This morning, National Geographic Quest awoke to blustery conditions off the northern coast of Chichagof Island. With a NOAA forecast of 20 knots of wind and 10’ seas in nearby Cross Sound, we opted for an activity on land instead of Zodiac.
After breakfast, we donned our rubber boots and rain gear and headed for shore and the beautiful emerald forest. Beyond the fringes of the beach and rye grass, we discovered a lush meadow that was quite saturated with a stream running through it. In the woods, we were awed by the tall and straight state tree, the Sitka spruce. The Tongass National Forest’s first timber contract was the Alaska Spruce Log Program, which operated from 1942-44 to produce lumber for airplanes needed for World War II. This program ended two years later when metal replaced wood in fighter planes.
Farther down the trail, we saw scratches on a tree, a social media post for Chichagof’s coastal brown bears. Adult males mark trees to communicate dominance to other males. Subordinates detect these cues and modify their behavior accordingly. Judging by the deep scars on this tree, it has been used for a long time by bears that gravitate to the area because of the nearby salmon stream.
Weaving our way through creeks and cabbage, we eventually ended up at a perfectly encapsulated bear trail. Habitual bear trails are created with repeated use and consistent walking patterns that in this case left “cookie cutter” depressions in the thick moss. Often associated with scratch trees, this trail proved no exception as there was a bear scratch tree right by the path.
Back on the ship after lunch, we had orcas right off the bow, and they put on quite a show! Then a humpback breached in the distance. As we approached the shoreline, four or five humpbacks swam through fish-rich waters, judging by the amount of bird activity. Lots of phalaropes flew around us in groups, and at one point, we observed two peregrine falcons trying to pick them out of the sky!
The beauty of the Alaskan wilderness is that you never know what you are going to see, and this day, like all days, was no exception.