Exploring the shores

of Lincoln Island

Our tents were securely tucked into the forest above a broad beach, a kitchen rainfly was stretched in a sheltered spot in case of storm, and we were free to start exploring. Parts of the forest on Lincoln have had lots of wind-throw, making huge tangles, and most of our wanderings were focused on beaches and the beach fringe.

Off we went in our kayaks, accompanied by jumping salmon and numerous tiny fish (?herring) flipping up into the air. We chose to paddle up the west side of the island, hoping to stop at beaches for mini-explorations. For me, this turned out to be difficult, because the so-called beaches were made of big cobbles, on which I have trouble walking, much less toting a kayak up to a safe parking place. But with some help, it proved manageable, if somewhat humiliating.

Explorations were rewarding in several way, however. Most impressive were the rocky cliffs that bordered most of the beaches. How I wished I knew some geology! Even to my ignorant eyes, the exposed rocks were greatly varied, changing as we rounded the curving shores. How much ancient history is tied up in those old layers, fractures, twists, and tilts! One boulder at the base of a cliff bore markings like those of a petroglyph; does Mother Nature make those too?

Many of the cliffs were damp, with tiny cascades and dribbles of rainwater. They held small but lovely gardens of columbine, harebells, butterworts, and mosses. I usually see butterworts in bogs, or on gravelly soils (such as on Gold Ridge, and also near the glacier), and other nutrient-poor sites where their insectivorous habit is so useful; this was my first cliff-hanging stand of the species.

Oysterplants sprawled over the sand on the uppermost beaches. We noted that the flowers were often white, in addition to the more usual blue. Bees seemed to like them both. We found cottonwood branches, with new leaves, that showed clear signs of beaver chewing and wondered where they originated. A river otter den on a small headland was served by at least six entrances, and a family of otters swam by, including at least three young ones.

Just coming into bloom at the tops of the beaches was the robust plant called beach groundsel or seaside ragwort; its huge leaves set off the cluster of yellow flowers at the top. I was fascinated by the structures around each flower. Small leaves arc over the cluster of buds. Each flower bud is circled by thin arches, each of which supports a gauzy curtain of material that drapes over the bud; the whole array closely surrounds the developing bud. Protection of some sort, I imagine, perhaps from desiccation. But some insect is able to penetrate the shielding structures and destroy the buds, leaving only blackened remains. I would love to understand more about the functioning of all those floral parts.

We did a little tide-pooling on a small minus tide, finding lots of familiar things and three new (to us) kinds of anemones (two brown ones with unusual tentacles and one brilliant orange one with lots of babies all around it). The most notable aspect of this intertidal habitat, for me, was the abundance of hermit crabs that carried shells much too small for the size of the crab. Most of these crabs, no matter how large, bore tiny periwinkle shells that covered only the tip of the crabs’ abdomens, leaving most of the body exposed. Only two of the many hermits owned whelk shells big enough for the owner to withdraw entirely into the shell’s protection. It seems that the supply of suitable shells here is very limited. Could the crabs go elsewhere in search of good housing? Does the lack of protection mean that these crabs have higher mortality than crabs with lots of available shells? Why are empty snail shells so few here? Lots of questions, as always, but they are sometimes as much fun as answers.