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The next stop on our ‘Tour of the Town’ of Sitka was at the Raptor Centre. Here, up to 200 injured birds a year are taken in for treatment. The aim is to restore the birds, if possible, to the wilderness.

P1140592 © JT of jtdytravels

P1140592 © JT of jtdytravels

Raptors are meat or fish eating birds that hunt for their food. They need to be healthy to hunt and survive on their own in the wild. Some of the birds being treated are kept in this large room where they can safely begin to learn to fly again. They may have had broken wings or other bones, gunshot wounds or have been poisoned, usually unintentionally.

We were told that about 85% of the injuries treated at the centre are due to human  intervention in the natural habitat of the birds. Most injuries are caused by collisions with power lines, cars and other man-made objects. Poisonous chemicals at dumps and those used on lawns and gardens can cause poisoning if what the birds eat is polluted. Birds become scavengers… its an easy way to hunt! Others are caught in fishing lines and tackle left lying around. One of the centre’s aims is to make us all aware of the consequences of our actions, on birds in particular, and the environment in general.

P1140597 © JT of jtdytravels

P1140597 © JT of jtdytravels

The Raptor Centre’s symbol is the American Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus Leucocephalus, the bird adopted as the national bird symbol of the United States of America in 1782. It was chosen for its majestic beauty, great strength, long life, and because it’s native to the USA. This symbol is on many of the gift shop souveneirs, the sale of which helps pay for the recovery of the birds. We chose a glass bauble with an eagle for our Christmas tree collection.

P1140599 © JT of jtdytravels

P1140599 © JT of jtdytravels

One eagle, which can’t be returned to the wild because of his injuries, has been trained to be the ‘meet and greet’ bird at lectures given at the Centre. He was so well behaved!

P1140606 © JT of jtdytravels

P1140606 © JT of jtdytravels

It was amazing to be able to get up fairly close and personal with such a bird. He showed off the main characteristics of all raptors; sharp eyesight, a hooked, sharp beak and strong feet with sharp talons. They are not birds to be played with!

P1140608 © JT of jtdytravels

P1140608 © JT of jtdytravels

Even though the bald eagles are a well known symbol of USA, they were for many years on the list of endangered US birds. Why? In the ‘lower 48 states of the USA, the bald eagle populations were almost wiped out by DDT, heavy metal poisoning and loss of habitat. By the time DDT was banned in 1972, there were fewer than 450 breeding pairs left in all of the continental United States. It was on the Endangered Species List from 1978 until July 1999 when it was down listed to ‘threatened’. Now, the bald eagle population is estimated to be about 100,000. Half of those are found in Alaska.

Although never a threatened species in Alaska, there was a bounty on bald eagles from the early 1900s to 1950. As a species of sea eagles, the main diet of bald eagles is fish; salmon and herring in particular. The bounty was placed because the birds were thought to be in competition with local fishermen for the live salmon. They were! But the fishermen have had to learn that they must live with the wildlife of the area and that includes eagles, seals and whales. It is we who have invaded their habitat.

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P1140615  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

The bald eagles, like these two, that have been treated satisfactorily at the centre, go through various stages of rehabilitation until they can be released back into the wild.

But some cannot be released for a variety reasons. Those birds may be placed in captive breeding facilities around the country so that their offspring can be released to help restore wild populations. Others are placed in zoos and other educational organisations to help educate the public about raptors.

P1140620 © DY of jtdytravels

P1140620 © DY of jtdytravels

This bird, in an outer enclosure, showed off its extremely sharp talons and its not so pleasant personality. ‘Leave me alone, or else…’ seemed to be the message! It’s a sign of good rehabilitation as it needs to be wary and wild to survive in the forest. The white head and tail mark this bird as an adult. Immature bald eagles are a mottled brown.

P1140623 © JT of jtdytravels

P1140623 © JT of jtdytravels

A bald eagle has about 7,000 feathers, fluffed out here for our closer inspection!

P1140624 © JT of jtdytravels

P1140624 © JT of jtdytravels

An even closer look at those head feathers.

P1140627 © DY of jtdytravels

P1140627 © DY of jtdytravels

And that’s some wingspan!

P1140626 © JT of jtdytravels

P1140626 © JT of jtdytravels

The large outer forest area of the Centre is the final stage in rehabilitation where the birds practice life ‘in the wild’ before being released to fend for themselves. Eagles can live for thirty years or more… so, hopefully, these birds will survive for many years to come.

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P1140638 © JT of jtdytravels

This Red Tailed Hawk, Buteo Jamaicensis, was one of the raptors in the rehabilitation area. These hawks are found in every US state except for Hawaii. They play a very important role in the management of the rodent population. That beady eye can spot a mouse more than 30 m (100 ft) away. One hawk can eat more than 1,000 mice a year. That makes these birds more efficient than pesticides and far less harmful to the environment and other birds.

There are two main groups of raptors. The diurnal raptors, like eagles, hawks, falcons and kites, hunt during the day. But nocturnal raptors hunt at night. These include most of the owls. In the USA, there are 34 diurnal raptor species and 19 species of owls.

P1140633 © JT of jtdytravels

P1140633 © JT of jtdytravels

One of the owls being cared for at the Centre was this Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus. It’s common name is a bit of a misnomer! The tufts on top of its head are not horns, just feather tufts. This is one of the largest owls in the USA and can survive in habitats as vastly different as the hot, dry, desert canyons of Arizona or the cold, wet rain forests of Alaska. Like most owls, their feather design allows them to fly almost silently, enabling them to stealthily hunt for prey such as mice, squirrels and frogs.

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P1140645  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

My favourite owl was the the Great Grey Owl, Strix nebulosa. How could you not fall in love with that wonderful face? I was keen to learn more about this bird.

The Great Grey Owl is one of the world’s largest owls and has the largest facial disc of any owl. It has asymmetrical ear openings that are surrounded by feathers which help to funnel sound towards the ear. This allows the bird to detect the slightest noise made by prey such as voles and mice (This is another bird that is rodent destroyer!)

Great Grey Owls are forest dwellers and have a circumpolar distribution ranging from Alaska to Easter Canada and across the northern forests of Europe and Asia. They are very reclusive and rarely seen in the wild so it was special to see one up so close.

Like most owls, Great Grey Owls don’t usually build their own nests. In Alaska, they often use abandoned Northern Goshawk nests. The success of the owls raising their clutch of one to nine eggs is highly dependent on food source that year. In low food years, no eggs may be laid at all. The male provides food for the female during the 30 days that she sits on the eggs, and also for the nestlings for three weeks after hatching. It surprised me to learn that the young owlets are proficient climbers! They leave the nest and climb around in the trees for several weeks before they learn to fly. Even after they finally fledge at about eight weeks, they may stay near to the nest for several months.

I spent so much time learning about this owl that I almost missed the bus! So whatever was left for me to see at the Raptor Centre will remain a mystery to me. We were soon on our way to our next centre of interest, the Sitka Totem museum.

But, if you’d like to learn more about these magnificent owls, follow this link!

http://www.coniferousforest.com/great-grey-owl.htm

There you’ll find some really great photos. I can’t compete with them! You have to be a dedicated, professional bird photographer with excellent gear to get shots like these.

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Great Grey Owlets on a twig nest.

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Female Great Grey Owl with young on nest.

Isn’t it great that, via the web, we can see such excellent nature photography.

More anon

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.jtdytravels.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

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More of our travel photos are on

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A much anticipated day was our visit to Glacier Bay National Park.

Glacier Bay map

Glacier Bay map

This area, at the northern end of Tongass National Forest on the Alaskan Panhandle is very special. As far back as February 25th, 1925, the uniqueness of this area was noted. It needed to preserved as true wilderness. In a far sighted act, the then US President, Calvin Coolidge, proclaimed it a ‘National Monument under the Antiquities Act’.

In total, the wilderness area of Glacier Bay National Park covers 10,784 km² (4,164 mi²). There’s also a large extension to the park that’s called a preserve, where hunting can be undertaken, but only under special licence. I’ve never been able to fathom the need for people to hunt and shoot wild animals for ‘trophies’ but that’s the way it is in these parts.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140458

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140458

The entrance to Glacier Bay is close to the entrance of the Inside Passage. The big Cruise Ships come in from the Gulf of Alaska via Icy Strait, away from the rolling sea, as I remember it from my last visit here in 2001, and into much calmer waters. On this visit to Alaska, in 2015, I’d spent the night asleep on board our small ship ‘Sea Lion” in the calm waters of one of the nearby coves. In the morning, we only had to sail across the strait to the National Park  headquarters to pick up our guide, Nicole. Every ship, large or small, must take on board a Park Ranger. Their task is to check that no rules are broken and also to act as the NP guide for the day.

Many of the glaciers in this famous Bay, owe their existence to the largest of all mountains in the area, Mt Fairweather. Storms blow in from the ocean and dump their icy waters as snow on and over the Mt Fairweather area. Over centuries, glaciers form from the compacted snow.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140456

Tlingit Totem symbol © JT of jtdytravels; P1140456

In the 1800’s, this area became a fishing place for the native Huna Tlingit. Their name for the highest mountain in the area was Tsalxhaan.  When Captain James Cook saw it, on a fine day in 1778, he named it Mt Fairweather… not really an apt description as it’s not often seen for cloud and is not known for fair weather. Regardless of that, Cook’s naming has been kept.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140448

Glacier Bay in 1750 © JT of jtdytravels; P1140448

The story of Glacier Bay in recorded history is one of fast, spectacular retreat. In Tlingit memory, a huge glacier protruded out into Icy Strait. The first European to mention this area was French explorer La Perouse in 1786. Then, when George Vancouver’s expedition came this way in 1794, they found Icy Strait choked with ice…. hence the name. The area we now know as Glacier Bay was in fact just one tidewater glacier. By 1879, just 85 years later, the famous naturalist John Muir found that the glacier had retreated up the bay by 77km (48mi). And by 1916, the ‘Grand Pacific Glacier’ had retreated 105km (65mi) from the mouth of the bay. This was the fastest recorded iceberg retreat and has been studied by scientists ever since.

The most dramatic example of glacier retreat in the last century was that of the glacier named after John Muir. The calving face of Muir Glacier was 3.2 km (2mi) wide and 81 m (265 ft) high. By the 1990’s, it was no longer calving into the bay. It had retreated back into the ice sheet in the mountains. One wonders what Muir would have made of that!

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140452

Tlingit summer fishing camp © JT of jtdytravels; P1140452

In the late 1800’s, John Muir found the Tlingit people living in their summer camps near the mouth of the bay. They came here to fish and hunt. These people travelled in their dug out canoes throughout these waters, fishing, hunting and visiting other clans for weddings and for ‘potlatch’ ceremonies in which gifts were exchanged to keep peace between the various clans. Maybe we could learn something from this ‘potlatch’ tradition today to help maintain peace instead of resorting to seemingly endless wars! A tradition of giving rather than taking!

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140425

Tlingit canoe © JT of jtdytravels; P1140425

This example of a Tlingit canoe was built, in the traditional way using an adze, by craftsmen in 1987.  It’s made from a single spruce tree and is on show at the Ranger’s headquarters.

After picking up our Park guide Nicole and her understudy, Jenny, we sailed on into the bay in search of wildlife. This was the distinct advantage of being on such a small ship. The large cruise ships sail straight up the bay to see the glaciers and then straight back down again. We had the priviledge of taking our time, of exploring around small islands, of slowing right down when animals were sighted and of getting in close to bays and beaches and cliffs. But we stayed on board. There were no off ship excursions or activities. That was not permitted.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110474

Stellar Sea Lions hauled out on a rock © DY of jtdytravels; P1110474

Small rocks we passed were often covered in Steller sea lions. They are named after Georg Wilhelm Steller who first described them as a distinct type of sea lion in 1741. They are the largest of the eared seals and like other sea lions, they are thigmotactic; they like to cuddle up close together!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110503

Steller Sea Lions © DY of jtdytravels; P1110503

Steller sea lions are, for some as yet unexplained reason, declining in numbers in Alaska. They are the object of much debate by Alaskan scientists, fishermen and politicians. The reason for the decline is likely to be a complex web of factors including less available fish due to over fishing. With less fatty fish like herring available, sea lions eat more of the leaner fish like pollock and flounder. This limits the amount of fat in the diet, a necessary requirement for survival in these cold waters. Other reasons put forward for this decline in numbers are: shooting by fishermen who see the sea lions as a threat to their own livelihoods, changes in climate, contaminants in waters and increased predation by orcas. The latter I find hard to believe. We did not see one Orca on the whole expedition.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140041

Steller Sea Lion defending territory © JT of jtdytravels; P1140041

The big bull Steller sea lions constantly defend their chosen territory. They are polygynous but, unlike the sea lion species we had seen in Galapagos, these Stella sea lions don’t have harems of females. Instead the bulls control a space where females can come and go but no other male is welcome. We watched this big fellow see off several intruders.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110498

Cormorants © DY of jtdytravels; P1110498

These cormorants seemed to be doing the impossible; standing on a steeply sloping rock face. But they do more than just stand on the slopes; they nest on narrow ledges and shallow depressions on the steepest slopes they can find on the cliffs of rocky islands like this one. The nests are made of anything they can find such as marine algae, grass, moss, sticks and flotsam and debris. They use their excrement to cement these bits and pieces together. All that work is not wasted as the nests are reused year after year. These birds are great divers and feed mostly on bottom feeding fish and invertebrates.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140074

Puffin © JT of jtdytravels; P1140074

It was wonderful to see quite a lot of puffins in these waters near the small islands. But they are very small and so hard to photograph. And they are endlessly diving for small fish. Their large colourful bills are more colourful in the summer nesting season than in winter when the bill’s outer layers are shed. Their black and white plumage is referred to in their genus name  Fratercula, which is derived from the Latin meaning ‘little brother’. It was thought that their plumage resembles monastic robes. Once again, perhaps some imagination is required!

In general, puffins nest underground but at rocky sites like these islands, they do nest on cliff faces. The female lays just one whitish egg and then both parents take turns in the important tasks of incubating the egg and going out to fish. The chick is hatched in July or early August, and then the parents take turns in caring for and feeding the chick. At about five days old, the chick has to fend for itself on that ledge whilst both parents go out to find food.  As the colder weather comes in, the birds leave to spend the winter in the Ocean and never venturing back to the land until the next breeding season. So we were very lucky to see them at nesting time.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140105

Braided stream © JT of jtdytravels; P1140105

In several places we saw braided streams coming down through old glacial valleys. Here, the pioneer plants like Alder were in evidence, re-establishing land previously covered in ice.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140116

Snow and ice covered mountains ahead. © JT of jtdytravels; P1140116

Ice covered mountains came into sight the further north we sailed up the bay.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140147

Rocky cliffs scoured by glacial action © JT of jtdytravels; P1140147

Only lichens and mosses could grow on these cliff faces.

© JY of jtdytravels; P1140166

Grizzly Bear © JY of jtdytravels; P1140166

The cry of “BEAR! BEAR!” soon had everyone rushing to the side of the ship. Because we were on such a small ship, the captain was able to edge closer to the shore and hold position while we watched the bear graze and wander through the grasses. It took absolutely no notice of us.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110543

An old glacial valley © DY of jtdytravels; P1110543

We sailed by several of these very picturesque old glacial valleys, testament to the time when this bay was covered in ice… and that just over two hundred years ago… not millennia!

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140168

A beach of glacial murrain © JT of jtdytravels; P1140168

Gravel brought down by the stream from this mountain had formed a beach.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140204

Wolves © JT of jtdytravels; P1140204

And it was on that beach that we saw wolves (Canis lupus). This caused great excitement. Many of our crew had never seen them and the Captain said it was most unusual to find them in this area. They are usually much more secretive. But on this day, these two chose to wander along the beach and were in view for at least twenty minutes. We just slowly followed them along the beach… from the safety of the ship, of course.

These wolves had very dark pelts, much darker than those found in northern parts of Alaska where, I suppose, they need to be able to ‘melt into’ the colours of a very different landscape. But the pelt colour of Alaskan wolves ranges from black to nearly white, with every shade of grey and brown in between although grey or black wolves like these are the most common.

Wolves can be legally hunted and trapped in Alaska, outside of the area of the National Park. They are classified as both big game animals and as furbearers and are deemed to be not endangered in Alaska. We were told that between 1994 and 2005 more than 14,000 wolves were reported to have been killed or trapped by hunters… and probably as many as that were not reported. We were glad that these two had the protection of a National Park.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110565

Mountain goats © DY of jtdytravels; P1110565

Mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), as their name suggests, inhabit rugged habitats. They are the only North American representative of mountain ‘ungulates’ or rock goats. And they need to live in an environment like this where wolves can’t easily get to them. To survive here, their hooves are specially designed for climbing on steep, slippery slopes. Their feet have a hard keratinous sheath with an imbedded soft pad which enables them grip the maximum surface area on even the smallest rock or crevice. It was fascinating to watch these three gamble about on this cliff, grazing, but ever watchful.

They have another survival adaptation that allows them to live in the extreme conditions of South East Alaska; in winter they grow a long, shaggy coat. They would need it!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110572

Sailing ever closer to those remaining glaciers © DY of jtdytravels; P1110572

We left our search for wild life and sailed on towards the glaciers,

still quite a way to go to the head of the bay.

So time out for lunch.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140314

The ice shelf visible above an old valley © JT of jtdytravels; P1140314

After lunch the terrain around had changed somewhat.

Now we could see evidence of the ice shelf in the heights above a valley.

Stunning scenery all around us.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140322

Small ice flows in the water © JT of jtdytravels; P1140322

Finally, the glaciers were heralded by sightings of small ice flows in the water.

And the glaciers that ice came from is the subject of our next post.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.jtdytravels.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.dymusings.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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While the kayakers and the DIB explorers returned to the ship, David enjoyed some extra time on shore wandering back to the small beach on Pond Island.

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Pond Island Shore ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110124

Let’s take a quiet wander with him.

No commentary necessary!

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Mussels and seaweed  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110104

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Antler shed by a deer ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110107

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Sea Urchin Shell  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110109

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Crab shell ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110111

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Banana Slug ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110114

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Shelf or bracket fungi ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110116

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Starfish and Mussels  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110125

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Close up of star fish patterning ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110129

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Bald Eagle returning to tree with a catch ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110131

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Bald Eagle  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110135

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Kayaks waiting to be returned to the ship ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110041

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Brady takes the tiller ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110135

The wandering over, it was time to return to “Sea Lion”.

On the way back, young Brady was given the tiller by Nikki, the ship’s Bosun.

This nine year old was really making the most of this expedition.

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Ryan, the Chef ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110343

And waiting for us all to return on board, was our chef, Ryan. He, and his small team, did a wonderful job of providing us all with good, fresh food… without going over the top as happens on the big cruise ships. Breakfast was the usual fare, with hot porridge for the likes of me! Lunch was salads and a hot dish, varying the cuisine of those dishes each day…. and there was always ‘the cookie of the day’ to finish off our lunch. In the late afternoon, while we had our daily debrief,  there were nibbles that usually included cheese and a salmon dish. The evening meal was a choice of three mains; meat, fish or vegetarian. We ticked off our choice in the morning and, there it was, ready for us in the evening. No waste. There was one starter, that was usually the soup of the day, and one dessert. No choice, except to say no! I have to say that no-one could have, or did have, a complaint about the food. It was all very good.

Jen Williams © DY of jtdytravels; P1110224

Jen Williams © DY of jtdytravels; P1110224

After lunch, I had a massage from Jen, our wellness expert.

It was just fantastic. Thanks Jen.

The ship relocated a little further up Chatham Straight to Sitkoh Bay

and David decided to do another plant hunting walk.

More of that anon.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.jtdytravels.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.dymusings.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

.

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The famous American wilderness explorer, John Muir, once said, “To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.” And it is indeed amazing… especially when you have the priviledge, as I did at Pond Island, to just float quietly on still waters taking in the beauty that surrounds you. Let me share it with you.

Pond Island © JT of jtdytravels; P1130927

Pond Island © JT of jtdytravels; P1130927

Much of the time, as we moved slowly along the shoreline, we just enjoyed the peace and the beauty of the wilderness that surrounded us, especially the reflections in still waters.  That peace was only broken when we saw wildlife along the way. Then Jason would quietly tell us something about each one as we observed their behaviour in the wild.

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Shoreline reflection 1 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130928

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Shoreline reflections 2 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130930

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Kayaks afloat on Pond Island Bay ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130934

This was the first day on this expedition that the kayaks were in use.

The conditions were perfect for that activity.

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Kayaking fun ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130936

Some of our group, like David, had chosen to walk, some to kayak and some, like me, to explore by DIB. We all enjoyed the beauty of this wilderness area in our own way.

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Small island of conifers ©  JT  of  jtdytravels;  P1130939

At one end of the bay was a rocky island, a perfect example of a conifer forest surrounded by the deeper green of the much smaller Sitka alders.

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Pair of Bald Eagles ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130942

The island provided a great look out point for a pair of bald eagles. It’s hard to tell which is male and which female, they look so similar. The female is, in fact, slightly larger.

Bald eagles are the national bird of USA, indeed it’s the only bird unique to North America. Its scientific name is  Haliaeetus leucocephalus; from Greek hali “sea”, aiētos “eagle”, leuco “white” and cephalos “head”. About half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska so it’s not a surprise to see them here. In this bay, the eagles were on the look out for salmon as the annual salmon run was just beginning. They will eat both dead and dying fish.

It was good to watch the eagles in the wild away from human habitation. Further south in the ‘Lower 48’ states, bald eagles and other birds of prey such as kites and hawks, are vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment. Because these birds are at the top of the food chain, each link in that food chain tends to concentrate chemicals from the lower link. Here, in  the wilds of South East Alaska, they are free from that danger.

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Salmon run creek ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130944

We gradually made our way towards a small creek where salmon were beginning to congregate for the start of their annual spawning run. Five types of salmon occur in Alaska, easily remembered by looking at your fingers! Thumb = Chum; Pointer = Sockeye ( a bit obscure but it helps to have a bit of imagination!); Middle finger = King; Ring finger = Silver; and Pinky finger = Pink.  In general, adult salmon eat other fish, squid, eels, and shrimp. However Sockeye salmon has a diet that consists almost entirely of plankton.

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Indian Paintbrush flowers and grasses ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130950

Another small, rocky island had no trees,

just grasses and the delightful red paintbrush, Castilleja miniata.

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P1110056

If we had been able to have a closer look at the red paintbrush plant, as David did while walking on the shore, we would have seen that the red parts are actually modified leaves, or bracts.  The flower is tiny, protected by the bracts.

P1130947

Nature’s abstract art ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130947

I loved the reflections of this island; another example of nature’s abstract art!

P1130952

Inside salmon pool ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130952

As we turned the corner, we came into a small pool where the salmon collect before their final spawning run. Alaskan salmon are anadromous, meaning they are born in freshwater (rivers or streams) before they travel to and live much of their lives in salt water. They then return to freshwater to spawn. It has long been believed that salmon return to the exact spot where they were born in order to spawn. Recent tracking studies have shown this to be mostly true although some do stray and spawn in different freshwater systems. Such homing behaviour is quite an amazing phenomenon and has been shown to depend on olfactory memory.

When the female reaches the place where she will lay her eggs, she makes a depression in the river or creek bed with her tail, and then deposits some of her eggs.  She then waits for males to fertilise the eggs before covering the depression. She then moves on to make another depression. Females will make as many depressions as they need in order to lay all of their eggs; that may be up to seven depressions.

After spawning, the adults die and thus provide more food for bears and eagles.

Young salmon will stay for six months to three years in their natal stream.  Only 10% of all salmon eggs are estimated to survive that period. As they prepare to leave the creeks for the ocean, their  body chemistry changes, thus allowing them to live in saltwater.  They will then spend about one to five years (depending on the species) in the open ocean.  There they gradually become sexually mature and prepare to return to the creeks of their birth. It’s another of the wonderful stories of nature.

P1130962

Shore reflections 3  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130962

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P1130967

Mergus Merganser ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130967

As we sat quietly in this pool area, enjoying the reflections, we noticed movement. A female merganser was moving along beside the shore. She was very watchful of us, as we were of her! We stayed very still and she seemed to accept our presence.

Baby Mergansers © JT of jtdytravels; P1130969

Baby Mergansers © JT of jtdytravels; P1130969

She was followed by her brood of ducklings. They are similar to their mother except for a short black-edged white stripe between the eye and bill. They were wonderfully camouflaged against the barnacles, rocks and sea weeds. We stayed our distance and watched them.

These birds, Mergus Merganser, need nesting holes in the mature trees of these forests for breeding. The female lays usually 8 to 12 white to yellowish eggs and raises one brood each season. This one had five ducklings with her; maybe others had fallen prey to predators. As soon as the eggs hatch, the female takes the ducklings in her bill down to the pool or river. They feed on freshwater invertebrates and small fish fry. They are fully fledged when 60–70 days old but are not sexually mature until they are two years old.

P1130971

View back from salmon pool ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130971

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P1130973

Island view ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130973

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1100253

Pair of marbled murrelets © DY of jtdytravels; P110025

Back out in the main bay we saw a pair of Marbled murrelets, very small sea birds with a very long Latin name: Brachyramphus marmoratus. They’re difficult to photograph partly because of their size and partly because they are very busy little birds, constantly diving to feed on sand eels, herrings and other small fish. They feed in pairs and we saw them often as we sailed in the waters of the Inside Passage where they are never far from a forest.

Old growth forests are especially important to Marbled murrelets. Unlike other sea birds, these little birds nest on the mossy branches of old trees, particularly the hemlock and the spruce so prevalent in these forests. This habit of nesting in trees, rather than on cliffs and rock ledges or in burrows like other sea birds, was not documented until 1974 when a tree climber found a nest. It was a rather remarkable finding and has had important implications for the logging of old growth forests in the area. In many places on their habitat range, this species of murrelet has declined in numbers because of logging.

Marbled murrelet (courtesy Wikepedia)

Marbled murrelet (courtesy Wikepedia)

Even without the pressure of the logging of their nesting trees, murrelets are hard pressed to succeed in the breeding process. After choosing a tree with lots of moss and lichen on the branches and with plenty of cover from predators, the female murrelet lays just one egg on a platform of lichen and moss. After a month of incubation, the chick hatches and is fed for about forty days until it’s able to fledge and fend for itself. Breeding success is low and chick mortality is high. We were entranced by these little birds each day of the expedition.

P1130977

Harbour Seal ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130977

Every now and then, a round grey head would pop up on the surface, have a quick look around and then slip quietly away again beneath the surface. This was a harbour seal. They don’t stay long on the surface and are hard to photograph in the wild because it’s not easy to predict when they will resurface. They stay down for quite a while as they seek fish, squid and shrimp. In 2010, an aerial survey of harbour seals in Southeast Alaska estimated that there were 60,000 harbour seals in these cold, fish rich waters. They are a delight to observe.

P1130987

Shore Reflections 4 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130987

These are tidal waters, so the DIB drivers put out buoys to mark rocky areas that would become shallower as the day went on. The forest reflections were lovely.

P1130986

Return of the kayakers ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P113098.

Happy kayakers gradually came back closer to shore.

Their time afloat was almost over.

It would take some time to collect the kayaks and take them back to the ship.

P1130977

“Sea Lion”  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130977

Sadly, it was time for me to go back to the “Sea Lion”; the Dibs were needed for other tasks. Meanwhile, David was still on shore doing a beach walk while he waited his turn to return to the ship. So next time, we’ll wander along the shore here at Pond Island with him.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright JT  of  jtdytravels

If you are enjoying this armchair travel series, please pass the site onto others.

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After a day of activity in Iluka, whether it be walking on the beaches or in the bush, playing golf or bowls, swimming, reading or just lazing about, a great way to end the day is to stroll along the path beside the bay to watch the sunset.  I did just that one day after a late afternoon visit to the mouth of the river and a walk on the ocean beach.

P1240762  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240762 © JT of jtdytravels

Where the Clarence River is channeled out to sea by two long breakwaters,

dolphins can often be seen.

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P1240759  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240759 © JT of jtdytravels

By the time the sun had begun to sink low in the sky,

the main beach at Iluka was almost deserted.

Summer visitors had not yet arrived.

It had been a warm winter’s day but now the breeze was a little chilly.

  It was time to go back to my room at Iluka Motel.

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P1240992  ©   JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240992 © JT of jtdytravels

I made one last stop for the day at Iluka Bay.

There, I found birds also ‘coming home’ from their day out.

A small flock of corollas flew in to hunt for a last minute feed of seeds.

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P1240994  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240994 © JT of jtdytravels

A couple of Ibis also flew in.  This one showed off its lacy tail.

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P1250015  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1250015 © JT of jtdytravels

It soon began to search the waters for a late afternoon feed.

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P1240779  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240779 © JT of jtdytravels

A small boat caused rippling waves behind this grey heron.

The waters had begun to take on a tinge of the colours of the setting sun.

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P1250026  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1250026 © JT of jtdytravels

A couple of ducks shovelled for food in the mud.

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P1250008  ©   JT  of  jtdytravels

P1250008 © JT of jtdytravels

The pelicans swooped in for a final feed along with a small group of seagulls.

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P1240964  ©   JT  of jtdytravels

P1240964 © JT of jtdytravels

As the sun sank even lower, this pelican seemed to pose for his portrait.

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P1240952  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240952 © JT of jtdytravels

The late afternoon light also added extra charm to a common seagull.

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P1240959  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240959 © JT of jtdytravels

Even the boardwalk took on a golden glow.

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P1240766   ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240766 © JT of jtdytravels

On a quiet part of the bay, the water had retreated leaving puddles in the mud,

providing the opportunity for this heron portrait.

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P1250012  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1250012 © JT of jtdytravels

More pelicans arrived as

a ribbon of golden sunlight made its way across the bay.

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P1250021  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1250021 © JT of jtdytravels

By this time, the other evening walkers had left the path.

I was left alone to enjoy this quiet evening scene.

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P1250022  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1250022 © JT of jtdytravels

The sky burnt a firey red as the sun slipped away

giving a final kiss of light to wispy clouds.

This is indeed a special place.

I’ve promised myself to return one day.

Jennie

Photography  ©  copyright JT  of  jtdytravels

(Accommodation was at Iluka Motel… I can recommend it)

Stories and photos of our overseas travels can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

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For the keen walker, there are walks in abundance from the village of Iluka.  The walk beside Iluka Bay is the gentlest.  But there are walks along the beaches facing the Pacific Ocean and even more through a rainforest and through Bundjalong National Park.

P1240948  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240948 © JT of jtdytravels

The main road from the Pacific Highway into Iluka goes through the Bundjalung  National Park.  Side roads lead off into the forest and to the bluffs and beaches of the Pacific Ocean. The roads are unsealed but in good condition and the drive through tunnels of trees is a peaceful start to a day out in the bush.

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P1240877  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240877 © JT of jtdytravels

The best known, and very well set up bush parking area is at Iluka Bluff.  Leaving the car here, you can choose to enjoy a walk or a rest on the beach, pick your way across the rocks at the headland, climb up to the bluff or walk in the forest; or do all of the above.

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P1240879  ©  JT  f jtdytravels

P1240879 © JT f jtdytravels

My first choice was the beach – not to swim or laze in the sun but to walk.

When I was there, this beach was not patrolled, so care is needed if swimming.

One part of this beach is called Shark Bay – enough said!

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P1240885  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240885 © JT of jtdytravels

I shared this long beautiful stretch of coast with just two other people.

With a gentle sea on one side

and a forest alive with native birds on the other

it was a most pleasant walk.

There would no doubt be many more people enjoying this beach in summer.

P1240881  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240881 © JT of jtdytravels

However, this is not a bare foot beach.  It’s made up of small shells so …

a good pair of walking shoes was essential.

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P1240896  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240896 © JT of jtdytravels

Coming back from my beach walk, I began to explore the rocky headland.

It was the resting place that morning for hundreds of birds, most of them small terns.

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P1240893  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240893 © JT of jtdytravels

Amongst them were Cormorants and, of course, sea gulls.

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P1240902  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240902 © JT of jtdytravels

My favourite bird of the morning was this Brahminy Kite (Haliastur Indus).  I had taken a short bush walk to get further out on the rocks below the bluff.  I found this magnificent bird sitting on a rock shelf quietly finishing off a feed of fish.  T’was a magic moment.

Brahminy Kites feed exclusively on fish and other marine animals.  I have read that they often scavenge for dead fish floating on the surface rather than catching live fish.  Once this bird had finished its meal, I enjoyed watching it soar high over the rock platform.

Iluka is almost to the southern edge of the Brahminy Kite’s range.  They occur only in warmer coastal areas and on offshore islands; in the eastern states they may occur from Port Macquarie north and, in Western Australia, they can be seen north of Carnarvon.  We saw them in the tidal rivers of the Kimberleys when we were there a few years ago.

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P1240910  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240910 © JT of jtdytravels

There are good paths through the seaside scrub which seems to be alive with birds.

Most are impossible to photograph as they flit through the trees.

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P1240912  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240912 © JT of jtdytravels

Some are much more used to human company. This magpie joined me on my walk.

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P1240913  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240913 © JT of jtdytravels

A Masked Lapwing was a little more wary as he trotted across a more open area of park.

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P1240939  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240939 © JT of jtdytravels

The common Australian native tree, the Paper Bark, Melaleuca sp., abounds in this park.

Birds love them and some artists like to use the papery bark in their creations.

However, collecting this bark in a National Park is not permitted.

Take only photos, leave only footprints – that’s the rule.

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P1240947  ©  Jt  of  jtdytravels

P1240947 © Jt of jtdytravels

Day visitors are well catered for with plenty of tables in shady places for picnics.

There are also eco friendly long drop, composting toilets near the car park.

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P1240938  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240938 © JT of jtdytravels

A shaded, raised information area also has a picnic table and tank water.

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P1240935  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240935 © JT of jtdytravels

From the information platform, a steep set of steps leads up towards the top of the bluff.

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P1240922  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240922 © JT of jtdytravels

From the top of the steps, a steepish gravelled path with steps leads further upwards.

A more gentle board walk path then leads on through the bush.

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P1240921  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240921 © JT of jtdytravels

There are some interesting trees to look at along the way.

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P1240934  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240934 © JT of jtdytravels

A volunteer landcare group has been busy cleaning out weeds in this area.

They’ve also planted several more native trees and bushes.

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P1240924  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240924 © JT of jtdytravels

Finally, the look out comes into view.

And the view from the top is well worth the climb.

This is a great place to watch for whales on their migration route.

Looking south is the breakwater lined mouth of the Clarence River.

Yamba can be seen on the hill beyond.

Iluka is further back to the right behind another long, sandy beach.

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P1240927  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240927 © JT of jtdytravels

The sound and sight of waves folding over rocks below is something I always enjoy.

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P1240926  ©  Jt  of jtdytravels

P1240926 © Jt of jtdytravels

There were many more walks I could have taken in this National Park,

but I was happy to take a rest here

and enjoy the solitude and the beauty of the sea scape.

The other walks will have to wait until I return some other time!

Jennie

Photography  © Copyright  JT  of  jtdytravels

More travel stories and photos of our overseas adventures can be found on

http://www.jtdytravels.com

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The small seaside village of Iluka is a very quiet, relaxing place on the north side of the mouth of the Clarence River in Northern NSW.  It’s a place far away from the hurly burly of the daily life of cities and towns.  As a holiday destination, Iluka’s neighbour across the river, Yamba, is a much bigger and livelier place.  But I wanted a quiet place to recharge my batteries, to slow down and enjoy the gentle things in life.  I found that place in Iluka.  So why not come with me for a quiet stroll along the riverside.

P1240838  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240838 © JT of jtdytravels

This walk will take us along the edge of Iluka Bay, a man made safe harbour and refuge on the edge of the river.  This was the first view from the path I followed down to the river.

P1240843  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240843 © JT of jtdytravels

There to greet me were two of those well known and much loved birds of the waterways, the Australian Pelican, Pelecanus conspicuillatus,  a very conspicuous bird.  We are so used to seeing pelicans in Australia that we often pass them by without stopping for a good look.   Common though this bird may be, there are some things we might not all know about this bird.  Here are some points of interest that you can use in a Trivia quiz!

1. There are seven species of pelicans in the world, all of them black and white except for the brown Pelecanus occidentals. That’s a pelican we have seen in the Galapagos Islands.

2.  Pelicans have a wingspan of 2.3 m – 2.5 m.  They need those big wings to help lift themselves off the water.

3. And even when they do get airborne, Pelicans can’t sustain flapping flight.  But they are excellent soarers, using the thermals to remain in the air for 24 hours at a time, covering hundreds of kilometres in search of food and water in dry seasons.

4. A Pelican’s skeleton weighs only 10% of its total body weight.

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P1240969  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240969 © JT of jtdytravels

That famous bill is about half a metre long.  Perhaps some of you will be familiar with Edward Lear’s rhyme about the Pelican’s long bill and massive throat pouch:

“A wonderful bird is the pelican; His beak can hold more than his belly can; He can hold in his beak enough food for a week; But I’ll be darned if know how the hellican! “

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P1240820 ©

P1240820 © JT of jtdytravels

Of course pelicans are much heavier with a belly full of fish and, after eating, they just cruise around or rest on a safe rocky ledge like a break water.  I expect this pair are ‘locals’ and don’t go far from ‘home’ at Iluka Bay where there’s plenty for them to eat.

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P1240813  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240813 © JT of jtdytravels

They no doubt wait for the next fisherman to come back through the breakwater with hopefully a load of fish – and fish heads that are not wanted!  And at the end of this bay is the harbour for the professional fishermen.  It’s a very good place for a pelican to live.

P1240815  @  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240815 @ JT of jtdytravels

Further along the beach, an Australian White Ibis was searching for food. This bird comes with a real tongue twister of a name; Threskiornis moluccus.  Using their long curved bills, they dig up food from the mud.  They eat invertebrates.  Best of all they seem to really enjoy mussels which they open by whacking the hard shells on a rock.

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P1240824  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels.com

P1240824 © JT of jtdytravels.com

I had hoped there was a path along the breakwater but it’s just a jumble of very large rocks protecting the bay from the river currents and strong tides.  This breakwater is essential to Iluka because the Clarence River is also known for very large floods.

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P1240814  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240814 © JT of jtdytravels

In a park beside the bay, is a rather smart looking shed for the rowing club and other aquatic sports.  The mural is very much in keeping with the scenery.

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P1240822  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240822 © JT of jtdytravels

A Masked Lapwing, Vanellus miles novaehollandiae, kept an eye on me as it searched for insects.  Since it lives, nests and feeds on the ground, it is always wary.

This fairly common Australian bird is also known as a Masked Plover, a Spur-winged Plover or just Plover.  The distinctive black neck stripe on this bird distinguishes it as an eastern state variety.  The northern variety has an all white neck and larger wattles.

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P1240826  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240826 © JT of jtdytravels

A new addition to the foreshore here is a very good and solidly built workout station.  I tried it out with a lady who had ridden her bike down to do her morning exercises.  It was a very pleasant way to do exercise while looking out at the bay, the boats and the birds.

P1240853  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240853 © JT of jtdytravels

Walking back towards the other end of the bay and the professional fishing harbour, I enjoyed some shade in the heat of the day.  The path is in excellent condition and used by walkers and bike riders.  There’s one thing that is very certain about this village; people are encouraged to get out and about and enjoy the delightful environment. And they do.

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P1240829  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240829 © JT of jtdytravels

Even this pretty pigeon was out for a walk and followed along with me for quite a while.

P1240840  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240840 © JT of jtdytravels

Among the usual seaside flowers was this unusual one that I had never seen before.

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P1240832  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240832 © JT of jtdytravels

But this magnificent flower of the coral tree, one of the Erythrina family of plants, is well known to me.  It reminds me of our wonderful, kind neighbour, “Gran”, who lived next door to us when I was a child.  Between our house and hers was a row of coral trees and  seeing these splendid red flowers always brings me a special sense of joy as I remember her with love.  Our own Grans lived far away.  She was our special Gran.

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P1240861  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240861 © JT of jtdytravels

A white heron flew down to try its luck in the waters beside me.

I love to watch them stalking their prey.

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P1240862  ©  JT  of  jydytravels

P1240862 © JT of jydytravels

As usual in most Australian water ways, a couple of ducks came by to see if I had some food for them.  No such luck.  There’s plenty of natural food for the birds here. These ducks are Pacific Black Ducks, Anas superciliosa, a very common duck.  It frequents all types of waterways and feeds mostly on seeds, especially of aquatic plants. However, they also like to eat small crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic insects.

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P1240856  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240856 © JT of jtdytravels

On just about every coastal walk in Northern NSW you will come across the glowing pink flower of the Mesembryanthemum, a native of South Africa.  And since this flower’s name means ‘midday flowering’, you’ll see them at their very best in the heat of the day.

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P1240865  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240865 © JT of jtdytravels

There are several paths back up from the river to the village.  This one was a little steep. A tree on the side of the path seemed to grow out rather than up, its trunk an art gallery of lichen.

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P1240950  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240950 © JT of jtdytravels

Grevillea is one of my favourite native Australian flowers and this one was a real winner. These were growing in someone’s front yard.

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P1240951  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240951 © JT of jtdytravels

Beside it, this beautiful creamy Grevillea was just beginning to uncurl.

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P1240871  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

P1240871 © JT of jtdytravels

A standard garden plant in any northern NSW coastal garden is the bougainvillaea.

They provide wonderful splashes of colour – mainly reds and pinks.

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P1240874  ©  JT  of jtdytravels

P1240874 © JT of jtdytravels

After a delightful morning walking by the water, I returned ‘home’ to the Iluka Motel for lunch, a rest and a quiet read on my private back patio.  This is a great country motel and I can’t thank Margaret and Les enough for the warmth of their hospitality.  I’ll be back!

Jennie

Photography ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

PS.  A good place to look for information on the water birds I had seen on this walk is

 http://www.birdsinbackyards.net

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