The following is a write up of the birding opportunities possible while taking a cruise from Alaska, south along the Inside Passage to Vancouver. It also includes 2 days of birding in Anchorage prior to the beginning of the cruise.
Anchorage & Highway 1, en route to Seward
College Fjord & Glacier Bay
Skagway, Juneau & Ketchikan
Queen Charlotte Sound to Vancouver
We had always wanted to do an Alaskan Cruise, so when my husband knew he was going to Anchorage for a business meeting in August, we decided that this would be a good starting off point. (This cruise can also be done starting in Vancouver and ending in Alaska). There are several cruise lines, which do the Inside Passage, but the Princess Line was the only one which fitted in well with the dates we had available, due to the business trip. We booked through a local travel agent in May 2002 and our ship was the Ocean Princess, leaving Seward on Saturday, August 3rd at 10pm, arriving in Vancouver on Saturday, August 10th, at 7:30am. This was our first ever cruise and the experience with Princess was excellent.
A search on the web found Bird Watching Tours of Anchorage, so I booked a morning trip for my first day. This proved to be an excellent 4-hour trip, netting 3 lifers and was well worth the US$75. [NB: as of June 2004, their website is no longer running, so the company may have folded] I did have a rental car in Anchorage to enable me to do some birding and photography on my own.
We decided that we would not take some of the shore excursions offered by Princess, as none of them were specifically birding oriented. Juneau looked as though it had some good birding, so for this stop and the next day in Ketchikan, we called ahead and booked rental cars. In Juneau we chose Avis from the International Airport, not realising that this was 12 miles from where the ship docked, so it incurred an extra US$40 in taxi fares. In Ketchikan we used Budget, which had a free pick up and drop off service to and from the cruise ship dock (about 10 minutes drive). The cost of hiring a car for the day was about US$55, plus gasoline - a lot cheaper than a cruise excursion. For example, a 4 hour Whale Watching & Wildlife Quest out of Juneau, would have cost US$105 per person.
We took our scope, which packed nicely into my roller backpack. The tripod went into one of the suitcases, and our bins & cameras went into another carry-on. We had 2 digital cameras, an Olympus C700UZ (with 10x optical zoom) and a brand new Nikon CoolPix 4500, which I hoped to be able to use with my Swarovski AT80HD spotting scope to get some digiscoped photos. My husband had his laptop computer with him (for the business trip) so we had no problem with running out of memory cards, as we could download the images and clean the cards every night.
Airport Security as of 2002 ~ Be prepared for changes in security measures in 2009 onwards.
The laptop had to be opened up & switched on at both Houston IAH & Vancouver, but the cameras were only inspected at Vancouver, where I had to turn them on. No one asked to see the scope. Digital cameras & memory cards will pass through the X-ray machines with no problems.
Useful books, websites, etc
The Guide to Birds of Alaska, Robert H. Armstrong. 4th edition, 1995 ISBN 0-88240-462-8
Birds of North America, Kenn Kaufman. 2000 ISBN 0-395-96464-4
Alaska by Cruise Ship, Anne Vipond. 3rd edition 2002 ISBN 0-9697991-5-2 has some very useful general information and maps.
I searched the archives of the Birdchat web forum for trip reports, but found that there was not much information available for the Southeast part of Alaska, though I did get some helpful answers to my RFI from several people who had visited Alaska. I also found a report on Blake Maybank's trip report website from someone who had done a cruise on a smaller ship. His write up from a birding perspective, was very informative. Here's the link to that report. There are now many sites on the web offering trip reports. Check my homepage for links.
Other useful sites as follows: