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.
I didn’t expect much when we left the house this morning. Recent weather changes made the snow-covered trails slick. I solve that problem by wearing metal cleats on my boots. Thy will make the walk to Sandy Beach safe for me. Aki won’t need them. Her nails bite nicely into the slick trail.
We walk through the Treadwell Ditch woods where much ice still clings to the trees. Chunks of clear chunks lay where they fell from tree branches during a recent thaw. But much of the transparent ice still clings to alder branches and even to the tops of brown leaves.
It’s low tide when we drop into Sandy Beach. One bald eagle is sleeping on the top of the old mine ventilation shaft. He doesn’t wake up until a minute while I wait near the foot of the shaft. Then he turns toward Aki and I, looking as bored as a student during a biology class in high school taught by a teacher with no sense of humor.
It happened too fast. Last week Mendenhall Lake was open during our last visit. We watched two kayakers paddle just off shore, working their way around a shrinking iceberg. Ultra-thin, clear chunks of ice floated near the shore. In an hour they melted away. Today solid ice covers the surface of the lake.
The appearance of winter hasn’t driven birds away from the lake. In the top of a shoreside spruce tree, an adult bald eagle squawks at an approaching magpie as it tries to land in the same tree. There is a partially eaten wild animal nearby. The birds are fighting over who gets what’s left.
The weather forecasters promised sun this morning and calm skies. After a long stretch of rain and cloudy conditions, the little dog and I were ready for the change. We headed out to the Mendenhall Glacier as soon as the sun rose.
There was a scattering of clouds in the mountains around Mendenhall Lake when we arrived. Twenty feet away from where we parked the car, an adult bald eagle groomed itself while perched on top of a covered area where people sometimes marry on high summer days. The eagle ignored me as I had to come quite close to grab poop bags from a government dispenser. I wasn’t sure why the big bird tolerated our near presence. Maybe it was too lazy to care.
We walked down to the lake. No wind blew, not even a slight stirring. Without wind the lake surface was a perfect mirror reflecting the surrounding mountains and even the few remaining clouds in the sky. But confusions of wafer-thin ice melted slowly under the rising sun. Early winter can’t be too far away.
In a half-an-hour, I could harvest a pint of cranberries from this muskeg meadow. The berries would be wet but bitter sweet. I’d eat at least a handful raw and slip the rest in one of the plastic bags we always carry. Aki would follow close behind me, ready to munch down a few red berries from my hand if given half a chance. But I want to make it to Peterson Bay before low tide rather than linger to harvest.
Aki doesn’t seem to mind if we stay or go. She can always find worthwhile scents to sample further down the trail. A nervous cluster of mallards bursts into the air when the dog and I slip onto the beach. Further out in the bay I can just make out a big raft of goldeneye ducks, just back from a summer on the coast.
Low clouds rapidly rise to reveal a thick layer of snow on the mountains above Mendenhall Glacier. The summer time workers would call the first snow, “termination dust,” and speed up their return to the Lower 48. For me and the poodle dog, the arrival of coastal ducks and the first snowy enrichment of our glacial mountains, tells us that things are about to get interesting.
Yesterday a nasty storm prevented me from giving Aki for a proper walk. Her other human followed her around our neighborhood. They were back in the house, soaking wet after ten minutes.Today, the rain held off for a few hours, enough time for a return to the woods.
Rain forests, like the one we entered this morning, seem to dry out just minutes after a storm ends. But drops of water will still cling to red or yellow leaves. Each drop sparkles as it shrinks. In a few hours, the forest loses its beauty unless the rain storm returns.
The beach is still dry when we reach it. Battens of clouds cover Fredrick Sound or hang over the mountain sides. No clouds cover Shaman Island but I can make out two bald eagles perched on the top of island spruce. Suddenly, a murder of crows heads toward the eagles, driving off one across the channel. The other eagle refuses to let the crows flush it away.