The birds are back little dog. Looking up from a scent spot that has occupied her attention for the last minute, Aki gives me a “Dah” look. She might think I am referring to the adult bald eagle that had been feeding a few feet away when we reached the Shaman Island beach. The big bird flew off to a glacier erratic on the other side of Peterson Creek and landed. From that vantage point and safe from poodles, it waits for us to leave so it can return to its feast.
No Aki, I am not referring to that eagle or the other one roosting nearby. Look there. I point toward the island where a small raft of harlequin ducks are performing the synchronized swimming routine their kind performs when feeding. All summer the harlequins have been hanging out on the outer coast with red-breasted mergansers and the other fish ducks. The little bay has been lonely in their absence. It’s good to have them back. Closer to the beach, a smaller raft of widgeons have their heads in the water feeding. These guys must be heading south.
We passed other signs of fall along the forest trail that we used to get to this beach. The leaves of wild crabapple trees and blueberry bushes were in high autumn colors. Some of the devil’s club and skunk cabbage were yellowing. And the downy woodpeckers that seem to only appear at the change of seasons, were hammering away at old growth spruce and hemlock trees.
To escape the wind pounding Chicken Ridge, we drive to the North Douglas trailhead. The microclimate here can feature tree-toppling winds but today it is calm. Without wind there is little drama in the forest we pass through to reach the beach. Aki stops once to stare into the old growth forest and I think, “deer,” but see only a scene painted in the dull pallet of a winter thaw. I hear eagle complaints but none circles the water over fish when we break out of the trees. Only a common merganser rides some small swells before flying away. “Aki, where is the straw to stir the drink?” The little dog, who cares little for baseball, doesn’t know that Reggie Jackson used that phrase to describe his ability to make a difference in a game. She does love a garnishment of cheese in her kibble so I change metaphors. “Where’s the cheese?” Aki perks up at the mention of her favorite treat but is soon back to nosing the tide line.
She passes up a magenta patch of seaweed, a bright island in a sea of frosted rockweed. I do too. Back in the woods, we hear an almost rhythmic rapping like you would expect from a student drummer. I doubt if it’s from a red-breasted sapsucker. Their tree assaults have a jackhammer tempo. It’s a downy woodpecker, rapping away on a spruce. Aki walks down the trail but I move closer. The bird ignores both of us but continues to add audio spice to the gray day.