Glacier Bay's tours to provide a bird's-eye view

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SEATTLE -- "Anyone can find the birds, but I know the country," said Dan Wetzel, whose Fairbanks-based NatureAlaska Tours teamed with Glacier Bay Cruiseline to create the small-ship line's first land programs with bird-watching as the theme.

Birding enthusiasts can sign on for two new ornithology-influenced cruises on June 1 and June 22. The bird-watching land tours are optional.

Two NatureAlaska-escorted land tours are offered as an add-on to the cruise: One four-night tour visits Kenai Fjords National Park; a five-night trip takes passengers above the Arctic Circle to Prudhoe Bay for bird-watching.

Wetzel, a birder himself, said the cruises and tours will be a great opportunity not only for serious birders but also for families.

"When people go with me, they come away with the sense of Alaska," he said.

Guests on the Kenai Peninsula trip will see ocean birds like puffins; those on the Arctic Circle itinerary will see birds native to Alaska's tundra and the Yukon River basin.

Wetzel said one of the most sought-after Arctic bird sightings is the spectacled eider, a large diving bird (wingspan 36 inches) that was listed as a threatened species in 1993. The male bird can be identified by its pale green head and white patch, or spectacle, around its eye; the female is dark brown with a pale brown patch.

Megan McKinney-Rickey, Glacier Bay Cruiseline's marketing manager, said the tours are offered during Alaska's prime birding season and sail into "some of the world's best birding locations."

The cruise itineraries will sail one way from Sitka to Juneau (or vice versa), which takes passengers through southeast Alaska waters. The cruises stop in Haines, Skagway and Petersburg, with cruising through Glacier Bay National Park, Tracy Arm and Frederick Sound.

But passengers won't have to rely on binoculars alone to identify species.

Roger Lederer, a professor at California State University in Chico and author of two field guides on birds, will join enthusiasts on the June 1 cruise; John Kricher, a professor at Wheaton College (Mass.) and another ornithology expert, will lecture on the June 22 voyage.

"We structure the lectures so you don't have to have years and years of [birding] experience," McKinney-Rickey said. "They put it in layman's terms so everyone can learn from it."

Although the line has invited guest speakers on board before, these two trips will be Glacier Bay's first bird-themed lecture cruises, according to McKinney-Rickey.

The cruises will be on board the line's Wilderness Discoverer, a 94-passenger vessel that can edge close to glaciers and Alaska wildlife.

Prices for the seven-night cruises start at $2,810 per person. Prices for NatureAlaska's four-night Kenai Peninsula tour, departing May 28, start at $1,595; the five-night Arctic Circle tour departs June 17 and starts at $2,295.

The June 22 cruise is part of the line's Family Cruise Program, which entitles families traveling with children under age 18 to a discount.

For more information, call Glacier Bay Cruiseline at (800) 451-5952.

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