Taku 2016 - 4: Sikeet (Beaver Dam)med
  August 3-5

The meadow toward Sockeye Falls

Having been weathered out of Snettisham for two weekends, it was with some incredulity (and a little frustration) that I looked out the window at work Wednesday morning to an utterly socked in (a.k.a. foggy) channel after having scheduled a few days at the Taku cabin with my aunt Vicki, to be gained by flying of course. The forecast called for clearing skies in the afternoon, though, and sure enough the clouds parted by lunch time. Our departure was delayed a couple of hours, but by 3:00 we were in the air, flying with my favorite pilot Jacque. A rainbow stretched over the house as we flew by. Jacque set us down at the landing and we unloaded our gear into a very wet and still-dripping forest. After opening the shutters, I struggled with lighting the stove and refrigerator while my mother and aunt Vicki brought the gear up with the 4-wheeler. By the time everything was unloaded it was cocktail hour and we settled into an afternoon of wine and chatter. Vicki made delicious chili relleno casserole for dinner and we talked until late. My only interruption was a quick berry picking foray about 9:00, lured by the lovely clear evening on the river. The blueberries were abundant around the meadow and there were even quite a few sweet strawberries left. 

Cailey endures

Rainbow near my house

Vicki in the co-pilot seat


Mom tests her rainwater


One of many slug-eaten mushrooms

Evening on the river

We slept in the next morning and made a leisurely start of it. I made another short berry picking expedition along
the path upriver while my mother and aunt finished breakfast and then we headed behind the cabin on the new trail in anticipation of canoeing adventures. The sun was brilliant and the meadow beautiful with the asters beginning to ripen among the fading pink and burgundy of the fireweed. I didn't read my original description of the location of the canoe where I'd last left it, remembering that it was nearly "straight back" from the end of the trail. We went straight back but found no canoe, walking along the slough bank downstream until I spotted a familiar, lonely spruce and the willow clump close to the slough and knew we'd found it. Straight lines, of course, can go in any direction.

The canoe and paddles were just as I'd left them, but first we had some bird-watching to do. A lone duck moved uneasily in the weedy water and I was surprised and utterly delighted to spot a square of blue on its wing. The slough is typically full of green-winged teal and only green-winged teal. Once when I was a kid I thought I saw a blue-winged teal, but frequent subsequent sightings of their cousins, no further blue sightings, and my intense desire for it to have been a blue-winged teal ultimately left me convinced that I'd been wrong. It has been an impossible goal since, but here was a beautiful lady duck with an unmistakable blue patch on her wing! She disappeared, then reappeared (or another duck appeared) with a handful of half-grown ducklings and all disappeared down a side slough. Downstream, a kingfisher perched on a log in the slough and dove.

When the action finally slowed, the canoe was satisfyingly easy to slide into the water, already with an eager Cailey inside. Vicki sat in the middle while my mother and I paddled, the water around us thick with water weeds, some of them blooming with tiny white flowers above the surface. Paddling was sometimes a rather dense affair. I looked for yellowthroats along the way, but we spotted little on shore except nameless sparrows (and I heard a robin). It was the quiet of late summer. We did stumble onto another cluster of ducks, ducks with large heads and white wing patches, goldeneye females or juveniles, though their eyes did not stand out. We made a detour into the large side slough and found the beaver house we'd discovered last fall; the water was high enough that one entrance hole was entirely submerged and the other was half submerged. The house itself was so well camouflaged that we nearly missed it.

We went around big bend in the sunshine, eyeing the cliffs as we approached for a better route up to the birches. But we weren't ready to stop, turning north again as we hit the bottom of the mountain. All along the way we saw beaver sign, paths leading up from the water and what seemed to be new side sloughs. Near the bend was a new beaver house, and I saw again the house in the slough on the mountainside from last year. We continued on and soon saw a little sandpiper flitting nervously along a sandy bank on the side of the slough. He let us approach surprisingly close, enough for us to make out his densely speckled back, hint of an eyebrow, grayish legs, and distinct white and black stripes on the edges of his tail. When he flew, there was a dark band down the center of his tail. A quick browse of the sandpipers in my bird guide app suggested he was a solitary sandpiper, which fit not just his appearance but his habitat. It was a first for all of us. We encountered him again a little farther on before he finally turned and headed in the opposite direction.

Before long we had more than our stomachs to blame for turning around and looking for a suitable place to lunch. A beaver dam about 20 feet wide and three feet high stopped our progress, forming a still, deep pool beyond. I remembered canoeing much father two years ago, passing only remnants of dams that I could canoe through, the slough hardly wider than the canoe not far from this same, very flooded, place. I was pleased they were active in the area again, and pleased at the prospects of one day making use of their efforts to canoe farther upstream.

I'd thought to picnic on the cliffs near the slough, but there did not appear to be an easy way up, even with the rope that had been left behind, presumably by the tour leaders when Dolphin was taking folks in there. Instead my mother chose one of the side sloughs nearby on the other side of the slough and we crept our way in under overhanging willows and around bends nearly too sharp for the rigid canoe. When we reached the end of navigation, we followed a beaver trail up the steep slope and onto a nearby hill thick with fireweed and other perennials. First I went up the opposite bank, amazed at the densely tramped trail leading to a heavily chewed shrub. We plunked ourselves down on the edge of the hill facing downriver and ate chips, cheese, nuts, and other snacks while Cailey observed closely. She had one brief theiving success while I busied myself watching a raptor in the distance, but she quickly enough dropped the block of cheese and no one seemed to mind continuing to make use of it. Something seemed odd about the eagle that had been pointed out and it, indeed, turned out to be a hawk, though I could hardly say how exactly I knew that at a distance. She flew closer and closer until we could see that it was a large hawk with a dark leading edge to the wing, dark wing tips, very pale on the trailing edge. Otherwise brown, we could discern no red in the tail. Once she came close and flew directly overhead, the sun shining through her feathers. I could see detail in her coloration, the dark wings mottled brown and tan. Except that the tail held no signs of the brick red blush I was familiar with, she was the spitting image of Mona, dead just two weeks earlier. She squeaked a couple of times as she flew and eventually disappeared into the trees on the mountainside. Rough-legged hawk is the only other possibility than Harlan's red-tailed, but I have a strong suspicion that she was the latter.

After lunch we paddled slowly back down the slough to Canoe Landing, pushing ahead of us a group of five ducks which, to my delight, turned out to be blue-winged teal. Unlike the green-winged, I learned in my app, the blue does not show on the wing when at rest, which explains why the sky blue feathers only appeared when the birds were preening or flapping. Such a pure, bright color emerging from those subtle feathers! As we put the canoe away, another five ducks appeared, and this time the wings were green. What fun!

When we stashed the canoe and returned to the trail (by a straight line, of course), we entered to the south of the fringe of willows rather than through the middle of them, suggesting that my straight line ought to start in that direction next time. We arrived back at the cabin around 3:30 and had a beer in the sun outside before my mother started a fire in the barbecue to cook hamburgers outside. Vicki picked a surprising number of strawberries right around that area and we enjoyed the still, sunny evening and the calm over the river. The alder smoke transformed the burgers--I am always surprised at what a difference that makes.

Blueberry martin scat?

Cailey is ready to canoe

The slough is low and overgrown

We meet a beaver dam

Mom and Vicki on lunch hill

View to Taku Glacier


Amanita mushrooms

The next morning we headed out around 9:00 to spend a couple of hours in the meadows upriver looking for berries. To my great delight, my new meadow, where I've removed more than 50 good-sized trees, teemed with ripe nagoonberries and we all picked there for some time. The nagoons were less abundant and less ripe farther upriver, but there was no shortage of them, only a shortage of time. We spent about two hours picking our way in the sunshine, ending in the small meadow near the property boundary where some of the largest berries were found. I was disappointed to leave both the blueberries and mats of crowberries (unusually abundant) behind. Maybe later in the summer! Instead, we headed back to the cabin, Cailey and I following behind the others in the 4-wheeler. I made quesadillas for lunch and we reluctantly packed up to meet the airplane at 1:00. Instead of the expected 206, we were met by a 180, which we hadn't even realized was an option. The return flight was uneventful and I made it home in time to shower and do all my chores and head out the door at 4:45 for camp DAMP.