Seagull Colony, Blackstone Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA
June 2017; (60°39’56.2″N 148°42’31.7″W)
Background- Located on the cliffs between Blackstone Glacier and an adjacent waterfall, these gulls see a lot of tourist boats, although the mews are well protected from any predators. It shouldn’t have surprised me how undisturbed they were by our presence. By this time of year, the chicks were all hatched and pretty grown.
Tastes- the trail mix (nuts and dried fruit) and salami I’ve been munching on; sea salt and sweat on my lips
Smells- cold and water; very mild scent of sea brine;
Feels- arms aching from hours of paddling; seawater on my hands, occasionally dribbling up my forearms to my elbows; the handle of the kayak cold, hard, and smooth, a comfortable fit in my hands; feet are too warm because I opted to wear thermal pants and promptly overheated; sunburn, worst on my neck and ears; lips dry and cracking, currently smeared with salami grease; tight, corseted hug of the life jacket; the woven strap of the kayak skirt slipping down my shoulder for the zillionth time; butt going a little numb if I don’t shift my position in the kayak every now and then; a stiff cold breeze blowing directly off the glacier and funneling down the bay, pushing us away;
Sounds- popping of ice in the water (which sounds shockingly like rice krispies do when you pour the milk in); screeching of gulls; slow scrape of ice along the sides of the fiberglass kayak, slushing sounds of ice and water grinding together;
Sights- a seal pops up to glance at us from a safe distance every few minutes between chunks of ice; the water is a field of broken ice, some chunks larger than us, most closer to the size of a fist; the ice is packed tightly around us, broken only by the path carved through behind us; the water around the coasts of the bay, and further down the inlet, are clear of ice as well; black, steep cliffs drop sharply into the water, soaring hundreds of feet overhead; seagulls wheel above, bobbing in the water, walking between nests wedged tightly on narrow ledges just a few inches wide all up and down the face of the cliffs; the clifftops are blanketed with snow and ice, water dribbling down in hundreds of tiny waterfalls, sometimes onto birds and nests (but the birds don’t seem to mind as much as I would); the sky overhead is bright blue, a few grey clouds on the horizon toward our backs, but clear overhead; behind us and out further from the glacier, the land is steeply sloped the entire length of the visible bay, with a few dark gravel bars far away, but mostly black rocks at the waterline and then trees and shrubbery clinging to steep hillsides; the cliffs in front of us are more or less sheer; the seagulls appear to be red-legged kittiwakes, and there aren’t any that are obviously chicks; most of the gulls are sitting ‘alone’, either on nests, on the rocks, or in the water, but there are many pairs sitting tightly huddled together in the tiny nests, their little heads close together or even touching (it is adorable); the nests are small and perfectly round, made of dead grass and just big enough to fit one seagull butt comfortably; my husband is in the spot ahead of me in this tandem kayak we’re in; he’s wearing a blue rain jacket with the hood down, a tan Boy Scouts baseball cap, and a black and yellow life jacket; his hands are bare and his hair is just starting to curl around the edges of the hat and his ears; the kayak paddle is all black, and the kayak is white and light blue; round and squat, it rides high in the water like a cork, we having left all our gear back at a basecamp several miles away; the kayak is about as long as our heights together, each paddle nearly as tall as me;