we could just make out the outline of Chagulak. This dramatic, steep sided volcanic island has a diameter of just 1.5 miles, yet rises to 3,750 feet in elevation. We enthusiastically piled into the zodiacs, dressed in our warm and wet weather gear for a zodiac cruise into the mist. Upon entering the water, we were immediately surrounded by thousands of Northern Fulmars. They swirled around the zodiacs and floated by so close that you could see the detail of their tube noses and every fleck of grey on their wings. As we approached the island, it became clear that the cliffs were alive with thousands of black-legged kittiwakes and thick billed murres, nesting on the cliff faces. There were also tufted puffins, parakeet auklets, red faced cormorants, common murres, and even some red legged kittiwakes and crested auklets. Everywhere you looked there were birds; it was almost difficult to focus on just one. In addition, the sounds were incredible. We could easily hear the kittiwake calls, reminding us how they were given their name. Many of us decided to keep our cameras dry in our bags and just enjoy the show!
The bird cliffs at Chagulak Island
Adding to the fun were a few groups of Steller sea lions hauled out on the rocks. Most were sub-adult males, but there were a few big bull males in the mix. Male Steller sea lions can grow to approximately 1,600 pounds. The sea lions were curious about the zodiacs, popping their heads up out of the water to check us out.
After a delicious lunch and an even more delicious ice cream social, Kara entertained us with tales of Flippers and Fur. Her presentation taught us all about the Pinnipeds of the Bering Sea, including the most common seals and sea lions that we will encounter along our journey. Near the conclusion of Kara's lecture, just as she was beginning to talk about sea otters, an announcement was made over the PA that we had a short-tailed Albatross following the ship. Deciding that it was better to see wildlife in the wild rather than in photos, Kara ended her lecture and encouraged everyone to go outside to look at the rare Albatross sighting. In the end, there was no Albatross to see but we are lucky to have a flexible Captain that will turn the ship around just in case.
Ingrid gave the next presentation of the afternoon called Orca-the Top Predator in the Ocean. Ingrid's passion for the Orca is impressive and we were all captivated with descriptions of her encounters with these amazing mammals and the research that she is doing.
For recap, the staff opened the floor to any unanswered questions that people had. The questions ranged from sea otters, to sea lions, to bird behavior, to pollution. In addition, Chris shared his discoveries from dissecting the eagle pellet that he found on Kiska Island. It was amazing to see all of the bones of the birds and fish the eagle had been feeding on.