A picturesque cruise in the Sea of Okhotsk to the land of a million birds, the Yamsky archipelago.
The largest seabird colonies in the Northern Pacific and the northernmost breeding grounds for the seal lion in Russia are located on the Yamskie Islands of the Magadan reserve. The islands are situated 380 kilometers from Magadan, at the South-Western mouth to Shelikhov Gulf. The migration route of greybacks crosses this point. Along the route, it is possible to admire the unique reserve landscapes of Koni Peninsula and Pyagin Peninsular. The archipelago consists of two large islands (Matykil» and Atykan) and three smaller islands (Baran, Khatemalyu, and Kokontse) that resemble huge rocks. It is a rather isolated region in the north of the Sea of Okhotsk: the islands are often covered by fog, washed by strong undercurrents, storms occur, and the low tides reach an amplitude of over 10 m. Here the ice in the sea melts only at the end of May or the middle of June, therefore July is the best time for visiting the archipelago.
It is hard to access the Yamskie Islands, and it is even harder to come ashore, but this makes the opportunity to see the real wild and undisturbed nature of the North more valuable.
Initially this bay of the Okhotsk Sea was called Volok. In 1912, it was renamed in honor of the eminent Russian hydrographer Admiral Aleksei Ivanovich Nagayev (1704-1781).
Nagayev Bay is narrow and elongated, deeply cut into the land. The hydrographer and surveyor B.V. Davydov noted that the bay «could justly be called the best anchorage around the Okhotsk Sea.»
It is believed that construction of Magadan's administrative center started at this bay. The first prefabricated cottages of the cultural centre of Vostochno-Evenskaya (Nagayevskaya) appeared on the shores of the bay in 1929, later becoming a city.
At that time, ships were unloaded manually using smaller boats. The construction of a commercial seaport began only in 1933.
There is now a first-class seaport in Nagayev Bay. Berths are occupied with diesel electric freight vessels and tankers that deliver hundreds of thousands of tons of cargo. Several ships can be moored at the same time, and navigation continues into the winter.
The picturesque bay attracts many nature lovers. The shores of the bay are steep and there is a narrow sand line at low tide. To the left you can see the peninsula of Staritskiy, where there is the natural monument «Kamenniy Venets» (Stone Crown), a pile of stones on a rocky mountain.
There are several attractions on the shores of the bay: a monument to the Soviet singer and poet Vladimir Vysotsky; a monument to the Pioneers of the Kolyma and Chukotka; a Memorial Stone in memory of soldiers, border guards, and pioneers of the Okhotsk Sea coast; a monumental sculpture of a mammoth called Vremya (Time); and a small marine park with a playground.
A group of relics resembling a crown on the top of the hill is well visible from Magadan, over Nagaev Bay. It is a natural monument with the beautiful name Stone Crown, consisting of a fine ornamental stone gabbro. The top of the hill has from ancient times served sailors as a beacon for freshwater replenishment. The rock mass has a unique silhouette. The rocks are very strong, and climbers from Magadan have laid routes on them. The Crown's height point is 307 m. Sailors have left various information on the rocks, therefore this place is of interest for local historians. For example, large letters broken by a crack are still visible on the rocks of the main top of the Stone Crown: «Red pendant 19 9/USH 23»; on a separate flat rock you can see remarkably even large letters «Kishinev», and the writing «1919 27/IX» a little lower. There are few writings currently because time has been merciless to them.
The very western part of the Staritskogo Peninsula, Chirikov Cape, bears the name of the outstanding Russian scientist, seaman, and the close assistant of Vitur Bering during the First and Second Kamchatka expeditions. The sheer cliff of the cape provides a beautiful panoramic view, with the cold and immense Sea of Okhotsk stretching far beyond the horizon all around. It is enclosed by Nagaev Bay on the right and by Tikhaya Bay and Svetlaya Bay on the left. Ostrovnoy cape is right in front of you in the sea and the rocky slopes of Nedorozumeniya Island are a little further. The lighthouse on Chirikov Cape is the landmark of Nagaev Bay that is respected by sailors and recognized by all who have visited Staritskogo Peninsula.
The lighthouse premises include: a stone and wooden household outbuildings, a two-storey residential building, memorial cross, and the lighthouse tower. Sailors see the light emitted by the 500 W lamp from a distance of 25 miles. A steep staircase leads from the shore up to the highway with the buildings at a height of 30 m. The southern slope is green and sometimes edelweiss and rhododendron can be seen. The colony of birds is situated nearby on the cliffs: seagulls, puffins, and gannets build their nests here. If you are lucky, you can see the Steller's sea eagle, which is listed in the Red Book of Russia (list of endangered species). Fishermen can often be found at the cape, since there is good fishing for ruffs, codfish, walleye pollack, and flatfish near the rocks.
A path along the ridge of Staritskogo Peninsula leads from Magadan to Chirikov Cape: 18 km alonghumistratous and alder brushwood and stone deposits, climbing the gentle hills and descending to the brooks. There is a route to the cape by sea as well. It takes from 30 minutes up to an hour to get from the pier in the fishing port to Chirikov Cape, depending on the weather. The cape is wind-blown and high seas, which make it hard to come ashore, are not rare.
The Koni Peninsula is 103,434 ha of undisturbed wild Northern nature, preserved and unchanged in its natural state. It is 15 km from Magadan. The western part of the peninsula is occupied by the Olsky extension of Magadansky reserve. The territory of the regional game park is adjacent to the nature reserve at its continental border.
Koni Peninsula has a mountain relief. The tops rise 1,300-1,500 m above sea level, with the mountain Skalistaya being the highest of them (1,548m). The mountain range has a definitive Alpine shape with sheer rocky walls and pointed battlements. The goltsy altitudinal belt is full of glacial relief forms listed in the register of global geological legacy. In addition, there is a cropping out of old lava and underlying deposits rich with organic residue on the peninsula. The crystalline schists overlooking the coast near the mouth of the Antara river are a geological sight of the peninsula.
All the rivers of the peninsula start in the mountains, where they have numerous rifts, a small width and depth, and swift current. The Khindzha and Burgauli Rivers are the largest of them. Only humpback salmon and no other fish enter the rivers of the peninsula for spawning. There are small volcanogenic lakes that are round in shape, have hard shores, and a rocky bottom in the central part of the peninsula.
The oceanic climate and mountain relief determine the uniqueness of flora of the Koni Peninsula. It is one of the unique sites of the northern coast of the Sea of Okhotsk. The peninsula is the place of intersection of the migration routes of the Arctic and Arctic-Alpine plant species moving to the south and the species of the Far Eastern flora stretching in the opposite direction.
The fauna of the peninsula is very diversified and numerous. The seabird colonies occupy a special place in the fauna of the peninsula. 48 colonies of birds, mainly kittiwakes and slaty-backed gulls, are located on the rocks of the coast. Pelagic cormorants, sooty guillemots, and horned puffins build their nests in the same place. Three large colonies of puffins are situated on the grassy slopes of the southern coast. Bats can be seen as well.
The mountain sheep, foxes, common weasels, and, of course, brown bears are the most famous dwellers of Koni. It is thought that there are more brown bears in Koni Peninsula than anywhere else in Magadan Region. They can be seen almost everywhere, especially in summer, during the spawning run of salmon.
The Koni Peninsula is currently primeval and reserved land, but this has not always has been the case. As a result of the research carried out by Alexander Orekhov in 1999, six ancient settlements, which were preliminary classified as the Atargan stage of the ancient Koyag culture which existed 1,500-500 years ago, were discovered on the coast.
The reserved site of Koni Peninsula is open for tourist groups which must be accompanied by an employee of the reserve. The excursions are carried out on the in-shore part of the nature reserve. Permits to visit the territory of the nature reserve are available at the city office of Magadansky reserve at the address: 17 Koltsevaya Street, Magadan.
The name of the cape completely coincides with its appearance. The sharp rocky ridge with unapproachable slopes goes into the sea for tens of meters and points at the mountain southern coast of Zavyalov Island with its edge. There is good fishing for halibut in its inshore waters. A lighthouse is installed at the edge of the cape. The buildings in which the lighthouse attendants live and work are situated below, on the shingle spit.
Cape Alevina is in the south-westernmost part of Koni Peninsula and whole of Magadan region situated at the exit from Tauiskaya Bay. From the sea, you can see the long and narrow cape with a flat platform rising to the height of 40 m. A black and white lighthouse is installed on it. It has provided safe navigation for ships at the approach to the port of Magadan since 1959. The cape name may be attributed to the Russian surname Alevin according to its structure, but historical sources do not confirm this. Supposedly, the toponym is translated from the dialect of Okhotsk Koryaks as «big mother».
Burgauli is one of the largest rivers of the Koni Peninsula. Storms have washed a high pebble wall, the so-called bar, in the mouth of Burgauli river. As if behind a fortress wall, beyond the bar is a forested valley of the river that leads up to the mountains. Despite their small height at a little over a thousand and a half above sea level, the local mountains look rather impressive.
Matykil (translated from Even as «early autumn») is the largest and best-known island of the archipelago. It covers an area of 6.9 square kilometers. The sheer cliffs, stone pillars, and clefts constitute the better part of its coast. Only on the northern side is a small bay protected by the cape from the waves and winds. There is always clatter and chatter here, as the most numerous colony of birds of the reserve is situated in this area. Twelve species of seabirds of a total number of 4.7 mln. birds build their nests on Matykil. The least auklets account for the better part of the birds. From the birds listed in the Red Book, the duck hawk and Steller's sea eagle can be seen on the island.
Matykil Island has another specific feature. The northernmost breeding ground in the Sea of Okhotsk and the only in the region for the seal lion, as well as several bachelor rookeries formed by sea lions too young for breeding, are situated on the eastern part of the island. Currently, this mammalian species of Magadan Region is listed in the International and Russian Red Books.
Kokontse Island is situated near Matykil» Island, and during high tide it is covered by the sea. Despite its small size, Kokontse is home to 15 thousand birds. The island can only be viewed without coming ashore.
The second largest island, Atykan, is a copy of Matykil», but only 3-5 times smaller. The island's name is translated from Even as an «old woman», «grandmother». In its shape, Atykan resembles a triangle with two equal sides of about 2.1 km. At the southern extremity of the island is a deep spacious grotto with an automatic lighthouse installed nearby. About a million nesting birds live in Atykan, according to estimations made by scientists.
Baran Island has a rocky relief and the tops are dotted with battlements. From the sea, it resembles an unaccessible fortress. The number of seabirds on the Island Baran is estimated at 80 thousand.
Khatemalyu Island consists of five rocky ridges with pinnacles of up to several hundred meters high. The island is the closest of all to the coat of the Pyagin Peninsula, the mainland of the Yamsky site of the reserve. Khatemalyu has vaulted «gates» that allow boats to pass, but there are no beaches suitable for coming ashore. About 50 thousand birds build their nests on the island. All excursions and observations must be accompanied by an employee of the Magadansky reserve.