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

Just Ducky

A flock of Barrow's Goldeneye ducks zooms past, the trilling whistle of their wings tracing their path, fading around the point of the island, and then you hear the swoosh! of them sliding onto the water's surface.

Barrow's Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica)

They come to that shallow place to feed at low tide. They're wary, though, and keep a fair distance from humans.

Males are outfitted in formal black and white attire.

Male Barrow's Goldeneye

While females go for a softer look.

Barrow's Goldeneye female

Barrow's Goldeneye are a diving duck.

Barrow's Goldeneye female diving

Diving into cold saltwater to find crustaceans for lunch is part of how they make their living. This one was feeding on mussels that she pulled loose from the underside of a floating log. Watching her made me thankful that I can pull the refrigerator door open and warm food on the stove.

Barrow's Goldeneye female eating a mussel.

For a week there were four females that worked close to the boat. We came to call them "the girls." As the tide came in their foraging grounds were deeper and deeper, so the girls would paddle out near the piling where our boat was moored. Two logs have been tied to the piling for years, growing a nice crop of barnacles and mussels. The drakes stayed just out of camera range. The photo of the male above doesn't count. It was a foggy morning and he didn't expect me to be up that early.

The girls would paddle away if I stepped out on deck, but it was okay if I quietly opened a portlight to watch them. Well, sometimes they shot me a look.

They would feed for awhile, then preen. Grooming sometimes involves neck contortions for beak-in-wingpit feather adjustments. Then they have to shake it all out.

Sometimes more gracefully than others.

And off they all went on Barrow's Goldeneye business.

It's okay. They'll be back when the tide goes out.

Happy Foraging!

Alaska Beachcomber

A Springlike Day in February

Most of the snow has melted in Wrangell. It could snow two feet tomorrow, so I headed out in this pretty, partly sunny day to look around. A quick walk near the edge of the woods showed that the skunk cabbage felt the weather change and started to sprout. They are too early, and will be nipped back by frost. 

They are kind of creepy looking.

Skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) sprouts with the brown remains of last year's leaves around them.

The deer are getting there before the frost, though. There are several clues that the skunk cabbage sprouts below were nipped back by deer. 1) They are clipped off fairly cleanly instead of being rooted out by bears. 2) There were deer tracks in the snow patches. 3) There was other deer sign all over the place. I have spared you by not including pictures of that.

I've watched deer eating skunk cabbage sprouts and they often chew it with their mouths open, dropping bits, and looking uncomfortable. It probably burns their mouths. It is a good energy boost when not much else is sprouting, though, so they munch them right down.
Don't try to eat raw skunk cabbage. It WILL burn your mouth badly and could make you sick or kill you.

Skunk cabbage sprouts nipped off by a deer.

Skunk cabbage spadix and spathe in the snow. The plant has melted the snow around itself.

Skunk cabbage are very interesting plants, and I will do another post on them in early summer. They make their own heat! Just a little, but it is enough to melt some of the snow around them as they get started. The photo on the right was taken last year, a little later in the season.

Then I headed down to the harbor to see if all of the wildlife was still hanging around. Seals - check.

Seal.

Mallards - check.

Mallard male and female.

Mallards, reverse side - check.

I couldn't help it. They are so pretty that they deserve another picture.

Seagulls - check...I mean - of course! There are always seagulls.

Seagull paddling about at low tide.

Merganser - check.

Female common merganser.

Female common merganser.

There were lots of boats in the harbor, but I didn't take a boat picture till I drove out to the north end.

Trolling for winter kings in Back Channel.

It is SO beautiful out! I love living here! Wouldn't it be great to be out there on that boat fishing for winter king salmon? It is glassy calm and the sun is out. My fingers are cold, though. Wait...what is that?

It is Alaska Airlines turning final to land in Wrangell! The afternoon jet! There are two jets a day: one northbound and one southbound. Simple. Clean. Essential! There are no roads out of most Southeast Alaska towns. If you want to get in or out then it will be by plane or boat.

Fishing in February? Hah! It could snow for a couple more months here! I wanna go to Hawaii! Hey Jet, wait for me!