Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Night Life

Cloudy and warm with no wind.
     Sometimes we feel bad that we miss so much on the lake by going to sleep at night.   Night before last we went out late in the kayaks to watch bears.  Like a curtain call the bears tentatively stepped from the alders along the south shore of the lake and began their evening pursuit of the salmon in the shallows of the lake.   We had two or three brown bears in our view at once.  Things are feeling a bit crowded.  Our neighbors were out bear watching too.   As we paddled with our neighbors back toward their house, we watched a collared adult bear walk boldly along the lake and up to the dock at the their home then disappear into the dense foliage of the yard.  We were loud and wary as we landed and made our way to the house.
     Early this morning in the faint light of a summer dawn we were awakened by a roaring bear.  Yes, this animal was close enough to wake my wife, who quickly woke me.   We could see nothing, but clearly two bear were having a confrontation within shouting distance of our porch.   As we scanned the lake for a view of the squabblers we saw a tell-tale V of creatures moving in the water, but these were small animals.  Six river otters were heading east along the shore of the lake, swimming fast enough to make a small wake on the smooth surface.   Thanks to the flat water,  I keep watching the otters as they quickly covered the mile of water to east end of the lake.    By now I hear the splash of bears walking the lakeshore, gulls fighting over fish scraps, and the plunk of salmon "jumpers".   It was sometime before I could tune out the racket and go to sleep.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Yet more sunshine - and red necked grebes July 23, 2100 65 degrees light south wind

There has been a scant three rain events - I won't even call them rainy days since the first of July - in my thirty plus years here I cannot remember such a run.  I grow tired watering and can remember years I never touched a sprinkler - now I am out buying soaker hoses for God's sake.  the woods are dry - alder shoots pop out of the ground and the birth leaf roller blight has sickened trees, alders, and blueberries beyond recognition.  Throughout the month, we have set up a strong southerly flow - which always brings us stormy weather but this summer brings sun.  The past few weeks we have had scarcely a north wind - and consequently, no mid day "laydown" on the lake between the shift from north in the am to south in the pm.  It is a strange one - for the books.  We are in a word, exhausted.
We continue to watch the brown bears - yesterday was so hot midday I watched one charging into the salmon stream - up to his neck he went - never glancing a salmon - much more intent on the cool down.....spotted a pair of red necked grebes out front yesterday - this summers first sighting. The early  run of salmon is slowing, the lake is low.  Catch sight of a muskrat here and there. 
Had a most strating observation on a mallard hen, 8 ducklings, and eagle and two loons.  But right now, the water is laying down (8:30 pm) the sun is high and the water is calling me - I promise to illucidate in the next entry.  m

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rare Hot days

July 16: 62 degrees winds at 10 from the south.
Yesterday was a rare hot day at Bear Lake.  We hit 75 degrees and on a perfect day since we were hosting a dinner party on our porch for an old friend and some new ones.  Since we had been clam digging at Ninilchik on Thursday, we started the dinner with clam fritters while silver salmon and king salmon were cooking on the grill.  We also served baked halibut with a mayo, sour cream and parmesan topping.  Our neighbors brought the side dishes: fresh local salad, pasta salad, crudites and wild berry cobbler.    The eagles and bears showed up as well.  Mid-afternoon we watched a big brown bear standing neck deep in the lake.  Later, in the quiet of the evening, our guest watched another bear doing the same thing.  One of our guest was walking over to the party when she encountered a bear and had to go back home and drive over.   The time of year, the bears are on the move and may be seen anywhere around the lake any time of day.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wildlife Rescue

Cloudy with rain off and on.  55 degrees.  Wind is still this evening.

     July on the shore of Bear Lake can be a flurry.  The green plants are sprawling to engulf all the land and half the water.   Devil's club and poochki leaves spread and cover all the ground under the trees.  The fireweed is starting to bloom and, out on the lake, the lilly pads and horsetail are starting elbow for space on the lake surface.  The sky is busy with gulls, eagles, kingfishers and dashing among the others like little fighter planes are the swallows.
     Entering the boat barn for set of channel locks and a crescent wrench yesterday, I was distracted by a rattle and a rustle of noise coming for the somewhere around the barn.  What on earth is that noise?, I wondered.  The dogs were next door with Madelyn while she tended one of her planter boxes.  The two choices I thought of were a bear or a Steller's jays.  Younger Stellers jays are notoriously precocious and are intrigued by many of the wonderful thing s that people bring to their world.   I crept out the door and around to be back of the barn to find the source of the noise.  I found nothing then heard the noise again.  This time it was clearly coming from loft of the barn and I headed for the ladder.  Half way up the ladder, I could solve the mystery.
     A small bird was flying at the skylight, trying to reach the open sky beyond this invisible barrier.  It was a hummingbird, hovering on wing before the apparent opening struggling to break through to the waiting sky clearly visible above.   I wonder at the how such animals can do so much yet can be so overcome by a challenge like this.  How long had this bird been trying to solve this puzzle; how long would it try before solution or fatigue would out?   I could not wait to make such a study, I could not but think of this tiny desperate heart, so persistent, so desperate.   The bird seemed unaware as I approached, as it hummed against the skylight, so I could reach out and take it into my hand, so tiny I could completely enclose it safely in my fist.  I could feel the pounding heart that I held within my grip, literally within my grip, my fingers wrapped around this life hoping I was not crushing wings and feathers and bone, not crushing the life I was trying to save.  And so I descended the ladder and out the barn door to the open air the bird sought so desperately, and there I tentatively opened my hand hoping that little green-backed being could, and did lift from my hand and hum away to into the trees and sky.  I was left alone to wonder at that brief time holding wild life in my hand.

July 11, 2011 52 degrees high clouds, light south wind

I am officially dubbing this "The SUmmer of the North Porch".  Our lake view - and half our covered porch face north - a dubious honor in Alaska.  I keep a trunk of wool blankets for those who like to hang there - usually just Dan and myself.  But this summer is different - with the prevailing south wind that has set up this summer and blown continuously for almost a month, i find myself migrating to the calm and stillness of the north porch - whateverever the temperature - its always warmer out of the wind.
Low hanging filtered clouds accompany the south flow - they drape a chiffon shawl over the shoulders of Mt Ava as they tumble northward.  Blue sky is overrated but I may say that for only a few days more.
Picked first salad greens yesterday and enjoying a great harvest of herbs - oregano, cilantro, lemon balm which is now steeping in cold water for a refreshing drink when it hits 60 degrees, tee hee.  We are in gathering/puttin' up time now so I cleaned berries out the freezer, added fresh rhubarb to make jam.  Blue - rhu - blueberry rhubarb jam - its always a hit.  Also started some blueberry syrup - it will "steep" the next six days before I can it.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

SUnday, July 10, 2011

55 degrees, light south wind, high overcast.  No rain this week.
An early kayak turned up a surge of kingfishers, chattering mostly in the south cove - counted at least 4 at a time.  Hanging out on rooftops, power lines and spindly alders.  The activity has really picked up in the last week.  Just before heading out, potted a brown bear at the creek - watched as he plunged out in the stream outlet in the lake and stood up to his neck feeding on salmon.  Hard to tell how large/which one he was. 
Our early morning kayak was on flat, dark water that created mirages all around and made gulls look like sailboats from a distance.  Then, like clockwork, the south wind commenced - we have had a prevailing south wind coming up every morning that blows til late at night - sometimes not going down til 11 pm.  There have been no north winds to speak of and the north porch has become an odds on favorite for hanging out.
SUmmer's clock is ticking, Dan picked up 7 silvers and a little king yesterday on the Bay, the smoker is full and clam tides start Thursday of this week.  Need to water the gardens as these grey skies produce no rain - funny, they give you the sense things are wet.........

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Settling in after 4 days of sunshine

Madelyn's turn.  Days of sun left no time (energy?) for writing.  The sun's nudge was seen in garden, woodlot and lake as flowers bloomed, alder canopies thickened and ferns sprang to five foot and sedges cost us another few feet of shoreline.  The lake is low and the usual kayak launch spot is now mud pudding.  Lillies are up in the lake but no blooms yet. 
Still seeing our loon pair but now I am sure there was no nesting success.  I saw the loons pretty consistently throughout June which means the nest was probably abandoned early.  Watched an immature bald eagle this am flying useless sorties on a loon just off the dock.  He made five vain attempt and doubt he had any idea what he was in for if he connected.  Loon's response was a simple duck and dive, and no calls.  Its been a much quieter summer for the loons since they aren't raising any young - something I dearly miss.
Salmon are producing a river of red at the creek just east of us, and eagles and brown bears are gathering.  Spotting at least three different brownies, one sow with last years cub. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Day after -- the Four of July

69 degrees mostly sunny.  winds from the south 12-15 mph.
     Bear Lake is a refuge on the Fourth of July because Seward is the place to be on Independence Day and the town is rockin'.  On Bear Lake, other that a few more kayaks and canoes than usual, the day is quiet, down right mellow.  A bit of wind gives mew gulls some lift as they roam the southern end of the lake looking for lunch, and the ever-present eagles occasionally change perches or fly a spiral route to up hundreds of feet about the lake where the catch the thermals, cruising and soaring high above the rest of us.  Late afternoon I'm on the north porch looking east where toward mouth of a creek that drains in to the Lake from Tiehacker Mountain.   A young bear dashes from the brush straight into the lake up to it's neck.   In matter of seconds, it's back on the beach gripping a flapping salmon in its maw.   I got the binoculars up just in time to see it disappear into the brush again.
     By evening a few kayaks are on the water, coming out from the public access or the B&B located near the outlet.   Evening is good bear viewing and the water is often flat.   Sunny days on the lake usually mean wind.  A north wind blows until midday when we have an hour or so of calm followed by an afternoon of south wind that will hold steady until well after dinner.  By eight or nine in the evening winds die off and the lake turns to glass.  During these long summer evenings this a fine time to slip into something comfortable, like a lifejacket and a kayak seat and slip out across the water.   The salmon are jumping, the swallows are chasing bugs above lake, and the evening light accents the glaciers and lingering snow fields on Tiehacker and Mount Eva.  Last night, I watched a chocolate colored brown bear working his way south along the west shore of the lake.   I didn't spot the bear until our paths nearly crossed.  As is common,  it was walking in the shallows under the overhanging alders.  At first I could only see four brown furry legs wading along, sending the salmon scurrying.   Then the full body came into view.  I drifted in still in my kayak for several minutes following the bear's route with my eyes.  Sometimes he turned from the lake and moved out of sight uphill among the spruce and hemlock only to come back down to wading again, sometimes completely obscured by the overgrowth, and I was left to watching the alders rattle as it passed.  I wondered if he wanted to swim across the narrow part of the lake and I was in the way, or if he was heading downstream to the weir for this night of fishing.   Some questions don't get answered, but sometimes being in a place where such an a question can come up is more than enough.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Life Lesson

11:30 am 62 F with a breath of wind at 2mph; water temperature 58 F partly cloudy.

A fine morning on Bear Lake; during a late breakfast on a sun washed north porch we watched a young brown bear fishing at the creek.  

Earlier on a paddle in my kayak with my morning coffee, I watch a young eagle drag a salmon from the creek.  This was a challenge since the salmon was nearly as big as the eagle and was thrashing wildly.   The young eagle was successful at getting the fish up the gravel bank and pinned to ground with the its large talons.   Almost a immediately, this bird was challenged by an older bird which had witness the successful fishing.  It strutted toward the eagle with the fish, neck extended screaming, then rushed forward with wings spread.  Predictably, the fisher-bird surrendered his prize and left the beach.  As the mature eagle began tearing mouthfuls of flesh from the still flapping fish, two smaller young eagles approached with heads down as if begging for a bite.  The eagle seemed to ignore them and kept feeding.  Then it was interrupted when a large eagle with bright mature plumage plunged in from the sky with talons extended right into the knot of eagles, scattering them and talking the salmon for itself.   Four eagle then sat on the beach and watched the new king of the creek as it feed on the fresh killed salmon.
Today's life lesson:   Being the one that caught the fish doesn't guarantee that you'll be the one to eat it.