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.

A Trip to the North End of P.O.W.

Along the northern part of Prince of Wales Island is a road system that gives access to fairly remote places. The roads are a legacy of the logging activity in the last century. While the U.S. Forest Service is shutting a lot of the roads down, there are still many miles to explore. The 'main line' is Forest Road 20, running 124 miles from Hollis to Labouchere Bay. Miles and miles of side roads branch off of the 20 road.

I headed up there, stopping at the community of Whale Pass on the way. At the harbor in Whale Pass one of the signs of spring was in strong evidence. Currents have concentrated pollen from the trees that has landed on the water. There are times when a breeze lifts tree pollen off of a forested hillside in a greenish-yellow cloud.

Pollen on the water by the Whale Pass dock.

I made a stop at Cavern Lake to walk down the short trail and look at the lake's outfall creek coming out of a cave. A lot of the northwest portion of this huge island is limestone, creating wonderful features such as caves and fossil beds.

Then I stopped at the lake to fish up a bit of dinner. In just a few minutes a fifteen inch cutthroat trout hit the small Pixee spoon, and the fish was just the right size for dinner and breakfast.

Sport caught cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki) must be between 11 and 22 inches long. This one was 15 inches, and made dinner and breakfast for one.

Along with signs of spring like deciduous trees leafing out, flowers popping open, and the dusting of pollen coating the hood of the truck, the bucks are sprouting antlers. By fall those stubby nubs will be curving, finely pointed crowns of bone to use in challenging other bucks during the rut.

It is shedding season now, also, and tufts of deer hair litter the ground. Some birds use the deer hair in nest building. Speaking of birds, the bird watching was great fun.

At Memorial Beach I moved slowly, and the sandpipers allowed me to be close to them. They were so cool that I will do a separate post about them.

Sandpipers in flight

Sitka Blacktail buck (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) starting to grow antlers for the season.

Memorial Beach has sandy/gravelly stretches interrupted by limestone outcrops with intriguing tidepools. Beachcombing here is more than pretty pebbles and shells. Curious mink worked the rocky areas at low tide.

Interesting beach pebble

Mink (Neovison vison) look for food in the seaweed at low tide on Memorial Beach, Prince of Wales Island, Alaska.

While I was enjoying the sunset at Memorial Beach, a cruise ship was just to the north in Sumner Strait. The passengers must have been enjoying the beautiful evening, too.

Since I was full up on fish I didn't try out any of the many streams that the road bridges, but did stop to enjoy their beauty. Red Creek, Big Creek, Alder Creek, Buster Creek, and more look very inviting.

Red Creek still has the bridge support from the old road.

Calder Mountain, a great, gray, bald peak, is a major limestone landmark. It is not far to Labouchere Bay from where Calder Mountain is visible. Lab Bay is at the end of the 20 road, and used to be a large timber sortyard. The sortyard is empty now, and mostly grown over. There is a place to drive down and see a nice sunset across Lab Bay if you get there in the evening.

A little road to the north of the old sortyard goes to a spot where people from Port Protection and Point Baker skiff across to the road system. It is a long, long drive from there to the grocery and hardware stores in Thorne Bay, Klawock, or Craig.

Calder Mountain on Prince of Wales Island, Alaska

The geology of this island is fascinating, and bits of it are evident in the rock pits and road cuts. On the north end I found calcite crystals, interesting conglomerates, and fossils.

Calcite crystals in the face of a rock pit.

There are various colors of metaconglomerate stone on POW.

Brachiopod fossils look similar to cockle shells, but were a different creature.

I was told about the location of some brachiopod fossils. I didn't find any of the beautiful whole 3.5" specimens that others did, but was happy to find a few partially exposed brachiopods. Thanks for the tip, Cliff!

Holding a 400 million-year-old brachiopod makes me aware that I can't even fathom that amount of time...even if the younger generation thinks that I was there when those fossils formed.

Three times as I drove along I caught glimpses of bears. As soon as each one saw the truck it turned and kicked up gravel while running into the woods. The bears here get hunted and they know it.

You know the sarcastic old question -  Does a bear poop in the woods? Send the next smarty pants that pops off with that one to this site for the answer: NO. The bear goes on the logging road, and by mid summer the road is dotted.

There has been a lot of timber taken off of Prince of Wales Island, so it may sound like the place has been mowed. It is the third largest island in the United States, though, after the Big Island of Hawaii and Kodiak Island, so there is lots and lots of old growth standing.  Being in the midst of giant trees inspires feelings of awe and reverence...and smallness. There is also a calmness to deep timber, that seeps into my being. I wish I could take every one of you into the woods to breathe good air and get to know the place.

Huge spruce and hemlock trees reach for the sun.

The north end of Prince of Wales Island calls to me. On the way back to Thorne Bay I was already feeling the pangs of being away. While there I gathered field mint for tea, violet leaves and flowers as snacks, other greens to eat, and photos of wildlife, plants, and scenery. It was more than that, though; the chatter of everyday life faded and I gathered peace of mind. It was a good outing.

Wishing you the peace and beauty of natural places,

Alaska Beachcomber

More around Prince of Wales Island:

Other posts with critters: An Alaskan Porcupine, The Doe Report, Long Tailed Ducks

Whales, Mink, and Crows

One of the beauties of living aboard a boat is casting off the lines and taking the whole house with on a little trip. We did that last week, starting on a cloudy day, and cruising down Zimovia Strait to moor at the pilings in front of the cabin. Along the way there were five whales feeding. They surfaced here and there, two of them moving individually, and three keeping close company.

Humpback whales blowing. 

They are amazing creatures to watch, and I never tire of seeing them.  We didn't see any bubblenet feeding or breaching, but it was fun to watch the whales surface and dive.

Activities for the week-long outing were varied. We explored in the skiff, hiked up hillsides, and enjoyed seeing some wildlife.

We spent one boat day when it was pouring rain out. My sweetheart pulled gallon bags of wild blueberries out of the freezer and made 24 pints of jam and syrup. I helped ladle hot jam, clean jar rims, and clean up. Days of picking blueberries in late summer make lots of sense when there is a blueberry pie in January, and yummy jam all year.

The boat moored to the pilings at the cabin. 

While out in the skiff we saw a mink darting in and out of the rocks along a beach. It was eating the small purple shore crab that tuck into the crevices and tide pools between tides.

Mink (Neovison vison ) 

This guy is just under two feet long.  

Mink are members of the weasel family with sharp teeth and claws and high quality fur. Their motions are quick, so I often see just a flash of brown and then they are gone.

This guy was busy and didn't pay much attention to the skiff. 

Mink eating a purple shore crab. 

American mink (Neovison vison)  peeking out between barnacles and seaweed. Don't let that little face fool you. This mink will shred your hand if you try to pet it.

The mink found a treasure trove of mink food - the remains of a large fish, so we left as the lucky little guy was gorging itself. 

There is an occasional pebble or sand beach here, but most Southeast Alaska beaches are unfinished. Some are downright raw; stone set on edge, illustrations of the power of tectonic processes. Still the temperate rainforest finds foothold in the bedrock, topping rugged shorelines with tangled vegetation.

 Maybe the shore in the photos to the right and below will be refined into a walkable beach in, say, a bazillion years.

So let's not dwell on that. 

As we motored by an exposed reef we saw a murder of crows feeding on wild crow food - snails, mussels, and other beach creatures. They have quite a buffet when the tide is out.

They discussed the proximity of humans in a skiff and decided to depart.  

And they all took off. 

All except Frankie.  

With everyone else gone, Frankie found that the buffet was laid out for his personal, private feast. Frankie got right to work making the best of the situation.  

He would catch up to the flock when he was full. Not a problem finding them, their cawing could be heard for two miles.

May you always see the sunshine in the situation,

Alaska Beachcomber

More posts with whales:

Hardworking Whales

Humpback Whales at Point Baker

And sea otters! Sea Otters, Seals, and ...an Eagle?