Category Archives: Stellar Sea Lion

A Little Whippy

Last night the temperature dropped to well below freezing, making the snow covered trail a little icy. Aki can move back and forth on it like she has magic paws. I can’t. But we manage to safely move through the woods toward Point Louisa. 

            Through openings in the woods, I can make out a small gang of walrus, feeding just off the beach. Nearby, gulls and harlequin ducks also track food. 

            A wind picks up as we leave the woods and walk across the open portion of the point. A large collection of gulls flies away when we approach but land close to the beach. In seconds most return to the snowless portion of the beach. Another gang of walrus passes the gulls on their way around the point. 

Messy Eaters

This morning, the weather offered little promise for good photographs or even a decent walk. Wind whipped raindrops around the yard as the little dog and I headed to the car. We drove out to the old Tlingit village site where an old growth forest offered some protection from the storm.

            It was almost cozy in the woods but inclement on the spit we had to pass over to reach Point Louisa. Three guys in heavy weather gear fished for silver salmon on the spit. Just off shore several harbor seals had more success harvesting salmon. 

            At the end of the spit we ducked into a sparce forest before reaching the point. On the other side of the woods we watched a trio of harlequin ducks sped across the water, heading toward Favorite Passage. A minute later they reversed course and returned to Auk Bay. 

            A loud croak made me look away from the ducks to where two Stellar sea lions seemed to be cuddling in the small waves. Another sea lion shot its head out of the water with a salmon in its jaws. It flung its head back and forth, trying to break the fish’s spine. Several gulls soon arrived to pick up the scraps flying from the sea lion’s mouth. They know that sea mammals are messy eaters. 

Famine Time

The beach is empty and so is the little cove the beach fronts. Aki and I are only ones making tracks on the snow-covered beach. While I search for the raft of golden eye ducks that usually fish these waters, an eagle flies from the top of a spruce tree and flies across the cove. It flushes to flight hundreds of gulls that had been resting on the opposite shore. 

            During the food-rich summer, gulls ignore an eagle flying overhead. But this is famine time for the big birds. This one must have already tried to snatch one of the gulls. I imagine the eagle also tried for one of the ducks. 

            We take a trail off the beach and over a headland to another bay. A raft of nervous golden eye ducks fishes offshore. Other ducks, in groups of twos and threes fly over to join them. When something spooks them, all the golden eyes panic into flight and soon disappear. Where Outer Point pushes out into Stephens Passage, a couple hundred scoters burst into brief flight and then regroup back on the water.  I wonder if his is all the work of the one eagle.

            After our hike, I look for the golden eye ducks while driving home. They must have turned north into Lynn Canal. But we do spot the Fritz Cove pod of Stellar sea lions growling and lounging. An adult male sea lion can be 11 feet long and weigh over a ton. Females weigh 800 pounds. The eagle that flushed to birds poses no threat to them. Only killer whales can interfere with their leisure time.    

Rainy Day Gifts

During my recent visit to Talkeetna, Alaska for a writer’s workshop, KTNA, the local public radio station was kind enough to record me reading of “Dirty Work,” an essay that first appeared in Gravel, a literary journal of the University of Arkansas. Here is the link to the radio website if you would like to listen to the reading. https://ktna.org/2020/02/susitna-writers-voice-2-2-2020-dirty-work-by-daniel-branch/

Aki and I returned home wet from this morning’s walk. She sleeps curled up near one of our radiators. Before we left, the sound of rain drops hitting our kitchen window discouraged her for leaving the house. Eventually she agreed to join me in the car. Seeking a sheltered hike, we drove out to North Douglas and stopped in the Rainforest Trail parking lot. But first we had driven past a pod of sleeping Stellar sea lions. 

            Most of the pod huddled around one of their brothers who floated on his side with a pectoral fin in the air. These had their eyes closed. One sea lion swam in front of his sleeping brothers, eye wide open. He must have been the one that croaked out a warning. The pod didn’t panic and dive. They just slept on. That’s how we left then as we drove on to the trailhead. 

            The trail provided us with a lesson on the value of old growth forests in winter. Snow still covered the trail and ground where it cut through alders and blueberry bushes. There was less snow after we entered a newish hemlock and spruce forest. The ground was bare under the big old growth trees. We looked for the deer that seek out such areas of old growth in winter. Saw none. 

The rain was flooding beaver creek, pushing muskeg brown water over the top of white ice. The ice seemed to be lit from behind like a stain glass window. Water running over the ice glowed with the ice light. In the rain-drab forest, the creek scene was a miracle of bright colors, as pleasant a surprise as the sleeping sea lions.   

Teenagers

Aki and I are following Fish Creek to its mouth. The trail takes us along the spine of a spit. Two eagles watch us pass from roosts on the other side of the creek. A strong flood tide is quickly expanding the creek, covering the dead-grass meadow bordering it. 

            While Aki investigates the base of a cow parsnip stalk, I look seaward, hoping to see the Chilkat Mountains on the west side of Lynn Canal. I can make out Admiralty Island but clouds hide the Chilkats. In the foreground something that looks like a half-submerged drift log is moving around Fritz Cove at an impossible speed.  With the help of my telephoto lens, I figure out that my log is actually a gang of adolescent Stellar sea lions.  

            What I took to be a blackened root is actually the fin of a reclining sea lion. His buddies swim around and under him, sometimes jamming their heads together only to explode away. Another eagle watches the sea lions with what could be a judgmental expression on its face. 

Aki’s Day Off

Yesterday hid in her kennel as I gathered gear for our daily walk. I managed to coax her out but she was back in the kennel by the time I opened the front door.  It had been snowing for hours by that time. Six inches of fluff covered the hiking trails. I didn’t push the matter. But this morning I am wondering whether she will balk again.

            The snowstorm ended an hour before. But it was still storm gray out. Aki didn’t seem to mind. She waited at the front door for me to secure my boots. She leaped from the car as soon after I stopped the car at the trailhead.  We had to climb an two-meter high snow berm to reach the trail. That didn’t slow her. But a half-mile down the trail I discovered that I was alone. Backtracking, I found the little poodle-mix chest deep in new snow. Golf-ball sized snow clumps covered all four of her legs. 

  Looking like a guilty child, Aki slowly turned and headed back toward the car.  I knew we would soon be on a snow-free beach so I picked her up. While I carried her up the trail, I pulled snowballs from her fur. Most were gone by time we reach a spot where she could smell salt water. She wriggled as I lowered her onto the trail. 

  In ten minutes were on a beach swept clear of snow by the ebbing tide. Aki, her legs again loaded down with snowballs, stood by my side. Together we watched a sea lion, just fifteen meters away, raise its doggie head out of the water to check us out. Aki gave out a low growl. The sea lion immediately disappeared into the water.  After that, the little dog had no problem leading me back to the car.