Monthly Archives: May 2012

More Futility

Again I say goodbye to a sad Aki and head to the harbor for another try for King Salmon. Just one fish will feed us for awhile. Like our last attempt on Saturday there is rain and a bay full of herring. These beautiful silver fish draw a gang of sea lions and one very forward humpback whale. The sea lions alone almost eliminate any chance we have of caching a king. If we did hook one, a sea lion would probably bite it in half before we could boat it. I still enjoy watching them find so much fun in chasing their lunch. The gulls hang about them when they surface with a herring in mouth. One cheeky bird tried to pull a fish from the sea lion’s mouth. 

We trolled for seven hours without receiving a single bite. From the rolling boat deck I grew even more frustrated trying to photograph the whales and birds and sea lions. By the time the camera focused, they would be gone. Sometimes the sea lions would surface right next to the boat, then swim away underwater. The whale pulled the opposite trick. A young whale, it headed right at our boat, giving me a start when it appeared in my view finder.  (It is not as close as it seems as I using a zoom lens). 

Not a Nice Way to Treat New Neighbors

It’s raining again on the glacier moraine and the troll woods it surounds. Aki and I are here to check out the baby king salmon recently released into three little lakes.  Raised along side king salmon about to be dropped into ocean waters where they might grow to fish that deserve their name, the 500 fish dumped into these landlocked lakes will live as farm animals until eaten by someone or something.

Near the beaver village we spot the tell tale rings of rising fish on the lake that borders it. We also see the swirl of large animal, mammal not bird, break the surface in the middle of the rising salmon. I’m thinking river otter because, as  the government who planted the salmon in this lake will tell you, beavers don’t eat fish. Fresh green yellow foliage now hides the main beaver house and provides a rich counterpoint for the line of dark green spruce trees that fill the space between lake and the cloud obscured ridge of Thunder Mountain. 

From here we follow a trail into the troll woods. We pass a pocket lake where a single Common Merganser, its white body standing out against the dark lake waters glides by.  Seeing a lone duck on water this time of year makes you wonder if it is fiercely independent or the victim of tragedy. Did he drive other birds from the lake or come to a place no one else wanted to sulk? Did I mention it is still raining? Along the lake shore recently released spruce pollen forms elongated yellow islands on the water’s surface. 

While moving deeper into the woods Aki and I are startled by a small explosive sound like that made by a sizable rock striking deep water. A bear practicing diving? More likely a strong child throwing something in the lake for the resulting splash. Minutes later we reach a lake where a beaver swims back and forth across the surface. Just before reaching the shore it slaps the water with its tail and dives. In seconds it is on the surface heading back to the opposite shore. Beyond small king salmon stir. Some launch themselves a foot or two into the air.    

Aki, displaying the posture she reserves for meeting other dogs (tail and rear up/legs straight/ feet slightly forward) is half submerged at the lake’s edge. The beaver takes no notice of either of us and soon Aki is back at my side.

What is going on? If this were a seal I’d know the score. It would be driving the salmon to it’s hungry buddies at the other end of the lake. That would explain why some of the salmon are jumping high out of the water. But, as those that study these things in college will tell you, beavers eat wood bark, not fish.  If this is true then the beaver is just being territorial and wants to drive these new neighbors out of town. Eat tail slap could be telling the salmon to find their own lake.

I could see why the beaver would want this lake to himself. It offers a beautiful view of the glacier and surrounding mountains. When he stops disturbing the water’s surface with antics, he can appreciate the serene reflections of mountains and glacier captured on the lake’s surface.

The beaver is still tail slapping the lake’s surface when we head back to the car. At home I use our internet search engine to look for an explanation for the beaver’s behavior. As expected there are many government websites providing assurances that beavers are vegetarians.  Each is written in “pat on the head that’s a good boy” prose.  One You Tube posting might make the authors of the other web articles re-examine their research on beavers. It shows one near Lake Clark Alaska happily munching on a fish.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ES0YQyqv4O0

They Don’t Care About the Rain

Leaving Aki with a promise of an afternoon adventure, I’m out the door with everything needed to catch a king salmon except luck.  A low marine layer of clouds block out the mountain tops but there is no rain. It waits for us at the harbor.

For a few weeks in early spring large king salmon, some over 30 pounds, fatten themselves on herring where we fish. They don’t care about the rain or the cold air temperature. We try to ignore these things as well.

 Other creatures come here to chase the herring, forcing them into concentrated balls of feed. Hoping to catch a king we troll hooks baited with herring through the balls. A harbor seal splashes nearby, coming to the surface often with a mouth full of silvery fish. He doesn’t care about the rain, now falling in heavy pellets that send up spray when hitting the ocean surface.  The rain doesn’t worry that brace of eagles gliding slowly to the water to pluck herring that were driven to the surface by the seal.

Distracted by the eagle ballet I stop caring about the rain and cold.  While I watch the birds, the captain calls out in alarm.  A humpback whale has just surfaced near the boat. Attracted by the concentration of bait fish, the whale spends the next hour hoovering up herring along the cove’s inner shore.  We don’t get in its way but other boats have to take evasive action to keep out of the whale’s path. 

This time of year it takes 144 hours of fishing to catch a king salmon. We put in our first four and call it quits. Driving home in the heavy rain we pass a large black bear grazing on road side vegetation.  A driving rain can give any fur bearing a pathetic bearing, this bear included. It doesn’t keep him from the task at hand.

 

Soft Day for Troubled Eagles

Last night I asked Aki politely, to let us sleep past the usual wake up time. That was a mistake as was my assembling the fishing rod before going to bed. She rose this morning before 6 am to pace up and down the wooden floors leading to our bedroom.  Not able to sleep through the resulting tattoo I was soon up and out the door on the way to Fish Creek.

We drove from town to the trailhead through a settled rain —the kind that lasts all day. It’s what the Irish call a soft day. Comfortable in decent rain gear I don’t mind.   We have the trail to ourselves. The weather doesn’t stop the animals of forest and stream from their jobs. When the creek noise abates over a clear deep reach we hear song birds and the complaints of eagles.

Walking down stream first we check the pond for early king salmon but see only the pens of thousands of juvenile fish that will soon be released to seek their fortune in the sea. Many will pass their ancestors returning to these natal waters. It’s an artificial deal, this salmon run, manufactured by the state to create a sport fishing opportunity. The king salmon, some reaching 10 or 15 kilos, arrive in early June then wander around the pond most of the summer dodging fishing lures. When the rains of August raise the creek level some will follow the wild chum and pink salmon up stream to battle for space on the spawning redds.

An earthen dike once separated the pond and stream. Now a 50 meter wide breach in the dike allows the waters to mix and fish to enter the pond from the stream. We stand on the dike near to breach under an eagle’s tree. The big brown and white bird breaks from its perch above us and flies directly away. 

Across the pond several crows try to drive a different bald eagle from atop a waterside spruce tree. The crows take turns descending on the eagle in a noisy dive. Hunkering down, the eagle holds his ground for a few minutes then leaves for a quieter perch. I’ve included one blurry picture of the scene because the crow has managed to make itself look like an avenging angel.

Turning away from all this drama we move up stream where the sound of moving water and tern song and the green explosion of early summer offers me true peace. Aki, not really a seeker of peace, charges up and down the trail, her red wrap soaked with rain.    

Aki’s Disappointing Canoe Ride

For Aki this canoe ride is as boring as one in the car. She doesn’t mind the weather — light rain falling from gum metal clouds.  It’s the lack of smells. On this large salt water lake our bee line course keeps us far away from shore with its promise of adventure. She moves nervously from side to side of the canoe straining to hear some promising sound, trying to catch an enticing scent.

If she looked down she would see grey bodied sole flattened into the sandy bottom. One bursts away when my paddle comes too close. We could easily catch a dinners worth.

Eventually Aki settles into the arms of the forward paddler, staying there until we reach the great sand bar that protects the lake, really a cove, from ocean swells. Normally a dog landing here could hope for a throwing stick to chase or some interesting flotsam to smell.  But a recent large tide sterilized the bar by sweeping it clean of objects useful to a dog.

After tea and sandwiches I walk to end of the bar. Aki stays with the other adult in her life until I cross a flooded section of the bar. Then she races, ears flapping, down the sand, across the wet break and to my feet. Satisfied that I am fine, she retraces her course to the canoe. 

As I return to the canoe a small barge, loaded down by a yellow school bus passes by, its outboard engines straining against the out going tide. Such things are common in this island region and I only question why a school bus is on the move on Sunday, when students have a day off.

Perhaps frustrated by the ride Aki misbehaves after we return to our starting point and charges after a raven, making it drop a crab shell it was carrying in its talons. She has never done such a thing before, the little brat. I hope the ravens forgive her and us.

Returning to the Green Gray Woods

After Oahu, with its nature painted with a garish palette, this simple forest trail seems too green and grey. In this time before the salmon and berries, we can only find peace and the promise of summer. Even though the devil’s club leaf buds are barely swelling the fern shoots now reach a foot above the ground. Their tips are still rolled into the fiddle head shape that gives them their name. A tasty treat when harvested early and then sauteed in butter, the tips will soon relax and allow the fern leaves to flatten out and capture the sun.

We find a few magenta salmon berry blossoms near the trailhead but for a trail mile its all green and brown. Only the nest building song of the forest birds provides any counterpoint to the forest’s earth tones. That changes where we reach the first meadow, which hosts a myriad of yellow skunk cabbage blooms. Small yellow violets and marsh flowers grow near the forest edges.  Southeast Alaska summer always starts with a show of yellow flowers but on this trip we also find  some blue lupine flower stalks and even a small island of magenta shooting stars. We also find four Canada geese feeding on the river flats. They stir at our approach but stroll, rather than fly away.  Maybe they know that Aki is geese shy for they hold their ground while another group of geese across the river break to flight at the appearance of a black labrador. 

We walk for the most part under grey skies and flat light that fools the sensors on my camera. I want to capture all the shades of grey in the clouds, the whites on the mountains, and the strong yellow of the new cottonwood leaves that have yet to turn their summer green.  No setting works until  maverick shaft of light strikes a mixed spruce and cottonwood forest beneath the mountains.  

Stumbling on Something Endangered

The Oahu tourist invasion is not limited to humans. Almost none of the birds we saw are native to the island. The doves, cardinals, and sparrows eating spilled azuki beans at this Honolulu shave ice stand are all transplants*. This doesn’t diminish their beauty or charm but being a true tourist myself I wanted to see how the locals live. Earlier today I got my wish.

We were bicycling on the windward side of Oahu where a more generous rainfall gives the volcanic land a green lushness not found on the drier west coast. The bike path, which passes though a neighborhood of nice homes, parallels a long sandy beach. Almost every block offers an unpaved path to the beach where families sunbathe, play in the warm sea, or just watch a small surf touch offshore islands.

Looking for a sandy place to rest we pulled into a beachside picnic area and spotted a diminutive chihuahua being carried about in a two liter bucket. Showing no interest in escaping,  the dog allowed its bikinied owner to carry it to a resting place by the water and then to the shade of a beach umbrella. Aki would have liked the attention but not the confinement received by the chihuahua,

Minutes after returning to the bike path I stopped to photograph a green vertical mountain wall rising about a quiet slough. There a black and white shore bird waded in the shallows  slough while a line of bright yellow kayaks floated by, being pushed by wading beach goers. I stood on a bridge over the slough where another woman snapped pictures of the bird. After putting away her camera she asked me if the bird was a stilt.  Ignorant and almost blind to the bird by glare on the water I told her I had no idea.

Once back at our home stay I compared my photos of the bird with those in a guidebook and found it to was one of the 1400 remaining Hawaiian Stilts stilling wading Hawaiian waters.  I couldn’t justify feeling the pride of a successful bird stalker but saw this brief interaction with the endangered Hawaiian bird as a simple, if undeserving gift to a northern tourist.

*Shave Ice is a dessert made from finely shaved ice over which flavored syrups are poured. It is sometimes formed over a core of ice cream, sweet azuki beans, and small pellets of sweet rice four. Condensed milk can be poured over the top of it before serving for added indulgence. It tastes best when eaten in a sunny spot at the end of a good day.