To St. Lazaria Island…and Let There Be Sun!!!

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Water is the focal point in Sitka.  Once you arrive, you immediately sense the importance of boating and fishing in this town.  There are 2 major harbors, which, considering how small this town feels, makes a statement in itself.  The mini-archipeligo that stretches out from the town center immediately draws you (or at least me!).  My first day in Sitka was spent kayaking, but I really wanted to explore farther.  So, I made daily calls to Sitka Secret, a company with stellar online reviews, and finally made it on board.

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Sitka Harbor, the morning of departure.

This particular morning was the first morning in several days that I did not step out into rain.  The sun was out in full force…and it was glorious.  And, there was enough clouds and fog to keep it interesting.  Almost as importantly, the water was calm, which made for a less nauseating boat ride.  Perfect weather.  My water logged feet and I were so very grateful.

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Leaving the harbor. Cruise ship passengers don’t have as strong of presence here as they do in Juneau. They only come in a few times per week, and usually there aren’t more than 1 in per day. Leaves the place feeling more “real.”

Sitka Secrets is a small operation owned by Kent and Bev, former wildlife biologists.  Focusing on very small groups, they can really focus on giving tours personally tailored to their guest’s interests.  This particular morning, our boat had 5 people on board, and that included Kent.  So, we had plenty of room and lots of personal attention!  With 2 birders and 2 girls looking to photograph the scenery, Kent headed out towards St. Lazaria Island.

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Within no time, Kent spotted a humpback whale.  We only stopped for a few moments, but this was my first humpback siting!  And, I was super stoked to see it, even from a little distance…and in this spectacular setting!

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The clouds were killing me with beauty…I couldn’t stop hanging out the window to take photos.

Then, he headed off towards an area where there were lots of sea otters and sea lions, along the coast just near the base of Mount Edgecoumbe, a nearby dormant volcano.  No photos are posted, because my lack of serious zoom led to photos not worthy.  But, using the binoculars, the viewing was a lot of fun.  Another solo traveler on board had yet to see a sea otter or sea lion, and it was a lot of cool to experience her first viewing with her.  (Note:  It also became a personal mission of mine to find her a bald eagle and to help her spot it.  If I had only known the eagle viewing Kent had in store…)

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Mt Edgecoumbe…and what you can’t see along the shore…sea lions…

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More Mt. Edgecoumbe

As we motored out through Sitka Sound to St. Lazaria Island (20 miles west of Sitka), things got a little rougher…and I was glad that it was a calm day.  Reviewing my photos from this trip, there is clearly a lapse of shots for this period…which tells anyone who has traveled with me how tenuous the condition of my stomach was.  I was very glad to arrive at St. Lazaria, and for the boat to slow down to cruise.  The island is really a sight.  It juts up out of the rocky sea and just exudes ruggedness and isolation…and with the sun out, the greens and golds just lit up.

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St. Lazaria Island is a nesting bird colony, where you can find eagles, puffins, murres, petrels, among many others.  Its direct exposure to the Pacific Ocean makes it an ideal location for these birds.  And, on this day, this very sunny day, they were all out “running errands and taking care of business,” Kent told us.  Even though the place wasn’t teaming with them, we still saw plenty of birds for me!  I was just along for the ride.

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One of the many impressive cliffs, which can jut straight out of the sea, up to 90 feet.

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And the sea caves…all the nooks and crannies where you can find birds.

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Me. St. Lazaria. Mt. Edgecoumbe.

 After we all got our fill of bird viewing and St. Lazaria Island, Kent motored back towards Sitka…but actually took us south of Sitka.  He had a special treat in store.

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Kent had a special friend…who was expecting fish…

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Kent threw him out a fish as far as he could throw.  And, this eagle would fly over us and swoop down grabbing the fish and taking it back to its nest.  Kent did this for us twice, so we all got some great views of this spectacular creature.  We got lucky enough to see a few extra fly-bys, because if the fish wasn’t thrown far enough out, the eagle wouldn’t go for it.

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Then, he took us back to Sitka, routing us through the calmer waters of the archipelago of the bay, watching the fishing boats, seeing many of the houses isolated out on the islands.  It was beautiful.

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I highly recommend Sitka Secrets, and no, I get no perks from this.  Sadly, I believe they have relocated to the Lower 48.  He had told me that they were planning a move, and now their website is out of working order…leaving me to believe it has actually happened.  Luckily, there are several companies that tour the Sitka Sound and will take you to St. Lazaria, a trip that is wonderfully scenic and worth the trip…for those who can stomach it.

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