Aki couldn’t have picked a worse tip to go on a walk about. We are exposed on an open section of the Mendenhall Wetlands. The 10-pound poodle-mix is 40 meters away, sniffing a pee mail message. A bald eagle on its way toward the glacier makes a sudden course correction and begins to circle over the little dog, which must look like a plump, gray rabbit from the air. Aki freezes when I demand her to come to me. There is no time to outwait the little brat so I run toward her. The eagle breaks off and veers north toward the glacier.
Aki, who never saw the eagle, trots close to my side a little confused as we move down along the Mendenhall River towards Fritz Cove. The tide was out on our last visit to the wetlands, exposing food-rich mud flats to hundreds of teals, northern shovelers, mallards, and shorebirds. Today, with the tide at the flood, we only spot a bored-looking raft of mallards sleeping near the riverbank.
I expect that we will have to rely on the glacier, surrounding mountains, and the intense yellow-green colors of unleafing cottonwood trees for drama. Then an arctic tern flies overhead. It’s amazing to think that the tern’s frail-looking wings carried it all the way from Antarctica and will have to carry it back at the end of our summer.
While Aki sulks with impatience at my feet, I watch the tern disappear over the river. Then I spot two sparrow-like birds perched near each other on the roots of a driftwood log. They look like female Lapland longspurs in breeding plumage. If they breed this year it will be on the northern tundra, not along this river. They must be resting up before resuming their flight north.