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Posts from the ‘Alaska’ Category

Oh, Alaska!

Eagles mate for life. But even the most romantic lovers need a little space once in a while.

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Sometimes you need a little space

One of them decides to go fishing. A bald eagle can dive at speeds of up to 200 mph.

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Gone fishing

A juvenile bald eagle does not go bald (head and tail turn white) for about five years. They pay attention and learn how to fish.

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Juvenile eagle learning the ropes

An eagle’s scream means “Stay away from my kill!” The eagle will emphatically rip into the catch, its body language telling others to stay away or fight. Eventually though, they get full and give way.

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Hungry and willing to fight

Ah, bald eagles are pirates known for stealing booty. They can spot that kill from two miles away. The kill attracts lots of attention.

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Fighting and feasting

After a while, a few juveniles hang around for scraps of spoils.

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Juveniles waiting for the leftovers

Meanwhile, something attracts the attention of a black bear.

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I think I heard something!

Hopefully, it’s not this spike bull moose, whose antler configuration makes him legal for hunting season. (Not that that matters to any bear)

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A male moose hoping not to be dinner

Everybody gives way to the grizzly bear. This guy strolls through the horsetail grass in the wetlands of our backyard. He eats anything he wants along the way. Coastal brown bears grow larger than their grizzly cousins in the interior, due to plenty of seafood proteins.

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A big brown bear looking for dinner

Perhaps this young cow moose swam across the river because of the bear’s scent.

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A young female moose hoping not to be dinner either

The romantic lovers meet again. Nothing can harm the top of the food chain, except for humans.

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“So happy together…”

Oh, Alaska. You’re almost as beautiful as my romantic wife. Happy 22nd anniversary, Babe!

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Happy Anniversary!

Ron Mitchell

 

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ALASKA SATISFIES THE SENSES

We love to travel the world and see different things. Rarely do we visit a place twice. So why have we come back to Alaska for the sixth time? Let me try and answer that…

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Hanging out in the solarium on the Alaska State Ferry

 

Traveling here presents an adventure in itself. I chill-out on a lounge chair with a sleeping bag for three nights under the solarium on the Alaska State Ferry, from Bellingham, WA to Haines, AK. Even make a few friends along the cruise up the marine highway, which cuts through mountains and occasionally stops at remote towns.

Wrangell

Wrangell, Alaska

Marilynn had a more exciting adventure. She drove the entire Alcan Highway, through Canada to Alaska, slept in her car off the road during a snowstorm, and once even car camped in a Walmart parking lot while in the Yukon! Look at the amazing array of wildlife she gets to see along the way….

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A Black Bear feasting along the Alcan

Smell the fresh air. Winds blow over glaciers, rivers, sea-filled fjords, and pristine forests. The smell of fresh air has almost no smell at all.

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Grey Wolf near Muncho Lake

See the surrounding glaciers, mountains, rivers, canals and forests. The view never grows old. Fabulous scenery engulfs us the moment we arrive.

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Chilkoot Lake

Feel the cool days and nights. Love the feeling of being cool during summer. Beats the hell out of that excessive heat back in Phoenix, AZ!

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Davidson Glacier

Taste some of mother nature’s delights. I caught four Dolly Varden (trout) my first day here. Looking forward to the Sockeye Salmon run that should begin next month. Maybe I’ll catch one this year, who knows?

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Dinner!

We pluck wild oyster mushrooms from a decaying Cottonwood log in our “backyard” as an excellent side dish for the fresh fish. As I write this, we are still hoping that they were indeed oyster mushrooms!

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Oyster Mushroom – we hope!

The sound of a running river serenades us to sleep at night. (Doesn’t really get dark this time of year) Sometimes rain pouring on the cabin’s tin roof adds to the music. A symphony of bird songs wakes us each morning. Sure is a nice break from the noise of freeways, airplanes, sirens, helicopters, and politicians!

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“Home”

Our backyard is the Chilkat River in the Bald Eagle Preserve. Hundreds of bird species appear at different times of year, along with seasonal salmon runs. Each fall season, over 3,000 American Bald Eagles converge right here for the final salmon run on this continent, like an annual convention in Las Vegas.

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One of the 400 full-time residents of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

This summer marks our fourth year volunteering in Haines, Alaska as caretakers for Alaska State Parks. That basically means that we clean and stock outhouses, bring garbage into town, and keep the preserve clean. In return, we get to live in a small cabin in the woods. This one even has the luxury of electricity. There is no running water, but driving about 22 miles to fill containers with glacial fed spring water has a certain Zen feel to it. Our outhouses are only 100 steps away from the cabin.

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The watering hole

The small town of Haines (1900 pop) has no stoplights. Some folks don’t lock their doors. Others leave their keys in the car, parked “downtown” for friends that might need a lift. “Just let me know where you left it.” We have made some good friends here.

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Haines, Alaska

Alaska not only satisfies our senses, it overwhelms them. And we appreciate it!                       Ron Mitchell

 

Haines, Alaska: Eagles and More

We sit on the deck of the caretakers’ cabin in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, and watch eagles catch fish in the Chilkat River.

Gotcha!

Gotcha!

Rafters on tours float past us and wave, unless gazing at glacial jagged mountains. Most come from the many cruise ships docked in the “nearby” town of Skagway. A raft guide tells us, “We call this the ‘float and bloat’ because they’re used to four meals a day.” Another guide says, “We called them the ‘newlywed or nearly dead’ when I worked in Juneau.”

"Bloat and Float" down the Chilkat River

“Bloat and Float” down the Chilkat River

The swift current in this braided river never freezes. Upstream, a large portion of water sits under accumulated glacial sediments. This underground reservoir is insulated and stays ten degrees above freezing all year. As a result, the river hosts the final salmon run on the North American Continent, where around 4,000 American Bald Eagles converge in the fall for a final feast. It’s like a convention of nature’s executives convening in Haines instead of Las Vegas.

Waiting for the convention in the Fall

Waiting for the convention in the Fall

Mare and I catch a rare sunny day for our favorite hike up Mt. Riley. We have the moderate six-mile round trip trail to ourselves, and make noise in the thick woods to keep the bears at bay. Up top, we’re treated with views of the Lynn Canal – North America’s longest and deepest fjord.

360 Views found on top of Mt. Riley

360 Views found on top of Mt. Riley

We gaze over the Chilkat River, Haines, and the Taiya Inlet. We can practically see all the way to Juneau. Massive glaciers melted years ago, allowing this vista which includes optimal views of Rainbow Glacier and its iconic waterfalls.

Rainbow Glacier from the top of Mt. Riley

Rainbow Glacier from the top of Mt. Riley

Battery Point Trail undergoes constant repair. The trail head is right in town and thus one of the most popular hikes in Haines. Ranked as easy, the four-mile round trip takes you through forest and onto rocky beach lined with flowers including Queen Anne’s lace, cow parsnips and fireweed. I go for my pepper spray when we hear something crashing through the thick spruce, relieved when two eagles, instead of a brown bear, busts through.

Views from the Battery Point Trail

Views from the Battery Point Trail

I haven’t caught a sockeye yet, but have learned how to fish for Dolly Varden. These arctic trout/char, depending upon who you talk to, can get huge. I caught a five-pounder. They taste sweet and would delight any staunch meat-eater. It took three summers for one local fisherman to give up his secret spot to me.

Ron with some Dollys

Ron with some Dollys

Mare made friends with a young eagle while I was out of town on a family emergency. She calls him “Screamer” because he screams when she walks past on her daily morning stroll. Sure, Mare…how long have you been here in this cabin? So, she takes me on the walk, and there he is, in the same spot, screaming and then soaring over top of us for several moments. It happens every morning when Mare calls to him. We’ll see if after he grows up and his head turns white he’ll remember us.

Mare's pet eagle, "Screamer"

Mare’s pet eagle, “Screamer”

Still missing our dog Jack, Mare calls and chases what she thinks is a stray black dog. She later claims it was actually a black bear. I think that she has cabin fever, as we have seen no sign of bear. Then, this guy shows up in our backyard.

Mare's new "puppy"

Mare’s new “puppy”

This year’s cabin comes with electricity. What a treat to have a refrigerator, propane range, oil heat, and the ability to store food and freeze fresh fish! We get one radio station out here, KHNS, a community station. Especially love the listener personals, eclectic array of music, NPR and local news.

Backyard views

Backyard views

Bathrooms are outside of course, which we clean and stock for the general public. Out-houses never break down. We’ll drive 19 miles into the town of Haines for a shower once in a while and catch up on internet (spotty and slow). Then fill our containers with glacial fed spring water and our growlers with beer from the Haines Brewery.

Mountain peaks along the Chilkat River

Mountain peaks along the Chilkat River

So, here we are, sitting around our fire pit, staring at a fire, a raging river, and the surrounding jagged, glacial-pocked mountains.

Ron has not caught a salmon yet, but this guy has!

Ron has not caught a salmon yet, but this guy has!

We marvel at the eagles fishing skills, and our good fortune to see it all. Life is good.                 Ron Mitchell