Snettisham 2021 - 1: Spring Birding
May 7 - 11

Spring at Snettisham

Photo Album

I'm profoundly grateful to be here, especially now that the majority of the big opening chores are done, but I can't say I was in the best mood most of the day. I was weathered out the first available weekend in April (10 days after the last snowfall) by raucous Taku winds, then had an obligation in town I stayed for the following weekend, so it was with joy and optimism that I saw the forecast for variable winds and seas to one foot today. After an anxious evening last night, I woke feeling well rested and went about the morning tasks at a leisurely pace, so much so that Ezra came down a couple of times thinking I must be ready to go. I drove down to the harbor around 8:30 and we wheeled two loads of gear to the boat, much of my gear and fuel having sat aboard the boat in the new boathouse for a couple of weeks already. At 9:00, Cailey and I pulled out, she laying on the makeshift bed I'd made of a bathmat and her Snettisham porch blanket, having forgotten her boat blankets at home (still tucked away for the winter). The channel was choppy, small seas but not pleasant to buck into, and it took us half a long hour to get to the end. From there it didn't get better for a long time, at least not for more than a minute. Looking back less than 12 hours later I don't want to think about each new wave of small seas coming from different directions (always against me). It didn't help that it had been raining all morning and I kept hearing a funny popping noise from the port side of the boat that kept me on edge. I was worried about the health of my modem, of Cailey's stress (she was shivering a little, though warm in her new jacket), and full of my own stress from endless banging into the little seas. An hour and 35 minutes of torture earned us Grave Point, half way, and we fought for another 20 minutes or so before the seas finally chilled out enough for us to get back up to speed. We were met with an unexpected breeze coming out of the port/Speel Arm, but it wasn't nearly as harsh and I relaxed as we cruised through the port, remembering that skiff rides can be enjoyable. The rain had stopped somewhere past Point Arden, but then the tight chop we were quartering sprayed the windshield, so it wasn't until I neared the port that I had a good look around. Still, I had seen a number of Bonaparte's and mew gulls, a flock of murres on the wing, and one bold sea lion in Taku Inlet. Around River Point, dozens of loons sat on the water and earlier I'd passed a common loon just a few feet off my bow who had come up unexpectedly from a dive. There were buffleheads in the river, then just past high tide, flocks of scoters, and a pair of green-winged teal near the beach. I eagerly peered over the windshield as the homestead came into view, relieved to see the lodge and satellite dish intact.

So, two and a half hours after leaving the harbor, we pulled ashore and were greeted by a frolicking flock of American pipits and a female robin--spring companions at Snettisham. The grass was poking up a few inches above last year's dead stalks, and my no hunting sign was nowhere to be seen. A thick wrack line lay across the meadow high on the beach, nearly to the berries, and two logs had been deposited across the rock path. Glad to be on land, I unloaded the boat and carried a few loads to the lodge, drug the kayak down, and anchored. Cailey had found a large hip bone and was so engrossed in chewing that she didn't seem to give any thought to joining me. I carried the rest of the gear up in many trips, tickled to see Nigel Cottonwood covered in young, yellow leaves, the roses leafing out, the rhubarb growing strong. The inside of the lodge looked untouched, so I headed around back and turned on the propane for the stove, noticing a fallen tree across the trail to the outhouse. Then I did a double take--a good sized tree that had been standing dead about 15 feet from the back porch of the lodge had fallen, amazingly, upriver and slightly upslope, missing the lodge and apparently only hitting the outhouse with the very end of it, which broke off without doing a lick of damage to the structure. How grateful I am!!

The stove started beautifully. I hauled my gear inside, set up the couch on the front porch, and started a slow flurry of tasks. Having prepared myself better than usual with long underwear and many layers, I was fairly comfortable on the way down, but I knew it would be chilly later, so I first tackled the dreaded chimney which went worse this year than usual. I first retrieved the ladder from the back of the outhouse, then inspected the chimney which I had apparently left outside on the back porch all winter. Where the angle piece meets the upright section there was only one screw connecting them, so I carried it to the front porch and drilled a hole for a second screw in the other side, just to secure it better. Holding it in place while I tried to secure it to the building felt especially awkward this year, and physically challenging. The stack is held in place by a metal strap attached around the outside with a screw and then nailed into the fascia board. I thought I had it in a decent position and managed to secure it with only losing one nail, but when I attached the stack inside, it was twisted about an inch from its usual spot, making it impossible to line up the holes to secure them together. I tried a couple of times to twist the stack from outside, but this only led to the inside stack becoming catawampus. I actually drilled new holes in the outside stack to line up with the inside stack holes, but the outside stack was then off kilter; if one was correct, the other was not. Eventually, I removed the nails holding the two parts together, climbed back up the ladder, and moved the screw holding the strap to the stack a few holes to the left and found that I could line the original holes up. Both vertical pieces appeared plumb and secure.

Not feeling great about that job, and still worried about the state of my aging wood stove, I carried on, moving the ladder to the satellite dish to install the radio and hook up a cable, thinking that I may as well try for internet. Back inside, I was shocked to find that the modem I'd been babying all the way down here was actually the broken one, and I was very grateful I'd brought along the broken one (just in case), as it was actually the good one. I carefully hooked up its cable and power supply and attached a network cable, then hooked up the inverter to one of the 12 volt batteries I'd brought from town, recently charged. It turned on, I plugged in the modem, and anxiously watched as lights began to come on. Then the inverter turned off, the modem lost power, then it came on again, then off again. I unplugged everything and decided it was time to eat the overdone quesadilla on the stove.

I ate my crunchy quesadilla and part of a warm blue moon on the porch, distracted often by the fox sparrows and Lincoln's sparrows scratching under the berry bushes. But I didn't linger long. First I removed the ladder from the satellite dish and carried it back up to the outhouse so I could remove the tarp and open it up for the summer. I'd leaned a piece of plywood against the door to protect it, which seemed to work well, but I was disappointed to discover that the rotting areas on the bottom that I'd sanded down and stained last fall do not look good--they appear unstained/unprotected. Still, the outhouse overall looks great.
I then tidied up a bit in the lodge, put some things away, and decided to do the rounds, carrying sheets and my down comforter and pajamas over to Hermit Thrush. All the cabins and the outhouse appeared intact. The carbon monoxide alarm was beeping, I'm guessing because of a low battery, which chased poor Cailey away. I put the bed together while waiting to see if the nordic stove would fill with diesel, only to realize when I was done that I hadn't turned it on at the stove, though the valves outside were open. I left that for later and returned to the lodge via the bridge. On arrival, I saw what I think was a savanna sparrow fly from the alders to the beach, which, when closely observed, was crawling with foraging pipits. I'd already checked on the new Taku cottonwood, which was beginning to bud and still apparently secure in its little island of sand. As I reached the porch I inhaled a wonderfully sweet fragrance and realized that I was smelling, fully perhaps for the first time, Nigel Cottonwood filling the air with the headiness of spring resin.

Overall, though, I was still in a somewhat bad mood. The chores weren't going badly, but they weren't going terribly well either, and the rain and the hard seas lingered over me. And so I did what I often do when I'm cranky: I just kept working. I knew that if I stopped, I would still be in a bad mood, so I may as well be productive. I installed the sink and connected the drain system, then swept the back porch so I could move the little work bench out there, which was in the way inside. The sweeping was actually the most satisfying thing I'd done yet! I'd already taken off the plywood that protects the porch from splashes in the winter, so it looked fairly tidy. At 3:15 I finally took a break on the porch, watching a Bonaparte's gull feeding in the outlet to the little beach stream, flapping for a foot or two and then plunging in the water. There was a pair of mallards, more sparrows, more pipits. I'd heard a jay singing earlier, and chickadees were calling nearby. A hummingbird came for the newly placed feeder, just one as far as I could tell. I read one chapter of a book and felt very sleepy, wrapped in my big quilt, the sky overcast but fairly bright. I closed my eyes for a few minutes after wrapping a blanket around Cailey, but soon enough got back up to work a little before dinner. It's hard to really relax knowing that there are so many more unpleasant tasks ahead, so I suited up, grabbed a hoe and work gloves, and headed to the water barrel, dropping off my drill at the cabin outhouse along the way. I took the new trail from there, so pleased to be able to walk through that area without pushing through underbrush. I turned off both valves to the cabins and continued up, discovering that the course of the creek where I place the olive barrel catchment had changed a little bit, with the entire flow on the upriver side and the usual flow to the olive barrel depression blocked by debris. While Cailey sat watch on the log below, I hoed a hollow in the usual place, tossing large rocks and chunks of wood along the waterfall to start a dam, especially along the upriver bank. There was a lot of water coming down and the barrel nestled nicely and deeply into its newly-cleared hollow. A lot of the gravel had gone towards creating a dam on the downriver side, and more rocks finished the job at the waterfall. I closed the valve briefly to check whether water was flowing and was pleased to find that it was, also noting that the hose pieces I'd used to patch bear holes were growing generous layers of moss.

This time I'd remembered to close the valve at the lodge filters and leave open the hose valve just above. It was satisfyingly gushing water. I'd already installed the filters, so I shut off the one valve and opened the other and soon had water coursing through the sink. It's leaking from a few places underneath, but those can be fixed another day and, for now, a bucket does the trick. I returned to Hermit Thrush with its filters and installed those, then went back to the cabin outhouse to remove its tarp and carry its ladder and the drill back to the cabin. In no time, the smoke stack was up and I opened all the valves on the stove to let the fuel start to trickle down, which I know takes some time in the spring. I closed the water valves at Harbor Seal, then walked back up and opened the valve on the main line to the cabins, at which point I saw that one end of the splice I'd inserted last summer had come loose nearby. I was able to force them together, but it would need to be secured at a later time. After bleeding the air out through the hose valve at Hermit Thrush, I turned the cabin valve on and soon had water coursing into the sink. In the meantime, a satisfying little pool of diesel had accumulated in the stove. I shut off the valve there and headed back to the lodge where I broke for a glass of wine on the porch, joyful and satisfied for the first time all day. It was 5:30, and most of the main opening chores were done. I'd be able to light a fire at Hermit Thrush and brush my teeth there tonight, I'd be able to light a fire (I hoped) in the lodge for dinner, and I could wash my hands in the sink. In the meantime, though, I sipped my lush pinot noir and watched wide-eyed as a gorgeous golden-crowned sparrow bopped in front of the porch eating a salad. He or she nibbled the fresh green grasses over and over again, grazing some of them all the way down the ground. They later moved into the salmonberries and continued dining, though I couldn't see what species they were targeting there, something other than grass I think. Who knew! Two fox sparrows and two Lincoln's were in the bushes, a pair of male thrushes were near the meadow spruce, and two pairs of mallards were on the flats as the tide dropped. After a perfectly enjoyable sit and another chapter, we headed inside where I built a cheery fire and warmed up while my dinner cooked, relieved to see that the stove was working well despite the cracks where the stove pipe met the top that I'd noticed (and probably exacerbated) earlier. I ate a pouch of curry chickpeas and two slices of bread for dinner. Having forgotten butter, I considered dribbling olive oil on them, but decided to dip them in my dinner instead when I saw that the olive oil was still congealed in the cool lodge. Before I got to work writing, I took advantage of the dry afternoon to sweep the lower porch, not knowing if it would be dry again this weekend. Now the fire's gone out as I've written this. It's after 8:00 and I should head to Hermit Thrush for my first night at Snettisham. Tomorrow, fewer big projects and more tidying up.


I made it to Hermit Thrush around 8:30, lugging a plastic bag with two yellow blankets and a few other odds and ends. Cailey made a very cozy image curled up as she usually does in my spot on the bed; the off-white comforter cover looks fantastic in the cabin. I read for a while, then enjoyed a hot cup of sleepy time tea which warmed my frigid fingers until I was too sleepy to read anymore and drifted off. The rain may have started before I fell asleep, and it kept up all night and was coming down steadily when I woke up. Wearing a sleep mask after a long day's boat ride and physical labor, and enjoying my first night at the homestead this year, I slept in, then laid in bed in extreme comfort for quite some time, listening to the rain and gazing at the white mountain across the inlet, wondering if I'd ever seen so much snow on it, perfectly comfortable under the down. I kept Cailey under a blanket all night and she appeared to sleep warm and soundly despite the chill after the fire went out, probably enjoying her new feather bed.

And so it was a little late when I emerged from the cabin. First I crossed the creek to make sure I hadn't left a camera on the other side (no sign of one), then I headed to the lodge where I opened the bear proof box at the back to check on the grease trap and plumbing (all seemed in order, the grease trap about 3/4 full) and stash the outhouse tarp inside. I had planned to do a few tasks before breakfast, starting with securing the hose splice that had come apart yesterday, so I heated up a kettle of water, fetching two hose clamps from the attic in the meantime. Then I headed up to the junction and added a hose clamp to either side of the coupling, pouring hot water onto both sides in the hopes of expanding them, tightening them, and having them contract when they cooled to make a better seal. I was surprised to find that my efforts did not stop a trickle of water from leaking out of the hose on the upstream side. It's not large enough to worry about, so I tucked a large clump of loose moss under it and headed back to the lodge, stopping at the outhouse to fold and stash its tarp on the back side. When I reached the shed, I grabbed the hoe I'd left outside and scraped around the outside of it, pulling out the debris that had accumulated and clearing a path for the water that flowed on either side in alarming volume. Finally, I put away the power tools and paint inside the shed and carried the half rack of beer to the freshet to chill. The pool was crystal clear and deeper than usual, suggesting that it might have flooded, a waterfall perhaps scouring the pool into a deeper state. I pulled a few inconvenient rocks from the bottom and left the beers, all more or less submerged in the cool spring water.

So it wasn't until 10:45 that I had a mediocre breakfast of plain oatmeal and peanut butter on the porch. Feeling closer to having the place in order for the summer, I lingered, all wrapped in my quilt, watching the spring birds. Myriad pipits continued to work the beach, moving in a flock of about two dozen before disappearing in the stubby grasses. Fox sparrows sang soft, partial songs in the distance, perhaps around the boardwalk where I'd flushed several as I walked over. Two hummingbirds at least were enjoying the feeder, including a male who alighted for a few minutes downriver in the berry bushes, red throat vibrant. Two Lincoln's sparrows bopped around their favorite spruce tree and a flycatcher perched briefly in a spruce. But it was the action on the water that was most exciting. I could see that something interesting was out there, but couldn't see well enough with just binoculars, so I pulled over the spotting scope and settled into a long gaze back and forth across the inlet. The first thing that came into view was a perfect red-necked grebe preening on the calm water. A second one was nearby, and then a pair of horned grebes came into focus and suddenly horned grebes were everywhere. They outnumbered their larger cousins, with a dozen or more in close view around the boat at anchor and probably many more among the indistinct forms floating beyond. When they faced me, I could see how their faces widened with the feathers to either side. Among them were mostly Bonaparte's gulls and I saw one male red-breasted merganser. Once while I was reading, a large bird flying just a few feet over the meadow and quite close caught my eye, the gray body and white rump identifying him as a male northern harrier even before I caught him in binoculars, watching him fly along the shoreline and out of sight along the riverbank. Migrating down the valley? Later, another hawk, this one brown and without a rump patch, flew by downriver, but this one never emerged from behind the alder, so probably headed up into the woods. Young goshawk? All very exciting spring birdwatching!

Eventually I got pretty chilled and rain was coming down in earnest, so we retreated inside and I lit a fire to warm up. Not quite ready for lunch, I decided it was time to try for internet, so I headed to the shed and managed to start the generator; it had its usual spring reluctance, then started up like a charm. The visqueen I'd laid over everything for the winter had seemed dry at first, making me wonder whether the roof had leaked as much I thought it had last fall, but as I shifted it to access the generator, I saw that there was a pool of water on it. Still, I'm glad it wasn't more, and so far everything inside seems to be in good shape. I ran the extension cord carefully inside and plugged in the modem and my laptop to charge, its spare charging cable conveniently plugged in to the strip from last fall. It was time. With more courage than usual, I turned the strip on and watched the lights ever so slowly come on on the modem. Wifi, LAN, receive.......transmit.........SYSTEM. No, it's not capitalized, but that was a huge success right there, seeing the system light come on, which means everything is working. I headed to the install page and followed the usual routine. It took me straight to the pointing page where three green checks soon appeared. The pointing bar at the top turned green, and the Registration bar, the final step, was yellow and working. And working. And working. There were supposed to be five green checks when it was done, but there were only the three. I clicked reinstall and waited while the modem restarted everything. The system took me to the coordinates page where I saw that they were correct, except there was a "1" at the end of the longitude (in the fifth decimal place I think). I changed it to a zero just in case, clicked submit, and got to the signal strength page, which I was delighted to see was about 124, as high as I'd ever seen it, and it was overcast. I clicked next and got back to the final pointing page where I watched the three green checks come up again. No registration. I looked over the notes from Joe and saw that, if at that point the registration fails, I should restart the modem by pressing the recessed restart button in the back at the same time as the WPS button on the front until the three lights in the front came back on. I did this, using a twisty tie to access the reset button, but it was always the same. I did this two or three times, allowing ten or more minutes for the system to register before giving up and having some top ramen for lunch while it worked. I noticed that on the pointing page, a notice popped up after a while on top saying that I had to sign in to access the system. I clicked the link to do so and was told that the system wasn't activated. I clicked that link and was prompted to enter my SAN and pin, which I succeeded in doing. I knew this was dangerous, but it obviously wasn't going to work another way. The registration turned green and it said that my terminal was activated, but still there was no internet. The message then was that there might be an issue with my account. Interestingly, the main page no longer gave me the option to install and a new message said something about being in walled garden mode. However, the pointing page was still up separately and I was able to click re-install there, with exactly the same result. I put some more wood on the fire, turned off the generator, and read for a while inside, Cailey next to me on the couch.

Cailey seemed content to stay inside, so I heated some water and mixed it with vinegar in a small bucket and headed out to wash the windows, starting with the lodge, then moving to the shed, then each of the cabins, then the inside of the shed windows, which were quite dirty. I was delighted with the new, long-handled squeegee window washer I'd purchased last summer. When all were clean, I installed seven packets of UV window decals on the lodge and the shed. On the way back over the bridge from Harbor Seal, I'd picked up several bundles of moss from the fallen branches and now carried them and some from the stairs over to the new cottonwood tree. I found a nice, curved log of the right size to insert against the edge of the stream channel upriver of the tree to help protect its soil bed, then stuffed the inside and outside of it with the piles of decaying leaves and dead grass that made up the thick wrack line nearby, covering it and the area around the tree with moss to help protect it from rain and erosion. After that, I grabbed my emergency private property sign and filled in the blank section at the bottom with "NO HUNTING" and added my name and address, nailing it to my unused camera stand. I pounded it into the same place where the previous one was, surprised at how sturdy it was in the ground, and supported it with rocks. I'm surprised the last one disappeared. Perhaps it was loosened in its hole by howling winds and flood tides and floated away. Finally, I grabbed my new rake and raked all around the lodge, to the boardwalk, and up the path and around Mink Cabin. Somewhere in the middle of all that, I noticed a flycatcher hawking repeatedly around the meadow, mostly from branches or logs sticking up, sometimes from alders, and decided I'd better have a closer look. Hoping for proof of species and strongly suspecting he was not my usual friend the Pacific slope flycatcher, I focused on photography, following him downriver to the avalanche and then back upriver half way to the rocky point, then back toward the lodge. Given the bright white wing bars, I figured him for an alder flycatcher, but I'd noticed the forked tail prominently every time I'd seen him, and my bird app pointed to a Hammond's flycatcher instead. Among the distinguishing features was a buffy belly with a "vest" of gray, when I was sure it was solid gray, but when I looked at photos, both the color and the vest were there. That and the forked tail meant he wasn't an alder or olive-sided flycatcher. A new bird!! And he was ever so patient with me.

When I was finished with my tasks, I headed to the freshet for a nice cold beer. It was 4:15 and cocktail time. Cailey came out and joined me while I quickly cooled off and then got chilled, but the beer was delicious. A ruby-crowned kinglet worked the berry bushes, his red crown brilliant and always visible, though not erect, which is unusual. I'd intended to take Cailey for a walk after my beer, but by the time I was done it was raining hard and I was just not eager to go out in it. Instead, I studied my plant guide regarding some of the mysteries I hope to solve this summer. One plant I'd noticed in the meadow was a brown stalk that looked like a scouring rush, but scouring rushes are evergreen, and these were brown. Instead, they are apparently the fertile stalks of common horsetails, though I'd never noticed the distinct unfertile "goose grass" in the summer. It should be interesting.

And then the rain stopped and the flats beckoned us. We headed down to the water and upriver. Cailey buried a pork rawhide I'd tossed out earlier under a log while I headed on upriver, enjoying the hard-packed sand and easy walking of the spring flats. Gulls and ducks were all over the sandbars, including a flock of American widgeons, which is a first for me at Snettisham, and a common merganser in the air.

I meant to head to the turnaround point downriver of the lodge on the way back, but a cluster of about six male and one female mallard standing on the shore and looking nervous stopped me and I settled for scanning the remaining beach with binoculars. I did make one detour to the waterfall, having noted a single, limbless log sticking out of the hillside at a 45 degree angle. I discovered the remains of a major slide, the rocks and dirt that came down held back from the beach by two enormous, old logs perched on top of the last rows of alders and holding them nearly horizontal over the shale. Behind that was a curved channel of dirt leading to the waterfall. Several other logs were in various precarious positions. It looks like the cliff there is intact (I wondered at first if it had collapsed in a rock slide), so my guess is that a slide came down from high above. It might be worth investigating.

By then it was after six, so I cooked a luscious little steak in a pan with some sliced broccoli and ate it with a few slices of toast and a small glass of wine. The rain has started again, though not as heavily, and it's 8:00 and probably time to go light a fire in Hermit Thrush.


It's nearly 5:00 and the sun has made its most lasting appearance of the day in the last 20 minutes, transforming a wet and dim inlet into a shining green evening calm, the noise of the waterfalls near and far heightening without the noisy breeze. It rained all night and much of the day, and when I went out to work when it paused I discovered most of the time that it was still sprinkling. At times, especially this afternoon, it rained heavily and my knees got rained on in one downpour, but I endured, comfortably wrapped in my quilt. I stayed up late last night reading and then had a restless night, waking for some time around 4:00 until I discovered that my blanket had slipped aside in the night and a chill may have been keeping me awake. And so I slept in, and lingered in bed again, with no objections from the sleeping dog. Feeling somewhat ashamed, I had a scoop of peanut butter and then finished raking all the trails, including the bridge, then swept the boardwalks of as much debris as I could in the wet. I carried the new potato pot out to the meadow to fill, but quickly realized I was too hungry to tackle that project. Although it was well before noon, I made a quesadilla and filled the second hummingbird feeder while I was at it. And then I lingered on the porch amid the riot of spring birds. I could see many scattered around the inlet, so I started with a sweep of the spotting scope to see who was about. To my surprise, I first came upon common mergansers, but it wasn't long before both groups of horned grebes and solitary red-necked grebes came into view along with distant buffleheads and probably scoters. Here in the meadow, my Hammond's flycatcher friend [which I later learned was actually a western wood-pewee] graciously worked the fronts of the berry bushes, back and forth a few times, the flock of varied thrushes came in and out, purring occasionally, a ruby-crowned kinglet came by in the spruce boughs, along with Lincoln's sparrows and fox sparrows and hummingbirds and a hawk who flew high overhead heading upriver. A newcomer also joined the action, to my great delight: a hermit thrush hopped along the log benches as they love to do, and among the young vegetation nearby. The pipit flock quadrupled and now flew by in groups of about 100 and the sooty grouse continued to hoot.

With what seemed like a break in the weather, I grabbed a shovel and set to work planting potatoes, pleased that my other more pressing chores were done. The rich, semi-decomposed, deep wrack of leaves and grass near the second cottonwood seemed like a pretty good medium, so I half filled the pot with two buckets of that mash and then looked for proper dirt. I started with the old lumber storage area where I'd taken dirt for the rhubarb, and filled one bucket there, but it was awkward with the surface roots of nearby plants and it occurred to me that there was a large supply of dirt at the avalanche downriver. There I quickly filled another bucket with dirt--and a few small rocks--and awkwardly hauled it back to the pot. After digging up the turf where the pot would sit and mixing my mediums together, I planted and watered the potatoes and was happy this afternoon when the hermit thrush used it for a perch, proof that it was now part of the Snettisham landscape. Then I tackled the last task I wanted to finish today: filling the fuel tank for the nordic stove. I had a sneaking suspicion that I was nearing the end of my first five gallons of diesel, so I hauled the full jerry jug and a funnel to Hermit Thrush and messily put at least half the jug in the tank. I started out by partially filling a coffee can with fuel, then pouring from there into the funnel, but coffee cans aren't meant for pouring liquid, and the paper towels I had were inadequate to capture the drips. With the jug partially emptied, I was awkwardly able to hold it up and pour directly into the funnel. I have no way of knowing how full the tank is except by tapping on the side of it, which I don't trust, but the jerry jug was considerably lighter when carried back down to the shed. Now I know I won't run out of fuel tonight, and perhaps I'll even start it earlier to warm the cabin a little before we arrive. I then settled into a long, cozy read on the porch, interrupted frequently by birdwatching. Notable additions to the above-mentioned birds were a golden-crowned sparrow pecking through the berry bushes (I think I just missed another salad course), a whoop from a common loon in the middle of the river, a wonderful, soft whisper song from a jay standing on the brush pile this side of the shed, and my first Wilson's warbler of the year in the alder downriver. So far the only other birds I've heard singing have been Townsend's warblers, partial, soft songs from fox sparrows, and perhaps golden-crowned kinglets. It was raining most of the time, but I was warm in my layers and my quilt, especially with a cup of Russian tea, even when I took off my flannel when it became clear that it was the source of the diesel I kept smelling. Speaking of, I had another few breaths of sublime cottonwood from my friend nearby.

A little after four, with the tide just low enough to allow us to walk around the rocky point, Cailey and I headed upriver, pushing pipits before us all the way. It had sprinkled on the way upriver, but the sun came out on the way back and I heated up, barely making it into the woods at the creek before I grossly overheated. On the way, I took photos of a lovely, accommodating semi-palmated plover.


For dinner I had another delicious Indian curry with two soft slices of bread and made it to Hermit Thrush by 8:00, enough time for the stove to take the chill off the cabin and have a nice cup of hot tea before lights out at a more reasonable hour. I've been reading Orange is the New Black which I'm having a hard time putting down. I slept much better, and was up and out the door by 7:45 after lounging around again. The day had a distinct fallish feel right from the get go. There was only the sound of the creek and varied thrushes singing/calling outside and little noticeable activity around the lodge. The tide was very low, so after Cailey ate breakfast we went for a walk upriver, the flats only occupied by one group of mallards and gulls. I noticed a pale bird flying along the shoreline, surely a gull, I thought, but it was an odd place and an odd way for a gull to fly, so I picked it up with binoculars. It was another male northern harrier following the shoreline downriver, swooping among the pipits and making one tight turn with them, the idea of "harrowing them" coming to mind. On the way back, I perused each grove of intertidal vegetation protruding into the rocks at the edge of the alders in search of new species and to become more knowledgeable about those that grow here. Back at the lodge I snacked for breakfast and drank a decent cup of decaf frothy coffee (from whipping the instant coffee with a bit of milk, also instant, and a splash of water) with Cailey curled up next to me on the couch. I finished going through the plant book and updating my list of Snettisham plants; already I've solved a couple of mysteries and added several species, then continued reading. Late in the morning, the rain ended and the day grew brighter, if not exactly sunny. And that feeling of fall began to pass as birds emerged. A hermit thrush gaily continued his foraging in front of the deck, ruby-crowned kinglets foraged in the spruce boughs with chickadees, another junco came by (one had come by last evening), Lincoln's sparrows and varied thrushes bopped about, and my Wilson's warbler came back, not to mention the hummingbirds. The fox sparrows and golden-crowned sparrows were sparse, but I had heard a golden-crowned sparrow sing near the creek this morning. With the weather improved, I decided to go for an exploratory walk up the mountain while the undergrowth was still stark, but first I detoured downriver to investigate the warbling song that had sprung up with the lack of rain along with a hermit thrush upriver (my first here this year). Golden-crowned kinglets were singing up a storm near Cottonwood Cabin, joining the Townsend's warblers, so the number of singers was increasing. I found the orange-crowned warbler, as expected, poking around the bases of the alder catkins downriver and singing here and there. In the next alder over, a Wilson's warbler was foraging and, on the ground below, a varied thrush and golden-crowned sparrow were scratching, a nice quartet of birds. I continued down to the eagle point, pushing out pipits, then came back to the lodge and grabbed batteries for the downriver camera, happy to see that I had just enough for it. From there, Cailey and I scaled the mountainside and climbed along the waterfall to where we could see it as a proper vertical waterfall down a cliff face high above. I don't think I've seen it before, too far up to see from the lodge and otherwise obscured by alders when leafed out. Nearby was the magnificent matron tree of the mountainside that I'd noticed from the olive barrel--perhaps the biggest tree on the property and dead. I got Cailey to stand in front of it for pictures to show scale. Nearby were several other dead trees overseeing an opening in the forest at the bottom of the steep mountainside. When they fall, it will be quite open indeed. I retreated to the relative flat of the valley below and followed the trail back to the outhouse and to the lodge.

It was noon by then, so I took a break and started on my puzzle from Mongolia. I could have left today, and the weather appeared decent, and I didn't have any other pressing tasks, but I didn't want to. I probably won't be back for a month given graduation in two weeks and then our long trip up the Taku, so I want to spent significant time here, even if I feel a little hazy from all the reading I've done! I heated up some rice and beans for lunch, lit a fire (it was quite chilly in the fall air this morning), drank a beer, and now I'm on the couch with a deeply sleeping Cailey in the early afternoon. Tomorrow will be a good day to head home.

I read for a good part of the afternoon, wrote a letter, then worked outside a little, scraping the moss and creeping vegetation off the rocks on the path and carrying some new stones up to supplement the flooded ones. It's time that path improved. I also unearthed the coil of spare water pipe next to Mink and stored it upright between trees, and gathered dead beach grass for fire lighting later this year. All in all, it was a pleasant, mellow afternoon. I worked more on the puzzle, ate more Indian food and toast for dinner, and tried for internet one more time just be to be sure before I packed it away for the ride home.

I woke up late again after another good night's sleep; perhaps I was more sleep deprived than I realized. The morning was foggy enough that I couldn't see the mountain across the river from my snuggery; I heard varied thrushes out my window as well as a slew of golden-crowned sparrow songs and, once or twice, a hermit thrush. When I made it to the lodge, after cleaning and closing up Hermit Thrush, it felt like an early summer day rather than a fall day. The visible water was calm, the inlet half fogged in, though I could see the ridge across the way, but something had shifted. At least for today, in my mind. I washed the dishes, prepped fresh newspapers for the windows, and did some other packing/closing chores before sitting on the porch for a cup of jasmine tea. It was another very good spring birding morning. A familiar, but as yet unheard call (this year), emerged from the mouth of the little seep on the flats: the yellowlegs had returned, three by the time they flew upriver some time later. Loud eagle cackling drew my attention downriver where the pair of eagles landed side by side on one of the favorite perches above the nest, the first indication this weekend that there were active eagles here. Something made the yellowlegs squeak and take flight and another male northern harrier flew over them and on downriver. It must be a migration? One small bird appeared to dive past him, though whether it was coincidence or harassment I'm not sure. A flock of birds tittered merrily in the bushes upriver; the first individual I laid eyes on was a junco, then a golden-crowned sparrow, then a fox sparrow. My heart did a tiny flip because that sort of mixed flock is reminiscent of fall. Another junco appeared, perhaps a female, and I realized that the tittering was junco talk, not the more subdued larger sparrows, and at least six flew across the opening upriver. Two white-crowned sparrows perched comfortably in the berry bushes, fluffed out perhaps from the chill. I counted about 22 of what I assumed were horned grebes on the river along with red-necked grebes and a pair of mallards. A flycatcher perched on multiple branches of the cottonwood and hawked from the berries. I am sitting inside by a little fire and very much hoping to have a peaceful ride home in another hour or so.


After a hustle of activity, I left shortly before 1:00 with a rapidly cooling quesadilla in my glove box waiting for my hunger to manifest. We sped toward Stephen's Passage, making amazingly good time on calm water. We passed a group of sea lions at the mouth of the Whiting and the entrance to the port and a third group near Seal Rocks. A distant humpback blow shot up outside the port, the whale never seen, and at least a couple of Dall's porpoises zoomed north of Seal Rocks. I saw my first Arctic terns of the year near Grand Island. The calm seas had given way to a southerly sea, one to two feet, all the way to the channel, but it was behind us and reasonable. My bilge pump is not working, so there was a little water in the boat and I set up Cailey's boat blankets more forward than usual. The light sprinkles when we left gave way to bright overcast skies past Point Arden, and then drizzle on and off. We pulled into the boat house two hours after leaving and I couldn't believe how fast it was to unload and head out, given that we didn't have to take anything off the boat! Boat house life is good.

Unloading at the homestead