Lucky days

bears, boulders, and butterflies

One lucky day in May, I hitched a ride to Pack Creek—a lovely, smooth flight each way. As soon as we arrived, we saw a mama brown bear and a big cub, digging clams far out on the tide flats. Mama noted our presence and went right on digging. There were two solitary bears on the north edge of the tide flat, but that didn’t bother her either. Some fine bear-watching continued for an hour or more.

One other person and I set off for the trail to the tower, leaving several others out on the mudflats, still watching. Just about then, mama decided that was enough clams and began to amble back up toward the forest. Her chosen path lay between the two groups of humans, so of course those on the mudflats courteously waited until mama and cub had strolled calmly back to the shady woods. Then the mudflat people could again move toward the trailhead, finding bear beds and bear trails above the beach.

A few days later, Parks and Rec hikers headed out to Blue Mussel cabin, passing through Cowee Meadows. The timing was just right for the first wave of flowers: pink shooting stars and yellow buttercups carpeted the open areas, with lots of yellow marsh marigolds in the sloughs. Spectacular, against the backdrop of the still-somewhat-snowy mountains. There was plenty of bear sign along the trail and the beach marmots were out on the rocks.

There has been a fair amount of work on the trail from the roadside parking to the Cowee Meadow cabin, and more appears to be in the works, judging from the big canvas buckets of crushed rock that lie not far from the trail in the woods. So some of the worst rooty mudholes may be a thing of the past before long. Yay—State Parks! (Now, how about fixing the window screens in the cabin!?)

Arriving at Blue Mussel cabin, there was birthday party with apple strudel and congenial chat with a couple of visiting folks from Whitehorse. The bouldery ‘beach’ right in front of the cabin is strewn with well-worn white granite boulders—a big contrast with the darker rocks on either side. Those round, pale boulders were rafted in on glacial ice, presumably from somewhere up Lynn Canal, several thousand years ago.

When the temperatures soar above sixty-five or seventy degrees, most Juneau folks think it is hot weather.

So our walk up toward Granite Basin on a recent sunny day, with temperatures about seventy five or so, seemed really steamy. But even in that heat, lots of songbirds were singing (warblers, sparrows, kinglets).

Someone spotted a pair of harlequin ducks in the basin. The male will only stay with her until she has laid all her eggs; he will then go down to the rocky points on the shores to loaf about with other males while she incubates the clutch of eggs. When they hatch, she will escort her ducklings downstream toward the sea. Later in the season we always look for flotillas of little ducks bobbing and paddling in the rapids. But I have to wonder how they negotiate Ebner Falls! Can they just flutter down over the turbulent waterfalls and skirt around the roiling waters where the creek makes sharp bends?

Photo by Bob Armstrong

The sides of the trail were decorated with swathes of white-flowered miners’ lettuce, dark pink flowers of rosy twisted-stalk, and several kinds of violets. Numerous white butterflies known as ‘margined whites’ flitted from flower to flower. The males are a clean white with some darker veins on the wings but the females are often somewhat yellowish. One male had found a female and spent long minutes with her instead of visiting flowers. She probably will lay her eggs on plants of the mustard family, such as the cresses. However, some members of this genus (Pieris) of butterflies also use other plants as hosts, and it will take a bit more digging in the literature to find out if our margined whites have a variety of host plants. It is possible that these butterflies may have two generations per year, one in spring and another in late summer.

Nugget Dam still holds firm, as water charges over it. I found that that, as usual, dippers are nesting in the dam itself. The parents were already busily feeding chicks before Memorial Day; the rate of feeding suggested that the chicks were quite sizeable and very hungry. I spent a happy half hour just watching the parents at work.

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