"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Monday, October 30, 2017

Wouldn't Miss It for the World, Sweetie

I was lazing around in front of the TV one evening, playing Candy Crush on my iPad and listening to reruns of Law and Order, only occasionally glancing at the screen, when my peripheral vision caught movement out the big front window.   Three swans were flying just above the tree tops, headed east, which is their usual pathway to migrate south.

I was pretty sure they were the resident swans of Tern Lake and their cygnet.  Something told me they were going to Trail Lake, down in Moose Pass proper, rather than migrating south as many of their kindred swans have done.   That also told me that the cold temperatures of late were freezing their home lake and leaving little space for the swans.

Sure enough, Tern Lake sported ice skaters the next couple days.  At Dave's Creek, the lake's outfall, I still couldn't find any American dippers downstream.

What I did find were lots and lots of brown bear tracks in the snow along the path and everywhere else.  And lots and lots of mangled silver salmon carcasses that had been pulled from the creek and partially devoured.

Then came the thaw, a couple days of warm winds and rain.   When the nastiest of the weather was over, I ventured down to the lake.   The swans were back, as I knew they would be.  With little open water, they were feeding right alongside the highway and I stopped to visit.


Then, it was time to check Dave's Creek to look for dippers.   I was ruing what a long, long winter it would be if the dippers were gone for the winter, and trying to tamp down a dread that the merlin that had been stalking the dippers might have been successful.

Now that the snow was gone, I couldn't tell if the bear was still active at the creek.   I had bear spray with me and I was on high alert.   The best thing to do would be to make a lot of noise as I walked the short path, but I was hoping to sneak up on the mergansers that like to hang out at a bend in the creek, and that was definitely counter-productive to keeping bears at bay.

Today, I caught the mergansers right at the outfall of the lake and, sure enough, the silly shy things took flight when they saw me, only to land at the ice edge about fifty feet away.

 Then, I started downstream.    There were a lot more fish carcasses around, only partially eaten.   I was amazed that the bald eagles haven't been flocking here, as they did last winter.

There are still a lot of salmon in the creek and sometimes they get caught in shallows.

And then, I found the dipper right on the near shore at the bend in the creek. 


It flew over to a favorite perch and serenaded me for several minutes.   It frequently winked its white-feathered eyelid during its aria. 

Then looked at me and said, "Watch what I can do!"

The dipper hopped over to a spot where a fallen log created a small waterfall, and, using the strong feet that enable these birds to walk under water, climbed up the waterfall to a still pool.

Then began a search. turning over rocks, moving leaves and other debris in its way, until it came up with a salmon egg.

It soon found, and swallowed, three more.   With each one,  it briefly showed off its find, as if asking me if I'd like one.

"No, thanks, I have some chick...   Uh, pasta waiting for me at home.

Then, full of its salmon dinner, the dipper hopped to a branch and settled in for a nap, giving me one last look with sleepy eyes.

"Later,"  I said.

Turning onto the highway, I stropped once again to see the swans.  The cygnet came over to visit.

"Look how much I've grown," it said, spreading its great wings.

 "And I can fly!!!"

"I know, Sweetie.   I saw you fly past my home with your Mum and Dad.   You were doing so well."

I said goodbye, and the cygnet said, "Are you coming back tomorrow?"

 "I wouldn't miss it for the world, Sweetie.   Not for the whole wide world."

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Bear Spray Birding

Last week, after my flight landed in Anchorage and groceries were loaded in the truck, I started the hundred-mile drive towards home.   A mile before I reached my driveway, I made a detour to the right along Tern Lake.

The resident swans and their cygnet were still there, but I could not find any of the three American dippers that populated Dave's Creek, the outfall of the lake.   The next day, I returned, and could find only salmon a partially-eaten silver salmon carcass along the creek bank.  Eagles have been fishing, I guessed.

Then, a storm brought an inch of snow, during which I stayed home, catching up on stuff after my three-week trip.  The day after, I once again went to Dave's Creek in search of dippers, thinking about what a long winter it would be if the dippers had left for other places.

So, that's what I was concentrating on as I walked down the few steps to creek level and searching the favorite perches of the little birds.  I noticed some fresh  footprints on the path and hoped the mergansers hadn't been scared away from the bend in the creek where they sometimes hang out.

These photos are intentionally blue for better contrast.

In some nook and cranny of my brain, I was wondering what kind of shoes or boots made those peculiar round tracks, but my  main concentration was on finding dippers.    They are gray and tend to blend in with their surroundings.  Unless one moves, I could easily overlook it.

Then I saw a savaged salmon carcass beside the path and a large pool of blood nearby that had soaked into the snow.   I couldn't see any eagle prints around the fish, just those odd round tracks.


I decided to take a closer look at those prints and suddenly realized I was looking at them upside down.

Just as I suspected.   This is the print left by the right hind foot of a good-sized brown bear.

This photo, blue to show contrast better, shows the claws, toes, and part of the pad of a front paw.

Claw marks.   Brown bears cannot retract their claws they way black bears do.

Although the leaves have fallen and I could see a long way into the surrounding forest, I decided this might be a good time to go home.   And I did.

Another snow storm brought a couple more inches of snow and I went back to Dave's Creek, this time armed with camera and bear spray.

A Steller's Jay, not at all amused by wet, sloppy snow.

Sun trying to burn through snow clouds at the lake.

Five mergansers were paddling around the headwaters of Dave's Creek where dozens of spawning coho salmon were milling.   These ultra-shy birds quickly fled the scene when they saw me.

Taking flight meant a lot of running on water, as you can see the bird at right is doing.

Three stages of gaining lift. left--still running, center-- in flight, and right--lifting its landing gear.

And we are airborne!

Only to veer to the right and land fifty feet away!

I don't know if this just-landed merganser is using its face as a speed brake, or if it's already looking for the little fish it eats.

I walked over to the steps that lead up to the road and then down the other side of Dave;'s Creek.

Aha!    That bear is getting braver and using the same steps that we do instead of avoiding the human-used viewing boardwalk.

Oh, lots of bear tracks.   Either one busy bear, or a whole herd of them.

And another carcass off the trail in the woods.

While I didn't see any bears, there were far too many prints around for my comfort, and I headed home.  I suspect the bear comes out to feed at night when there aren't any people around the area.

At home, I pulled the can of bear spray out of my pocket.  I was holding it upside down and noticed some small print on the bottom of the can: 


Guess I better open the two-pack I just bought at Costco.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Good to see you again

The Tern Lake swans left for a few days when the lake froze over.

Then, wind, warm temps and rain opened up a patch and the swans came back.

I was reminded of my late husband and the fact that he didn't like to eat in restaurants, much to my dismay.

"The food at home is always better than what I buy in restaurants," he said.

Guess the swans prefer the "cooking" in their home lake, too.

(Computer problems have abated for now.   I'll be back with stories....)