Juneau, A walk on the wild side.
Nestled along the shores of the Gastineau Channel is Alaska’s capitol, Juneau. From the moment you disembark your ship at its’ berth, keep your eyes open for wildlife. Juneau’s waterfront, including the exceptionally well done waterfront walk, is an excellent place to spot wildlife, particularly eagles and ravens. Take a moment to scan the slopes of Mt. Juneau’s steep face for mountain goats. The public spotting scopes in Marine Park allow for a much closer look There is a wheelchair accessible spotting scope in the park.. Look down into the Gastineau channel for the bowling ball shaped heads of harbor seals, you may also find rafts of surf scoters or even the occasional orca making its way to the fish hatchery. The fish processing plant, adjacent to the Mt. Roberts Tram is a great place to spot eagles. Look up to the roof of the green building and you will usually find or two eagles waiting expectantly for either a handout or a fish to fall of a cart. As part of your walk along the waterfront you will be transiting through an active part of the area so watch for skip loaders rumbling along.
Church steeples are another favored hangout of the eagles, are church steeples, after all, they are a “bird of prey.”
Ravens are quite likely to be found on the upper deck of your ship, particularly near a buffet area. These bold birds will not hesitate to liberate a French fry from your plate. In town they like to congregate near the library, marine park and the Mt. Roberts Tram. If you decide to have a snack Al Fresco keep your eyes open for these opportunists, they like to work as a team with one bird distracting you while the other sneaks in to steal a snack. These loud, intelligent birds can also mimic many sounds. Should you hear a car alarm while walking in the forest, start searching the trees for a raven. These birds are also known to harass Eagles and will chase them from favored perching locations.
An excellent reason to take the Mt. Roberts Tram is to walk the trails in search of wildlife. Mt. Roberts is a favored location of marmots, a ground hog relative, who like to sun themselves on rocks. These are highly sociable animals an if you find one there are likely to be more in the vicinity. Willow Ptarmigan, the state bird of Alaska is frequently observed in the area. And at the top of Mt. Roberts a habitat has been constructed for a resident Eagle, Lady Baltimore. Lady B. lost an eye to a rifle shot and has a permanent home on the mountain since she can no longer hunt successfully.
It is not unusual to spot a bear in downtown Juneau, I have even seen a grizzly (brown) bear from inside a city bus going to the “the” shopping center. Porcupines are frequently spotted in town and especially out at the Mendenhall Glacier.
You can take the city bus to the Mendenhall Glacier if you enjoy long walks (the bus will drop you at the entrance to the park, about a mile from the Visitor Center, or take a cab about $50 each way (hard to get one on your return), the Glacier Shuttle from downtown is about $45 round trip, or take the shore excursion from your ship to maximize your time.
The Mendenhall Glacier has such a variety of habitats, trails and ponds, it is a birders delight. Migrating Arctic Terns come here to nest, as do Aleutian Terns, you can also expect to spot Boreal Chickadees, swallows and purple martins.
Look up into the cottonwood trees to spot porcupines. Porcupines have very poor vision and like to stay safe high up in the trees, cotton woods are a favorite because of its tasty bark. Ask for the forest service workers where they can be spotted.
When the salmon are running, usually in mid-August, you can expect to see Black Bears fishing in the Steep Creek area. The boardwalk is elevated to keep the bears safe from the humans and vice versa.
Mother bears with one, two and even three cubs can sometimes be spotted near the parking lot areas and Steep Creek. Make sure not to get between the mother and her cubs.
The Mendenhall Wetlands, not adjacent to the Glacier, is an excellent place to spot Ravens, Eagles, Blue Heron, Peep and Sandpipers, Gulls, and, Sparrows. The largest number of birds can be seen at the Wetlands during Spring Migration in April and May. In late July, southbound shorebirds stop here to feed on marine invertebrates. Waterfowl arrive in late August and September. You will need a taxi to take you to the Wetlands area.