Sea Lions, Goldeneyes and Grosbeaks

Every four years the calendar gives us this extra leap day. Aki and I spend part of it exploring the country around the Peterson Creek Salt Chuck. Only a steep cascade of boulders separates salt chucks from the sea. High tides rise above the cascade and push salt water into the chuck. Today, with  the tide out we can listen to water draining from the salt lake into the big fjord known as Lynn Canal.

We must make this trip in the morning before today’s sunshine and warm temperatures melt away the crust that formed over this snow covered trail during last night’s hard freeze. The crust provides Aki with a wide platform for dashing about and taking the occasional rolling tumble.  The freeze decorated these bare alder and willow branches with ice crystals that now sparkle in the sun. Like the crust they soon will yield to the day’s warmth. Some, made more beautiful by their own melting, already fall to the ground.

Above the transitioning scene a male Pine Grosbeak, showing strong red color against the blue sky, sings out from the top of a tall spruce tree. Aki has never seen a Grosbeak before but I enjoyed them often when living along the Kuskokwim River.  In that place of great silence only Grosbeaks could break the forest’s quiet with song.

Moving away from the salt chuck I follow Aki into the woods above a headland and we make our way to a pocket beach. The hatchery has anchored its pens full of salmon fingerlings just off shore. In a few months hatchery staff will release hundreds of thousands of the fingerlings into the canal. Those that survive local predators will cruise the North Pacific until the call to spawn sounds and they return to natal waters.

Looking for a free meal, a gang of Golden Eye Ducks patrol around the nets until a Stellar Sea Lion breaks the surface. Then the ducks collect in a pocket formed where a rocky point juts out from the beach. Unlike the transit ducks that fell victim to seals at the Mendenhall River  mouth last weekend, these are local boys that know they can’t swim out of this danger.  Aki, concentrating on good beach smells, ignores the ducks but I watch them tense and then fly over the sea lion’s head before dropping to sea nearer the nets.   

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