A harsh, almost equatorial sunlight bounced off the surface of the Treadwell glory hole. I tried to stare across that bay formed by the collapse of a mine tunnel, hoping to spot the belted kingfisher that was squawking out his territorial claim. Above and close, an unseen bald eagle screamed. After checking to make sure Aki was close and safe I spoted the eagle tucked into a crotch of prickly spruce branches. I wondered for the hundredth time at the fierce aggressiveness of the tiny kingfishers and the apparent cowardness of the powerful eagles.
Earlier, just after Aki and I dropped onto Sandy Beach from the Treadwell woods, three kingfishers dog fought over Gastineau Channel, their chitterling calls as rapid as machine gun fire. A bald eagle roosting on top of the old mine ventilation shaft watched without concern. Perhaps the eagle knew it was not the kingfisher’s target.
Other birds made low flights over the little dog and I today. Early morning sun lit up the white patches on Canada geese as their “V” shaped formation moved toward the Mendenhall wetlands. Minutes later we watched the underside of a great blue heron as it flew close to my head, looking more dinosaur than bird.
As rain soaks into Aki’s fur, a belted kingfisher pluck a baitfish from the water and then lands on a rock in the tidal zone. It flips, chomps, and swallows the fish and settles in atop the rock. Plumped up and with its feathers slick and wet, the kingfisher reminds me of the banker icon from Monopoly, With my rain smeared glasses I can’t see whether the bird is sporting a monocle.
The little poodle-mix and I are the only one using the Rainforest trail this morning. Aki is a good sport about the rain, as usual. But she appears to be in a hurry to get back under the old growth canopy.
I’d follow her off the beach now if not for the line of harlequin ducks cruising through the trough line of a swell. When they are not hidden by a wave, I can see that the little party-colored ducks swim with heads buried in the water. Closer in, gulls appear to be standing on the ocean’s surface. The incoming tide will soon force them off their already submerged perches. But for now, they are quite content to rest on their rocks.
Should dogs have spirit animals? If Aki had one, it would be the belted kingfisher. We spot the feisty little birds on many of our rain forest walks. This morning, one burst out of a spruce tree chattering abuse, flew over a moraine lake that I was photographing, did a barrel roll and disappeared into a balsam popular tree in fall color. If you had wings little dog, that would be you.
Aki, who had once chased a black bear up a tree close to the kingfisher’s roost with only her bark and attitude, gave me her “Don’t be Stupid” look.
It had been raining where we started this walk through the glacier moraine but now it has stopped. No drops strike the lake to ruin the reflection of the poplars in high color. I’d expect ducks or even transiting swans to be resting on the lake. But only the kingfisher makes an appearance.
Looks like the party is over little dog. Aki and I just crossed Fish Creek , which now appears to be empty of salmon. No eagles roost in creek side trees. We can’t even spot the pair of squabbling ravens that usually patrol the creek’s gravel bars.
The kingfisher that guards the pond is still here. When it spots us, the little bird flies off to give the alarm. It is time, I think, for the land to go to rest for winter. Then two silver salmon, sides spawning-red, leap about the surface of the pond. An eagle screams. The party is still on.
The eagle doesn’t bother Aki. She stares at the water as if willing the salmon to jump again. When they don’t she trots around the pond to where the trail climbs onto a low dike. There, a great blue heron surprises both of us by flying out of a nearby tree and settling onto the limb of a spruce just twenty feet away.
Aki seems glued to the spot on the trail where she first spotted the heron. When I call her she looks in the big bird’s direction as if to say, are you crazy, that thing is ten times my size. I could tell her that the heron hunts small fish, not small dogs. But from past experience I know that she won’t move. I’ll have to carry her to the perceived safety of the woods.
Aki is the smart one. Rather than fight the wind blowing down Sandy Beach, the little dog is moving through protected woods on a parallel course. When she does join me on the beach, the breeze flattens her fur against her face. Less than a minute later she is back in the woods.
Left alone, I scan the channel waters for life. But no ducks or even gulls float there. The two eagles that often perch on the roof of the old ventilation shaft are also absent. In a few weeks killer whales might be just off shore hunting the king salmon returning to their hatchery. But during my walk only a Coast Guard pursuit/rescue boat appears on the water.
I press on to the collapsed glory hole where the grouchy belted kingfishers hang out. One flies across the water-filled glory hole to chit in anger at the little dog and I. After putting us in our place, it returns to its alder perch.
Last Sunday evening, while Aki napped inside our house, a yearling black bear munched fallen apples in our yard. He moved with a calm that only the wild and innocent should have. As Aki’s other human and I watched, the little bear lifted its front paws until it was standing on its rear legs. It looked like a small man in an oversized black coat. The little guy looked up into our Golden Delicious tree, shrugged as if it would be too much of a bother to climb after the few remaining apples, and dropped on all fours and left to forage in a neighbor’s yard.
This morning I think about that young bear and the other wild animals that thrive among us human interlopers. Aki and I are cruising through the Treadwell ruins, which is quickly filling up with families of Juneauites drawn outdoors by the sunny weather. On the ruins’ fringe we hear a chicken yard in uproar and I wonder if they are under attack from minks. Probably not. Those little weasels are night workers. An eagle then?
On the beach, the resident pair of ravens salvage dropped dog treats. One hops onto a rock to watch Aki. Above the pair of kingfishers we often visit fly a wide, fast arc around us. We have nothing to offer the swift birds but admiration.