Friday, March 31, 2017

A King and Lions

Yesterday was a nice day to be on the water so I spent the day fishing for King Salmon with a couple of friends.  It was still a little cold but the overcast sky didn't drop much rain and the water was flat calm.  Fishing was mildly successful with one salmon landed but one is always better than none!  King Salmon are definitely the kings of the salmon world.  While one person's favorite salmon may differ from another's, typically Kings are the preferred salmon for eating although Sockeye Salmon either comes a close second or even is preferred over King by some. 
King Salmon are also the largest of the 5 species of Pacific salmon with the Alaska rod and reel record being a 97 pounder.  A King has to be at least 50 pounds to be considered a trophy!  They are a highly prized and sought after sport fishing fish as well and bring in anglers from all over the world to Alaska hoping to hook into one of these beauties.  They are also the Kings of salmon because of their amazing ability to shake a hook, break your line, or escape from the net in some other way!  An experienced King fisherman has mastered a system to maximize the odds of landing one of these fish amidst the chaos that erupts when a pole jerks and that thrilling sound of line ripping off the reel gets the adrenaline flowing and the heart racing.
Unfortunately, the return of Kings is expected to be low so we are limited to just one fish a day with nonresidents only allowed 3 Kings per year.  Kings always have to be at least 28" long to be a legal fish.
The scientific name of King Salmon is, Oncorynchus tshawytscha.  Oncorhychus means "nail snout" or "bone nose" and is the genus that all 5 Pacific salmon species are classified.  Tshawytscha is the vernacular name of King Salmon in Kamchatka, Russia.
Another interesting thing about King Salmon is that there are white kings, red kings, marbled kings, and peach kings.  This is referring to the color of their flesh which is usually the well known classic salmon red color but some kings have pale flesh (white), some have a mix of red and white (marbled) and then there are some that are a pale pink color (peach).  These differences may be due to a difference in prey consumption or genetic but most importantly, it is not a bad thing.  The white and peach kings are actually preferred to the classic red by many of us.  White kings are richer and more oily and melt in your mouth when taken off the grill!  (My salivary glands just perked up at the mention of white king off the grill!)

One way to identify whether or not your salmon is a king is by looking in its mouth, if the inside of its mouth and gums are black, you've got a king.  One other way is to look at its tail, large black spots on both lobes?  A King!

There is a sea lion rookery on one of the smaller islands near Wrangell at the edge of the Stikine delta where the Steller's sea lions congregate in the spring to feast on the hooligan and herring that spawn.  There seem to be more and more every year.  In one photo that I took which showed maybe only half of the group, I counted over 250 so my guess is that there where somewhere around 400 or 500 animals hauled out on the rocks.  This was not counting the ones swimming!
Sea lions, seals, and walruses are known as pinnipeds which means "fin foot".  They are further classified as eared or earless seals which refers to whether or not they have a visible external ear like we do.  These sea lions are "eared" as you can see small ears behind their eyes whereas harbor seals have no external ears.
If I were to compare sea lions and seals to a terrestrial mammal, I would say harbor seals make me think of aquatic dogs but sea lions, sea lions are the grizzly bears of the sea.  They have occasionally attacked people on docks and boats and are fairly intimidating when you are close to them in a kayak or small skiff.  The males especially are huge and they have some large canine teeth.  During this spring season when the hooligan are running up the Stikine, sea lions will travel as far as 15-20 miles upriver. 

Just some neon green seaweed that looked nice on the rocks at low tide.  This is called Emerald Carpet and is a type of green algae.  Interestingly, this seaweed is usually found near bird rookeries are other place where birds congregate as it relies on bird guano.  There is no rookery near this patch but there is a large spruce tree very close where eagles perch regularly on this was on a high, narrow band of rock that would make a great perch for gulls and other sea birds to perch to scan the waters below.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Still springing!

Another almost spectacular sunset.

A man and his dog out for a sunset paddle on the stand up paddleboard.

How about another story about a bizarre phenomenon that I have experienced?  This is a story that took place on the Institute Creek trail outside of Wrangell when I worked on the trail crew for the U.S. Forest Service.  A couple of us had gotten flown by helicopter up to a 3 sided shelter at the terminus of the trail at about 1800'.  Our task was to do some repair work and cut some firewood for the day and then get picked up and flown back to town.  A hiker had reported a tree down across the trail about halfway between the trailhead at sea level and the shelter so I volunteered to hike down with a chainsaw to cut the tree out and then get picked up by vehicle down at the trailhead on the road.
I had been dealing with a nagging low grade pain in my right shoulder, nothing serious, just a pain that I got occasionally brought on by physical work.  It wasn't a pain that limited me in any way really and had become just one of those "normal" aches and pains one gets from hard work.  No big deal.  I hiked down the trail to the tree and was almost finished with the task when I saw a woman hiking up the trail towards me.  I turned off my saw, flipped up my ear protection and waved to the woman to let her know that I saw her and that it was safe for her to proceed.  She was a middle aged lady and had a mandolin strapped to her back.  We struck up a conversation there on the trail as she was only in town until the next day and was curious to know how far she had to go to get to the shelter.  I was standing relaxed with my thumbs hooked in my saw chaps enjoying the afternoon and the conversation when the woman rather out of the blue asked me what was wrong with my shoulder.  Since the shoulder pain wasn't very significant and was mostly a background noise kind of pain for me, I didn't even think of it and replied back to her that there was nothing wrong with my shoulder.  We chatted some more and then she again asked me what was wrong with my shoulder to which I again replied that nothing was wrong.  She was a bit more insistent this time though and said that there was something wrong with it.  This made me remember the shoulder pain I had so I told her that I had a mild, somewhat regular pain there that was really no big deal and didn't limit me in any way.  I remember her then saying, "OK, that makes sense.  Do you want me to fix it for you?"
I found this question a little odd coming from a total stranger out in the middle of the forest during a very random encounter on a trail so I politely declined her offer explaining that I needed to get down to the road where my crew was probably waiting for me.  In my mind I thought she was suggesting some sort of massage that would take several minutes.  As I explained this to her she said, "No, this will only take a second."  Her insistence and the fact that she was somehow able to detect my shoulder pain had piqued my curiosity so I agreed to let her "fix" my shoulder at which point she felt along my shoulder with her hand to a spot close to my neck and then quickly and very firmly squeezed and released.  The pain instantly disappeared!  Immediately!  Not only did it disappear instantly, it to this day has never come back.  I was rather dumbfounded by this result and asked her what she did to relieve this pain.  Her answer was not at all what I expected.  She very nonchalantly explained to me that she could see my energy, the energy or aura of my body and that the energy made it obvious to her that something was out of whack in my shoulder.  She said that she commonly worked with troubled youth and that a lot of their emotional problems were linked to physical problems that she could see and help to correct.  Sounds kind of hippy dippy, huh?  At the time, I was thinking of all the other explanations for how she was able to do what she did thinking about pressure points, maybe I gave some subconscious signal in my movements, etc.  There had to be some other more logical and acceptable explanation.  While these thoughts were going through my mind and I was still standing there relaxed with my thumbs hooked in my saw chaps, she asked me, "So what is going on with your legs?"
What?!  My legs?  I replied to her that my legs were fine, no problems at all but she persisted and said something like, OK but there is something going on there.  Well, she was right again.  As I thought about it, I did remember that my quadriceps were slightly sore from doing a physical fitness test the day before in which I had to hike 3 miles with a 45# pack in under 45 minutes to meet the minimum requirements to fight forest fires.  Again, this was not something that affected me negatively and wasn't even something that I was even really consciously aware of, I was hiking a steep trail with a backpack and chainsaw after all.
When I told her about this, she nodded her head knowingly and said, "That makes sense."  She said that she could tell that there was something minor going on with both of my legs, once again from something that she could see.
This is all absolutely true, no exaggerations at all.  I wouldn't say that I was a skeptic about that sort of phenomenon but the experience really made me a firm and unashamed believer in auras, energies, and the ability to correct physical and medical conditions through means other than modern medicine.  My only regret from this encounter is that I did not get her name and contact information because I have several more things that could use fixing!  This encounter reminds me to always do my best to keep my mind open to the world, there is a lot of mystery out there still inadequately explained by science or religion.

And to finish this post, my favorite dog.  It seems difficult to take a good photo of a black dog but this look on his face was hard to pass up.  This is Chatham (or Shadow as I sometimes call him) one of my favorite dogs of all time although he is not mine, I am the Dogfather.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017


The early signs of spring keep springing here in the hidden gem.  Yesterday was the first day that really had that feel of spring, when the sun was out it was very warm, when it went behind a cloud it immediately got chilly, and we had some nice rain/snow/hail squalls occasionally in the afternoon.
People were outdoors walking, running, biking, fishing and just generally enjoying being able to be comfortably outside again.  My thoughts, as well as the thoughts of many of my fellow Wrangellites, went to the long list of spring preparations and maintenance that need to be done to have boats and gear ready for the beginning of the hectic outdoor season.  Need more firewood for next winter, change the oil in the boat motors, check expiration dates on flares, mend nets, repair broken gear and tackle, etc., etc.  It seemed like a lot of us decided that those things could wait until another day, yesterday was just a day to enjoy and anticipate the summer to come.

I walked into town this morning before the sunrise and kicked up the first Wilson's snipe I have seen this year and I heard a Norhtern Pygmy owl hooting from a giant spruce tree on the beach.  There is also a rumor that most of the Bald Eagles have left town for the Stikine which means there might be some hooligan showing up.

Those are hooligan or, eulachon, a very oily type of smelt.  They get up to maybe 10 inches long and spawn on the Stikine river delta. I don't know, and am not sure if anyone does, just how far they travel up the river but I have seen sea lions catching them at least 20 miles up the river.  The coming of these fish marks the early arrival of spring here in Southeast and provides an incredible food source for marine mammals, birds, and humans.  Sea lions, seals, gulls, sea ducks, and eagles all gather in the area for the feast.  So many Bald Eagles show up on the Stikine River delta for the hooligan migration that it marks the second largest congregation of eagles in the world (the first being the annual gathering of eagles in Haines for the late salmon run in November).  Thousands of eagles come to feast on these little fish, it is an amazing sight to fly over the delta in a small plane and see the conspicuous white heads of eagles dotting the landscape.
The shear volume of living things present on the delta during this time is something magical, awe-inspiring and also slightly intimidating.   A swirling vortex of thousands of gulls wheeling and diving after the countless fish marks where the schools are in the water of the shallow channels.  Boating through these squalls of gulls provides a few moments of chaos and noise while hoping to exit out the other side unscathed.  Hundreds of Bald Eagles are visible at any one time perched on driftwood logs stranded on the delta or in trees overlooking the buffet or just on the sandbars exposed at low tide.  Seals and sea lions splash all around gulping down these high calorie little packets of energy.
We humans also gather on the delta, though in much smaller numbers, to take part in this annual gathering of wild food.  Beach seine netting is the most common method of harvest but cast netting has also become an increasingly popular way of harvesting as well and is my personal favorite.  Dip nets are also occasionally used.  Several hundred pounds can be gathered in a short time which are then happily distributed throughout town to eagerly awaiting, and very appreciative, hooligan enthusiasts.  The entire process is a fascinating, fun, and highly rewarding activity.  Throwing a cast net from the skiff while a giant male sea lion fishes a dozen feet away makes me feel some sort of connection to all these other fishers and the cycle of things.  I would go so far as to say that for me, there is something near spiritual in this harvest.
Most years, the river is still frozen enough that the bulk of the hooligan are able to run under the ice safe from the majority of the predators which seems like will be the case this year.  Last year was a very unusual year in that the Stikine was completely unfrozen most of the winter and we were fishing  on March 13th.  Not this year!

Maybe this nearly adult bald eagle is working its way to the river with the rest of the hooligan fishers.  It looks like this one may grow into its completely white head this year making this bird about 5 years old, they typically get their white heads and tails around the ages of 4-5.  These birds are very, very common here, common but still a very impressive and magnificent creature.  They are unashamed scavengers and their calls aren't very appealing to a non-Bald Eagle, but they can always draw my attention.  (A trivia side note:  in movies and TV, when a Bald Eagle is shown and makes its vocalization, the call of the Red Tailed Hawk is often dubbed in as it sounds much more "eagle like" than the Bald Eagle's real call!)

For such a large animal, they are very light.  Standing at about 3- 3.5' tall and with a wingspan that can be up to 8 feet, they typically weigh 8-16 pounds.  I have heard incredible stories from fishermen who have watched Bald Eagles being dragged under the water when they tried to prey on a King Salmon that was a little too big!  I have also heard of King Salmon landed with the feet and talons of one of these unfortunate eagles still grasping the salmon's back!  Are these just fisherman tall tales?  I don't know but I do know that people who spend a lot of time out in nature see some pretty incredible and even unexplainable things that people who didn't see them tend to discredit (I've experienced that many times!).  I have seen eagles swoop down and grab a fish that they were not able to then lift from the water.  At that point, you get to witness one of the most comical and undignified things you can see an eagle do, swim!  These birds are not ducks!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Petroglyph sunset

I guess you never know what any particular sunset will look like but last night's had potential to be a spectacular one.  It didn't quite make it to spectacular but it was still one worth making a trip to the beach to watch.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Nexus of worlds

Recently, I was spending too much time indoors mostly due to some very painful pulled muscles in my back, the weather wasn't very nice either but those muscles kept me moving pretty slowly for several days!  I used the time to practice some indoor photography, practicing with camera settings, using a tripod, experimenting with the flash, with natural light, and with various backgrounds. 
Also recently, a couple of local women have opened a new store in town selling fresh cut flowers and locally made natural soaps, salves, etc.  I stopped by one day and was really taken by some roses in the shop called High and Magic roses.  I was getting very stir crazy and bored being cooped up mostly indoors and in pain, but got the idea to buy one of the roses to use as a photography subject.
I took a lot of photos of that thing!

If pictures of roses aren't your thing, you should skip this post! 

As a nature nerd (enthusiast if nerd is offensive), I have been fascinated with flowers, mostly wild flowers out in their natural environment, but even domesticated and human manipulated flowers are incredible plants.  As this rose slowly opened more and more over several days, it seemed like it could open for eternity, every fold revealed another fold yet to open.  Coincidentally for me, I was reading a book called The Dark Tower at the time in which roses, and one rose in particular, play a very important role within the story.  The main rose in the story was a nexus of multiverses and had to be protected to prevent the destruction of worlds.  Needles to say, I thought a lot about this as I was photographing this rose.  The book is the last in a series of 7 books written by Stephen King.  Yep, that Stephen King of Cujo and The Shining fame.  King started this series of 7 books in the early 1970s and only finished the last book in the early 2000s.  Many, many of his other novels have connections to the world in this series, I highly recommend them and my opinion is that the series is one of the best in literature.

This last photo really makes me think about a rose as the nexus of many universes.  Also, the very feminine symbolism and energy of flowers comes to mind.

I liked this rose so much that I bought a few more to photograph and then give to my special lady friend.


A nice sunset over the Wilkes Range, a mountain chain at the mouth of the Stikine River between the North Arm of the river and LeConte Bay.

Just after a snowstorm looking at the river delta on a low tide.  The white in the distance is the snow covered ice from the frozen river.  This view overlooks the Muskeg Meadows nature preserve and Wrangell's airport.

I realize this photo isn't too exciting and is even hard to tell what it is but I thought it was kind of interesting.  This was from the beach near my house and is a strip of sunlight shining through a slot in a beached log onto a wet rock beneath it.

These are interesting photos in that they distinctly show temperature gradients on this mountain by differing amounts of snow.  This mountain is actually an island right at the edge of the Stikine River delta where the shallow delta water abruptly drops off into the deep ocean water.  Depth goes from about 10 feet to over 200 in a very short distance.  The name of the island is Kadin Island which was named for one of the many Russian naval officers who came to Alaska in the 1800s.  This island is a little bit over 1800' so it is pretty easy to tell at what elevation the temperature decreased when you know that temperature decreases by about 3.5 degrees F for every 1000' of elevation gained.  This may not hold exactly true here in our marine environment and high humidity air but it's close enough I think.  The photos are dark as this was well passed sunset just after a snow squall moved through.

Another clear cold day with what I thought was going to be an incredible sunset.  The sunset was nice but not what I had anticipated although it was pretty enough for me to stand in the cold wind for an hour to see what it morphed into.