Watching the wildlife side of the Kenai Peninsula

Going wild

Posted: Monday, April 10, 2006

 

  Antlers on a bull caribou catch Wednesday morning's first light in Kenai. A herd of the animals frequently moves back and forth across the Kenai Spur Highway. Photo by M. Scott Moon

Antlers on a bull caribou catch Wednesday morning's first light in Kenai. A herd of the animals frequently moves back and forth across the Kenai Spur Highway.

Photo by M. Scott Moon

With a keen eye and a little outdoor ambition visitors can see a wide variety of wildlife on the Kenai Peninsula, including the American bald eagle, sea otters, whales and ungulates.

Although many visitors want to know where they can see moose, year-round residents often shrug because of the ungulates’ abundance, some even considering their numbers a bothersome traffic hazard.

Nevertheless, knowing something of an animal’s behavior and habitat preferences will aid the wildlife seeker in locating the targeted species, said a visitors services park ranger at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, headquartered near Soldotna.

“(Moose, for example,) like boreal forests that are mixed with alder, willow and different trees to chew on,” said ranger Michelle Ostrowski.

Moose also like places that have burned within the last three to five years, she said.

They tend to browse in areas with new growth sprouting in the aftermath of wildfires or forest fires, she said.

“We usually send people to Skilak Lake Loop Road (between Sterling and Cooper Landing),” Ostrowski said.

“There they might also see lynx, coyotes or a wolf, though those sightings are rare,” she said. Brown bears and black bears inhabit the area, as well.

For eagle viewing, Ostrowski directs visitors to Jim’s Landing on the Kenai River near the east end of Skilak Lake Loop and to the Russian River ferry crossing on the Kenai.

“The Kenai River is a good spot, especially when salmon are spawning,” she said.

Large numbers of eagles also can be found along the Homer Spit at the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula. In winter, a popular — though less picturesque — spot to see numerous roosting eagles is the Kenai Peninsula Borough landfill just south of Soldotna.

Dall sheep and mountain goats can be spotted high in the Kenai Mountains particularly above Cooper Landing where spotting scopes are mounted along scenic boardwalks for the public’s convenience.

But Ostrowski said animal sightings cannot be guaranteed at any particular location and time and that you will improve your chances if you get onto the trails and hike.

“The wildlife is out there you just have to be in the right place at the right time,” she said. “We don’t tie them to trees.”

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.

“We see numerous marine mammals, several types of whales, porpoises, stellar sea lions and sea otters,” said Ron Wille operations manager for Kenai Fjords Tours, which operates daily excursions in the Kenai Fjords National Park.

Boating tours are also a good way to see birds, he said.

“There are too many birds to give you a list,” he said, but noted some of the highlights including puffins, cormorants, auklets and Kitlitz murrlets.

When viewing the abundant wildlife on the Kenai Peninsula, visitors are advised to do so safely, according to the refuge’s Ostrowski.

“Don’t just slam on the brakes when you see a moose,” she said.

Ostrowski urged wildlife viewers to use caution when viewing wildlife outside of the vehicle, as well.

“It’s important not to get too close to wildlife to take pictures,” she said.

Getting too close can stress and sometimes aggravate wildlife and people should always be aware of their behavior. For example, there are some tell-tale signs indicating when a moose has been aggravated.

“The hair on their back will go up, their ears will go back and they may actually start walking toward you,” Ostrowski said.

A free, printed refuge guide sheet and Kenai Refuge informational newsletter are available at the headquarters and birding list are available online at http://kenai.fws.gov.



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