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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa
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Kachemak Bay

October 16th, 2013 · No Comments

Kachemak Bay is a 40 mile long arm of Alaska’s Cook Inlet on the southwest side of the Kenai Peninsula. My fourth trip to Homer took me there for a three-hour birding cruise with Bay Excursions Water Taxi and Tours. This is in fact just a local naturalist, Karl Stolfzus, his cell phone, and his boat. But Karl was a great guide.

When I left Wayne and Marveen’s home, the weather was sunny in line with the prediction for the day’s forecast. But soon after I set forth, clouds rolled in and totally obscured the sky. More than once I considered opting out of the tour, for which I hadn’t paid in advance, but when I took another look at the weather forecasts, no day in the immediate future promised to be any sunnier. So I proceeded.

Glad that I did. While the dim light made me boost the ISO to 3200 for almost all of my photos, my software removed the noise.

Karl’s boat was docked at Homer’s small boat harbor along with hundreds of other vessels, mostly fishing boats. Long known as the “halibut fishing capital of the world,” Homer is home to many fisherfolk.

With Karl steering and spotting, I went out into the bay with two couples, all dedicated birders. We saw a huge number and variety of birds and sea mammals, but the bird that I most wanted to see was a black oystercatcher, which I had never seen before.

A Black Oystercatcher Poses

A Black Oystercatcher Poses

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​I had seen surf scoters before. But I had never captured them in flight, and now I know why we call them surf scoters.

​Three Surf Scoters Make Their Own Surf

Three Surf Scoters Make Their Own Surf

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Homer

October 15th, 2013 · No Comments

When I stayed with my friends Marveen and Wayne at their home in Nikiski, Alaska, I often made the 95 mile drive to Homer at the southernmost point on the Kenai Peninsula that you can reach by road. I went there five times.

My first trip to Homer took me to the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. Taking a short walk from the visitor center down the Beluga Slough Trail to Bishop’s Beach was a memorable experience. The sky was clear, the weather was warm, a slight breeze was blowing, and the marsh was shimmering in the sun as I talked with a couple from DC as we stood and watched a pair of greater sandhill cranes who had painted themselves with the orange mud. I told the tourists that after we get home they needed to remember this magical moment in our lives. Of course, I was really telling that to myself.

One of the Painted Sandhill Cranes near the Beluga Slough Trail

One of the Painted Sandhill Cranes near the Beluga Slough Trail

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At the visitor center itself I lucked out by meeting and becoming friends with two volunteers, Sue and her husband John. I happened to get to the center just before she was scheduled to lead a free birding tour of Homer that offered a great introduction to the area. Later, they invited me to a private tour. John drove us out East End Road up the bay where, at some place that I couldn’t begin to pinpoint, we got out and walked an animal track through really boggy ground to a lake. What a beautiful setting! By that I mean the total absence of any sign of human destruction of the land. We saw a pacific loon and a pair of trumpeter swans and three duck chicks (without their parents) on the lake. On the way back Sue and I lagged behind to photograph some beautiful Alaska flowers, including a Star Gentian that she subsequently identified for me.

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Anchor Point

October 14th, 2013 · No Comments

Anchor Point is just a stop along the way for people who drive to Homer at the end of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, if that. But I found some good reasons to go there several times.

And this isn’t the only great place to stop en route to Homer. Founded by Russian colonists in 1847, the town of Ninilchik, which is 58 miles from where my friends live in Nikiski and 24 miles before coming to Anchor Point, is also worth a visit for a taste of the Russian cultural heritage of Alaska. Some people in Ninilchik still speak the local dialect of Russian and worship in the local Russian Orthodox church, which their ancestors built 112 years ago. Across Cook Inlet from the church is the 10,000 foot volcano of Mount Iliamna.

The Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel Is the Russian Orthodox Church in Ninilchik

The Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord Chapel Is the Russian Orthodox Church in Ninilchik

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The first time I went to Anchor Point was because I wanted to be at the westernmost point in the North American highway system.

As Far West as We Can Drive on the North American Highway System

As Far West as We Can Drive on the North American Highway System

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Captain Cook State Recreation Area

October 13th, 2013 · No Comments

One day while I was visiting my friends Marveen and Wayne at their home near Nikiski, Alaska, I drove about 15 miles to the end of the road at Captain Cook State Recreation Area. I timed my arrival for low tide, the best time to walk on beaches. The tide was way out at minus 5.6 feet and, no one else was there, so I had plenty of room to roam.

Earlier, Marveen had taken me to the overlook, because she wanted to show me the rocks on the beach there. “The boulders, common to the area and called glacial erratics for their random placement across the landscape, were deposited by glaciers from the west side of Cook Inlet,” according to an article in the local newspaper. But that day wasn’t great for photography, so I needed to go back.

Mt. Spurr, an 11,000 Foot Volcano, Rises Across Cook Inlet from Glacial Erratics at Captain Cook State Recreation Area

Mt. Spurr, an 11,000 Foot Volcano, Rises Across Cook Inlet from Glacial Erratics at Captain Cook State Recreation Area

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About one and one-half miles down the beach I got as far as I could go. The mouth of the Swanson River blocked my way. But it attracted birds.

A Sandpiper Where the Swanson River and Cook Inlet Meet

A Sandpiper Where the Swanson River and Cook Inlet Meet

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Beaches turned out to be one of my favorite places on the Kenai Peninsula for hiking. They are one of the few places in Alaska where people are unlikely to surprise bears.

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The Kenai River

October 12th, 2013 · 2 Comments

After watching the dipnetters, who I wrote about in my previous post, I was in for another surprise. When I got back to Wayne and Marveen’s home, they wanted to go fishing too. But not at the mouth of the Kenai. Instead they prefer to put their boat in at Eagle Rock, about six miles upstream from the mouth of the Kenai in a straight line. But it’s about twice that distance as the river flows. Even that far from the river’s mouth, the Kenai is huge, far wider than any river in Colorado.

We arrived at the river after 8 p.m., which would have been far too late in Colorado, but the sun was still shining brightly even when we left after 10. While Marveen fished for a few minutes, she didn’t catch anything. That was partly because we spotted seven bald eagles and then several moose and took off after them and the other wildlife so I could take pictures.

Wayne and Marveen Put Their Boat into the Kenai

Wayne and Marveen Put Their Boat into the Kenai

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Loons

October 11th, 2013 · 2 Comments

Until Wayne and Marveen came to my rescue, I was almost ready to declare that loons were my nemesis birds. In vain I had tried again and again to get good photographs of them. Even when my friends drove me to five lakes close to their home where Wayne had seen loons, we didn’t find any.

Loons aren’t rare birds. The International Union for Conservation of Nature, the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species, says that all five living loon species have a conservation status of least concern.

For almost 40 years loons have been high on my mental list of birds that I wanted see. I still remember hearing their haunting calls one night in 1974 when I camped at a lake in the northern Wisconsin woods, but couldn’t see them. You can hear the​ir​ haunting wails​ on this Cornell Lab of Ornithology video, “Voices: Common Loon.

My first view of a loon was in Colorado, and that was through a spotting scope rather than my naked eyes. On this trip to Alaska ​I saw a common loon on Lake Louise in Canada and a pair of pacific loons on Rock Lake in the Kenai National Wildlife Reserve when Marveen took me there. But all of them were too far away even for my telephoto lens.

Trying to think like a loon, I went back to two lakes that Wayne had showed me and that I thought loons would like the most. Both of these lakes are partly covered by lily pads where the loons could make their nests. At Thetis Lake I briefly glimpsed one loon through my binoculars. And at Salamatof Lake I eventually got an acceptable photo of the male loon.

​A Loon Swims on Salamatof Lake

A Loon Swims on Salamatof Lake

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Dipnetting

October 10th, 2013 · No Comments

The Kenai River, which flows for 82 miles to its outlet into the Cook Inlet of the Pacific Ocean near the city of Kenai, is the most popular sport fishing destination in Alaska, particularly for salmon. This river is known for its large fish, and in 1985 one fisherman caught the world record king salmon, which weighed about 97 pounds, here.

But red salmon, also known as sockeye, are considered the premier salmon for eating, canning, and smoking. They were running when I was there. And many Alaska residents were running after them.

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Exit Glacier

October 9th, 2013 · No Comments

When I returned to Kenai Fjords National Park, I had the experience that I had looked forward to for years. It was the thrill of a lifetime.

The main reason why I went back there might sound trivial to some people, but was meaningful enough for me to make the long drive of more than 100 miles from Nikiski to near Seward, Alaska. Earlier I had taken the wonderful cruise off Kenai Fjords National Park that I wrote up in the previous photo essay. But I wanted to count it as one of the 58 American national parks that I have visited. But my cruise left from Seward, which is outside of the park, and we never stepped foot off the ship anywhere else. I think that the park’s boundaries include the offshore water, but I haven’t been able to verify this hunch. So to be sure that I was correctly adding Kenai Fjords to my lifelist of national parks, I had to step onto the land there.

The other reason why I went back to the Seward areas was to visit more of the areas included in my master guidebook for visiting this area, Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula Wildlife Viewing Trail Guide. In addition to Exit Glacier, I added five new hiking and viewing areas. But nothing compared with my Exit Glacier experience.

I was hiking the most popular trail on the Kenai Peninsula where hundreds, if not thousands, of people go each summer. The trail is at the end of the only road that penetrates Kenai Fjords National Park. While this is a popular trail, I was hiking alone and taking photos of flowers.

A Usual Suspect in Unusual Light

A Usual Suspect in Unusual Light

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And then I saw a bear walking down the same trail directly toward me. The bear came within a few feet of me before it veered off to my left. I had always hoped for such an encounter and also hoped that I would have enough presence of mind to photograph it. I wondered too if I would be frightened. Probably because I knew that this was one of the less aggressive black bears, I stayed calm. Besides, the little fellow looked so cute that it reminded me of a teddy bear. Some people in Alaska carry a pistol or rifle to defend themselves when they hike. I don’t even have a knife with a blade longer than 3 inches, and I didn’t have that with me at the time. I didn’t have my bear spray either, because seeing a bear on such a well-trodden trail was the last thing I expected.

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Kenai Fjords

October 8th, 2013 · 2 Comments

A nine-hour wildlife cruise of the Kenai Fjords National Park on a small ship out of Seward with just 15 other passengers was the most fabulous day of wildlife and nature viewing in my whole life. For starters, the weather was absolutely perfect — hardly a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind, a rarity for a summer day in Alaska. Since I knew that I would be outside most of the day, I dressed warmly with my down jacket.

Second, the scenery is beyond description. But a start has to mention the fjords along the rocky coast, the snow capped mountains, and the glaciers from the Harding Icefield, which covers more than 1,100 square miles, the largest icefield entirely in the United States. We went right up to the Holgate Glacier, which is a tidewater glacier, and Bear Glacier.

At Holgate Glacier I Seem Happy

At Holgate Glacier I Seem Happy

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Thirdly, we had a spectacular day of viewing marine mammals and birds. When we pulled into a cove to see some seals, we also saw a mammal that lives on land. Our sighting was so rare that the captain said that “you guys were superlucky because nobody had seen one in this area for more than 25 years.” I had never seen one anywhere or even hoped that I ever would. It was a wolverine.

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My Alaska Destination

October 7th, 2013 · No Comments

After 20 days on the road and driving 4,208 miles, I finally arrived in Nikiski, Alaska, where my friends Marveen and Wayne live. But I was confused.

The welcome sign told me that I had come to Nikishka. That’s what the Russians called it and the Chamber of Commerce still maintains is the correct name of Nikiski.

Had I Reached Nikishka or Nikiski?

Had I Reached Nikishka or Nikiski?

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Marveen and Wayne had told me that they live near the unincorporated town of Nikiski, population 4,500. The name Nikiski comes from a Russian word, which isn’t surprising because the Russians colonized Alaska until we bought it in 1867 from the Russian Empire for about $7 million.

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