Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hubbard Glacier birds

The final (seventh) day of our Alaska Cruise started with a visit to Hubbard Glacier. We witnessed calving of chunks of ice as high as 20 story buildings. Favorable winds had cleared the icebergs from the area in front of the glacier, so our ship was able to maneuver quite closely. To view other posts describing our Alaska trip, click here.

Hubbard Glacier begins 76 miles away in Canada's Yukon and meets the sea in Disenchantment Bay (also known as Yakutat Bay). It is North America's largest tidewater glacier. As it breaks off into the sea it towers 60 feet tall and is 7 miles wide.

Hubard Glacier face with Batman 20140619

Far to the right, barely visible along the face of the glacier in the above photo, is an ice formation that looks like an animal's head with two protruding ears. We called it the "Batman" formation and it looked unstable.

Hubbard Glacier Batman formation2 20140619

The large deep blue tower just this side of Batman's "ear" suddenly came crashing down with a thunderous roar.

Hubbard tower crashing 20140619

Luckily, I had captured a burst of about 12 frames as the tower fell. If you do not see the animation, click on the image to view the series as an animated GIF, or visit this link.

I did not expect to see many birds from our vantage point, but a mixed flock of Surf Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks appeared in front of the ship.

Surf Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks 20140619

They burst into flight. This was the first time I had ever photographed Long-tailed Ducks. They are distinguished from the scoters by the white they show on their outer tail feathers.

Surf Scoters and Long-tailed Ducks 2-20140619

This chunk of ice shows how the glacier's deepest layers are blue, indicating that the weight of snow that accumulated over more than a hundred years have squeezed out all the air.

Calved Iceberg 20140619

Members of the ship's crew collected chunks of blue ice to be used in carvings (...and maybe cocktails.* Glacier "worms" crawl out when they are irritated by the alcohol-- see note at end of this post).*

Crew collecting ice 20140619

In the foreground, a Bald Eagle was roosting on an iceberg.

Eagle on iceberg 20140619

The eagle flew up. It was in sub-adult plumage, probably in its fourth year.

Bald Eagle sub-adult 20140619

Black-legged Kittiwakes flew around the ship.

Black-legged Kittiwake 20140619

We were offered a private tour of the ship's galley.

Galley tour - bread 20140619

Galley tour - salad 20140619

The next morning, we docked in Seward. Our ship, The Radiance of the Seas, is in the background.


Our families visited the Alaska SeaLife Center. The open aviary provided photo opportunities. Here are better views of Long-tailed Ducks:

Long-tailed Ducks Sealife Ctr 2-20140620

Long-tailed Duck Sealife Ctr 20140620

Horned Puffins:

Horned Puffins Sealife Ctr 2-20140620

Horned Puffins Sealife Ctr 20140620

Tufted Puffins:

Tufted Puffins Sealife Ctr 20140620

Tufted Puffin Sealife Ctr 2-20140620

Common Murres:

A Common Murre with a pair of King Eiders:

Common Murre with King Eiders Sealife Ctr 20140620

Close-up of the male eider:


Red-legged Kittiwake:

Black Oystercatcher

We proceeded up to Denali National Park on the land portion of our tour. To view other posts describing our Alaska cruise and land tour, click here.

*More about ice worms at this link

The Ballad of the Ice Worm Cocktail
--Robert Service, 1940

(final stanzas as Major Brown finally drinks it down
to earn the right to be called a "sourdough.")

...The Major took another look, then quickly closed his eyes, 
For even as he raised his glass he felt his gorge arise. 

Aye, even though his sight was sealed, in fancy he could see 
That grey and greasy thing that reared and sneered in mockery. 

Yet round him ringed the callous crowd - and how they seemed to gloat! 
It must be done . . . He swallowed hard . . . The brute was at his throat. 

He choked. . . he gulped . . . Thank God! at last he'd got the horror down. 
Then from the crowd went up a roar: "Hooray for Sourdough Brown!" 

With shouts they raised him shoulder high, and gave a rousing cheer, 
But though they praised him to the sky the Major did not hear. 

Amid their demonstrative glee delight he seemed to lack; 
Indeed it almost seemed that he - was "keeping something back." 

A clammy sweat was on his brow, and pallid as a sheet: 
"I feel I must be going now," he'd plaintively repeat. 

Aye, though with drinks and smokes galore, they tempted him to stay, 
With sudden bolt he gained the door, and made his get-away.

And ere next night his story was the talk of Dawson Town, 
But gone and reft of glory was the wrathful Major Brown; 

For that ice-worm (so they told him) of such formidable size 
Was - a stick of stained spaghetti with two red ink spots for eyes.


  1. While chuckling about the "ice worm" your photos and descriptions are perfect....especially of my heart throb, the Eagle!...:)JP

  2. I like the tufted Puffins...looks like long shaggy eyebrows....

  3. Wonderful post filled with fantastic photographs! Love the puffins, eiders and Black Oystercatcher. Sounds like you had quite an adventure.