The eagle is perched on the top of an old mining tower. 100 years ago, a similar tower delivered fresh air in to undersea mine tunnels. Then the mine flooded out. I wonder if eagles rested on a mining tower before the flood.
It’s low tide now so the tower is standing high and dry on the exposed beach. Maybe that’ why the eagle takes flight as I approached. He would be safer at high tide when only someone in a boat could reach the tower. More likely, the eagle has been called back to his’ partner’s nest.
After leaving the beach, I follow Aki up a steep trail. At the top, you can look up at an eagle’s nest built in the crotch of a burley cottonwood tree. There, tucked in like a grandmother, the eagle stares at us from deep inside his nest.
I didn’t want to leave the house this rainy morning. The heavy, pounding rain discouraged me but not the poodle dog. To please her, we headed out to the end of the North Douglas Road for a short walk to the ocean.
The rain had almost stopped when we reached the start of the trail. A few hundred yards in, we came to the Peterson Creek bridge. Pounding rain had flooded the Creek and made reaching the beach trail tricky. The bridge itself looked okay. But creek water had flooded over ten feet of meadow trail touching the western edge of it. The two thick planks that normally provide a safe bridge to the trail were floating on the creek’s flood waters.
Feeling like a tight rope walker, I struggled to keep my balance as I used the boards to reach safe ground. Aki trotted calmly behind me.
Low clouds and rain softened the view of Admiralty Island and the channel between us and it. But I could still see an immature bald eagle standing unprotected from the storm. Later, we saw three female deer hammering tall grass at the edge of a different meadow. Like the eagle, they ignored me, like they tried to ignore the rain.
“The rain must be keeping hikers at home this morning,” I told Aki while backing our little car out of the driveway. On warm, dry summer mornings, I can watch tourists and locals stroll past the house, dressed for a walk up the Perseverance Trail. Today, none passed while I drank my morning coffee.
We drove to North Douglas, where I parked the car in the almost empty Outer Point trail parking lot. The folks that came in the other parked car had probably taken the dry trail to the beach. Not worried about soaking my boots, I lead Aki down the other trail—the one partially flooded by beavers.
The rain ramped up as we neared the beaver pond, slamming onto the trail. Drops from the shower created circular patterns where they struck the pond water. Aki and I walked down a twenty foot stretch of flooded trail and onto to a dry stretch that ran parallel to a huge beaver dam. I’ve used this trail, Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter for over 20 years and never seen a beaver. That changed this morning. A large adult swam slowly along the dam, ignoring the trail. I took a few photos and then, like a greedy idiot, climbed onto the dam so I could get a better view of the animal that helped to maintain it.
When I moved a little closer, the beaver turned its head and gave me a hard look. Then it slapped the pond water with its tail and dived under the pond water. After giving it a few minutes to reappear, I followed Aki down the trail and onto a very bare beach. We crossed it and walked on a rarely exposed pathway to a Shaman Island. In an hour or so, when the incoming tide is in flood, the path would disappear.
Usually, this time of year, ducks or even geese would be floating on either sides of the island bridge. But we only saw a single seal, six gulls and, which is cool, a pair of oyster catchers. On this rainy morning, it would hard to spot such dark feathered birds on the exposed tidal flats if not for their orange beaks. They provided the only bright color on the otherwise bland ocean scrap.
Rain starting pounding on the house as I got ready for this morning’s hike. Even though she couldn’t see the rain while still inside the house, Aki, the dog, looked discouraged, like a dog who would be happiest staying warm and dry at home. But she still waited at the door was I pulled on boots. Happily, the rain had just stopped so we didn’t get soaked while walking the car. It started back up as we backed out of the driveway.
The tide was completely out when we reached the Fish Creek Delta. It was a minus three foot tide, one of the lowest of the year. A dozen bald eagles had assembled close together in a shallow water section of the Mendenhall River. Every once in a while they would burst into the air and then drop back to the river shallows.
Rather than search for food exposed on the wetlands by the retreating tide, three adult heron were feeding up river, very near our trail. They must be hunting productive water because they didn’t notice us until were thirty feet away. Then, one panicked into flight and landed at the edge of a small stream fifty feet away. The other herons soon joined her. They spread out until each was a dozen feet from the other two. Then, they returned their attention to the hunt.
In past years, before the spread of Covid, this morning I’d be packing for my annual trip to Skagway for the North Words Conference. In the day after packing, I’d ride an Alaska State Ferry from Juneau north to the old gold rush town. If rain pounded the ferry deck, I’d hunker down in the ship cafeteria and sip coffee. Many times, I’d share a table there with a friend or two, or work on some writing. Since she hated boat rides, Aki the dog would be home in Juneau.
Hoping that most of the flames from the Covid pandemic will be out by then, the North Words folks have postponed this year’s conference until Labor Day Weekend. I’ll probably go if I can. A good friend and I need to drink a toast in front of the Onion Bar for another friend and North Words writer who died last Winter.
To spur thoughts of other things, I take down to the Sheep Creek Delta, now almost totally exposed at low tide. After parking, we skirt a small gang of dog walkers happily chatting with each other near the trailhead. I am always a little jealous of hikers so willing to turn their backs on the natural beauty surrounding them to enjoy each other’s company. Aki starts to head over to the group then turns to follow me onto the exposed beach.
Normally the place is full of ducks and eagles. But this is early summer when many waterfowl move out to the coast to nest and get fat harvesting food. I only spot crows and ravens on the beach. Just offshore, a bald eagle is perched on a navigation warning light. It doesn’t fly off as I walk to the edge of the exposed beach, close enough to photograph him with the mountain crest of Douglas Island in the background.
Aki and I had to drive through a rain storm to reach the Fish Creek Delta. It was early morning. I had to wake the little dog when I was ready to leave the house. If we waited too late, the trail would be flooded by the incoming tide.
Hidden bald eagles chattered at us when we moved down the creek. But we didn’t see one until we reached the north end of a little spruce island where you can see Mendenhall Glacier. There, a very wet bald eagle was hunched on an off shore rock, holding its wings stretched out to dry. Later we spotted a different eagle with dry, rather than wet wings. We also saw two heron that didn’t drip water as they snatched tiny fish while standing on the creek edge.
So, the first eagle must have miss-timed its attempt to snatch something with its extended talons and crashed into the ocean. Maybe it clamped onto the back of a king salmon that just arrived to spawn in the Fish Creek Pond. We have seen at least one king pull an eagle into the water. If that happened to this soaked guy, he might now wish that he had let his targeted king salmon swim by.
Two bald eagles were occupying a cottonwood tree when Aki and I reached the end of Sheep Creek Beach. I was surprised to see the pair. Breeding pairs are now taking turns protecting their nest. A week or two ago, I watched an eagle dive bomb a raven trying to snatch an egg from the eagle’s nest. Raven must have left at least one egg there when it flew off. One of the eagle parents was tucked in the nest, over its eggs a week later when I passed by again.
The nesting eagle flashed me a fierce sign. Was it warning that she would rip out my eyes if I tried to climb up her nest tree? The pair of eagles that Aki and I watched this morning were sending out their bored “you don’t deserve our attention” look. Maybe that’s why they let me walk within a few hundred feet before returning their attention to a nearby pen of young salmon that will soon be released into the sea.
I am drinking Barry’s Irish Breakfast Tea with a little milk. Aki is taking one of her post hike naps. I am trying to build up a tale to share from this morning’s beach walk. But I can’t stop thinking about the tea.
Rather than use an insulated stainless steel mug for the brewing, I dropped the tea bag into an old steel pot given to us years ago by an Irish family. The resulting tea tastes much more complex than the brew I drink most mornings. Makes me wonder how many cups of hot tea from the old pot we’ve drunk over the past forty years..
Before the tea party, Aki and I had walked along Sandy Beach. The wind hadn’t risen yet so Gastineau Channel still reflected the mountains and avalanches. We saw the usual mallard gangs, and a Savannah sparrow. We heard gulls whine, robins sing, and after we left the beach, a very grumpy eagle screech out complaints.
As we approached the complainer, another adult bald eagle dived toward a well-used eagles nest, which sits thirty feet off the ground in an old cottonwood tree. A gull, trying to snatch an egg or two, squawked and flew away. The eagle landed on a nearby limb. All night, rain and snow mix had soaked the eagle’s feathers. Now, after the rain stopped, it was spreading out its wings to dry. Another bald eagle poked its head above the nest’s edge to give her partner a disgusted stare.
Our car claims that the air is currently 61 degrees F. But we still have to use a lot of caution to work our way down the ice-slick trail along Fish Creek.
There’s lot of reasons to believe that it is spring. Gangs of robins bounce about the meadows. I Even spotted my first varied thrush of the year. It’s low tide so there is a long of ground exposed between our trail and the ocean water. We watched two eagles leave their spruce tree roosts and glide out to sea. One just misses a mallard. The other eagle snatched a fish from the water and carried it to the beach to eat.