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

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Predators on My Porch

 Every year around August, two different predators start visiting my front deck--the deck where the bird feeders are.    Those raptors aren't interested in the black oil sunflower seeds or the suet cakes that I put out for other birds.   They are interested in the birds themselves as their next meal.

A few days ago I witnessed a sharp-shinned hawk chasing the Steller's jays around the trees.   I grabbed  a camera and went out to sit on the front deck.

A jay, one I've come to think of as the mother of a recently fledged pair of jays, hung around me very closely while another jay fended off the hawk.

This jay, mom I think, stayed deep in the spruce boughs.   Then, getting brave, she flew down and walked under the chair where I was sitting and jumped up on a table next to me.   I know she was hoping for a peanut, but I also think she felt safe when she was close to me.   I don't know.   You can never tell with corvids.

The chair the jay ducked under and the table where it sat next to me.

A couple nights later, I took the kayak out on the lake and got photos of a merlin, which is a small falcon.   



The merlin is bathed in the evening light that turns everything golden.


This description is from The Cornel Lab's All About Birds site:

Merlins are small, fierce falcons that use surprise attacks to bring down small songbirds and shorebirds. They are powerful fliers, but you can tell them from larger falcons by their rapid wingbeats and overall dark tones. Medieval falconers called them “lady hawks,” and noblewomen used them to hunt Sky Larks. Merlin populations have largely recovered from twentieth-century declines, thanks to a ban on the pesticide DDT and their ability to adapt to life around towns and cities.



Merlins and sharp-shinned hawks have been breeding and hunting in this valley for as long as I've been here.   It's really hard for me to tell them apart unless I get a good look at their faces and eye colors.   Even then, juvenile hawks have yellow eyes that turn to deep red when they mature.

In the photos below, one is a merlin falcon and one is a sharp-shinned hawk.   Keeping in mind that one is more golden because of the light, note the differences and tell me what you see they are.   The plumpness of one's body doesn't count either.  It's just the way it's perched.

Here's what to look for:


Sharp-shinned juvenile hawk has yellow eyes turning to red as an adult, blotched breast colors extending to the chin. 

Merlin has dark brown eyes, a hint of a mustache, streaked breast, no chin colors. 


There are other differences, but you can't see them in these photos.

And here are a couple different raptors I photographed from the kayak:

The first is a sub-adult bald eagle.   By next year, it's fifth year, it should have the typical white head, white tail, yellow beak, and yellow eyes.

And the adult bald eagle:

Now it's your turn.  What differences did you see between the hawk and the falcon and which is which.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Hawks and Bears and Old Wasabi

A hydro ax crew is chewing up trees and murdering wildflowers along Lower Summit Lake as part of the highway rebuild, right in the area where I left several filled litter bags for pick up. Knowing that the local DOT guys are short-staffed due to COVID, I made plans to pick up the bags and get them out of the way. I drove up there Thursday morning and all the bags were gone! Curses. Foiled again. 
 Now I had three hours to fill because my plan was to get those bags, stop at home, get stuff ready to mail, make a few business calls, and head for the dumping station 13 miles away, stopping at the post office along the way. Then, I would return to another area for a second load of litter bags and take them to the Cooper Landing dump site, which is closer at only nine miles.
 I stopped at Tern Lake on the way home. I had cleaned up all the cigarette butts in the pullout on Tuesday—there were at least two quarts of them. Yesterday, you’d never know it had once been butt-free. I talked with a couple from New Hampshire who thanked me for cleaning up and said they did the same thing back home. We commiserated with each other and found we were likewise appalled at the amount of beer cans we find, knowing that people were drinking while driving. Took some photos of four brothers from Minnesota at their request, picked up litter, and headed out. 
A sub-adult bald eagle.

I went home, made one business call, and started to take care of another online when the power went out. Curses! Foiled again.
 I sat in my nest in the living room, playing Candy Crush and revising my plans. Too hot to split wood, tired of picking up litter. 
Suddenly, all heck broke loose outside the big windows. A raptor (I think a sharp-shinned hawk) was after the Steller’s jays. Around and around it chased a jay and at one point the two birds were beak to beak in the air and only inches apart. How that hawk didn’t snag that jay is beyond belief. All four jays later appeared, so all was well.
 A jay hiding from the hawk.
I noticed a Steller’s jay sitting on a window ledge. So that’s how they always know where I am. If I go near the “bird feeding door” they land on the dining room window sill and wait.
I watched a nuthatch hanging upside down from a seed cake feeder for at least ten minutes until a magpie appeared.

Now what? I have to do something today. Can't wash the truck or the windows because I had no water. Couldn't work with photo memory cards because the computer needs electricity. Couldn't vacuum, scrub down the bathrooms, straighten up the garage. Of all my various options, a nap won out.
I didn’t wake up until almost 8 in the evening. Well, power is still out. I know. I’ll drive to the Kenai River and see if I can find any bears. No bears. A raft came down the river with two fishermen and it landed across from me where the bears usually come out of the forest. I sat on a big boulder, waiting, waiting, waiting for bears. The fishermen loaded up and floated downstream and just then two bears appeared upriver! I’m pretty sure from their markings that these are the two I called “The Orphans” last year. They are now third season cubs. They were far away but I got a few photos even though it's after nine o-clock and the sun is behind clouds. Nine-thirty, light is fading. Time to go home. 

The second bear is in the river, hidden by the tree branches on the right.

One bear caught a fish and both headed into the forest.

I saw the electric power crew at the Quartz Creek substation and pulled in. A raven had landed in the wrong spot in the complex, causing arcing that almost took out a large transformer. “An hour and a half,” said 2C, “and we’ll have the power back on. Thanks for your patience.” I didn’t tell him I’d slept through most of it.
The inner workings of the substation.
Just as I got to Tern Lake, I saw the trumpeter swan family right by the highway and stopped to take photos. The swans are VERY protective of their four cygnets this year, far more so than in other years.
Back home, the power was still out. Cold dinner tonight, which turned out to be the shrimp I’d bought at Costco the day before. The provided cocktail sauce had the gelled consistency of being frozen and thawed. I poured a bunch of four-years-out-of-date ketchup in a dish, opened a tube of wasabi that’s been in the cupboard for many years and mixed the two. I was working by lantern-light and the wasabi looked more yellow than green, but it tasted better than Costco’s sauce.
A cygnet with dinner hanging from its bill.
The cob watches me carefully.
Today, I’m still alive and well despite the out of date ketchup and yellow wasabi  so I think I’ll mix more tonight and finish off the shrimp.
Today, I wrote this story. I had to edit some photos to post along with it. Some of the software to do that wanted to update. It’s taking forever!

Friday, August 6, 2021

A Tale of Two Bosses

One of my former bosses wrote his autobiography and published it. Another former boss bought a copy and had it autographed for me.
The writer boss wrote, "I hear you were the first condominium manager in Alaska." I was indeed the first, because Bruce Ficke, the former boss who bought the book as a gift for me, built the VERY first condos in Alaska at Alyeska Ski Resort and hired me to manage them.

The writer boss, Chris Von Imhof, was the general manager of the resort at that time and went on to many more achievements, as did Bruce Ficke.

Thanks to both of you Former Bosses.
I've had many bosses in my lifetime, not counting my husband who could get pretty bossy. Some say I've had a varied career. I think I just had a short attention span.

 This is a stump  in Tern Lake that I photographed from my kayak.

Monday, August 2, 2021

The Beautiful Aftermath of Wildfires

 A couple years ago, a lightning-caused wildfire broke out in a remote area of the Kenai Peninsula.  Because it was so remote, federal officials at first decided to let it burn.   

Soon, it flared into an immense area and multiple firefighters were called in an attempt to stop it from burning two towns, Sterling and Cooper Landing, both of which are along the main road--the Kenai Peninsula.   All summer long, the skies were thick with smoke.

The towns were saved but the fire eventually consumed 170,000 acres of the Kenai Wildlife refuge, including parts of the Skilak recreation area.

The next summer saw the growth of a bumper crop of morel mushrooms and mushroom hunters were everywhere.

This summer, the second since the fire, fireweed is everywhere!   So-called because it is among the first plants to colonize burned areas, their pink/magenta blooms can be seen over acres and acres.

Here are some photos of the fireweed.




And, as a bird photographer, I was delighted to find this alder flycatcher there too.

If you are in Southcentral Alaska, it is well worth your while to take a drive down the Sterling highway.  Add the Skilak Loop if you have time.   It's only about 18 miles.