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SEEING 'SEA PARROTS' IN ALASKA


OTHER WILD BIRD STORIES
Bird Watching Stories
(Go Back to Wild Bird Page Contents)
 
» No Barbeque this Summer 
» Barn Swallow "Mama"  
» Just How Does a Bird Eat Bees?  
» My Birdwatching Adventures in Costa Rica
» Four Birds in One Tree: A Few Days of Birdwatching in England
» Four Calling Birds??? 
» A Very Unique Cardinal 
» The Last Companion Carolina Paroquet 
» The Ever-Popular Chickadee  
» Convergent Evolution: Meadowlark and Longclaw 
» Barrel Cactus Confrontation 
» Mesmerizing a Goldfinch 
» The Best Mimic?  
» Prairie Chickens and Woodcocks:
Missouri Ornithology
  
» Mob Mentality: Who is Really in Control of the Skies?
» The Owl Who Sat Down Beside Me 
» Meeting Hot Shot: The Toddler Peregrine Falcon  
» Seeing 'Sea Parrots'
in Alaska
 
 » A Rare and Unusual Bird 
Meeting Roger Tory Peterson
  
» Raven Showoffs 
» Reddish Egrets a nd Canopy Feeding 
 »  Robins and Worms 
Hear, See, Smell, or Feel?
   
» Hospital Hallucinations 
» Wild Bird "Attacks": Just Misunderstandings? 
» Drunken Waxwings and an Unusual Hummingbird Feeder
»  Aransas in the Fog:
Whooping Cranes
  
 » Acorn Woodpecker Defending its Stash
» Why Woodpeckers Don't Get Headaches: Built in Shock Absorber 
 by Sally Blanchard
Wood Sculpture and Papier Mache Sculpture by Sally Blanchard


No, there isn’t a parrot that lives at sea. Because of its large multi-colored beak, the Puffin has been nicknamed “Sea Parrot’ and “Clown of the Seas”. It seems to me that it would have been equally appropriate to call the Puffin a “Sea Toucan. The Puffin is a pelagic bird which means it spends most of its time at sea, usually only coming to land during breeding. The most amazing fact about these comical little birds is the way that the chicks fledge. At about 6 weeks, the formerly dutiful parents stop bringing their little butterball chick its twice daily rations of fish. During the next week or so the chubby little chick fasts alone in its burrow among the sea cliffs. Finally one night at about 7 weeks of age, without any parental guidance or previous flying lessons, the chick leaves its nest and virtually throws itself off of the cliff into the choppy waters far below. Amazingly, few chicks are injured in this seemingly suicidal leap. Without any parental guidance, the young puffin quickly learns to swim and dive for its own food.

Tufted Puffins at the Farallon Islands Near San Francisco
    
There are 3 species; the Atlantic puffin (which I have never seen in the wild), the horned puffin, and the tufted puffin. I had seen a few tufted puffins on a pelagic trip to the Farallon Islands. These islands are about 25 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge and are now part of a National Wildlife Refuge. The Farallon Islands contain the largest seabird colony south of Alaska. As the 20th century started there were about two thousand tufted puffins on the Farallon Islands, but by the late 1950s there were only 25 birds. Their population is now up to about 120 birds so they still have a long way to go for the populations increase to previous numbers. I think on the pelagic boat trip, we only saw about 5 tufted puffins and they weren't that easy to see. We did, however, float alongside of a Blue Whale, which was a very special experience. 


Birding Opportunities in Alaska
When I was asked to speak in Anchorage, I planned a few extra days for bird watching. The flight from Seattle to Anchorage was stunning as we flew over glaciers and mountains. I stayed with Bruni and Ron Warwick and had an absolutely uproarious time with them. The first night we sat up talking and although I knew better, I kept waiting for it to get dark. It was June and it never did get dark. The first morning when they took me on a tour of Anchorage, there actually was a moose walking down the street. I heard that this happened but I didn't believe it really did. We drove north from Anchorage on highway 3 to a lodge where we had lunch and got a spectacular view of Mount McKinley. I don't remember the name of where we stopped but it was a beautiful drive. 


The next day on Friday morning we got up very early to catch the train to Seward to take a boat tour of Resurrection Bay. The train ride itself was incredible. We saw bald eagles, one bear, Dall sheep, lots of moose and breathtaking scenery along the way. The boat trip was breathtaking with magnificent glaciers (some of them calving), multiple waterfalls, bald eaglessealssea ottersblack-legged kittiwakescommon murres, and lots of gulls ... with only a few puffins. We had to catch the last train out of Seward and although the trip was incredible, I was left with a need to see more puffins. 

More Puffins
Saturday I gave my parrot seminar. There are actually quite a few parrot people in the area around Anchorage and a few people flew in from more remote areas of Alaska. The club took me out to dinner that night for a wonderful meal of Alaskan king crab - yum!!  That evening Bruni and I decided that we were going to get up early again to take the train to Seward to take the boat cruise that went out into the Gulf of Alaska with a greater chance of seeing a whole bunch of both tufted and horned puffins. Sure enough, the farther out the boat went, the more puffins we saw. After being excited to see 5 tufted puffins at the Farallon Islands, seeing hundreds, if not thousands of them, was very exciting. We saw just about as many horned puffins, along with hundreds of common murres and black-legged kittiwakes on the massive rock cliffs. The photo to the left actually has thousands of seabirds in it. I was really happy that we took the second boat tour but we needed to hurry because my plane was leaving that evening. We had to rush to get to the train back to Anchorage and then went right to the airport with less than an hour before my plane left. Even though the view from the plane was stunning, I slept the whole way to Seattle where I caught my flight to Oakland. I got home and went straight to bed. My trip to Alaska was very memorable and I was grateful to be able to speak there and be a bird watching tourist for a few days.



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