Three miles north of the Douglas Island Bridge a regiment of bald eagles waits. They will wait until the tide crests and then ebbs. Then they will search the exposed flats for salmon alive or dead. From the top of a grass-covered bank I watch the eagles preen, argue, or sleep while Aki wanders around sniffing and leaving scents for other dogs to sniff. She must becoming deaf to eagle screams.
Later, we will hike down a rain forest trail to the beach, seeing evidence of a dying summer along the way. Fruit will still pull at the branches of berry bushes but many of the surrounding leaves will be fading to fall colors. The leaves of other plants will bare wounds from months of insect attacks.
We will take a beach trail lined with stalks of dead-brown cow parsnip. I will look, without success, for splashes of color among the beach grass. Gulls will sleep on offshore rocks. They, like the eagles will be waiting for the big salmon die off.
Aki was angry with me this morning. It was my fault. I slipped out of the house for an early coffee date with a friend. She stayed behind. My sin only postponed our walk for 90 minutes but, for her, it was unpardonable. Aki’s other human had to pull her out of her kennel so we could leave for the Outer Point Trail.
Aki’s anger gave way to excitement by the time we pulled into the empty trailhead parking area. I am pleased to know no one will be in front of us. Aki might feel disappointment by the lack of possible dog encounters. The forest is a silent place until a pair of Stellar’s jays scold us. Then an eagle, perched just above in an old growth spruce, screams.
I wonder why the eagle is here when salmon are staging at the mouth of nearby Peterson Creek. Then we see the duck. It’s the same mallard hen that weeks ago had defended her chicks from an eagle and a heron. She’s alone this morning, paddling near an elevated walkway. There is no sign of her chicks.
Normally I don’t take sides in the violent encounters that happen in the woods. Animals have to die so that others can live. But I find myself hoping that the at least some of the mallard’s kids survive.
The dog salmon have returned home to Sheep Creek. They each were hatched here. They all will die here. Before that, they will scrabble for spawning space in the stream gravel. Eagles have already gathered to feed on the salmon’s expired bodies.
I put Aki on a lead this foggy morning after spotting a bald eagle, as indistinct as a ghost in the gloom, flying a circle around us. Creek and tidal currents have formed a gravel causeway above the delta’s marshy wetlands. I am about walk onto the causeway when I spot an eagle in the middle of it perched on a driftwood root wad. Five or six other eagles stand on the beach or other driftwood logs but they all have to look up to see the eagle on the causeway.
I expect the elevated eagle to fly off but it holds to its throne as we approach. Before we invade the eagle’s personal space, I walk the little dog in a wide circle around it. The big bird is still on its perch when we return to the car.
Usually, when Aki and I take this trail into the Treadwell Woods a gaggle of domestic geese give an alarm. This morning they are quiet. A pathetic looking eagle might be the cause for their silence. It sulks in a spruce tree above the geese yard. I wonder if it has designs on a plump gander. It’s tough to raise poultry in this town unless you protect your birds with an electrified enclosure. Last week our neighborhood bear chomped down on a free-range chicken.
Low clouds hide most of the Gastineau Channel and the mountains that line it when we drop onto the beach. The rainstorm that soaked the woods last night continues to drop much needed rain. My pants and Aki’s fur were soaked when we passed through a grassy verge to reach Sandy Beach.
A waterlogged eagle grooms itself while perched on top of the old ventilation tower. With its fierce gaze and feathers all ahoo, it looks like an awakening dragon. But a puff of down sticking to its beak shatters its tough guy image.
It’s low tide. Down the beach three ravens search the recently exposed sand for snacks. One flies to the top of an gnarled wharf piling and pretends to dig a feast out of the top of it. Then it balances on one leg and kicks the other one up like a can can dancer.
Even though we are at the height of summer, Fritz Cove and the beach seemed empty of life. Next winter, when cold, wet rain will slicken the shore rocks, eagles will roost in nearby trees and sea ducks and scoters will fish the offshore waters. Today they were elsewhere. Rounding False Outer Point Aki and I only saw a small murder of crows fighting over scraps. That’s why the kingfisher was such a welcome surprise
The feisty bird skimmed a few feet above the water and then crashed into a shallow dive. After repeating this three times, it flew out of our sight. I doubt if Aki ever saw the kingfisher. I know the little dog never saw the bald eagle even though we walked within a few feet of its roost.
If the eagle were a human I would have said that it looked bored. It spent more time looking at its chest than at the little dog or I. After the eagle we worked our way to a forest trail and used it to return to the car. As we approached a murder of crows started dive-bombing the eagle. When it flew, the crows started going after each other.
Aki and I are walking through one of the grittier sections of Downtown Juneau. Most visitors wouldn’t be impressed with its grit. But it is a place of parking lots, gas stations, and resident hotels. Aki isn’t happy walking through this landscape. But we’ve just dropped off the car for servicing and need to pass through here to reach home.
I manage to convince the little dog to accompany me to the waterfront where we find a young woman sleeping rough. Her possessions form a fabric wall around her. She may have fallen into a financial hole, but still appreciates natural beauty. A handful of fireweed blooms, carefully arranged in an empty beer bottle, brightens the scene.
An adult bald eagle perches on top of a driftwood snag a few hundred meters away. The snag was planted by the city next to a new boardwalk. Rain has soak the eagle’s feathers, which makes it look hung over or like a homeless person in need of a cup of coffee. The eagle ignores Aki and I as we walk under its perch, like it can’t be bothered with the diminutive poodle-mix.
Aki knows that something is not right. She left the house in a car with two of her humans. Before starting this walk to salt water we had dropped off one of her people so she could pick berries. Aki wants to go back for her—-to return her lost human to the family herd.
I coax her down the trail, keeping her on a lead in case she decides to take matters into her own paws. Each time I stop to snatch up a ripe cloudberry, the poodle-mix tries to pull me back toward the car. We cross a meadow of tall grass, some knocked down by a sleeping bear last night. Now Aki has something else to worry about.
The trail to the beach takes us under an eagle’s nest. An adult eagle guarded the nest the last time we passed by. This time it looks to be empty except for bird sounds that could be made by juvenile eagles calling out for food.
Aki tolerates my decision to sit for a bit on the beach. From there we watch two unsuccessful attempts by eagles to pluck fish from Stephen’s Passage. Then a Dahl porpoise makes a rapid transit past us. None of this takes the little dog’s mind off of her other human. The sudden appearance of a deer focuses her attention until it runs into the woods. A frustrated little poodle and I drive back to the berry patch where Aki squeals in delight when her missing human approaches carrying a half-gallon of blueberries.