Snettisham 2021 - 3: Beaches
July 7 - 11


Daisy Beach

Photo Album

After a four year absence, Katie and Rob (plus Eleanore!) stepped off the Ronquil at Snettisham. We'd had a decent, if somewhat slow, ride over seas driven by winds coming from various directions (as predicted), but mostly from the southeast. Strange stretches of calm water interspersed with chop along Grand Island puzzled us but were welcome respites. A common murre sat alone on the water near Grave Point. In comparison to the last ride, it was a wonder, but we moved fairly slowly, especially for the first half of the trip. Ezra had met us at the docks to see us off and help load the boat. I was surprised to see that our boathouse mate was back in her stall, as I'd just switched our two boats an hour and a half before and was happy to make use of the empty slip to do so (so much easier!). We took off at 1:45 and arrived about 4:30 in the middle of a falling tide. We had to stop several times to deal with various issues, or "all the things" as Katie aptly put it (these included cracking the fuel tank cap after it formed a vacuum, fetching the bow line which had gone overboard, and screwing on jerry jug nozzles loosened to allow gas to escape....) Thankfully, it was a high low tide following a low high tide and we were able to get up to the shingle beach in the channel. I thought we would be hard aground, but after unloading the gear and passengers, I was able to push the Ronquil off into deeper water to anchor her out. When I got back, all the gear had been carried to the lodge and I had the pleasure of opening up and showing Rob and Katie how great Rob's cedar table look (and functioned) inside and to move their old couch onto the porch, as has been my routine for the last three summers. We hustled about unpacking and opening up and, after I (delightedly) sent emails in lieu of SPOT messages, we trekked to our cabins to drop off gear and get settled in. When I returned, I filled the two new hummingbird feeders with nectar and brought the existing ones in to be cleaned until I figured out if more were needed. I was pleased to see that both feeders were decidedly empty, though I've only been away two weeks.

Katie soon had dinner started and we settled onto the front porch and enjoyed the evening. Katie made an amazing meal of ceasar salad and king salmon and, afterward Rob and I sipped Tennessee honey whiskey and we chatted while Eleanore played. I'm so impressed by how she adapts and enjoys these cabins! Apparently she especially loves her cabin Harbor Seal and was eager to go back there. Now it's a bit after 10:00 and I'm eager to get some peaceful sleep.

All of us enjoyed a day of semi-leisure, worried that we were boring the other party! To my surprise, I was up at a reasonable hour, awake at 7:15, and made it to the lodge before the others. Cailey and I walked down to the boat on the very low tide and found it perched with its bow on one level and its engine hanging over a cut bank to a lower level. This was either very fortunate or the product of the fact that I had not tilted the engine up after anchoring it yesterday. Much gratitude that it did not stick in the sand or lift the boat at an awkward angle. It had settled in the perfect spot, the prop only a couple of inches in the sand.

In the beauty of the balmy and serene morning, I scanned the trees for signs of a nest and glassed the sandbars in the middle of the river which were inhabited by gulls, crows, and several immature eagles. While there I took the time to pull the drain plug on the boat and drain the water out. The others were at the lodge when I returned and we had yogurt, granola, and fresh berries for breakfast, then walked upriver on the rising tide all the way beyond the grassy point. There I met a strange scene: the beach beyond the point, which is fairly static, was eaten away and a channel had formed 20 paces from the rocks. On the way back, the tide had covered the sand and silt and we finished the walk on the rocks and came up to the trail by the creek. Back at the lodge, Eleanore and Rob were playing on the lower deck and managed to entice Cailey into the mix, who raced and pranced around with them and I couldn't help but laugh at Eleanore's glee and Cailey's delight. Later, Rob and I walked the new trail and headed up to the olive barrel, finding it washed out of its hollow again, though this time off to the side. We built up the dam and hoed out the hollow, creating (due to Rob) what may be the nicest looking pool I've ever had while Cailey kept watch as is her habit. Back at the lodge, Katie had prepared a delicious smoked salmon sandwich lunch.

The afternoon retained the mild, calm, overcast, heady mid-summer feeling, which I'm not sure I ever felt last year, the way I feel waking up in Pavlof Harbor with the richest of the summer all around me. It was wonderful. Rob joined me on the porch after Eleanore started her nap, joined by Katie. The hummingbirds continued their wild antics; I could only keep track of eight at most, but there were clearly more, the feeders a buzz of constant activity and hummingbirds perched all over the spruce boughs, the tips of dead current stalks, and Nigel Cottonwood, to my great joy. They are definitely responsible for 99% of the bird sightings and sounds, but thrushes (mostly hermit, but also a varied) were coming through, pausing perhaps on the deck before disappearing into the bushes. Last night it sounded like there were two types of begging fledglings in the bushes, and I heard one just as a hermit thrush entered. This morning, I staked out a place at the downriver edge of the porch when I heard buzzing and was able to see the female wren and at least one fledgling--a fluffy speckled ball with a very yellow beak poking around in the berries and ferns. I assume she was a female because she alarmed and flew upriver and shortly thereafter I heard one singing where I'd watched, and where I continued to see the youngster. I also heard a Wilson's warbler for a while this morning, golden-crowned kinglets later along with a Pacific-slope flycatcher and, if I remember right, a Townsend's warbler.

While Eleanore still napped, Rob and I decided to set the halibut line. We studied the sets I had and Rob described the setup on the line--lead sinker, several yards of line, hook loop, several yards of line, hook loop, several yards of line, anchor, which gave me a lot more confidence. We kayaked out together in my kayak, brought it aboard, and headed downriver. I was again surprised by how long it took to reach the drop off--most of the way to the point it seemed--and after we'd reached 200 feet or so it rose again at the very entrance, perhaps River Point extending into the inlet. We stopped around 200 feet, but by the time Rob finished tying the knots in the line and I finished cutting a pink salmon head in half and baiting the hooks, we'd drifted into much deeper water. We had to reposition a couple to times to drop it in shallow enough water.

By that time it was cocktail hour and we chatted and warmed up with a fire as the inlet filled with rain. Katie made a lovely pasta primavera for dinner and we played, or sort of played, cranium and then scattergories after dinner. We all headed to our cabins before 9:00 and that's where I am now. Though it's not cold enough to need a fire, I lit one tonight as my comforter smells a bit mildewy and why not have a cup of tea? Perhaps for the first or second time, my kettle actually whistled as the water boiled, quite quickly in fact. Tomorrow we plan to head around the corner to some beaches to explore and for me to look for new plants to add to my catalog.

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Rob beat me to the lodge this morning and started cooking delicious flapjacks. I sat on the porch and enjoyed another calm, overcast morning until we all gathered for breakfast inside. I indulged in a coffee drink (mocha mix plus expresso plus frothed oat milk) even though it wasn't technically a caffeine day, and loved the flapjacks. As we watched the tide rise, we decided to mobilize quickly and head to a beach. The Ronquil had rested just off the cut bank and when I hastened down to check on it I was able to pull the anchor off the edge of the higher beach and pull it father up as the boat was starting to float. The negative tide this morning had exposed most of the river bottom and its new path. The main channel is now somewhat on the far side of mid-river and large, white-capped standing waves roared in various places there. A sandbar beyond that was home to about fifty harbor seals, and beyond that was another channel which seemed secondary now (it was calm with no waves) though it was once the main channel. Crows, gulls, and a dozen eagles sat along the edge of the main channel, but it was never clear why.

Again, quite by accident, the Ronquil was in the perfect place for a morning cruise. Floating in what was the near channel last year, we were all able to more or less step aboard in a few inches of water. Eleanore's boots had gotten wet, so Rob went to fetch her shoes, and then we were off. We had intended to pull the halibut line on the way back, but had trouble finding it and when we did were afraid it had drifted off the bottom, so Rob went ahead and pulled it up. The bait was missing from the first hook and the hook had been severed from the second line entirely. It's a thick plastic line, so....we're not sure how that happened. From there we headed to the first beach around the corner from River Point just as the first rain of the morning descended. I chose a spot mid-beach to land, which avoided crossing the large creek on one end and what turned out to be dunes nearby. I was going for a straight-forward slope. We first headed toward the east where the short creek to the large pool and waterfall are, and we tried to get there, but the creek was too deep and the forest too dense for any of us to want to get more than the half way point we'd won in the woods. We did see a few gorgeous common red paintbrushes on the beach, though. From there, Rob and Eleanore walked back toward the boat along the edge of the grass while Katie and I skirted the woods. I found a new species for the port--jewelweed I think--as well as lots of American winter cress and Katie found a surprising number of ripe salmonberries. Having mentioned hemlock parsley earlier in the trip, the presence of so many other edible species inspired Katie to suggest a local salad. She picked berries and I picked cress, hemlock parsley, and a few beach greens. The weather was on and off drizzly and the beach grass we were wading through was wet, so I had wet pants but was overall too warm in my rain jacket, a wonderful sign of a good mid-summer day. I wandered down the beach far enough to find the willows I'd wanted to rediscover and took photos to identify them (I think they are Sitka willows). I also found more common red paintbrushes near some of the yellow Unalaska paintbrushes as well as orange paintbrushes. I wonder if the latter are a hybrid, as I can't find an orange variety in the Pojar and MacKinnon book.

In the meantime, Eleanore had made good progress on a duck pond in a trickle of water, not unlike the olive barrel pool her father had worked on the day before. We eventually headed out to reset the halibut line and return for lunch, replacing the missing hook with a new one. My fathometer was not working, so we took a good guess and dropped the line again, and appeared to find a spot at about 250 feet, which was perfect. Having spent more time on the beach than expected, we had a late lunch, after which I lingered on a slow internet connection to make sure that I had harevested Barbarea orthoceras and that it was edible, at which point it was much later than Eleanore's normal nap. She rested inside with Katie while Rob and I enjoyed hot drinks on the porch. The hummingbirds were up to their usual antics, but otherwise birding was slow with the exception of a lone crow who landed near the bottom of the rocky path and bobbed around the area before flying in the alders upriver. The afternoon was dry and pleasant and I decided to start tackling a project which I wanted company for, mostly for safety reasons--clearing the lodge roof of vegetation, while Rob used my tripod for some photographs. It was an amazing ecosystem up on the roof, almost the entire roofing covered in inches of soil and spruce needles and plants--many elderberries, meters and meters of creeping black current, one devil's club, several clusters of licorice fern, and a carpet of enchanter's nightshade. Rob had suggested I try to access it from the side rather than the back wall, and this proved a good method. I started on the downriver end, scraping the vegetation and substrate toward me with the hoe. It was messy work, debris often being pulled directly toward me, and the volume was terrific. I repositioned several times until I'd cleared all but the final current, which I want to leave to overhand the deck, and the two feet closest to the peak. To reach that, I positioned the ladder next to the back door roof and climbed up to the peak, working my way along to push the remaining items far enough to reach from the bottom. On the way back, I did the same on the upriver side, stacking it up several feel up from the bottom.

In the meantime, Rob had enthusiastically started weed whacking the rail and Eleanore had emerged to help, yelling pretty constantly at Rob above the noise of the generator and weed whacker. Poor Katie was resting inside to the noise of all of that plus me banging and walking on the roof above her. At about 4:00 I was exhausted, Rob finished, and we broke for a beer on the porch. All of us enjoyed the afternoon and Eleanor finally fell asleep on Rob's lap. It was a pleasant break with good company and a perfect view after some good hard labor. Eventually I returned to the roof, hoping to finish the job before dinner, while Rob went to rake the path. I was already worn out, so by the time I'd re-cleared the downriver roof from the debris pushed down from above and started on the upriver side, I was getting weary, not to mention sweaty, dirty, and bug-bitten. The section closest to the porch proved very difficult as there was no place to put the ladder. Rob suggested the tree nearby, which I was able to climb and clear about half of what was left. Rob cleared the other half by scaling the ladder from the lower deck and we called it a day.

Inside, Katie was preparing what turned out to be an amazing dinner we soon enjoyed: bison burgers, corn on the cob, and the beach salad with a vinaigrette dressing. It was delicious! The cress was beautiful and lovely and looked like it was right out of a commercial bag of greens (or better!). The salmonberries, supplemented by a few from around the lodge, were not only gorgeous in the salad, but a lovely complement. After dinner we started to play scattergories while Eleanore slowly fell apart over such small things as Cailey choosing a place on the couch where she might have wanted to be. Cailey was wonderful and moved to the other side, and we soon calmed Eleanore with an episode of the Jeff Corwin Experience while we played a few more rounds. Rob and I drank more Tennessee honey whiskey and dark chocolate before bed. A good day all around!

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Oatmeal for breakfast with berries fueled us up for another morning expedition, this time straight across Gilbert Bay to the beach around the mouth of Upside Down Horse Creek. On the way we pulled the halibut line and found it baitless again, resetting it with a whole sockeye head and a mid-body chunk of pink. The calm and wonderful summer morning turned breezy and we fought some chop coming across the bay which held the boat against the beach as we landed. I set the anchor and Katie and I headed up along the fringe of brush while Rob and Eleanore followed more slowly. I was pretty quickly taken in and in awe of the lovely patches of wildflowers--white and pink yarrow here, a vibrant patch of irises there. The beach fringe was stacked with weathered logs, the dense grass and vegetation occasionally broken by flat patches of sand and shell bits littered with driftwood begging for us to build a little campfire. The salmonberry bushes were more abundant than on Winter Cress Beach, quite deep in places, but had been heavily harvested by wildlife and Katie found little to collect. I had more luck, soon stumbling on a lone marsh cinquefoil plant--a bog plant from the Taku. Not only that, but it was overrun with busy bees! One of them let me photograph him closely. Nearby there were several more of the unusual plant.

I found a few more species I may or may not be able to identify, then a field of fireweed, which may also be a new species for Snettisham unless I've also seen it across the river. It will certainly be beautiful when it blooms! And then we reached the point on the east side of the creek outlet. Large, round, sitting boulders were interspersed in a meadow of Arctic daisies and short grass. It was a paradise! All the other Arctic daisies I've seen have been isolated individuals or very small patches, but there were hundreds here in bloom. I was over the moon! And it really just got betters. My astonishment was only increased when Katie and Rob showed up with one of my no hunting signs, still nailed to its post! We speculated that the same winds that probably blew down the valley and drove up all those logs had also driven my sign up there after blowing it out of its hole. I wonder if the other one is there too!

The creek just beyond the daisy meadow was perfect, water rushing over riffles and through a deep pool of bedrock (Upsidedown Horse Creek). A pair of greater yellowlegs scampered after prey in a shallow side channel, chasing them through little pools. Katie and I walked up along it for a short distance and agreed that it would be a great place to explore. There was a flood plain there that was covered in vivid red, orange, and yellow paintbrushes with patches of magenta river beauty and lemon yellow silverweed nearby, surrounded by an arbor of willows. It was achingly beautiful. Katie went back to meet Rob and I popped into the forest to take a look around, following a trail a short distance among the mature trees (not having been logged, I was happy to see) before meeting back up with them among the daisies. On the way I found more gorgeous clusters of flowers including blooming bog candles, another wet Taku plant.

On the way back, we pulled the halibut line and found the bait intact, setting it again a little shallower. On the way back up the river, the engine suddenly started acting strangely and I turned around to discover that somehow we'd picked up the buoy, which was wedged between the two engines (I had to tilt up the main and push it out). Thankfully the line did not get wrapped around the prop, but we didn't have much expectation for catching anything after that. Back at the lodge we ate more delicious fresh sandwiches, then I retired to Hermit Thrush to rest for a while while Katie and Rob tried to get Eleanore to nap. I lit a fire, which made the cabin very cozy, had some tea (it boiled at 20 minutes), and took a very short nap before returning to the lodge just as Eleanore fell asleep. I grabbed some grass, newspaper, and cardboard from inside and lit a fire in the fire pit. It was a very pleasant afternoon and I enjoyed just sitting and watching the logs burn (some of the extra long limbs that don't fit in the wood stove). Rob joined me for a little bit, but the noseeums were a nuisance. While sitting there, I looked around at the plants behind me and one caught my attention that was familiar, but not native. Wait, what!? It was a tall, healthy potato plant! Apparently one of the lost potatoes had rooted (I couldn't see the seed potato) and had already grown a good sized potato that was sticking above the ground. I piled some soil on top of it in the hopes that it would be edible. More potatoes! The potato from the potato pot was also doing well, perhaps not quite as tall as this one. 

I also heard and saw more wrens in the bushes and when I walked along the boardwalk a little later I watched a fledgling hermit thrush adorably bop along the boards. Another cheeped from inside the brush and, on the way back, I heard what I suspect was an adult call in the same area. We ate delicious chipotle vegetable tacos for dinner and chatted a little while Eleanore enjoyed an episode of Jungle Animal Rescue on my tablet. We were all pretty tired, but Katie and I stayed up a little later than usual to chat while Rob took Eleanore to bed. Poor Cailey was once again very gimpy, having bounded through the grass and vegetation on the beach again, and I gave her an aspirin nestled between two treats. She'd been crashed out on the couch all evening per Eleanore's invitation.

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The next morning I slept until about 8:00, cleaned and locked up Hermit Thrush, then visited the Ronquil where I shifted the anchor onto the top of the cut bank so we'd be able to step aboard when it floated as we had on our first beach expedition while I drained the water out again. We'd gotten a surprisingly large amount of water getting in and out and pulling halibut lines and rinsing the silt off over a couple of days. Back at the lodge I hung the other two hummingbird feeders on the deck and started gathering my gear from the lodge and staging it on the lower deck. Rob made a delicious flapjack breakfast while Katie made sandwiches for lunch. When all was clean and we were ready to go, with the exception of hauling gear to the boat, I boldly sat on the porch with a cup of Russian tea while Rob starting hauling gear to the shelf. The boat wasn't floating yet, so I allowed myself the sweet enjoyment of tea on that mellow morning, observing that hummingbirds were coming to all four feeders. With my tea finished, I put the kayak away, hauled a couple loads of gear, said goodbye to the lodge, and joined Katie and Eleanore at the water's edge just as the Ronquil began floating. After some close quarters arranging, the boat was soon ship shape and we were underway, first to the halibut line (the head was mostly intact as was a piece of skin from the other). And, after that, we had the most wonderful trip back I can remember in a long, long time. Just a few little ripples here and there, a teeny little ripple following us. It was a marvelous relief. On the way out, we swung by Whigg Creek and Harlequin Cove and Rob pointed out several places along the shore that he'd like to explore. Ezra met us at the boathouse just as I was stepping out the door and helped haul our gear up. I think we were all loaded in my car in two hours from the time we left River Point!


Wildflowers at Daisy Beach