Whether sifting through sand, or scrambling over a rocky shore, it's about finding treasures in every day. 

Kelp Colored Mink

The big kelp fronds laying on the beach at low tide jiggled as something underneath bounced around like a cat playing under a blanket. I watched the serpentine path of the motion, and after a minute a mink popped out with a kelp crab in it's mouth. The mink quickly chomped the skinny-legged crab down and then followed it's pointy little nose back under the kelp to find more brunch.

American Mink (Neovison vison) licking the crab snack off of it's lips and getting ready to dive under the kelp for more.

So do you know how to tell an immature mink from a mature mink?

"Wanna see my food? Look! Hahahahaha, you can't stop looking!"

Definitely an immature mink. It appears to be eating a small eel.

This mink was especially curious. It popped up in several places to see what I was.

When the tide is out the table is set for these carnivores. At low tide they dine on purple shore crab, kelp crab, blennies, small sculpin out of tidepools, and chitons that they peel off of the rocks. Mink are good at fishing, too, and will slip in and out of fresh and salt water to take fish up to about a foot long. Their toes are semi-webbed; an adaptation to their aquatic lifestyle.

In the woods these members of the weasel family eat birds, eggs, mice, insects, and pretty much anything that they can sink their claws and teeth into. They are not into veggies, though.

There were four mink on the beach this day. Two of them were staying close to each other, and the other two were loners. Mink are usually solitary animals.

They seemed to have their own territories. The mink also had a large personal space. If they approached me then fifteen feet was okay. If I approached them then their tolerance ended at about thirty feet.

In the sun their coats were a pretty red-brown. In the shade, just brown. When the light was just right the mink and the kelp were almost the same color.

Two mink came over to check out the big newcomer. This limestone beach had mink-size caves and overhangs for them to run through and hide in.

You know that incredibly luxurious, soft mink coat that you petted in the store? If it was wild mink from Alaska then it was probably wallowing in kelp goo at some point.

Individuals may be identified by white markings on the chin, chest, and belly. Getting a mink to show you those voluntarily can be tricky at times.

Happy critter encounters to you!

Alaska Beachcomber

Check out more animals and birds in the Alaskan Critters index!

There's another mink and a cute crow story HERE.

My New Buddies: Sandpipers

Several species of sandpiper in flight.

This is the first time that I have spent time with the dainty sandpipers. They are delicate little feather puffs, and make tiny peeping sounds as they work the winrow of seaweed and wood bits pushed up by the tide. Those vocalizations gave the small sandpipers their nickname: peeps. Their long beaks probe and pick up amphipods, also called sand fleas or sand hoppers, and other small bits of food.

The dark legs, tiny size, and long, slightly down-curved beak suggest that this is a Western sandpiper (Calidris mauri).

There must be a really tasty morsel under there!

Now I could claim that I used some photographer prowess and a gigantic lens to take pictures of these cautious and tiny birds, but it would be a lie. I sat down and let the tide come in, bringing the birds with it. The birds got used to me sitting quietly, clicking now and then, and may have actually used me for cover.

The sandpipers kept an alert eye on the sky. When a raven flew anywhere near them they took flight until the corvid left.

The sandpipers tilted their heads often, watching the sky for predatory birds.

Sandpipers, brown side.

Sandpipers, white side. Hmmm, reminds me of Halibut.

But when the birds got close to me the ravens didn't fly over as much. Humans may be a source of picnic crumbs for ravens to lunch on, but wild country ravens usually keep their distance until the people leave. City ravens are a different bird, aren't they?

Once an immature bald eagle flew over and that was not cool with the sandpipers at all.

E-ew, it must be just about molting time. That eagle is looking pretty ratty.

Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri)

The sandpipers became comfortable enough to nap and preen right in front of me. Some of the sandpiper species are among the birds able to sleep with half of their brain at a time. These guys really can sleep with one eye open.

Sandpiper napping with one eye open.

There was a semipalmated plover hanging with the sandpipers. The plover took about an hour longer to get used to this big, clicking creature sitting on the beach.

Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) and two sandpipers.

This took place at Memorial Beach on the north end of Prince of Wales Island - one of my fave places in the whole wide world. There's no limit on favorite places right?

Memorial Beach on the north end of Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska.

Down the beach there was another flock, and they were flying more often. I wandered down there to visit.

A Western Sandpiper among the larger Dunlins.

Dunlins, also called red-backed sandpipers, were mixed with the peeps in that flock.

Dunlin (Calidris alpina)

 Here's some more images of my little buddies. I hope that you enjoy them.

May your day take flight!

Alaska Beachcomber

There are lots more bird posts in the Alaskan Critters index!

More on Memorial Beach on Prince of Wales Island:

 



Hello Prince of Wales Island!

A big chunk of my heart lives on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska.  When my sweetheart told me that he would be going to work on Prince of Wales Island (P.O.W.) this summer I was ecstatic!

Southeast Alaska has four of the ten biggest islands in the United States, and P.O.W. is the biggest of those four at 2577 square miles. Where POW has it all over Chichagof, Admiralty, and Baranof Islands, even more than just size, is in the number of communities and miles of roads.

Prince of Wales Island has nine communities on the road system: Coffman Cove, Craig, Hollis, Hydaburg, Kasaan, Klawock,  Naukati, Thorne Bay, and Whale Pass. Not connected by roads are Point Baker and Port Protection.

P.O.W. has over 2000 miles of roads. Only 105 miles is paved, and another 150 miles is improved gravel roads. That leaves miles and miles of logging roads to explore!

We ran the boat from Ketchikan, on Revillagigedo Island, to Thorne Bay, on Prince of Wales Island. It is a five hour trip in good weather. It took us six hours, so while Clarence Strait was bouncy, windy, and pretty rough in a couple of spots, it wasn’t so bad as to make an interesting story.

Floathouse and sailboat near Thorne Bay, Alaska. Pretty cool lifestyle, huh?

On the way in to Thorne Bay there are some floathouses anchored in little coves. Doesn’t this look like an interesting and fun way to live? Okay, it’s not for everyone, but it is perfect for some people.  Now you can’t just anchor a floathouse anywhere in Southeast Alaska, but if you talk to the right agencies, and fill out the paperwork, then there is just a chance that you will be able to get a permit to anchor a floathouse. Then keeping the house in place and afloat through wind and tide is its own challenge! But I won't go into that today.

There was a blustery westerly so people were out making sure things were secure around their floathouses.

Sort of gives new meaning to "living on the water," doesn't it?

Thorne Bay has a harbormaster, and he made sure that we were taken care of. This is a friendly town, and everyone has not only been outgoing and nice, they have included us in the community. So welcoming!

On an island with this much road we needed wheels. The Interisland Ferry Authority has daily ferry service between Hollis and Ketchikan. A friend brought our truck over on the ferry, so we had to go for a drive! Or two.

There is a LOT of road construction on P.O.W. this year. There is even a schedule of when the pilot car goes through with wait times of up to two and a half hours.

The views from the Sandy Beach road are just beautiful!

Beachcombers out enjoying the spring day.

There are stretches of nice, sandy beach along the Sandy Beach Road, but tidepools can make the rocky beaches far more interesting.

Parts of the island still have snow in late March and some of the side roads are impassible. The roads connecting communities are open, though.

Some of the roads still look like this in late March.

Many of the lakes still have ice on them.

Neck Lake, near Whale Pass is thawing.

Deer are regularly seen along the roads. On one drive we quit counting at a dozen. Most of them are does and fawns, but there is the occasional buck, too.

Sitka blacktail deer practicing a broadside presentation by the road.

They still have their winter coats on. Overall the winter was not severe, so most of the deer made it through in good condition.  We did see a couple of yearlings that had prominent hip bones, but they should fatten up on spring growth soon.

Sitka blacktail yearling. What a baby face!

By one of the beaches we found this hammock that appears to be crafted of old seine net.

I might just have to try that out on a summer day!

Happy Spring, Everyone!

Alaska Beachcomber

For more on floathouses, click here.

If it was fun to see the deer, check out more wildlife on the Alaskan Critters page!