Notes from a Naturalist/Photo Instructor

9:30 a.m.: This is Day 3 of unabated sunshine and 70+ degree F temperatures…here in the temperate rainforests of Southeast Alaska. We’re trying so hard to convince this week’s guests that it rains, and heavily. I’m contemplating switching my presentation to “How To Take Photographs in the Sonoran Desert” tips. In the meantime, the sun shining through the ice in LeConte Bay makes the bergs and bergy bits (one of my very favorite terminologies) shine like sapphires, and our undersea specialist rescues a piece of ice the size of a small child to bring back to the ship for display. At the rate of the current weather forecast, it can double as first aid in case of overheating.

Update to morning ops: Managed to introduce a little bit of Alaskan moisture when an unexpected incoming tide and katabatic wind combo douses the second Zodiac tour in salty spray. Now everyone has earned their rain gear!

Bird of the Day: A bald eagle resting casually on top of a stranded iceberg at the glacier’s former terminal moraine. You might even say it was…chilling?

4:45 p.m.: On to Cascade Creek, or as a naturalist colleague refers to it, “Class 6 whitewater.” As we saw in Misty Fjords earlier this trip, Alaska does waterfalls with gusto. A humpback whale shows up and breaches when we’re on shore, making for an unusual wildlife viewing experience to kick-start our excursion (“Animals seen while hiking: One cetacean”). Scientists still debate exactly why whales breach, but I like to think this one was checking to see if National Geographic Sea Bird would start playing with it.

Bird of the Day, Take 2: Superseded by an American dipper at the base of Cascade Falls. Sorry, but they’re John Muir’s favorite birds and also one of mine. Also, any bird that can make its living by diving into whitewater that would easily drown most larger animals – all while being slightly smaller than your average robin – automatically wins “Bird of the Day” in my book. Did I mention they do this year-round, too? And bob like they’re dancing when they’re back on the banks?

9:15 p.m.: It’s close to bedtime most other places, but early evening in this part of Alaska. Our whale from earlier in the day put out a general call for festivities and we’re rewarded with not one, but two humpbacks tail-lobbing and breaching in the distance, and a third coming to play right in front of our bow! Moral of the story: Don’t sleep.

Bonus: I learned from our fantastic presentation about birds this afternoon that puffling is the official word for a puffin chick. Alaska never disappoints.

Photo caption and photographer: Portrait of an expert ice fisher. Luke managed to capture this beauty without falling in – not an easy feat with a strong incoming tide. Don’t try this at home, but if you do, make sure you have your cameras ready. Photo by Lauren Buchholz