Kenai Peninsula wildlife

Posted: Friday, February 09, 2007

Wildlife abounds on the Kenai Peninsula, and with a keen eye and a little outdoor ambition, visitors have the opportunity to see and photograph animals in their natural environment.

Whether it is in search of caribou, sea otters, whales or moose, knowing something about an animal’s behavior and habitat preferences will enhance the likely hood of viewing wildlife.

Many visitors want to know where they can see moose. Moose like boreal forest that are mixed with alder, willow and different trees to browse on. Areas that have experienced a fire within the last few years are also favored by moose. However, local residents that enjoy gardening will likely share with you that their carefully landscaped flowerbeds and well-tended garden patches are considered prime moose habitat in the minds of these large ungulates. It is recommended that you are alert to moose near the roadways throughout the Kenai Peninsula. Be especially cautious if you see a cow moose, as it is likely a young calf or two may be nearby.

While sightings of any animals cannot be guaranteed, getting out onto the area trails will increase your odds. On the occasions where wildlife is in close proximity to the highways, it is important to remember to keep your distance from the animals and to be completely off the roadway with your vehicle. Don’t just slam on the brakes when you see a moose and never approach them to “get a better angle” with the camera. Getting too close to animals can sometimes aggravate them, creating a dangerous situation. Some tell-tale signs a moose will give indicating their stress level has risen are your signal to leave the area. The hair on their back will go up, they will lay their ears back and start walking toward you.

In the field, keep an eye out for lynx, coyotes and wolf. The rare sightings of these make for an exceptional experience. The Kenai Peninsula hosts a healthy population of American bald eagles. Along the length of the Kenai River, as well as the shoreline of Cook Inlet, you will often see eagles roosting in trees or soaring overhead.

Seward and Homer, like Kenai, offer opportunities to see eagles. In the winter months, a popular, although less picturesque, spot to see numerous roosting eagles is south of Soldotna near Skyview High School and the Kenai Peninsula Borough Landfill. The nearby Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Ski Hill Road offers information and displays on various wildlife.

For the growing number of bird viewing enthusiasts, the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center offers a tremendous display of waterfowl and information. Springtime at the mouth of the Kenai River is a showcase of migratory waterfowl, with the late autumn months offering equally impressive flocks of birds. Tern Lake, at the junction of the Sterling and Seward Highways, is a common stopping place for majestic pairs of trumpeter swans.

High in the Kenai Mountains, particularly above Cooper Landing, Dall sheep and mountain goats can be spotted. Near the headwaters of the Kenai River near the bridge in Cooper Landing, spotting scopes are mounted along scenic boardwalks for the public’s convenience.

On the east side of the Kenai Peninsula opportunities abound for wildlife viewing of another sort: marine wildlife. Several tour operators out of Seward take folks into Resurrection Bay and beyond to see killer whales, gray whales and humpbacks, as well as other marine animals and birds.

Tours range in duration from as short as three hours to all-day tours of 9 1/2 hours. Tour boats also vary in size from those accommodating 16 passengers to larger boats that carry as many as 100. A boating tour in the Kenai Fjords National Park offers the chance to see stellar sea lions, sea otters, and too many birds to list. A few that are highlights of tours include puffins, cormorants, auklets and Kitlitz murrlets. A visit to the Alaska Sealife Center while in Seward is a good way to round out your day trip there before heading back to Kenai.

Similar marine life boat tours operate out of Homer as well, in addition to the flight seeing charters that several Kenai Peninsula companies offer. A fly-in guided bear watching day trip is a fantastic experience, with the added benefit of enjoying the beautiful scenery Alaska has to offer. Or consider a horseback trail ride out of Cooper Landing.

The Kenai Peninsula is home to both black and brown (grizzly) bears. In recent years, human-bear encounters have risen, so exercising caution on trails or near waterways is highly recommended. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game publishes a useful guide on ways to mitigate a negative encounter.

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