Monday, September 1, 2008
My family came out here in July to dispose of my dad's ashes and they only saw the sun briefly the entire week(maybe 4 or 5 hours combined) but the first time was when we were putting Dad's remains out to sea which allowed my brother in law Paul to take some great photos. My sister used her new Apple PC to make a beautiful video of the memorable day. You can see the video from the link I'm attaching to my "favorites" on this website on the right hand side. When you see how "sunny" the photos are you'll realize the kind of summer we had here.
There were some truly awesome days that felt like paradise (4 or 5) though. Like the day the family and I went to Tracy Arm aboard a tour boat and got to see the harbor seals hauled out on the ice with the glacier calving in the background and the boat navigating the canyons working its way through the ice and then inching up so close to waterfalls that some folks on the bow of the boat were actually able to dunk their heads under the icy cold water. I managed to catch some dungeoness crabs and halibut while watching humpback whales, Orca, sea lions, seals, harbor porpoise and Dalls porpoises all during the two or three nice days. I guess that's the reward we get for living in someplace so beautiful and remote and tolerating the bugs and the rainiest summer in decades! Anyway that's all for now. I'll try to add some photos next chance I get although that might not be until later this fall the way things have been going. I hope things are well in your neck of the woods!
Friday, July 4, 2008
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Nature is always fascinating and even though it can be harsh. We saw quite a bit of evidence of this while out doing surveys. I came upon the bones of a black bear cub that had been eaten by wolves on P.O.W. island. We saw some cubs and subadult black and brown bears that seemed to be having a tough spring. But there were also alot of animals that seem to be doing well like the Sea Lions hauled out on the south end of Catherine Island and all the seals, porpoises and humpback whales that were out feeding in the frigid waters around the islands we worked on. We need those kinds of sights around here to put up with the short rainy days in the fall.
After returning from all the deer pellet work we had just a few days to get settled before we headed to Pack Creek again. I got there around June 22 last year and it was cool to see the bears feeding out in the meadows and occasionally see a subadult bear approach close but things didn't really pick up until the salmon run in July. This trip was quite different and definitely kept us on our toes. We rode out there in the 19 ft work skiff for almost five hours in 3-4 foot seas. While we weren't in any danger, it wasn't exactly enjoyable except for the fact that it was sunny and the mountains were spectacular. Well at least when I could see them once in awhile after my eyes finally stopped burning from all the salt water that would crash over the bow and soak my classes and rain gear. After we arrived at our camp on Windfall Island we had to set up the wall tent and then we were finally able to relax for a bit while one of our coworkers that flew out earlier made steaks on the fire.
The next day we used the skiff to cart a 250 gallon tank back and forth between Admiralty and Windfall Island were we keep our camp. This involved the use of three fire pumps which the forest service has on back packs for firefighting. Basically a pump with a lawnmower type pull start. We could only fill the tank with 150 gallons of water at time or the boat wouldn't be able to go fast enough to get anything accomplished. The guys that have worked there for years developed a really efficient system so that in less than five hours we had shuttled 7 or 8 tank fulls which was enough to fill the 1,000 gallon tank on our island with some left over for to flush the filters.
The next task was to go over to pack creek and take care of several downed trees that were lying across the trails. In some places they would just let them be but we can't do that because if people veer too far off the trail they could surprise one of the bears that frequent the area. After we finished cutting the trees and hauling wood off the trails we walked up to the viewing tower a mile into the woods. It's a very cool spot and the beavers were quite active over the winter so we noticed some new damns and as if we had planned it they thinned a few of the areas that were blocking some of the better bear viewing so that will help at least a bit this season.
Finally, on June 1st my coworker and I went over to the south spit to meet a plane with visitors and upon arriving noticed a subadult that we think we recognized from last year. The bear wasn't afraid of us and frequently when young they'll approach to "test" you. They get sick of being bullied by the other bears but also don't have mom around as back up so it's almost like they decide to see if they can find a situation where they can be the boss.
We always stand our ground and sometimes even have to give them some gentle encouragement to move away if they get too close. Since the young bear was coming we moved away from the treeline so we could pay attention to what it was doing and keep on eye on our human guests as well.
The bear headed down the beach past us and then suddenly ran off the down the beach after it heard something in the trees nearby. As we watched and listened we soon heard some brush moving and saw a young female bear pop out of the woods. Then we heard branches breaking like all hell was breaking loose inside the trees and a huge male came out huffing and puffing following her sent all the way down the beach until she jogged away. We waited about 20 minutes since that was the direction we were headed and then we walked around the corner to the viewing spit only to see the male out eating sedges. He was such and impressive animal with huge hump and probably as big as any bear I saw last year except that this spring and this bear will gain a ton more weight by the time it dens up for the winter after feasting on salmon, berries and plants.
After about a 1/2 hour the female popped out of the woods and the male started huffing again so she came right up to us probably for protection from him. Despite our shouting she came withing about 8 feet before stopping and then barely changed course as she walked along about 6 feet away from me. It's pretty amazing how much more I know than last year. This bear was closer than any I've ever seen an yet I wasn't nearly as nervous as the beginning of last summer when they would come within 30 feet. Anyway thankfully the male stayed out in the sedge until she was well clear of us and then decided to move on off after her. She seemed somewhat interested but I guess they wanted some privacy so we never got to see if she cooperated.lol
The next day we got to see a sow and cub from last year and the cub was over 100 lbs. It's pretty amazing watching these coastal brown bears knowing that the bears on the Alaska Peninsula are even bigger and not quite as big as the bears on Kodiak! I was recently sent photos of an 11 year old black bear sow from MN that weighed only 165lbs.
The final bit of drama was when the same young subadult from the day before was out eating sedge and then got chased by the female right toward the viewing spit! The young bear ran around us within 50 feet but the female just ran right across the edge of the spit within 25-30 feet at a full sprint. Well I guess that's all for now. I'm hoping that after the first two days the rest of the season won't seem boring. But I doubt that since we've gotten reports of lots of cubs this year and a group of film makers from PBS are shooting an episode called "Fortress of the Bears" due to air hopefully next winter. There's even a slight chance that some of us will be on the show although I'm guessing it won't be the new guy.
Check out this website for some of the photos I took. I'll add more here later if I have time.
Sunday, April 27, 2008
It's pretty amazing here in spring we've had temps up near sixty last week but on the clear days it was down to low 30s at night with everyone(except me it seems) seeing the northern lights.lol
Everytime we get sunny weather I'm reminded of how amazing the mountains are. Since Juneau is at sea level a 2,000 ft mountain seems gigantic. The other day I hiked up the Spaulding Meadows trail and decided not to bring the snow shoes because everything down low was snow free and the trails are pretty packed. Once I get up there I discovered some of the nicest views in Alaska and the snow was so deep that tree wells(pockets created at the base of conifers) were five feet deep in some places. If I walked off the packed trail I'd break through up to my thighs and have to post hole my way around.
The outer point trail is really nice because it gives good views of coastal Alaska. You can find sea anemonies, gulls, seals, harlequin ducks, barrows goldeneye, ravens, crows, eagles and of course mountains!
I'm about to start field work again very soon traveling to Sitka, Prince of Wales and then possibly somewhere else before I go to Pack Creek and the bears again at the end of May. I recently spent a week helping a biologist measure moose browse, collected pellet samples(aka moose poop) and then stayed behind for a few days working solo in order radio track in to find a few wild moose to see if they still had their calves.
After the week was over I'm pretty sure that I had about 15LBS of moose poop quadruple bagged in with my gear for the ride back to town on the Cessna. I got on the plane and barely had my seatbelt buckled when the other passenger complained to the pilot that the week before some new pilot(from a different air taxi) had forgotten to switch the fuel tanks and the engine quit so this guy puts on his life vest while the pilot is tapping the gauges and trying to figure out what happened.LOL! I was about to mention that it may be bad luck to discuss that kind of thing before you even get in the air when our pilot told a story of his own. Apparently when he was new the same thing happened to him with a plane load of tourists. He covered by saying "look at that moose down there" and then circled around the "moose" until the fuel line flowed again and they were none the wiser. I love to fly but it's occasionally very interesting as it was that day flying back in the snow with the pilot looking at the steering wheel of the plane 90% of the time because that's were the mapping instrument was and visibility was so low it was almost pointless to look out the windows until we got much closer to Juneau Airport.lol
This is a cow moose with last springs calf(a bull). She was one of the less cooperative moose I tracked that week. She was initially close but it took over an hour to finally sneak up enough to see the calf bedded down nearby. They were nice enough to stand up for a photo and then decided to continue browsing a bit further away.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
The snow was so deep that the moose seem to be using the creek beds to escape the wolves in the area. I quickly learned after sinking into deep snow that the moose were taking the smart approach. The weather was so perfect I couldn't help but smile.
Here I am preparing to "collect" a pellet sample.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
The longer days are good because they allow more time for field work. I recently got to help some of the best people in the busisness work on a moose study. After working at the Moose Pens on the Kenai I had learned an awful lot from the top moose people in the state which came in handy since it was my first time working out of a helicopter to capture moose. I have seen it from above several times but actually landing next to rivers and flying just over tree tops and seeing the places that the pilots can land was incredible! These studies are very important to the survival and management of moose populations so it was amazing to be able to help.
I've been around helicopters dozens of times during medical evacuations of critically ill patients down south but this was quite different. The main difference is that most of the medical evacuations where I came from included a fire department setting up a landing zone that was very safe and often the helicopter rotor was shut down until after the patient got loaded and everyone was safely clear of the rotors.
Field work in the wilderness using a helicopter is a totally different and amazing experience. First of all at the beginning of the day the helicopter lands and the door is remove on the passenger side and the rest of the day you fly without the door on that side! This is to facilitate safely and accurately darting the animal with tranquilizing drugs. To make the helicopter as maneuverable as possible they drop two of us off while the biologist goes with the pilot and darts the moose. Then depending on the situation he stays with the moose and we get picked up and dropped off as close as possible to the tranquilized moose. This means that for almost the entire day you climb out and stand on the skids of the helicopter with the rotor still going and grab your gear then while ducking low enough to avoid decapitation you try to walk on the snow hoping not to break through into the deeper stuff which slows you down alot. Often the helicopter is using some rotor power to keep from sinking into the snow and tipping over.
Once you move out of rotor range you get down on one knee with you're back to the chopper and get blasted by a huge rush of air and snow blowing at you and into any part of your clothes that aren't sealed tight. The wind is so strong that on one occasion I made the mistake of kneeling on both legs and when it took off it would have knocked me over if my coworker hadn't grabbed me. Once out of rotor range we had to get to the moose as fast as one can while occasionally breaking through up to our waist in the snow(in one case I was chest deep for several minutes). We were in chest waders and often got to the moose in or near streams. I soon learned from the experienced guys that if you could make it into the stream you could move much faster by walking in the stream as long as you could get back up the snow bank when you got close enough to the moose.
Imagine trudging across deep snow and through icy cold streams(I'm so glad they told me I needed insulated waders) and then reaching a moose that ways 800-1100lbs and lays down wherever it wants to. The biologist I got to work with is amazing and often had blood drawn before we even got to the moose. However, on some occasions the moose had layed down in streams and one of us had to hold it's head above water until after the work was done and the reversal drug had kicked in. This meant waiting until the last possible moment and then getting as far away as possible to avoid stressing the moose any further.
Where there's moose there are usually also wolves. While we were working on moose the spotter plane saw several moose kills and one was so fresh that the wolves were still feeding on it. Everywhere we went there were tons of tracks nearby and we even had to land on an old carcass to collect bone, teeth and what was left of an old radio collar. We can encourage hunters not take moose with collars(although they sometimes still do) but the wolves really don't care which moose they hunt as long as it's slow enough to kill. It always amazes me to see how clean the bones look after the wolves, ravens, magpies, etc. are done with it. As you can imagine it was a very interesting day. It was much needed after months of dull data entry. The field season is finally coming up again soon so I'll be away from the computer for up to to weeks at time but hope to update when possible. Thanks all the great comments on the blog. I'll try to update with photos as soon as I can get them from the gang.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
After extricating myself I decided to change the plan since I was solo hiking and didn't bring my snow shoes. I drove down the road a place called "otter point" that I hiked in 2003 with my parents. It's a very cool walk through the rainforest down to the rocky coast of the Gastineau Channel. When I got to the shoreline there were hundreds of Surf Scoaters along with Barrows Goldeneye, Harlequin Ducks, Mergansers and even a few harbor seals swimming around. Most of the birds were too far for good photos but it seems like the migration is in full swing. It's been warm enough that there's even been reports of bear activity in parts of southeast.
The best part of spring though is more daylight. Even before we turned the clocks forward we've had longer days. Today it was light out at about 6:45AM until almost 7PM which is having and effect on us all. When I first moved here a friend told me that winter everyone drags around in slow motion and then when spring hits the "manic" phase begins. I'm already starting to feel it alittle although not as much as when I lived on the Kenai where the sun is out longer an even the Moose get stir crazy! I just figured I'd give everyone an update since it's been awhile. No photos this time.lol
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
It's a been a while since I've had a chance to update and I haven't had a chance to take too many photos but I was sent an email today with some of the craziest photos I've seen yet. First of all boating in Southeast Alaska can be quite dangerous with very rough seas, ice bergs, rocky shorelines and lots and lots of "dead heads" which are basically big logs that wash out with the high tides and storms that you can collide with and severly damage a boat hull. All summer long there were almost daily messages from the Coast Guard looking for missing boats, etc. Okay so now it's Febuary and we had a severe storm warning all weekend with about 18 inches of snow and winds 45 up to 80mph gusts at times the worst of which occurred on Saturday. One of my coworkers Lavern Beier lives on an awesome boat down at the harbor which isn't uncommon in Juneau. He relayed the following crazy story and photographs. Apparently a this commercial fishing boat drove 14 hours on Saturday from Cape Fanshaw to Juneau with salt spray and snow blasting across the vessel with higher winds coming from the starboard side of the boat. It was dark and they were using instruments and so much ice built up that they had to hold a heater against the windshield to keep about a 6 inch hole for visibility. The fact that there was more water hittting the starboard side and the weight of the ice was surely thousands of pounds didn't phase these lunatics despite the fact that an experienced captain like LaVern immediately recognized the fact that the boat was listing because of the weight of the ice and could have very easily capsized with one wrong wave. When he walked up to the boat they were taking photos with their cell phones to send to their girlfriends and when he mentioned that it was risky business they said something like "that's what fishermen do".LOL! Here's a tip for anyone who wants to visit AK. Most of the locals are much more adventurous than people from out of state(including me) so if they people here say that what your doing is crazy then your life expectancy is probably greatly reduced! Enjoy!
Saturday, January 26, 2008
This one is "downtown" Juneau a few miles from where I live. I stopped in for groceries after taking advantage of the sunshine and doing some photography. It was about 4:00 PM and the sun was still shining with blue sky and the moon was out over the mountains. I decided to take a few quick photos. I'm beginning to gain a lot more respect for professional photographers.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
This photo is looking out the sliding glass door in the back of the house. The woods do a good job of hiding the "highway." We had all this snow when I took the photos and then after I rested for two days due to jet lag it was rained quite a bit turning the whole place into a slushy ice festival. It's interesting driving on inch thick ice almost made me feel like I was back on the ALCAN last winter.lol
After the slush fest the following weekend was bright and sunny and Monday was overcast but cold enough to avoid any possibility of rain. I found out there was still some snow out tby the glacier and lots more "out the road" so here's one photo I took while attempting to learn how to use the new camera(Nikon D40). I'll have more photos in my next post. Since everyone has been asking me for pictures I wanted to add this quick update.