dark-eyed junco

Stalking a Badly Named Woodpecker

Stalking a Badly Named Woodpecker

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is one of the most inaccurately...

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The Bushwhack


Today we had our first outing for my "Searching for Wildness" class. In addition to readings in North American environmental literature (focused on Alaska), we go on outings to explore the natural and human history of the area. Today's was a bushwhack with Richard Carstensen, a naturalist from the area. We went a ways up a snowmobile trail and then literally struck off through a bog and then the forest on a bear trail.

This is the trail. You'll note there is no trail. But if I bear can do it, I can. Upon further reflection, I realize that the rule doesn't actually hold true. There are a number of things a bear can do that I can't, including eating whole bunches of stinkcurrant. Or fighting a bear unarmed and surviving, for that matter.

We spent quite a bit of our time in bogs, which are distinguished from fens in that bogs are mostly Sphagnum moss and water that doesn't move much, whereas fens can support sedges and grasses. This is a Drosera rotundifolia, or Round Leaf Sundew, a carnivorous plant that likes the Alaskan bogs.

Here you see Elizabeth, Nick, and others gingerly picking their way through a dense thicket of an intensely thorny plant. The white settlers called it Devil's Club, and scientists gave it the intimidating scientific name of Oplopanax horridus. The native name means "don't touch, dumbass." They favor a certain set of spots on the creek banks, so we waded through quite a few here and there.

Here's a look up said creek. This area is unique to my experience in that it has never been logged and that it's pretty much a rain forest, so it's an incredibly thick, dense greenery. Fun to bushwhack through, except when you find Devil's Club.

Up a bit higher, in the last bog we went to, we stumbed upon this female Northern Goshawk, who, instead of flying off as this shy species often does, flew to another tree and screamed at us. Richard, the naturalist, speculated that she might have a nest nearby and therefore a vested interest in not escaping. He also pointed out that Goshawks are infamous for attacking even large mammals if they feel the nest is threatened, and he intimated that nobody needs a powerful hawk with unpleasantly sharp talons barrelling in at his face at Mach 2. So I backed off a bit.

Juncos are a safer bet.

Flowers are even safer. Right: lupine.

Right: buttercups and forget-me-nots. They line most of the drainage ditches and roadways. These are beside the snowmobile trail.

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Registration Day

I woke up at 6:50, local time this morning and went for a run around campus. There's a nice loop of about 3 miles that runs down from the student housing, around towards the bay, and back through the classroom buildings. My housing is up on a hill, which makes the end a bit brutal, but it was fun anyway.

Right downhill from the dorms is Auke Lake, which is glacier fed and therefore probably quite cold. It's about 60 degrees in the air, so it certainly looks inviting to swim, but I imagine the water is in the 30s somewhere.

Moist air comes off the ocean and gets pushed up the mountains, so the water in the air condenses into clouds. That's what makes the climate here so damp and rainforest-esque. That also means there are basically clouds sitting on the mountains most of the time. You get enigmatic and frustrating glimpses of the mountains, which are, frankly, inspiring. The clouds give the whole thing an exotic and mysterious feel.

This is the view from the road by Auke Lake.

I finally saw two birds we don't get out east. There were a male and a female Varied Thrush, who were too skittish for me to take a picture of (a 3x zoom just doesn't allow you to get birds very well), and a Dark-eyed Junco (Oregon morph), of whom I only got a tiny snapshot. The picture doesn't prove what he is, but I did get a good look at him before he went into the underbrush.

This is the view from the main driveway into campus. You're looking out across Auke lake. The tiny blue-gray spot in the center of the photos, in between the mountains is a glacier. I think it's Mendenhall glacier, but I'm not actually sure, since there are two major glaciers here.

Closer crop of the view from the driveway - the glacier's much more visible here.

Same view, different angle. See what I mean when I say the clouds are both frustrating and beautiful?

This is the view from the parking lot of the student housing. That's my dorm on the right.

This is another shot from the road below the dorms. It's less rainy than yesterday and you can get a better idea of the snow-capped peaks rising into the clouds. 
The sun broke through for a little bit this AM, but not long enough for me to get any pictures...it was actually just a big hole in the cloud cover that went directly over for a while. Just as the sun was going away again, I caught a quick picture of this Steller's Jay.

There was a big welcome meeting at around 5PM at which the administrators and faculty introduced themselves. It seems to be the thing here to tell visitors grisly (their pun, not mine) stories about bear attacks. Comments like "no maulings yet this season" and "don't poke the bears" abounded. Then dinner, then a little reception, after which a bunch of us headed out to the local bar, which was just chock-full of local color. I didn't take any photos because I figured the comment about not poking bears applied to the locals too. A bald eagle flew across the bar parking lot as we arrived (remember, it's full daylight at 9PM). By the time the bar closed at 1AM, it was practically dark out. The sun sets around 10:15, but it stays dusky for a long time after that. We rather brightly decided that striking out through the forest in order to cut the corner of the road was a good idea, so we were a bit bewildered and muddy by the time we got home.


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