Category Archives: Dan Branch

Fish Creek Eagles

 

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Last night’s storm broke its back on the spine of Douglas Island and the mainland mountains.  Its heavy rain has swollen Fish Creek and turned the water the color of molasses. Salmon too weak from spawning have already been swept back into Fritz Cove. Those still waiting their turn to bred are hunkered down in eddies or behind drift wood barriers.

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Aki doddles behind until we reach Fish Creek where four eagles and kingfisher watch us approach from spruce tree roosts. One, an immature eagle, has cruciformed its wings so they can dry. The little dog hesitates and then moves close to me. No one dives on her as we round the pond and head out to the creek mouth.

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A big ebb tide has lowered the creek’s level and exposed a wide swath of wetlands. But the dozen or so eagles that we can spot are either feeding along side the stream or watching us from spruce roosts. Aki relaxes on a part of the trail almost enclosed by tall fireweed and wild rose shafts. I stop where that stretch ends and count six eagles watching us from trailside trees. Aki doesn’t follow me out onto the exposed meadow.

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I figure that the eagles must have sated themselves on dead salmon and other goodies exposed by the ebb tide. They won’t be interested in my ten-pound poodle. But Aki doesn’t share my confidence so I have to carry her until we reach a more protected stretch of trail.

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While we circumnavigate a small island covered with tall spruce, I lose count of the number of eagles, mature and immature, that fly over out heads and out over the wetlands.  White puffs of eagle down drift onto the trail in their wake.

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Falling in Autumn

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It’s mid-August and most of the trees in the Treadwell ruins retain their leaves. But the beautiful collapse of fall is not far off. Aki’s tiny paws slip on the wet, fallen foliage of cottonwood trees. Once lush leaves of cow parsnips droop as their green color drains down into their plant’ roots. Late summer monkey flowers and white ones of the thistles provide a little color for the forest.

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Aki and I leave the forest for Sandy Beach where the usual two mature bald eagles roost on the ridge cap of a mine ventilator shaft. The tide is out so we can walk right up to the brick tower. Aki waits near the edge of the grass. When the eagles turn to stare I stop, take a few photos, and turn back toward the little dog. I don’t want to force the eagles off their perch.

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An immature eagle flies over the two senior birds and then lands down the beach. One of the mature birds flies towards it, perhaps to bully the younger bird away from what ever treat enticed it to ground. In seconds both birds are in the air, flying in different directions.

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Messy Eaters

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I am out in the North Pass, competing with Stellar Sea Lions for silver salmon. Aki is out berry picking with her other human. Three hundred meters away, a humpback whale throws its tail up in the air and dives.

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We will only boat on silver today. The sea lions will be much more successful. One surfaces with a silver trapped in its mouth. The sea lion snaps its head back and forth as a small flock of gulls dive on it in an attempt to snatch away bites of the fish. They know the sea lion is a messy eater.

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Don’t Blame Me

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This morning, for the first time in a week, the sun rose unimpeded by clouds.             There was a thick rope of fog laid the length of Gastineau Channel but it was gone by 9 A.M. I listened to foghorns while drinking morning coffee and thinking about where to spend part of this sunny day.

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As Aki slept curled in my lap, I decided to head North to where a trail snaked over a small rise and along the edge of Favorite Passage. The little dog always seems to enjoy that one.

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Later, while taking a break on the trail, we waited on a pocket beach for Aki to rinse her new Frisbee. It was only unnatural thing on the beach. Time and tide, not human hands, had placed every pebble and rock. The tiny grass meadow at the edge of the splash zone was sown by the wind.

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After finishing the walk we drove to the Shrine of St. Therese where someone with too much spare time had stacked beach rocks into cone-shaped cairns on the beach in front of the columbarium. Nearby a raven paced. When we neared the bird flew off and landed in the middle of small collection of cairns, knocking down two of them. After defecating on the ruins the raven surveyed the field of rock stacks and then turned to stare at us. I wanted to tell him about the beach not far from here where no one had tried to improve nature.

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Bouncing Down the Pass

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This is a harvest trip. True we have time to watch the North Pass humpback whales feed. But thanks to a fifteen-knot wind that is cross grain to the incoming tide, we will bounce on close-set waves all day. We’d be elsewhere if not fishing for silver salmon. Again, Aki is safe and comfortable at home. As we did last week, the captain and I have used downriggers to sink baited herring into the pass waters. Unlike last week, there are other boats bouncing with us. No one is waving a net around preparing to boat a silver. We see someone boat a pink salmon but until the captain netted a eight-pound fish that I had hooked, we will see no silver salmon pulled from the water.

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Slow Walk Through Downtown

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I chose this route through Downtown Juneau for its convenience, not its beauty. Aki’s other human and I have an appointment at 10 A.M. Aki lead me out the door at 8:30 this morning. We should have finished in be done in an hour. But even though rain sluices down on us, Aki insists on taking her time. Each scent mark must be smelt from different angles. No pee spot may be passed by without a full nasal inspection.

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She slows down ever further when we reach the South Franklin Street tourist stores. I have to discourage her from peeing on a full-length coat on display outside of a fur shop. Otherwise she is well behaved. She trots by friendly cruise ship tourists but stops to accept pets from clerks standing like barkers outside their jewelry shops. Aki pays the most attention to homeless people sheltering from the rain in the doorways of closed shops.  My frustration with the little poodle fades when I see the smiles on those she favors.

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We Could Be Miles Away

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It rained all last night. This morning only a light shower dimples Crystal Lake. But soon the real drama will begin. A storm is moving over Sitka. It is scheduled to drop four inches of rain on the Troll Woods and raise the lake’s level. Tomorrow the trails may be muddy and in places flooded. But now Aki and I should have no problem exploring the woods.

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I lead the little dog off the main trail and onto one of the beavers’ logging roads. We follow it to a little lake we seldom are able to visit.  For the last few years the access trail has been flooded by water backed up behind the beaver dams. Now it is dry.

Less than a mile away, a string of tourist buses unloads in front of the glacier visitor center. People crowd the bear-watching platform searching for inbound sockeye salmon and the bears that feed on them. A few miles in the other direction, planes and helicopters take off and land. When the wind drops we can hear airplane and bus noise. But the wind is rising in anticipation of the storm, letting me pretend we are thirty miles deep in wilderness.

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