June tidepooling…

…and a bear story

A minus 4.5-foot tide drew us out to check the intertidal zone. As we strolled across a wide sandy stretch at the water’s edge, we were startled to see a frond of rockweed steadily disappearing into the sediments. A few steps later, another algal frond went quickly down and was gone from our view. Then it happened again. Very mysterious. Some buried critter was pulling in algae, but who could it be? The most likely perpetrators were horse clams, withdrawing their siphons as our steps shook the sands and thus pulling down algae that were attached to the siphons.

We found several Aristotle’s lanterns, the grazing apparatus of sea urchins, left behind by birds that had cleaned out the urchins’ soft innards. I was interested to see that every lantern had a ribbon worm wedged into the intricate structure.

The big whorl of Neptunea whelk egg cases that we found in May was still there, with the presumed parent still nearby. But now the egg cases were open. We had thought, in May, that the whelk was just-then laying the eggs, but a month is too short a time for them to have hatched, so some predator may have got them.

We often find sea stars that are missing one or two arms, and sometimes they are in the process of regenerating them. But on this day, we found a sea star that had lost four of its five arms, and the regenerating arms were still very small. With only one functional arm, this star would find it hard to pry open clams or mussels or pull big snails off the rocks. I’m guessing that it would have to rely on small prey that requires less manipulation, but regenerating four full arms would take a lot of energy. I wonder if any researcher has ever studied the energetics of regenerating missing arms or the possible changes of diet for sea stars with many missing arms.

I noticed two black oystercatchers, unusually quiet. Then I saw that those two were accompanied by another one—it was back-lit, so colors were not clear, but it was slightly smaller and had a shorter bill. Aha! Parents with a big chick. They moved off without fuss to another rocky point.

And now a bear story: Sometime in May, I came home and looked out my front window. There was something large and black in the spruce tree across the pond—right where the pulley line for the seed feeders is attached. The feeders hang over the pond, where the spill is relished by a bunch of mallards. The large black creature tugged repeatedly on the pulley line with her claws and then with her teeth, but to no avail. She gave up, came down the tree, and came around the pond into the yard to eat horsetails, then ambled all around the house, sniffed some primroses, and went back to the other side of the pond. There she climbed a small pond-side alder that bent low under her weight, so she was then balancing—and wobbling—over the water on a trunk that was much too narrow for her bulk. Soon she was upside-down under the alder, like a sloth. She let go with her hind feet, so then her butt was in the water, and used her front feet to inch her way sideways along the trunk to shore. She stood quietly on the bank.

Now the pair of mallards that had been watching her shenanigans from the safety of the middle of the pond began to take closer notice. Mr Mallard suddenly and loudly lunged at the peaceable bear on the bank—and she scampered quickly up a tree! After she came down, he did it again—and she scooted up another tree! And then she ambled off into the woods. A friend noted, later, that I have ‘watch ducks’.


An extended day…

expected and unexpected discoveries

When the day began, we only intended to stroll to Outer Point on Douglas in search of the spotted coralroot orchid. Rubber boots were needed for crossing Peterson Creek, but by the end of the day, I was wishing I had a change of footgear. Searching through the understory for some time, we finally noted some small spikes sticking up out of a old rotten log–a limited success, because they were not yet blooming. We’ll have to wait a week or two to get a good picture of the pinkish flowers.

Because the tide was low, we then ambled out along the long storm berm to Shaman Island. Dodging the war games of some rambunctious kids, I learned where to look or some super-sized barnacles down near the low tide line. I’d like to know more about these—are they a different species from the usually types that cluster all over the stones and mussel shells, or are they just unusually happy? (In Chile, where I spent many months in the austral springs, the giant barnacles are considered to be a delicacy!)

Photo by Bob Armstrong

By now, it was well past noon and both of us felt hungry and a little frail. But we decided to go up the Eaglecrest road to check on a willow tree that has been much used by sapsuckers, which drill sap wells in the bark and lap up the sap and any stuck insects. We found the tree, and a sapsucker arrived while we watched, so all the recent construction at this spot hadn’t destroyed the bird’s favorite lunch stop.

Best of all, a group of Plein Rain artists were gathered nearby, enjoying a chilly workshop with a visiting artist—and they had food! By managing to appear really wan and wobbly, we persuaded these very kind folks to feed us too! Many thanks to these good Samaritans! And the art work spread out along the walkway was very nice too—Juneau talent at work!

Reinforced by serendipitous sustenance, we decided to check out a bird nest down along Fish Creek. A short walk by the stream and a brief sit-down on the bank let us get a good look at the nest. At this point the sit-down was welcome, because my feet do not like walking or standing around in rubber boots.

Returning to the car over the new footbridge over Fish Creek, we hailed two other friends, also out for a walk. They had recently seen a female common merganser with eight chicks on one of the nearby ponds, and some of the little ones were riding on mama’s back. We inspected a beaver lodge and some recent beaver cuttings, and enjoyed a long chat.

Thus the day turned out to be much longer and far more social than initially planned. But that is not a complaint (even though my feet said otherwise…)!


The next day, three friends hitch-hiked a ride out to Portland Island. The crabapple trees were blooming, although they looked decidedly weather-beaten. The oystercatchers and Arctic terns had eggs and were incubating. Their nests in the sands of the upper beach are nothing more than a saucer-shaped depression, very difficult to spot and easy to crush accidentally, so it is not a good place to walk. One oystercatcher was implanted with a tracking device a few years ago, in order to learn a bit about migration patterns, but she is back again, nesting in almost the same location as in previous years, and incubating three eggs. For some reason, the wire antenna extended from her backside does not seem to interfere with mating or anything else. We got too close to her nest, and she put on a great broken-wing act, with much shrieking in protest. We left in a hurry!

The density of song sparrows was notably high. Some were feeding fledglings, which shrilled their begging calls from deep in the dense vegetation, and others were still feeding nestlings. Because they were still singing frequently, I suspect that they intended to start second broods.

A gang of gulls loafed around on a sandbar. They seemed very nervous, lifting off en masse every few minutes. Some of these flights were probably in fear of an eagle flying by, even if the eagle was far away and seemingly intent on something in the distance. Perhaps the gulls know from experience that eagles can look deceptively innocent but quickly become malevolent.