Snettisham 2020 - 2: An Exercise in Failure
May 15 - 19


Admiralty Island

Photo Album

I enjoyed both the first and the second weekends back in Juneau. Over the last few years I've determined that, at this point in my life and in the history of the homestead, every third weekend is a pretty good schedule. One weekend in town to recover, another to enjoy town, then back out to the wilderness. After the cold, clear weather during opening, persistent rain descended on Juneau again, darkening the hillside behind my house, but the clouds kept the temperatures moderated. I think it took me nearly a week to recover from the shock of the persistent chill from that trip as the world greened up and more migrants began to arrive. During the third week back, the skies cleared and suddenly spring swept across the land in earnest. I worked in the garden, first fertilizing it and then picking away at the many tasks of the spring and those left undone for many busy years. And I ran errands to get ready for what I presumed would be a sunny weekend at Snettisham. Yet, the north wind picked up as my anxiety grew until it was clear that I wasn't going anywhere that weekend; even if I wanted to head down in two of three foot seas, it was looking like I'd be coming home against three foot seas in Taku Inlet, and that is just not something I am up for. So I took the hint and stayed home, breaking out my sun hat to work in the garden, shifting plants, weeding thoroughly, moving all the peppermint to pots, planting seeds, covering the paths with bark. It is so much more than I have done for many years, and I'm excited to see the results. By the time the weekend was over I had mostly gotten over the bitterness at my Aeolian woes and had also given up my plans to head south just as soon as the wind died down. Instead, my plan was to stay and help with an eagle program over zoom, and then head down Thursday afternoon for a long weekend. All week the winds were supposed to be light and variable, until Thursday came with a little southeasterly front. The weather cooled, the clouds came in, a little rain fell overnight. But Friday dawned with blue sky as promised and light winds and at last I headed south, pulling out of the harbor around 9:25. It felt like I had spent two weeks doing nothing but preparing for this trip; I had a grease trap and all the parts to hook it up, stain for the lodge, stain for the outhouse doors....and a satellite dish. One advantage to staying the weekend had been finally getting my new Hughesnet system set up and delivered. Plus I had a new book that had just arrived Thursday night (for book group next week). Although the loading frustrated me as it usually does--it didn't help that first aid kit that houses my boat registration has disappeared--it seemed like the right time for me to head out.


The forecast was spot on, and I experienced small seas from every direction on the way down. Having hastened down to open up in April in part so as to not miss spring migration, I was really pleased to see that Stephen's Passage was hopping with spring life. As I crossed Taku Inlet, I looked over my shoulder to gaze up the river at Taku Glacier and was surprised to see several Dall's porpoise zipping over the water! At Grand Island, a loon flew by and I disturbed a flock of about a dozen. Or were they murres? I passed a solitary murre a few minutes later. I noticed a small white bird perched on an invisible bit of flotsam and, when it floated elegantly upwards, I saw that it was an Arctic tern, back from its epic migration, and more soon appeared. Then I passed a group of long-tailed ducks! And, in the distance along the shore, a huge splash followed by blows--a humpback whale, who graciously fluked as I passed by. North of Seal Rocks, more Dall's porpoise zoomed about on their business (the same area I've seen them in several times before), then a cluster of half a dozen or so sea lions rushed toward me as I passed inside of the rocks. More loons in Port Snettisham, and an eagle sitting on the nest.


A few hours into a ten-something foot tide, I was relieved to see that it wasn't going to be a long haul to the lodge, just adding maybe 25 yards up to the log and the grassy beach. It only took about 20 minutes to unload the boat to the log, but in that time the Ronquil managed to get hung up on a log, though there was plenty of water all around, and I couldn't push it off. Well, I probably could have if I'd jumped in the water and gotten wet, but it wasn't that urgent, so I let her go dry with the kayak tied on, then hauled the rest of the gear up to the lodge. I was immediately struck by the bird activity. Over the steady base of the sooty grouse were periodic Wilson's warbler songs and constant Wilson's warbler activity; at least two worked their way back and forth in the salmonberries, hawking up into the air, their beaks audibly clacking. I heard Townsend's warblers, Pacific wrens, golden-crowned kinglets. Much to look forward to! I hauled gear inside, set up the couch on the porch, lit the stove pilots, and found myself with will and energy and not even too hungry yet. The obvious first task was internet. I had said I gave myself a 25% chance of success with it, but inside I was so excited to get it working, fantasizing about calling friends on whatsapp or signal now that I'd have wireless. Or even just sending an email.


But first I had to get the old dish down. I had a hard time finding solid enough ground for the feet of the ladder, but eventually climbed up and loosened the dish on the pole, realizing quickly that pulling it up and off was not going to be easy. As I paused to see if a burst of energy would come, I realized that I could probably separate the dish from the bracket on the pole. Equipped with the right wrenches already, I unscrewed the five screws holding it up and let it crash to the ground through the current bushes. Removing the bracket was then easy. I then attached the radio arm to the new dish and was relieved to find that it slid nicely onto the same pole. One worry down the drain! I chose one of the original coax cables to attach to the new radio (only one is needed instead of two now) and had it fall apart in my fingers as I screwed it in. I went inside and found a fresh one and the tools and replaced it, filling the inside with nonconductive grease. Inside I had discovered that the 12 volt battery I'd used two years ago did have power (it powered up the old modem), but that the power converter that lets that modem run from a battery did not fit the new modem. Darn, that was a disappointment. But it did come with an AC adapter, so I could run it off the generator. So I hooked the right cable into the new modem, checked the oil on the generator and got her going, played out the extension cord inside, and plugged it in. Power! Lights came on! Wow! Would this magical wireless work? I turned on wireless on my phone and my networks popped up! Wow! I went to log on but....uh oh....what was the password? I remembered the Hughesnet rep saying several times that he'd changed the network names to my name (he actually used Mass instead of Maas), but I couldn't remember anything about a password. Oh man, this would put a stop to things, as that was the only way I knew how to orient the dish. By then, though, hunger was clouding my mind and I needed food, so I paused to make myself a quesadilla. In the middle of which I remembered Ezra looking at the modem and mentioning that the password was on it! YES! Sure enough, there it was written right on it. It worked perfectly and suddenly I was connected to the modem. Crazy. I found the Hughesnet app which required me to sign in, and I was pleased I was all set to find the long, gibberish password from the Hughesnet rep in my texts. I was in! I found my way to the satellite pointing app and headed outside. We hadn't looked at this together, since the system wasn't hooked up, but all he said was that there would be a number (just one number!) and to move the dish around, hoping for something over 120 or 140 or so. The number was 15. And it never changed. He had already set the tilt at 16 degrees, which shouldn't change very much, so mostly it would be about turning the dish. The number was static. It was not talking to a satellite at all. This is the same thing that happened two years ago when the original system failed. I had failed again. Can it not see the satellite? Is the coax cable bad? Are the cable ends bad? Is something else wrong? I could see endless troubleshooting ahead of me with no solution. I had been assured that the dish could see the satellite, but I was not wholly convinced. Still, I think the number should change at least a little as the dish swings. Is that a good sign? Did I just waste $600 and a lot of time and stress? I was so disappointed, despite my brave words about my 25% chance. There were tears. I went back to my quesadilla that I'd left in my excitement and devoured it on the couch outside.


It was hard to stay too sullen, though. The Wilson's warbler acrobatics and cheerful yellow beauty were impossible to ignore, hummingbirds worked among the pink salmonberry blossoms, hermit thrushes appeared in uncharacteristic ease, and a chickadee flew into the nest box attached to the satellite dish pole! Wait, WHAT!? That box has been attached to that pole for two years with no interest in it that I could tell. I'd just spent a bunch of time up there, moving around, dropping the satellite dish, I'd even straightened the box so I could put my phone on top of it! The ladder was still there, just a foot below the box. And this little chickadee goes in, stays a little while, and then came back out! Twice! I couldn't tell if they were carrying something in or not. Apparently two years is the time it takes for them to get used to a new home, as the nest box in Juneau is also being used for the first time. But I didn't linger long after lunch. I'd discovered earlier that I had quickly run out of water. Usually it takes a long time to run out of water if the olive barrel stops collecting it, as I have everything stored in the pipe to use first. But a naughty bear had bitten a hole in it about 20 feet from the lodge, so I really just had what was between it and the lodge to use. Moving a little slowly, I grabbed clippers and hoe and dish gloves and headed up the new route to the olive barrel, stopping just past Cottonwood when I realized that I should fix the leak while there was no water running through. Reluctantly, I returned to the lodge, cut a piece off the old garden hose, heated up some water, grabbed the hose clamp that was meant to shore up a leaking splice elsewhere, and headed up to the leak. Thankfully it had one big hole and a smaller one nearby, both of which would be adequately covered by a single piece of hose cut lengthwise. I tightened the hose clamp around it as near as possible on the bite itself, poured hot water over it, and tightened again. And then I headed back up the trail and through the devil's club, finding my way back along what I had chosen as the best route to clear for the new trail up. I wasn't sure whether to be relieved or anxious when I found the olive barrel perfectly in position with at least as much water running through as when I last left it, possibly more. It looked great, and the waterfall was beautiful. I checked the valve and there was clearly water running through the system. So, there was a catastrophic leak somewhere downslope. I slowly worked my way down the mountain around the devil's club and fallen logs and precipitous mossy slopes and found the leak in a predictable location, one that I had on the agenda to improve. Just past the valve that diverts water to Hermit Thrush and Harbor Seal, one of the earlier splices to fix a bear bite had broken and water was spilling onto the moss. I was surprised to see that it didn't seem to be going far and didn't seem to have done much damage either. Perhaps it came apart recently. I left the hoe and clippers and trudged back to the lodge to heat up more water and see if I had the tools needed to fix it. Although I was able to push the hose back together briefly, the hose on either side is now so overgrown and have had so many bear bites cut out of it, that there is a lot of tension pulling against the two ends and it's very difficult to get the slack to pull them together securely. I was hoping to add more hose, which would require another coupling and two more hose clamps at least.


I borrowed back the step ladder from the dish, found to my relief what I needed in the attic, and headed back up the hill along with the kettle of hot water, screwdriver, and hack saw, stopping on the way (actually turning back) to cut a couple of feet of new hose off the spare coil sitting next to Mink cabin. I was pleased at how well both ends took to the new length of hose between them, as I was able to pull the upriver side back to make room for it. Each hose clamp got the hot water treatment and soon I was creeping my way back downhill with all my gear over to the emerging trail to the olive barrel. There I dropped everything but the clippers and resolved to clear it as I went up. I was moving pretty slowly by then, my knees aching a little, my enthusiasm waning, tired from the week and discouraged by the internet. A foot up the trail, clip clip clip, another few feet...that was about my pace. I hate cutting devil's club, which was all I cut with the exception of a few salmonberry bushes, and I cut as little as I could, but it's awfully pleasant not to have to weave and duck and push between them. Just a few feet uphill from where 6" high buds were growing around the lodge (the image of a hermit thrush perched on one is fresh in my mind), the buds on these devil's club were still only about an inch high and still edible. I ate a number of them off my clippings as I went. Finally, I turned the valve, enjoying the sound of the water rushing through, and descended my now-clear trail. When I reached the last section before it intersects the trail to Hermit Thrush, I realized how much nicer it had been as I started to duck and weave again through the spiny stalks on the yet-to-be-cleared trail. And so I regained water.


More bird activity greeted me at the lodge including a Lincoln's sparrow song, my first Pacific Slope flycatcher of the year as well as the other players. At some point, a golden-crowned sparrow hopped around on top of the riverboat--a bird I have not seen here except perhaps juveniles on fall migration! I wasn't ready for dinner yet, but I cut up the veggies and got ready, made some hummingbird nectar, then poured a small glass of wine and sat outside to enjoy it and read a little of my new book. I was beginning to let my dissppointment ease, remembering all that I am here for. Nigel Cottonwood is leafing out nicely, the leaves still only a couple of inches long, but bright green and beautiful all the way to the top. The rhubarb is gorgeous and bigger than we have in town, and the roses are doing well, two of them with small flower buds forming. Yellowlegs are still calling in the distance and lone crows were on the flats. A hummingbird came by and let me know it was time to put the feeders out. As the sun disappeared behind the mountain, I started to get chilled again (it was still cold enough in the lodge to partially congeal the olive oil) and, having already decided not to let myself get so cold again, went inside and lit a fire while I made dinner. I ate it at the table inside and, after a few bites, leaned back to get a look at the bird house in time to see a chickadee perched on the outside of the hole! I only then realized that I'd been hearing chickadee calls. I set up the spotting scope on the entrance and a minute or so later was able to see one go inside. I wonder what's going on in there?? Is the male bring food to a brooding mother? Are they nest building? I haven't seen anything in anyone's beak, but there has been a lot of activity in and out given how short a time I've been here and in sight. So cool.


After dinner I read until the boat was floating, then anchored it up and came back to a warm lodge where I'm now on the couch with Cailey writing this. Soon I'll head to Hermit Thrush to tuck in and read, or maybe watch something on my tablet since I won't be watching my hoped for episode of SG-1 streamed off Amazon!

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I read and had a cup of tea (heated on the nordic stove), then spent a restless night trying to find positions that didn't cause my shoulder to ache terribly. Cailey snuggled up and shivered once before I put a blanket on her, but I wasn't chilly at all. I got out a little after 8:00 and headed to the lodge via the bridge to pick up the suet basket of sheep wool that I'd left in front of the camera there. As I stepped onto the boardwalk below Cottonwood cabin, I heard the bold call of a Lincoln's sparrow. Rather than the single sporadic song I occasionally hear, this was song after song after song! Very unusual for this area. It got louder as I approached the lodge and I spied a bird sitting near the top of the spruce tree in the meadow--could it be? Sure enough, his posture changed as he let out another song, which he amazingly continued to do as Cailey and I approached and then stepped onto the deck. In fact, he remained there as I fetched my camera for some photos and watched him with binoculars. Wow! Eventually I stepped inside to put some water on and wash my face. After all the stress and trouble of preparation and leaving Juneau, and the frustrations and work of the day before, I was determined to have a Sabbath, a day of rest and of doing what rejuvenates me without any obligation to work. I expected a morning of tea and reading, but only one of those came true: the tea. There was so much bird activity and I was so enjoying just resting and sipping tea and watching that I never picked up a book. The Lincolns' sparrow continued his singing all morning, mostly from around the spruce tree and upriver, though once I heard him downriver as well. Was he calling for a mate? The Wilson's warblers continued their yellow acrobatics, joined by less showy orange-crowned warblers, hermit thrushes near the ground, and I think at least three female and one male hummingbird (who made a couple of territorial dives today). The chickadees, to my delight, continued to make appearances at the nest box. At first I was worried, for one of them arrived alone and called and called and called, peering around him, first from the opening and then on top of the box. Then he moved off. But later, and several more times during the day, they came together, or one came alone and was soon joined by the other. In my mind, it was the male who came, calling until the female showed up. Twice he did so from the opening, poking his head in and looking around outside before the other came, greeted him, and popped in. Once when she came back out, they seemed to touch open beaks together. It's actually quite sweet to see them together so much. For some reason I always imagined songbirds to be so busy raising young that they didn't really have much of a relationship outside of the offspring. Of course, chickadees spend all year together here. One or both continued to make trips to the box, sometimes going inside, but only once could I see something in their beak, what looked like a bit of moss. And once, one of them flew onto the suet feeder of wool nearby, pulling on a number of pieces, including one rather large piece, before flying away. Soon thereafter, that big piece was gone--had it fallen out or had I missed them taking it? Often one perched in the overhanging bough of the spruce tree about two feet from the box when coming or going. I wandered downriver a little to warm up in the sunshine and surveyed the shoreline in sight. It's a lovely spot--that deep fringe of berry bushes interspersed with alders along a wet meadow, the forest behind. If one's whole summer territory was the alders on this side of the eagle's nest to the rocky point (which I suspect is the case for some of the locals), what a nice home it would be. On either side, the mountain is steeper, alders less common and only sporadic, and there is no beach or significant berries. Does this make it harder to find mates? How do they find each other? If one Lincoln's sparrow stakes out this meadow, is he guaranteed that a female will stop by and find his invitation enticing?


I was enjoying myself and my tea so much that I had a second cup (both jasmine), which is almost unheard of. Though I wasn't hungry, I ate a packet of stale plain instant oatmeal and a bit of peanut butter so I didn't get too much more nauseous from the caffeine (or whatever chemical it is that makes me nauseous from tea on an empty stomach). The only "work" I did was to separate the two sides of the coax cable that I'd brought from town--a short piece meant to test the system. I was going to install new cable ends using my parent's tools (in case mine were dysfunctional somehow) but decided to try the existing ones instead. After all, my original cable ends had lasted two years. I also found the hose under Hermit Thrush and brought it over, hooking it up to the valve behind the lodge and watering the rhubarb. Eventually it was afternoon and I felt like working on a little project. I grabbed my hack saw again and set about hooking up the grease trap. In bed last night I'd already realized that I was missing pieces, having failed to remember that the outlet was at the top of the grease trap, but needed to connect to a ground-level pipe. So I would need a couple more 90 degree couplings. But I figured I could set it up and make sure it otherwise worked. It turned out that the grease trap itself takes up more space than I realized. I had to cut off most of the horizontal pipe that had led into the olive barrel (that the trap was replacing) and use very short pieces of pipe--barely more than would fit inside the couplings on either end, so as not to use too much horizontal space. I also had to raise the grease trap off the ground with bits of PT lumber so the lowest pipe could pass above the floor that the propane tanks sit on, and thus shorten the length of the pipe above (you'd probably have to be there). I was getting hungry, but did manage to assemble everything from the sink line to the outlet, with the exception of the air intake pipe which may or may not need to penetrate the roof to get above the level of the sink overflow. More research is needed. I also need to research whether the outlet also needs a vent. One way or another, it's going to be tricky on that end, as the existing drain pipe is under the floor boards and will be difficult to access. So, I did some work, but am far from having a functional system. So much for simplicity.


I devoured another quesadilla for lunch and did a few other odds and ends including filling, for the first time, the long horizontal tube of a hummingbird feeder with the rest of the nectar I'd made. It has a dozen or so holes on either side and I was happy to see some use it, amused to watch the beak poke into the liquid from the opposite side. I finally read a little, hiding from the sudden heat of the sunlight on the upper porch by sitting in a chair by the door in the relative shade of spruce boughs. The chickadees continued to distract me and I began trying to distinguish the two. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a prolonged gust of wind whirled about, making my tank top suddenly inadequate; while that squall eventually subsided, it was replaced by a steady strong wind from Gilbert Bay. Very strange! When the boat went aground a little later, we headed out into it for a COASST survey, enjoying perfect walking conditions on hard packed mud. Earlier, a squadron of gulls had descended on the shoreline, apparently following schools of small fish in the shallows, but they were mostly disbursed by then. Upriver we passed a huge flock of mixed gulls preening, bathing, resting, and foraging. Most were Bonaparte's gulls--more with juvenile/winter plumage than black heads--mixed with mew gulls and at least two herring gulls, their black wing tips shining in the sun as they stood near the comparatively diminutive mew gulls.


Back at the lodge I half-heartedly started another project I'd intended for the weekend--staining part of the lodge. It began with sweeping the front wall with a broom to remove cobwebs and other debris. I was grumpy about having to move all my stuff off the porch to really clean the wall, but felt better when it was all cleared off. My idea was to perhaps tackle the front wall, which needed it the most, and the upriver wall. Sweeping the latter turned out to be impractical (as I needed a ladder to reach the eves) so I decided to stick with water. Rinsing off both walls was satisfying, if a little wet when the wind caught the stream on the upriver wall. Neither was very dirty, but most of the upriver wall had green algae growth on the bottom two feet which would need to be cleaned. So, after the rinsing, I scrubbed it with oxygenated bleach, then tried to spray it down with a bleach/water solution using the garden sprayer I brought from town, but couldn't get much pressure out of it. Or, rather, the pressure was good but it wasn't translating into spraying from the nozzle. So I sort of struggled with that, imperfectly wetting the worst spots. Yes, I should do the entire walls, but I'm just not going to. I remember that the last time I prepped these walls I burned my forearm badly with bleach by letting it trickly off my gloves when wetting the entire building with a rag. I just don't have that much motivation anymore! It is alarming how the current stain is worn, though, so I hope that this will help.


When the spraying was done I sat on the porch with a book and a glass of wine and chilled out a little, the world suddenly in shade, but still relatively warm (I'd long ago put on a t-shirt and sweater). It's a good time to be here. I feel much more in tune with the birds and the oncoming spring this year than I have in a very long time.


I lit a fire while cooking bison, veggies, and toast for dinner. Not having refrigeration, I'm eating my meat early in the trip and, while I enjoy making proper dinners for myself, I do look forward to the simplicity of pouched Indian food or chili tomorrow! I read a bit more after dinner, then put another log on the fire to sit here in the rocking chair and write; tired Cailey came over and curled up (all on her own) in the dog bed by the fire, something she rarely does. She seems more relaxed than she did last summer, less anxious to jump up every time I get up. I made eye contact with a mysterious bird today, perched in the boughs upriver of the porch--brown-gray, white eye ring. Was it a flycatcher? Something else? I also saw a bird with a white belly under the tail and perhaps a hint of yellow on the rump--yellow-rumped warbler? I didn't get enough of a look to be sure, but it was a reminder that there are other birds here too and I should be keeping an eye out for them as well. Tomorrow we are planning to head out upriver early to check on the camera card, then perhaps explore.


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I had a better night's sleep (perhaps in part because I remembered my sleep mask this time) and woke up earlier, rising before 8:00. I had oatmeal with a banana and peanut butter for breakfast and packed my bag with laptop, snacks, flashlight, and bear mace. At 8:30 we were on the boat and heading upriver, glad that the northerly blowing down the river earlier had waned. We were two hours before the 11 something foot tide--pretty low!--so I was ready when we hit sand well before we reached the very southern end of the grassy meadow. I managed to push us close enough to shore with the kayak paddle that I could walk the rest of the way in xtratufs, pulling the boat up closer without my weight in it, but still far enough that Cailey was uncertain about jumping off. I set the anchor in a narrow patch of beach grass, still only a few inches tall, and we headed upriver crunching over the dead grass from last season and singing out to spring bears. Birds, sparrows I presume, darted over the tops of the grasses and a song sparrow sang. A hermit thrush kept me company in the glen and Wilson's warblers sang nearby.


On the return, I was grateful that the boat was lying easily where I left it and we were soon aboard and pushing downriver until the water deepened. The tide had already come in considerably. We noted the remaining snow bank at the bottom of the avalanche and how its greening slopes sparkled in the sunshine that had just reached it. Our next destination was the Whigg placer mine site which, according to Earl Redman (of Mines of the Juneau Gold Belt fame) had a cabin just inside the woods. At least, an early edition of his book did, and I was surprised to find that it wasn't mentioned at all in the newer addition I now have here. [Note: It was never in that book, but in a report he made.] There was, however, an old map of the area that showed the location of the site at the bottom of the creek that drains the lake just inside the knob over Sharp Point. With that reference in mind, I cruised to the middle of the port where I had the best vantage of the mountainside and found that the creek in question was quite obvious based on the map; there are many creeks along that shoreline, each with its little cove and quiet waterfall, but none of the others could have been draining that lake as far as I could tell and this one matched the location on the map. This after years and years of thinking about it, scoping likely inlets, dreaming of the day when I'd finally have a nice day and enough time to pull myself away from my homestead paradise to go exploring again.

And so I pulled in, wondering why Redman had excised the comment about Whigg's cabin in his latest addition. Was it a mistake? Was it no longer noticeable? It had always been a surprise, as the side of the port is steep and rocky--no beaches, just precipitous rock and clusters of boulders, and certainly no enticing flat land. But perhaps something was hidden. Still, it didn't look promising as I pulled into the little nook where quite a good sized stream was spilling out, a good sign that this was indeed draining a lake up above. I began to dream of hiking up there with friends. We pulled up easily against the rocks on the north shore, which allowed one to step out easily and hike up. The south shore had no such landing and there didn't appear to be any place for a cabin anywhere on that side. I stepped out and tied the boat to a tree fallen over the rocks and found a way up the nearly sheer slope with rotting logs overhanging and (hopefully not loose) boulders jutting out. Above this was the typical jungle of the area--a tangle of false azaleas, blueberries, and cracked and rotting logs on narrow, steep slopes. The bushes insisted on grabbing my metal detector which I had with me to help find the ruins. I remember the text saying something like the cabin being "just inside the trees." That seemed impossible. There were rough terraces on the slope big enough for a cabin--if a 6'x6' cabin is what you had in mind. I mean, it might have been, and so I passed the metal detector over them to no avail. Certainly nothing looking like it had been inhabited, and the first terrace was probably 30 feet above the water. I did stumble onto quite a nice game trail that I fancied could have been Whigg's trail from a nearby cabin, so I followed it a bit, but found no evidence that humans were involved. It might be a nice way to stroll along that shoreline, though. I even followed it down to the creek, but found nothing. Looking up the gorge I rethought the idea of hiking to the lake. It could be done, but impossible in the creek, so it would be a bushwhack through the forest on the side. Doable, but a tough, steep go of it. A lake might be worth it though.


Foiled yet again, we headed back to the boat, making a detour south to a patch of smooth black rock with white intrusions on the shore, a contrast to the greenish gray rock all around it. I'll have to send a picture to Rob. On the way, I was startled by a couple of large sea lions; the haulout is probably active, but I haven't been close enough to see. I was surprised I couldn't tell from there, as I couldn't have been far away. It was already 10:30 and high tide by then, but I did make a short stop at Sentinel Point and stood for the first time on the treeless knob there, a sunny haven of unfurling ferns and sweet scents. A place to return to when the tide is not falling and boats are not careening into the port. Instead I rushed back to the homestead to man the area in case those boats that had passed were bear hunting. I even straightened out the sign a little.

 
The birds hadn't greeted me with as exciting a flurry of activity as they had yesterday, but the action had picked up by the time I sat down and began to enjoy it. I was in just the right spot to witness what I think must be hummingbird courtship. Some years ago, when a male was making dive after dive after dive, flaring his tail feathers to make his characteristic pew-pew-pew-pew-pew sounds, he drove a female to the ground and proceeded to hover over her, making short rushes at her repeatedly. It seemed most ungentlemanly. This time, the female was perched on a berry branch just downriver and the male was making the same repeated rushes at her, staying about six inches away, nearly at the same level as her. She looked tense and they soon zoomed off together. To mate? To get away? To consider whether he was a worthy mate? I'll have to look into it! The chickadees returned, one of them occasionally fluttering his wings gently, always calling loudly when he arrived alone. In one lucky instance, I was waiting for the female to arrive when he was calling at the entrance to the nest box with binoculars and she flew in, with a little ball of lichen in her beak! At last, proof that they are nest building. But it got better. She immediately flew from there to the suet feeder that held the rest of the sheep wool and quite a bit of hair that I brushed out of Cailey yesterday. She grabbed a beakful of it and flew back the nest, repeating this several times! Cailey's fur might soon warm some baby chickadees! These two have such a large repertoire of calls and I am slowly beginning to recognize them. Are they used for other things? Will I suspect a nest nearby when I hear them in the future? The urgency of the male when he calls to the female, peering into the nest between calls, is heartwrenching. I should note that my sex assumptions are guesses based on what I've heard from Peter about the chickadees in his nest box. I wonder, when they are so often together, how they get separated? What are they doing out there and where do they go?

Several sandpipers flew by (three) and there was a crow on the beach flapping his wings and apparently begging. Surely they could not already have fledglings? What else would that behavior be? Pine siskins continued to make their abundant presence known. At some point I had a delicious quesadilla for lunch with a cold beer from the freshet and enjoyed the early afternoon. By 1:45 I had the deck shifted around and the inside half covered with visqueen for staining. This would be the easiest wall (though also the most in need) and it seemed like something I could and should tackle today. I grabbed a step stool and starting brushing, a little disappointed in how little the color seemed to be absorbed into the areas that had lost their original stain. There's not much to note here. I used a sponge brush around the lodge sign and the door, but otherwise the enormous brush I'd bought did the trick, and an hour and a half later it was done. I was not impressed. Perhaps I should have just painted, I thought, as I looked at the solid brown shed. Cailey had already retreated inside to escape from the seering heat of the mid-afternoon and I followed her there, reading on the couch for about half an hour before heading back out to start on the upriver wall. Anything I did today I wouldn't even have to think about doing tomorrow, I thought, and perhaps I could at least stain under the windows where I could reach without a ladder. That's where I started, but I was up for a little more, so I went to fetch the step ladder under the satellite dish. Before I did that, though, I wanted to tighten down the nuts on the dish bracket so it didn't spin when I left and reorient the tilt to the standard 16 degrees. The chickadees weren't around, but I hastened my final efforts when I heard one call from upriver.

Unfortunately, it wasn't nearly tall enough. I went for the regular ladder, but it wasn't tall enough either! Frustration mounting, I brought over the extension ladder and found that it was perfect. I started at the river side and worked my way along the wall, often considering stopping for the day as hunger or other emotions rose up. When my radiolab podcast was over, I was past the windows and into the uncomplicated bare wall. It was 5:15 and I looked at the remaining blank wall. Again, I rallied, and finished it in 45 minutes. In fact, I felt so good about it I kind of wished that I could continue with the rest of the building. I was charmed that, only a few feet from the front porch, I had begun hearing the Pacific slope flycatcher regularly while painting this wall. Once it was close enough and regular enough that I turned behind me to see a small bird in the alders over the old lumber pile area. He flew into a branch just above me, pale forked tail over my head, and I waited until he sang once and they flew off downriver. So secretive, I count every encounter with these flycatchers an honor. I finally heard a hermit thrush sing, faintly from downriver.

Dinner was a packet of Indian food (dal) and two pieces of toast, eaten gratefully on the couch on my newly restored front porch. Unlike the last two nights, I was not so chilled at this time that I wanted to light a fire, but instead wanted to be outside. Perhaps it's because I had been working recently, or perhaps it is getting warmer. It finally dawned on me to open the windows in the lodge to let some of the warmth in, so it's not as cool in there. Actually, it was noticeably warmer this morning when I walked in, so perhaps the stove pilots finally made a difference. I was still starting to get goose bumpy after half an hour inside with a t-shirt on, though. In any event, the evening was totally lovely and I delighted to hear the hermit thrush singing downriver. They've made their presence here so well known this year, I find it interesting that I had only just heard them sing on the property.


After my day's allotment of dark chocolate, I wrapped myself in a quilt and read until about 7:45, leaving the trip reporting to Hermit Thrush, where I am now drinking licorice tea listening to the Nordic stove rumble and the creek rush, with Cailey draped over my feet.


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Deeply engaged in a novel, I read until 11:00 and my eyes couldn't take the strain anymore. I've been more impressed lately at how well the stove heats the cabin--perhaps because the ambient temperature is higher, or perhaps it is getting broken in. Either way, it's pleasant to get out of bed in the evening and feel the warmth of the air around me. Also, the unpleasant smell of the chemicals burning off is long gone. I think we both slept much better, Cailey tucked in under one or two layers all night, and I was up around 8:00. Early on, when I was standing next to the door, I heard the tell-tall calls of chickadees and soon saw them both in the overhanging boughs by the nest box. Last night I was thinking about the wing fluttering I'd been seeing and remembered one other place I'd heard of this other than in begging fledglings. I'd read of a female blue jay doing that to invite mating. This hadn't happened any of the times I'd seen it, but perhaps there was a courtship aspect to it. One of the chickadees was doing just that on a horizontal branch at eye level, maybe 15 feet away, facing me. And, as I watched, the other, who had been a few feet away to the left, flew over and quickly mated with her. WOW. There will be an egg soon!! There I was, standing between a grazing brown bear and mating chickadees. It was not the first or the last time that I felt overwhelmingly blessed today.

The chickadees moved on and I started to cut down the cow parsnip where I wanted to weed whack later so I didn't spray juices all over the place and possibly burn myself, though the day was turning out to be mostly overcast. I noted that there wasn't a lot of bird activity at that point, other than that already noted, perhaps because the berry bushes were just then coming out of the shade. I'd made about five piles of cow parsnip stalks to move and decided to gather them up (already being suited up in my jacket to combat the chill) and take them to the water to dispose of them. The sky was more cloudy than sunny and the deck was shaded and cool, so I'd added a flannel to my t-shirt and sweater as well as the jacket. I made a cup of Russian tea and tucked in to get back to reading. I didn't have any big chores today, just tidying up from the ones I'd been doing, so I was planning on doing more that a little of this. I made it about five pages when a bird caught my eye that had flown into the spruce boughs that hang over the edge of the porch roof and was peering at me. I looked up. Orange. ORANGE? There was a large bird with an enormous beak--black head, orange body, black wings with white stripes, huge black bill, and white under the tail when he flew off downriver. The black and white made me think of an American redstart, but this bird was much much larger and certainly not a warbler. Thankfully, though I already had a pretty good sense of his features, he flew into a visible area of the alder downriver of the berries and allowed me to take some passable identification photos to prove what I saw. I watched him there, such a stunning creature, until he flew upriver into the alders beyond the shed, and then on. I looked for grossbeaks in Alaska and did not find a match, so changed the settings on my bird app to California and he popped up--black-headed grossbeak. There are three small gray dots in Canada and other parts of Alaska for rare occurrences, and Southeast was so small I couldn't tell if there was one there, but regardless, this is not their usual territory. WOW. Very exciting, such a beautiful bird. I decided I should wander upriver and see if I could spy him again given the leisurely way he was traveling, so I put boots on and headed through the meadow scanning the alders for unusual birds. The way he looked at me made me wonder if he is familiar with bird feeders and wondered if I might have something for him? The app says they eat fruit, insects, and seeds. I wonder what he is eating here?


I did not find him again, but I did enjoy the walk to the rocky point where I noted blossoming cinquefoil and two species of currents in bloom, one of them a vibrant ruby red. The grossbeak's visit and this walk started an unexpected splurge of activity. On the way back I decided to swing by the start of the new trail where I'd left the clippers to finish clearing it. It seems a long time ago that I sweatily clip clip clipped that first day, leaving the clippers there by the trail to finish later. I was surprised by the number of devil's club I had to cut, but soon enough I'd made it to the junction and took the left turn toward the old trail, clearing debris off the connection I'd made last year and cutting more stalks. I could hardly tell where I'd decided the part of the trail that connects to the outhouse was, so I worked on clearing that a little too, mostly a small tree that had fallen and other debris. Since this trail has hardly been walked, it has ferns and false lily-of-the-valley growing on it as well as moss, so the absence of devil's club is the best clue that the trail is there. I wonder how much walking will make it stand out? When I got back to the lodge, I just kept going, weed-whacking from the deck, around the firepit, and down to the kayak, beyond which was still so short as to not really need it. I hope that this early trimming might make it easier later in the summer. I had already trimmed back more of the local vegetation growing around the roses, and did additional work later in the afternoon, trying to avoid the strawberries, chocolate lilies, and geranium that came with them.


I fetched a diet rootbeer from the freshet and sat down for a few minutes after that, getting thoroughly chilled again by cold breeze coming off Gilbert Bay and the cloudy sky. Perhaps in part to warm up, I then raked the cut vegetation and threw it in the river and raked the thick, wide mass of grassy wrack that had settled on about four of the stone pathway steps. Though hunger was mounting by that time, I heated up water and mixed it with vinegar in a bucket and began washing windows, first the lodge windows, then Hermit Thrush's, then the shed's. I made a quesadilla and started cooking it half way through putting up fresh UV stickers on the windows to help prevent bird strikes. At last, at nearly 2:00 I think, I sat down to eat and to read and bird watch a little more.

One of the things I noted moved me to get up again later for more exploration. The last few days I'd seen, and sometimes startled, a varied thrush out in the meadow, apparently foraging. Today I saw him (always a male) bopping about out there and caught him with what I thought was a beak full of nesting materials! Very exciting. The second time, I'd snuck down to the lower porch to see where he went--downriver into one of the alders near where the bears like to graze. Nest building! The third time today that I saw him, he was pretty exposed and I was able to get a good look with binoculars. I'd been surprised that the nesting materials he was gathering out there in the meadow didn't seem to include any of the many enticing pale grasses, but seemed to be darker and more look little roots. My half-suspicions were confirmed when I saw the collection closely; among the beak full of things sticking out were two thick, rounded shapes...which were still wiggling. They looked like fat caterpillars. So, he was feeding a family! This time I allowed myself serious reading and relaxing time on the porch, and when I got up it was to explore around the area where the thrush was going. Just in the off chance that something might give the nest location away--how could I miss the opportunity? I found the ground inside the alders there very wet, and then the loose slope, still grown up with alders, headed almost straight up toward the cliffs looming above. There were spruce trees in there too, but most branches were much higher up, and I really didn't know where they were most likely to nest. So I picked my way up the loose slope in the shelter of the canopy and the looming rocks, exploring along the base of the cliff. Of course I found nothing to indicate a nest!


When we got back, I put the rest of the gear I'd taken from the shed for chores away and cleaned the brushes with paint thinner. This morning I'd done a test to see what would happen if I spot-stained over the areas on the front lodge wall that had lost its original stain. It wasn't as bad as I'd feared when I first stained it yesterday, as the tan patches had soaked in the stain, but they were still noticeably lighter than the rest of the wall. I'd wanted to test on the less conspicuous upriver wall, but found no areas that qualified, which is a good sign. It actually looks rather nice. So I chose a few spots near the downriver corner. By the afternoon it was dry enough to see that the stain had, of course, darkened both shades, so I would have to put a second coat over the whole thing or each patch would stand out. Not up for that today, I put all the gear away except for the plastic which is still drying outside. While there I realized that I hadn't raked the old lumber area/future sit spot, so did that, raking up a surprisingly large pile of twigs. Then I grabbed the window washing bucket and headed down to the edge of the water to find fish. Unlike the fingerlings I'd seen in the shallows when we arrived a few days ago, I found schools of tiny fry in both the river and the stream running over the mud flats. They were wary creatures, so there was no way I could just scoop them up. I tried to employ Cailey to scare them into the bucket for me, but her aim was off. Instead I tricked them. I left the bucket half-submerged and walked well away from it, coming it at it again from upstream. A school obligingly sought refuge in the bucket and, while most of them excited as I approached from the side, nine fry and one sculpin were left inside when I picked it up. I managed to catch a couple of them, searching their tiny bodies for some indication of species, but nothing jumped out. Could they be Dolly Varden so small they don't have spots? Maybe. They could certainly be pink fry, maybe chum. Too small to tell, and of course I didn't want to harass them enough to get a better look. The sculpin didn't even run when I caught him, but obliged me by calmly settling onto my fingers when I picked him up. A brief look, and back in the water.


Earlier, I mentioned that the chickadee honor I received this morning wasn't the last time I felt blessed today. Over and over again, wonderful things popped into my vision or my hearing. A yellowlegs stalked the shallows just a few inches into the water, hunting. Did they eat fish, I wondered? Surely those fry are down there? Though I longed to put down binoculars, I persevered long enough to see him catch three tiny fish in quick succession! I didn't realize shorebirds were inclined toward fish. A few minutes later, a beautiful spotted sandpiper hunted through the same area, but on the rock side of the shoreline. The yellowlegs took a nap on a taller rock, standing on one bright yellow, spindly leg, head tucked under a wing.
A thrush appeared this afternoon in the meadow, disappearing into the grasses. Shortly thereafter, a piercing call from just upriver and a thrush hightailed it downriver. Another bold song from upriver. Is this the border of two territories? Was the first un-songlike call a warning to a rival or a warning of another sort? The chickadees came back several times, to my relief as I was afraid that I'd unnerved them by weed-whacking so close to their nest. It really seems like the male (presumably) comes in first to check it out, peeking into the nest and then calling and calling until the female comes and enters the nest. Sometimes he would call a little from a branch nearby, then disappear. Once, I waited for her to reappear quickly as she usually did, but figured I must have missed her leaving, having seen a streak pass by, so I gave up waiting. The male was already gone. One of the things I wanted to do today was give internet just one more try after trimming back some of the berry bushes poking up in front of the dish and the spruce bough that was peeking toward the front. Kelly had said that they don't like trees or bushes around and I wanted to show him a picture of the site without any possible obstructions to distract him from whatever the real problem is. I stood on the riverboat to access the one bough and fought with it a little, having chosen the dull clippers. When I finally pulled and cut the end of the bough off, a chickadee shot from the box and chirped. OH NO, she was inside!! Oh, what have I done, I thought! I've ruined everything! I'm pretty sure she looked at me as she left the box. I lurked by the shed watching as she called and the male appeared. He headed up to the box, perhaps gave her the all clear, and she headed back inside. Phew. I'm guessing she is on eggs now, or perhaps one egg. I don't know if they add to the nest after they start laying, but two days ago they were still adding to it at least. Again later in the afternoon she flew in and did not come out again soon as she's done for the last few days.


Wilson's warblers and hermit thrushes continued to pass through, as did a beautiful Steller's jay with an upright crest who stood and then hopped down one of the benches, not unlike one of the thrushes did earlier. Yesterday I heard a haunting whisper song upriver, very unusual. I remember now how they use those when they are exposed from the grasses. At least four hummingbirds are coming, and perhaps more, but that's the most I can count at once and I can't tell if the male is among them. Golden-crowned kinglets, Townsend's warblers, and Pacific wrens sang on and off. I can't recall if I heard the Lincoln's sparrow today or not. More of what sounded like a begging, then swallowing crow. An eagle carries something to the nest. And I don't remember what else. But I do remember my time on the porch, when I wasn't working, to be full of wonders. Oh, and also cold! That breeze kept coming up and, when I read (finishing my novel and nearly finishing my book club book), I left one hand out of the quilt to freeze while the rest of me stayed warm. I had an early dinner outside, then retreated in around 6:30 to light a fire (Cailey had started shivering when not under a blanket), do the dishes, sweep, then sit here and write this. So much wonder here. I was worried that the increasingly overcast sky would turn hazy, my soul-withering weather, but instead it turned magical, full of possibilities. Sunshine is marvelous, stunning, overwhelming, heady in its beauty and warmth and bursting with life, but cloudy skies with hermit thrushes singing in the distance is magic weather, when you can feel the possibilities coming, almost will something amazing to happen, when huge birds that don't live here appear out of nowhere and you almost knew it was going to happen. That kind of weather.

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Sometime in the early morning, the rain came down steadily on the metal roof and I enjoyed the sound of it, though it diminished by the time I got up. I did my usual closing up of Hermit Thrush, then headed to the lodge to do the same there. I have come increasingly to dread the day that I leave, which feels always on edge with an endless stream of last minute things to do. I grumpily moved through these, hoping to get past them so I could enjoy the place a little more before we headed out, but never really settled down. Among the extra chores were weeding the rhubarb pot, rolling up the visqueen, stowing the hose, and finishing that one more try with internet. I didn't give it as thorough a go as I otherwise would have because of the chickadees. In the end, I didn't get the number to move at all, though when I opened up the program I saw the number 29 where the highest number I'd seen the day before was 18. Interesting.


We wound up leaving at 11:15; it was early, but I could tell it wouldn't be relaxing if I stayed an extra couple of hours and this way I would have a little decompression time rather than, I hoped, simply crashing when I arrived. On the way back, I didn't see nearly as many birds on the water, but had nice looks at common and Pacific loons. I was somewhat relieved that the weather had turned into a southeasterly system, but when we entered Stephen's Passage we hit a tough combination of large swells that were actually coming from a more southerly direction, that is, angling across Stephen's Passage rather than heading up Stephen's Passage in the direction I wanted to go. The seas were two and three feet, big enough to grab the hull of my boat as I reached the back side of the sea in front of me and pull me sideways, out of my control. It was scary every time that happened and I tried to avoid it as much as I could, but the only ways to do so would be to go with the seas, which meant heading to shore all the time, or go very slowly. It was very uncomfortable and I was crossing my fingers that the seas would diminish father up, knowing that it is usually worst like this just north of Seal Rocks. It was a tough haul and poor Cailey appeared to be sea sick, seeking dangerous solace on the back bench with her head over the side repeatedly, but the seas did calm down and we continued on. They picked up again as usual near Grave Point, then diminished again, but they were on out tail all the way up the channel, driving fumes forward so I smelled them the whole trip. Around Point Arden there was also an interesting spot where gray river water met green saltwater and there were something like standing waves. I thought again at how nice it is to be on the water without any cruise ships causing wild wakes.


The rain had stopped shortly after we left Snettisham, which I was grateful for as I'd not brought any rain pants, but started again as I entered the channel. Ezra waved from Whale Park and met me at the dock to help unload and haul my gear--including the old satellite dish--up to the car. My strategy worked with the timing, and I had a much more productive and interesting afternoon and evening than I would have otherwise.


chickadee
One of the chickadees harvesting Cailey fur for the nest