Friday, July 11, 2008

Third time is indeed the charm

So, I went to the library - discovered they were about to close. Then I went to Mugz coffee shop - I couldn't get hooked up to the internet. Then dear, sweet, sweet Kaladi Brothers Coffee shop was the charm, and alas, here I am writing another blog entry.

As I mentioned in the previous, I didn't get a chance to relay all of my exciting adventures here. So I'll begin with telling you about what I did about 3 or 4 weeks ago with one of the refuge's biologists. An e-mail was forwarded to me and the rest of the SCAs detailing a notice that one of the biologists was looking for volunteers for a snowshoe hare survey he would be conducting later in the week. So of course, I jumped on the opportunity and went with him, his two sons, and Julia. Lo and behold, we find out that our survey involved us counting hare "pellets" - i.e. poop - for the entire day. Although some of you might find this disgusting and boring, it was actually enormously fun. The area where we went was in complete wilderness, so Julia was assigned to carry a shotgun and I, on the other hand, had my trusty bear spray attached to my belt. We had to travel through thick forest and navigate our way across the grid with a map and a compass. There were no trails - just a smattering of tape markings leading the way from plot to plot. And I do not exaggerate when I say "smattering." Many times there weren't any we had to bushwhack for a while until we got back to where we thought we were supposed to be. We saw bear prints, moose prints and other animal paraphernalia while we were out, but no actual animals.

To do the actual survey, we had two metal pieces that we attached together to form a square. Once we got to the plot (marked by iron rods in the ground), we put down the metal square, and counted as many hare pellets as we could find within the square. If there were pellets right outside of it, we couldn't count them - as we were testing how often snowshoes use certain areas of a grid. We also had to make sure that we didn't confuse those pellets with porcupine they look really similar - but there IS a difference. (Fascinating discussion about fecal matter, isn't it?) Anyway, I think the most poop we found in one plot was 60 pellets...but we were beaten out by Toby (the biologist), who found over 150 pellets in one plot!

This is me, with my trendy bug head net, marker tape attached to my backpack strap, Xtra Tufs secured on feet, and snowshow hair poop in my hand. Check.
This is a little spruce grouse chick. They are sooooo cute. On our way out from the bush, we happened across this little chick. We were peturbed by the fact that it was all alone...and then within a matter of seconds, I hear this weird whirruping (I know it's not a word) noise, and then out of nowhere wings, feathers, and Hell in the form of Momma Spruce Grouse flew right at my face. I nearly died. It's funny...because if you were here to see the string of photographs I had taken at that point...they get gradually blurrier - as I first get a nice in focus shot of the chick, then a couple of ones even closer - then a photograph of momma, then a shot where you can't see any shapes or forms except for blurred streak - because at that moment in time, I was under attack.

Anyway, I know I said that I'd be telling you about looking for dead guys on boats. Correction: just one dead guy. Please forgive the desensitized way in which I mention a poor man who has yet to be found, most likely laying at the bottom of Skilak Lake. A couple of weeks ago, a father and his two sons went rafting down the Kenai River and were fishing. All wore a life vest except for the father. Suddenly, all three were thrown or fell overboard (I don't know how) and a huge search team had to go out to find them. Helicopters, planes, law enforcement officers on boats and rafts all went looking for the three men. Thankfully, the two boys were found - and still alive. But the father has yet to be found. So, nearly two weeks ago now, on one of my days off, I had called up one of the law enforcement officers and asked if I could tag along with him that day - and that day happened to be when he would be taking part in the "cadaver search," as they so-called it. So, more or less, it was an excuse for me to hang out on a boat all day. I hate to sound morbid - but it was fun. We left at 8 in the morning for Skilak Lake, got in a boat, and patrolled the lake and the river from which it feeds all day. We went out with two other law enforcement officers (one on a bigger boat, the other on a raft) and two trainers and their dogs. So we had search dogs with us as well. It was really cool...even if they were useless.

We weren't successful - so the guy has yet to be found - could turn up in months - or he may never show up. It's always weird when you hear about these stories - because they usually happen to residents. That guy was from Anchorage. I think residents feel as if they know the area and how it is...but don't really take it as seriously as they should.

Here's a photo of one of the dogs. He looks really cute with his little life vest, huh? It was amazing watching him get so excited to get on the boat. These were water dogs, no doubt about it.

This is a photo of a merganser and her ducklings that we saw while we were out on the boat. I'm pretty sure she had 11 of 'em. I couldn't believe how many she had. They were so cute. Some of them were sitting on her back. Awwww.View of the mouth of the Kenai River meeting Skilak lake, and the Kenai mountain range in the background. It was a beautiful, sunny day in which I gained a little bit of tan on my face. I've discovered that you're not considered a true Alaskan unless you sport the "Alaskan tan."
I'm sure most of you can guess what that is...a tan on the face, the neck if you're lucky - and your hands. Because that's mainly what sees sunlight - as the rest of your body parts are covered in clothing. So I'm sporting the Alaskan tan in full swing...with my face and hands fairly brown, starkly contrasted by the milky whiteness of my neck and forearms.

Anyway, that day I drove my first boat. Sam and Eve were surprised that I hadn't driven a boat before....and quite frankly, I'm kind of surprised myself. I've been on a boat plenty of times...just haven't driven one before. So Rob (one of the officers) gave me the reigns, taught me how to control the motors, and I drove around Skilak Lake and Doroshin Bay for a good hour or so. It was a really good day.

I think the very next day - I worked the contact station (which is 40 miles outside of town) and then decided to go on a short hike after my shift. On the way to the trailhead, not even two minutes after having turned down Skilak Loop Rd., a large (probably two-year-old) black bear ran right out in front of me (while I was in the car). It was not even three feet in front of the car. Then, less than 5 minutes later, I started passing the Bear Mountain Trailhead and slammed on my breaks, as I saw a black bear out of the corner of my eye - and fittingly, saw it right next to the "Bear Mountain" trailhead sign. The bear was sitting down, nonchalantly feeding on Devil's Club as if it didn't have a care in the world. I watched it for about 15 minutes, took some really good pictures, and then thought, well, better get going. Thankfully, I stayed just a minute too long - and noticed two little heads poking out of the grass. It was a momma bear and her two cubs! How lucky was I?! I probably stayed sitting in my car for 45 minutes or more, watching them and taking pictures like mad.

After having exhausted my camera, I tore my eyes away from the incredible sight and drove down to the Seven Lakes trailhead. I had a nice little two mile hike, and then started heading out. On my way back - I saw a momma bear and her two cubs meandering right on the road. I passed them by - and they didn't even flinch. I'm pretty sure it was the same momma bear and her two cubs. Then, just 5 seconds later, I saw ANOTHER black bear sitting on a little bluff beside the road. It was standing alert, with its ears perked. It merely looked curiously at me, not moving. Just as I got my camera out again, a car came up from behind me and the bear ran off - so I have no pictures of that one. That one was definitely older, and looked bigger, too. So, after seeing a total of 8 bears in less than two hours - I was on such a high. I was so excited. People say here that that's the way with wildlife - you won't see them for days, weeks at a time - and then you see everything all at once. And I have to admit that that is so true, especially evident on that day. I think after those sightings I saw several moose, eagles, snowshoe hares, porcupine, and spruce grouse. Oh, and salmon. I went fishing that night, too.

Here's a photo of the Russian River Ferry, just so you guys have an idea of how it looks like. It doesn't have any gets across the river purely by the speed of the current.

This next photo, if you look closely enough, is an alcove completely stock full of sockeye salmon. I took this picture at the Russian River Falls. If you remember from a previous blog entry, I had posted pictures from the falls when Eve, Sam and I went on the hike nearly two months ago. (By the way, today marks the two -month anniversary of my time in Alaska! Can you believe it?!) When we did that hike a while ago, the salmon weren't running yet. From working the contact station, I had so many people come in and tell me that they had just done the hike, and saw the salmon jumping and brown bears feeding. That's when I said to myself, by golly, I'm going on that trail again! Typically, I didn't see any brown bears. That's starting to grate on me, by the way. Been here for two months and still haven't see a brownie. I will see them, damnit. Oh, and found out today that the same people I ran into on the trail (they came into the visitor's center today and I recognized them so we talked) had gone to the falls maybe 20 minutes after I had left them and saw a sow and her two cubs feeding on salmon. I swear, the brown bears are conspiring against me. They whisper amongst themselves, "Emily's coming!" and they all go into hiding. Argh.

So, last but not least (because again, I have to leave without telling you everything) I wanted to share my clamming experience! I don't have the pictures with me right now, so I'll have to post them later. Last week, before Sam and I did our campfire program, we went out with Chad (fisheries folk) to Ninilchik area and went clamming. We had two shovels (designed for such things) and a "gun" - a tube-shaped shovel-thing that sucks sand up as you put it into the ground. We went out on what was apparently the lowest tide of the year. To go clamming, you really have to pay attention to the tides. And you also have to keep close watch of them - because if you don't leave in time - the tide will start coming back in, you get stuck in the mud - and drown. No exaggeration. The tide window time frame was just about two hours - around 11 it was at its lowest - then around 1, it starts filling back in.

The clamming was crazy. Chad had gone the day before - spent a good three hours clamming - and only managed to take back with him a grand total of 13 clams. To me, that was a lot - but then again, I didn't know a damn thing about clamming. The day we went, we took home 140 clams. No joke. Chad began finding the clams, and soon Sam and I followed suit. It turned into a little competition, to see who could get the clams the fastest. The bigger, the better. We pulled some out that were longer than 6 inches!

Just so you all know (as I'm positive you're itching to know), here's a bit of Clamming 101:

to know where a clam is, you must first look for a "show." A show is a small perfect circle depression in the sand. If you don't see a show, look for a hole in the sand, or water spitting up from the ground. Once you witness this, you grab your shovel, start digging right beside the show - and dig fast. These suckers dig at 9 inches per minute - so you can easily lose them - as they'll outdig you.

You dig about a 1-2 foot deep hole, and then get on your hands and knees and start digging and feeling for the clams with your hands. There's no way you won't get completely covered in sand and muck. You might as well accept the fact that by the end of the day, you'll get sand in places you didn't even know existed. Anyway, elbow-deep in sand, you feel around for the clam - and as soon as you feel something descending quickly down the depths of the sand world - you grab ahold of it and hold on with all of your might and try to suck it out of the sand.

I didn't keep track of how many I caught, but I sure caught a heck of a lot. It had so much fun. Once I get the pictures, you'll get to see how freaking busy it was out there. I'm surprised they haven't coined the phrase "combat clamming" yet, because it sure was. There must have been a couple hundred (if not more) people there on less than half a mile of beach.

That night, Sam and I shucked clams for probably three hours. Being that they were razor clams, our hands and fingers went under some damage - and are still recovering. It was pretty creepy cutting the shells off of the clams - then proceeding to degore them - and their muscles still contracting in your hands. Pretty weird. Anyway, those are in the freezer right now - I still haven't tried them yet - but we plan on making some fried clam strips and clam hopefully it'll turn out all right.

Anyway, I must leave again - hope you enjoy and talk to you soon!

1 comment:

The King said...


It's hard to believe that you've been in Alaska for over two months now and you only have another four weeks to go. You're having a "whale" of a time and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

For some reason I think you have an obsession with excrement, because if its not in your hands, you're photographing it. First it was moose dung, then it was bear scat and now it's hare pellets, not to be confused of course, with porcupine fecal matter.

As far as the hair net is concerned, I'd be careful if I was you wearing it around town, because the locals might mistake you for a bee keeper or worse a bank robber rather than one of 'em nutty interns!

Well, I can't comment further, I'm too pooped!