Winter is losing its grip on the rain forest. That happens every Spring, after the additional of daylight hours begins to rapidly expand. It was below freezing this morning when I brew my first mug of coffee. Frost covered the car windshields on 7th Avenue. Then the temperature rose a few degrees and the snow melting began again. After breakfast, I looked and found Aki curled up under her human’s bed. She looked happy to sleep the day away. She looked stunned when I poked and prodded her to join me at the front door. After being wrapped and harnessed, she shook her body and started wagging her tail.
We walked down Goldbelt Street and onto the flats, stopping often to allow her to scent and pee. Thick, wet clouds swallowed up the sun by the time we reached the humpback whale statute. Just off shore two bald eagles leaned against each other on the top of a Coast Guard channel marker. A bunch of ravens watched them from the beach. Suddenly, one of the eagles flew over to the beach and started ripping flesh from a gull’s carcass. Just before Aki and I moved on, a raven landed near the eagle and started encouraging it to share some of the meal.
Deep snow covers the trail to Sandy Beach. It’s dense enough to has enough to support Aki’s weigh. But, I have to keep on the narrow trail to avoid wearing myself out on the soft, deep snow that borders it.
The beach is lined with dark and naked tree trunks. They still look pleasing but I am wondering whether spring will ever arrive. Then I spot one willow tree displaying a cloud of white. It’s not snow, but cotton-like flowers called pussy willows. I should take photographs of the blooms but don’t want to tromp my way through many meters of deep snow to reach them. Believing that there are more blooming willows, I follow Aki toward the beach’s end.
None of the other willows along the beach are blooming. I wonder if the flowery one is a wise predictor of winter’s end, or a short-lived fool. Then I leave the beach and climb a steep trail toward an eagle’s nest. One of the nesting birds calls out on our approach. But none of them make themselves visible from the trail.
t snowed most of last night. It’s scheduled to snow more this afternoon. But right now, in late morning, no rain or snow falls. The sun is even breaking through the clouds for minutes at a time. Aki is more than ready to walk along Sandy Beach.
Four inches of new snow cover the trail to the beach. But it gives, rather than makng up slip and slide, when we walk on it. It takes us little time to work through the woods and onto the beach. The tide is reducing Sandy to a narrow trail. In a few minutes tidal water will close it to traffic.
By slipping under alders hanging over the beach, we are able to make it to the end of the beach where an immature bald eagle seems to sulking in a beachside cottonwood tree. I wonder, for the tenth time this winter, whether eagles will nest again in the Treadwell Woods that border Sandy Beach. We climb a snow-covered trail off the beach to where we can see an eagle nest built into the framework of a cottonwood. For the time since last summer an adult eagle is stationed above the nest.
The snow has returned, a snotty, unstructured white mass of dancers. They fly down the street as we drive to Fish Creek. The parking lot for the trail only has one car. We will see them for a few seconds while on the trail. Then we will have the place to ourselves.
I expected to find the delta empty. But it is full of birds. There are plenty of gulls and mallard duck, all working the shallows for food. None pay us any attention. In a little, shallow pond, two killdeer feed. Normally, they never visit the Alaskan rainforests in winter and are rarely seen in other seasons. They must have flown long and hard to get to the creek delta because they total ignore our presence.
On the other side of the little pond, an American wigeon walks along the beach. His kind are rarely seen in our area this time of year. A few minutes later, while passing along a short trail through the woods, a I stop short when a chestnut backed chickadee lands on the trail a few meet away. Like the gulls and the mallards, the chickadee is almost always around. But this one has no time or interest in keeping any distance between himself and Aki or I.
Aki and are standing on the edge of a shrinking beach. An hour ago, we could have walked far out onto the Sheep Creek delta, passing mallards and crows feeding in the shadows. In another few minutes, the trail we are on will disappear under the incoming tide. The pup and need to move now or have to deal with soaked feet and boots.
The remaining beach lands are still frozen, even sections covered by water during the high tide. We can fly across it. Down the beach two bald eagles seem to pout onboard a floating gold dredge.
They ignore us as we approach the edge of the beach. I secure telephoto lens on a battered peer post. While his friend sits hunched on the tiny dredge, the eagle turns to stare at me. A few hundred years from him, a small collect of mallards float together in a tight, and tiny island. I wonder if the eagles were about to divebomb the ducks when we showed up.
Most people have the day off. Many would normally be jamming the Fish Creek Trail with dogs and kids. If Aki and I wanted to visit Fish Creek on such a day, we take the older trail away from the ocean so we could have it to ourselves. But high winds and rain have encouraged most folks to stay home, brew another pot of coffee, and spend the day distracted by email or text feeds.
We pull on good rain gear and drive out to the creek. Only one car is in the parking lot. The owner takes a few selfies with her dog and then dives back into her Subaru. I was hoping to see ducks or geese on the first pond but can only spot a single merganser swimming on it. There is a small collection of mallards on the Fritz Creek beach and one Bald Eagle feeding on a nearby island. The eagle ignores our passing. We have the wind at our backs until we reach the mouth of the creek, where we can normally have an excellent glacier view. Low clouds and rain showers prevent us from seeing any beauty.
Rather than powering way backing to the car in the wind, we wind through a dense old growth forest. The magic path delivers us to the little trail we used to initially pass the eagle. It gives us one of his, “What the hay looks,” poops, and flies over our heads. Another eagle resting on a transit buoy just offshore watches the scene as the buoy’s green warning light flashing out one of its periodic warning.
We stop near the bottom of Main Street to watch an eagle. It sits on top of a pylon, trying to ignore the rain. After flashing me a judgmental look, it turns away to watch the now-empty Gastineau Channel. You rarely spot an eagle this close to downtown Juneau. They go where the food goes. A small raft of ducks just moved down channel. Maybe the eagle will soon follow them.
I stopped to photograph the eagle because it is rainy, the kind of rain that usually keeps eagles off Sandy Beach, where are heading. We drive over to Treadwell Woods and have the place pretty much to ourselves, at least until we reach the beach and spot a very wet bald eagle. It stands on the roof of a mining vent tower, looking quite bored.
While Aki catalogues scat sign, I walk over the tower. The eagle watches my approach but will not move, even when I get very close. Nearby mallard feed just off the beach sand, heads buried in the water. They wouldn’t have time to escape of the eagle attacked. But the big bird just ignores them.
Last week more than five inches of rain fell here. We probably received another five inches in the last three days. Aki and I dressed in our best rain dear and headed out to Auk Rec Bay. I hope the forest will protect us from the rain.
We don’t need any protection when we arrive at the trailhead. The grey skies aren’t dropping any rain. It almost makes me shout joy. I don’t. I might be tempting the rain to return.
The beach is almost empty of pups and their people. Maybe this is why tight knots of surf scoters and Barrow golden eyes work the surf line. In seconds, one of the groups disappears by diving into the water. Seconds later the ducks pop back up, tiny fish already settling into their stomachs. They the heavy rain returns.
Rain but no wind driving it. Hoping that the wind isn’t about to rise, Aki and I head over to Sandy Beach. The forest we must pass through to reach the beach should protect us from being washed away by the rain.
We work our way through the woods. I’m grateful that the rain has washed the trail clean of ice or snow. The rain has also powered up the normally puny streams and filled a half-filled pond. The last time we were here, ice covered it.
We see no birds or animals in the woods. But a soaking-wet bald eagle is eating something on to roof of an old mining vent. It turns around to get a good look at the dog and I. Is it expecting me to deliver some tasty dessert?
For the past few weeks, Aki and I have spotted a pair of Sitka blacktail deer does walking near a road that leads to Sheep Creek. We drove out there this morning to walk around a delta exposed by the low tide. We didn’t see any deer along the road or even any had eagles.
It had snowed while the tide retreated early this morning. Today’s incoming tide will melt the fallen snow. But now, with the tide at its lowest, a thin blanket of white still coveres the exposed beach. The snow enriches the view by emphasizing the curves and dips of the tidal ridges. I can’t remember seeing this before.
We walked out to the edge of the now exposed wetlands and then to the beach’s end, where amateur gold miners have parked their makeshift dredges. One was made from the body of a tired looking pickup truck.
A collection of eagles and ravens had gathered along the road side. We drive past them on our way back to town. I stop the car and head toward the collection of hungry bird. They let me get within twenty feet before flying to roosts across the road. Then I spotted one of our Sitka black tailed deers lying dead on roadside snow now tramped by the thorny feet of the hungry birds.