a stranded coho, foraging dippers and a gang of orcas

There’s little I like better than rambling around the woods, meadows, and beaches, just seeing what’s to be seen. Sharing these little explorations with a like-minded friend is the best, but solo jaunts are good too. There is always something of some interest. Although November is one of the hardest times of year for curiosity-driven rambling, here are a few observations.

We walked the west-side beach of Mendenhall Lake toward the glacier, planning to return on the West Glacier Trail. The water level is low in the lake in winter, so the beach is broad and offers easy strolling. A few bits of interstadial wood poke up out of the silt and sand, probably washed down from the area next to the glacier terminus where the stumps of this old forest still stand. Windrows of dead alder leaves lie a remarkable ten to fifteen feet into the brush above the upper limit of the beach, suggesting that there must have been a tumultuous day on the water not very long ago.

Four ravens were focused intently on something in one of the shallow streams that course over the beach to the lake. As we approached, the ravens backed away, revealing a female coho lying on her side in about an inch of water. She appeared to be a relatively recent arrival, with no fungal patches at all. But she was missing the eye on the upper side and her gills on that side had been torn up—we thought she was dead. But not quite—she could still move a bit, although her eggs were beginning leak out. Her minutes were clearly numbered, but we gently moved her into deeper water so those last minutes might be slightly more comfortable. Of course, the ravens came back as soon as we moved on and finished their meals. The big question for us was how she got into this sorry situation. There were no wounds indicating that a bear or eagle had tried to grab her but abandoned her there. Was she just a late arrival, trying to get up this little creek to spawn and finding the water too shallow?

There were a few bear tracks on the beach, not very recent ones. However, the bruins (probably) were still around, because a few days later I found two fresh-looking lower jaws of coho lying in the middle of the trail (and they had not been there on our earlier walk). Of course in the water there was no sign of the poor, mauled female we’d seen earlier.

An informal trail cuts up from the end of the beach to the West Glacier Trail and crosses a tiny stream. There we spotted a pair of very shy coho consorting, and we quickly departed, leaving them in peace.

On the way back on the main trail, we accidently spooked three ravens on a very small creek on the hillside. They were squabbling over something, which on closer inspection turned out to be the picked-over remains of another coho.

Other members of the feathered tribe included a flock of juncos in the beach-fringe alders (and they were still there a few days later), maybe collecting alder seeds, and a kingfisher who was annoyed by our passing near its hunting perch. At the little pond partway up the side of the rock peninsula, a dipper foraged along the edge, diving and swimming, for several minutes before departing downstream.

On another day, well up the Perseverance Trail, a dipper was foraging in fast water, dodging in and out among boulders. It then spent several minutes on a single large, flat rock with shallow water sheeting over it. The bird worked over the surface of that rock assiduously, picking up numerous miniscule prey items—so tiny that they could apparently be swallowed immediately, without mandibulation. Possibly blackfly larvae??

On yet another day, after enjoying some swans floating about on the far side of Windfall Lake, we had some fun with a make-believe critter on the trail. We couldn’t put a name to it, so we just called it Mossy. A Rip Van Winkle sort of critter, sleeping for a long time? An escapee from the Ark? An antediluvian creature revisiting the earth? As I said, November can be a rather slow time for little explorations, so imaginations went a tad wild.

The real excitement was in Auke Bay (and I wasn’t there): a friend recorded a gang of orcas attacking a couple of sea lions—circling, circling, head butting, body slamming from above and side, flipping out of the water, tail bashing. Then quiet, cruising back and forth, presumably grabbing the pieces, and the gulls came to get the scraps. Maybe I should be spending more time near the big water!

Today, my verbal rambling may match the real rambling!

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