Sea Trip to the North of Alaska (Fall 2017)

During the fall of 2017, I participated in a sea trip to the north of Alaska. The trip began in Dutch Harbor on October 18 and ended in Seward on November 7. The image above shows the path of the ship during the trip back to the south, through the Bering Strait, through the Unimak Pass, along the Alaska Peninsula, and into Seward. I obtained photos of the aurora from the ship with a DJI Osmo+, a camera with a gimbal that can be used for long exposures on a moving platform. I also obtained several hours of video footage. This image of an apparent Ivory Gull is from the 11:44 mark in this video (the bird is flying from left to right near the top edge of the picture). Among the highlights of the trip were observing sea ice, the auroras, and the amazing flights of albatrosses, going through the Unimak Pass, and seeing for the first time the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island, the Kenai Peninsula, Seward, Denali, and Anchorage.

Movie 1 (2:56) Unalaska scenery and birds.

Movie 2 (4:45) Wind blowing the tops off waves.

Movie 3 (6:54) Using the DJI Osmo+ on a ship.

Movie 4 (4:45) Viewing conditions during the sea trip.

Movie 5 (14:08) Footage of birds obtained during the sea trip.

Movie 6 (2:24) Heading north in the Bering Sea.

Movie 7 (13:22) Pancake ice in the Arctic Ocean.

Movie 8 (8:27) Unimak Pass to Seward.

Movie 9 (12:36) Denali and Anchorage.

Scroll down to view the photos below.

The Healy.

Russian Orthodox church.

Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch.

High winds blowing the tops off waves.

Laysan Albatross.

Black-footed Albatross.

Peregrine Falcon.

Waves and weather greeted us during the approach to the Bering Strait.

King Island.

Common Eiders.

The western tip of the North American continent at the Bering Strait.

Islands in the Bering Strait. Fairway Island is on the left. Little Diomede Island on the right is part of the United States. Big Diomede Island to its left and in the distance is part of Russia.

The bird in the above photos appeared on the deck early on the morning of October 21 after we had passed through the Bering Strait. I was puzzled when the bird flew directly at me on two occasions (as it is doing in the second photo). It may have been attracted to my camo jacket, which was the only thing on deck that resembled vegetation.

This is the first photo of an aurora that I obtained with a DJI Osmo+, which has a gimbal that cancels out motion and makes long exposures possible on a ship. In this case, the aurora was weak, there was still some twilight, the ship was cruising at high speed, and there was a strong wind.

High noon in the Arctic on October 24. During several days of cold, windy, and snowy weather with low visibility, there were few birds and no sea mammals to see.

After several slow days, there were more birds in the area on October 25, including this Glaucous Gull.

Also on October 25, a small flock of alcids, which appeared to be mostly dark with long and narrow wings, were visible briefly in the distance before submerging.

We finally got some openings in the clouds, and I used the Osmo to obtain some photos of the aurora.

Black Guillemot.

I noticed something interesting when the spotlight shines on the water. There appears to be a faint beam of light directed nearly straight up from the spot where the light is incident on the water. This could be due to backscattering from below the surface.

In the early hours of Halloween, we arrived in the marginal ice zone.

In the early light, the surface of the ice in the distance had an eerie pale blue appearance. I used the Osmo with a two-second exposure to obtain this photo, which is blurred in some areas due to surface motion.

Despite the moonlight, the aurora was nice in the early morning hours of November 3.

In each of the paintings of Snow Buntings in flight in the third edition of the National Geographic field guide, there is a patch of black plumage on the leading edge of the dorsal surface of the wing about halfway between the base and tip of the wing. There is no sign of this field mark in the above image, which was obtained in the range of McKay’s Bunting. I saw this bird calling, circling around, and looking for a place to land two days in a row. The first time, we were to the northeast of St. Lawrence Island, and it appeared to land on the ship. The second time, we were off the coast of Nunivak Island, and it appeared to fly away from the ship after circling a few times.

We had a nice sunset on November 4 while heading south towards the Unimak Pass on the way to Seward.

A nice sunset was followed by a spectacular sunrise as we approached the Unimak Pass.

Winds of over forty knots caused lots of spray.

The photos above were taken as we headed for the inside passage to the north of Kodiak Island on the way to Seward.

The number of birds was way down on this trip compared to last year. The trend continued during the approach to the Unimak Pass and into the Pacific Ocean.

The photos above are of the north side of Kodiak Island.

The photos above are of the Alaska Peninsula across from Kodiak Island.

There was another nice sunset on November 6.

The aurora was active on the final night of the trip as we approached Seward. The photos that follow were taken along the Kenai Peninsula during the final day at sea.

Saying goodbye to the Healy. I stayed in the room second from the left on the top row (one level below the bridge).

The primary motivation for my trips to the Arctic was to see ice, which I never got to see beyond its early stages. I finally got to see some solid ice, which appears in the photo above. I walked out onto it to get the first two photos of Denali that follow.

Denali is often hidden behind trees along Hwy. 3. With sunset approaching, I found a location with a view and got the two photos above.

The two photos above were obtained from Denali Viewpoint South in Denali State Park, where I arrived when the Sun was setting.

View of Anchorage from the road up to Arctic Valley Trailhead in Chugach State Park.

Pine Grosbeaks.

I arrived at Glen Alps Trailhead in Chugach State Park just as the Sun was rising and obtained this photo of Anchorage.

Denali about 130 miles in the distance.

Gray Jay.

Another view of Denali.

Anchorage from above just before sunset.