Snettisham 2021 - 4: A guest!
August 14-16


Swollen Sweetheart Creek

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Having been delayed two days by a series of storms carrying an atmospheric river into Southeast Alaska, Rich and I and Cailey departed for Snettisham late Saturday morning under a surprisingly rainless sky with a couple of Raniers. The forecast called for two foot seas through most of the route, but mostly we saw lighter chop between the patches of larger seas coming from all directions. We passed one very dark bird sitting on the water just past Grand Island; at first I thought it must be a very dark juvenile gull, but we passed close enough to see that it was a beautiful seabird, a shearwater. It sat unmoving while we circled it for a closer look and agreed that it seemed quite subdued, perhaps blown in from the outer coast with the storms.

We arrived on a rising tide and crept in as far as we could, hauling our gear an extra 50 yards across the mud. After I anchored the boat and opened up and Rich unpacked and took the newspapers off the windows, we had quesadillas for lunch and then I took him on a tour of the property. He was obligingly (and apparently guilelessly) impressed with the entire place, buildings and property. Already late afternoon, we sat on the porch for a while before Rich headed inside to make a delectable dinner of local cod he'd caught, a cheesy, buttery risotto, and broccoli with chilled sauvignon blanc in a can.
Sitting on the porch was such a pleasure after the stress of driving down here and opening up, something I've been looking forward to for about a month! A few birds flew by to greet me including a Wilson's warbler and wrens, and thrushes murmured from the bushes. I was especially delighted that a group of four Steller's jays came in from downriver and at least two of them perched around Nigel cottonwood for several minutes, apparently foraging. One caught a huge caterpillar there and then carried it downriver, calling softly. A little later, a jay came back from upriver and perched in the cottonwood; when I looked with binoculars, the first thing I noticed was a spider web strand in her beak, and then she picked up a balled spider from between her feet and swallowed it! The pink wrinkles at the corners of her mouth revealed her as a fledgling. After dinner we sat outside on the couch, me huddled in a quilt and he in layers, and read like an old married couple as the rain began to fall, softly at first and then in a torrential downpour. We ate some chocolate and drank a little whiskey and chatted before heading to our respective cabins at sunset, 8:45.

Exhausted, I read for an hour while the cabin warmed up and then closed my eyes around 10:00, identifying at least some of the musty smell as emanating from my down comforter, unfortunately. I hope it doesn't come from the feathers directly. I slept reasonably well, woke up at 7:00, and dozed for a bit longer, surprised to find that it was about 9:00 when I got up. I've been sleeping rather poorly and was pleased to sleep in a little, and to know that Rich was independent enough that I didn't need to rush over. We lingered around the lodge most of the morning, I spending some more time on the porch reading while the mew and Bonaparte's gulls fed on the shore along with the sandpipers I assume are spotted but haven't had a good look at. A flycatcher perched nearby for a moment before flying past. Around noon we suited up to head out in the rain as the low tide approached, heading downriver to Garnet Rock. From there we walked up to the grassy point. A new log, somewhat elevated for most of its length, is on the rocks just downriver of the rocky point which would be a great sitting log if it sticks around. We devoured lunch and beers when we returned, then Rich headed upriver for a kayak while I remained behind to warm up, have a cup of tea, and light a fire. Cailey is sound asleep on her side of the couch. It had stopped raining shortly after we started our walk and the weather promises partly cloudy skies today and tomorrow. Given that it rained hard all night I'm not sure it'll be enough to tame Sweetheart Creek enough for fishing, but we're planning to casually visit tomorrow. I don't have high expectations, but it'll be a good excursion regardless especially with some company to boost my confidence. I worked on this and read while Rich was out, then we both closed our eyes for a few minutes, me pulling the quilt over my head outside, having run out of mosquito coils for the noseeums. We had Amalga rhubarb gin and tonics for cocktails, then Rich made Mexican food for dinner. We sipped a bit of whiskey and ate caramels before turning to our cabins again at sundown.

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I accidentally read late, not realizing what time it was, but nevertheless was up by 7:00. Before breakfast I checked the forecast as usual and found that the front had moved up in time and 2-3 footers were called for in our route for tomorrow, building higher by nightfall. While I cruise through that all too often, I would like to avoid it if possible, and Rich seemed to agree. Because we wouldn't be able to go to Sweetheart as planned in the afternoon when groups are often finishing fishing, we headed out as soon as we'd finished breakfast. Cailey was wonderful, and let me tuck her under a blanket on the bed and stayed there when I left. What a good girl. Rich and I kayaked out together and zoomed around the corner at 8:50. I was increasingly excited as we got closer and I saw no boat--we'd be able to fish! It was short lived. There were in fact three boats, all discreetly at anchor and, when we got to the creek and I saw noone on the other side, it was almost certain we'd been beaten to the point, and we were. It turned out to be occupied by an acquaintance of mine (who was there with an acquaintance of Rich), so we chatted about the conditions a bit and then I watched him fish for a while, during which time he caught one sockeye. It was slow going, but not impossible to fish. The water was high as predicted, but I thought it was a possibility that I'd be able to get the net to a fishable point, if not ideal. Groups were upstream and downstream of us as well. There were lots of fish in the creek, pooling in the clear water and leaping acrobatically up the falls. We saw a sow with three cubs first downstream and then right across the creek at a point where she caught a fish as soon as she arrived. She was accompanied by two medium sized cubs and a third tiny cubby. My interpretation was that she had twin yearlings and had adopted a YOY from another sow. Rich thought they were all YOYs and the little one was a runt. I wasn't being critical enough at the time to say for certain. After a few minutes of observing and chatting, we retreated to the beach where three more boats had arrived. The morning was overcast and calm, and really a beautiful day to be on the water. It's amazing how pretty much every time I walk down the beach at Sweetheart Creek, Gilbert Bay is laid out before me, glorious and smooth as glass.

On the way back we paused at the mouth of Upsidedown Horse Creek (as named in a pending update to the Anadromous Waters Catalog following last year's surveys) but didn't get close enough to see any action from any potential pinks or coho. It was then two hours to low tide and, with a difference of only seven feet, I decided to bring the boat in to shore and leave it there, figuring it would float again mid-afternoon. I cleaned my cabin and packed up, finding Cailey still under her warm blanket, and the boat was aground when I got back, a little earlier than I expected. I finished my book while Rich cleaned Harbor Seal and then we ate leftovers for lunch before I took a walk upriver in the calm, listening to the birds making hawk alarm calls through the woods. On the way back, I clipped the devil's club and salmonberries that had started overhanging paths since I'd been here last. When I got back to the porch, Rich had the spotting scope trained on a small hawk perched graciously on the log that came down in the landslide last winter, sticking out over the alders downriver. He was facing away from us and for a long time had his tail fanned out. We agreed he was most likely a merlin, brown with a few spots on the back, heavily and darkly banded tail, brown or reddish-brown streaks on the breast, yellow eyes and feet, faint pale line above the eye. I walked down to get a look at the front of him and he was very patient.

After that, I returned to the dreaded aftermath of cleaning the roof off. First I climbed up and checked on the status of the dirt left behind, which I thought I'd need to rinse off with a hose, but the recent rain had cleaned it off nicely. Not needing to climb to the peak, I pulled down the last of the forest I'd left to help me climb and then painfully, laboriously scraped all the refuse from that side of the lodge away from the path. It was sweaty work, and not fun! Then I finished cleaning the lodge and packing up before I tackled the upriver side. I don't like the piles of duff now stacked along both sides of the lodge, but at least the ground is hard again. Now the tide is creeping up and I think we'll be off within the hour. It really is a lovely afternoon, still overcast despite promises of sun, but so wonderfully calm. The birds were more active and vocal this morning. I heard thrush calls as I walked up to the outhouse and, from inside, saw a hermit thrush with food in its bill perched on a spruce branch, perfectly framed by the triangular opening in the back wall. When I came out, he was still calling and next to him several golden-crowned kinglets flitted by. Here on the porch I've seen more Wilson's warblers and....I look forward to spending more time here with fall flocks in September. So quiet. How I wish I could just stay here! Still, it looks to be a beautiful day on the water. Perhaps there will be cohos to look forward to tomorrow.

This marvelous (presumably) mother beetle creature deserves a shout out!