Taku 2023 - 2: Fourth of July
July 2 - 5

Summer birdwatching (we never used the chairs)

Photo Album

I am immensely relieved and happy to be here, and perhaps a little guilty. The plan was for my mother, Roger, and me to head up today on the tide and then spend the 3rd and 4th of July in serene wilderness where the dogs would not be terrified for most of the day and the humans would not be distraught over the dogs. But after jokulauping last week, the CFS on the river has dropped and dropped until it was under 25,000 this morning. My mother, already stressed over a tight departure, decided to try tomorrow. For myself, I felt moved to leave today, and everything seemed in my favor. I packed my car with gear on the way to church this morning, stopped by the store for some groceries, went home to get the boat house key, then loaded the Ronquil and swapped the boats in about half an hour. This time I tried to be clever in swapping boats and it worked beautifully, partly I'm sure because of the calm winds and mild current. I pushed the Kathy M out, pivoted her stern slowly out toward the breakwater from the bow, tied the bow to the last cleat in the boathouse, quickly pushed the Ronquil out, jumped on board, pulled along the Kathy M, tied her to the starboard Kathy M's back cleat, hopped over to the Kathy M and back into the boathouse, and then pulled them both in tied together. It worked brilliantly, so much so that I was back home with enough time to snack, water plants outside and inside, hang out with Ezra, wander around anxiously, and drink most of the remaining mojito mix that I'd made for the Johnsons on Thursday. And then I looked at my watch and it was time. Ezra met me at the harbor where I parked in long term parking and walked over with only a couple of backpacks and a six pack and the dog. In no time flat, I was on board and underway with the promise of light and variable winds and a rising tide. By then the CFS was down to 23,900 and I was uneasy about making it across the sandbars, but hopeful given that the tide was nearly as high as it was in May, I would be on the Ronquil with a depth sounder, and I planned to take the outer channel.

The water was perfect under an overcast sky and I enjoyed weaving out past the gillnetters. I hit Scow Cove about an hour after I left and 40 minutes before high tide. I started a track on my inreach, though I think the interval is probably too long to pick up the actual route, and wove back and forth a little as I crossed the river based on depth sounder findings which varied from about 4 feet to 9 feet. Out in front of Taku Point I lost the channel, if there is one, but when I tried to head toward the glacier as I'd seen the boat do last time, it got so shallow that I just slowed down as the depth sounder stopped working and crept north until I hit the outflow from the cliffs above. Still not sure what to do there, but it worked out okay. To my delight, a boat was coming downriver at the perfect time for me to discern his route and I slowed along the end of the cliffs to watch him leave the meadow shore, weave a little, and then come at me. I turned toward him and we passed and I boldly followed his route about half way up the channel until I could see it no more, all between 8 and 11 feet deep. When I lost it I slowed a little as the water shallowed, making it across to the meadow in about 3 feet of water. For the record, I left the cliffs at the far end of the avalanche and headed pretty much toward a narrow bare rock slide along the mountain, turning in toward shore a little at the second waterfall and then creeping through to the bank again.

I tied on some fenders at the dock and unloaded everything, carrying all but the battery, beer, and signs in the 2-wheel cart, dropping off the water pump on the way. There followed the usual stressful flurry of opening. The stove pilots were a little hesitant and I had to light the burner ones twice, I think just because it needed more time to work its way through. The fridge lit after a little time and some blowing on it with the spark igniter. It seems to be working periodically, and appears to result in fewer burnout blasts than the handheld lighter does. With that done, I was exhausted, exhausted from the week and perhaps from the summer, and certainly from stressing about when and how to come up here. I really just wanted to lay down and read, which I did and, despite the chill, managed to even take a little nap under a blanket with Cailey at my feet.

At 4:30 I roused myself and set to work, first connecting the water pump. The first time I started it, it ran beautifully but would not pump water. I turned it off and heard the last of the water in the primer tank slurp away. I reprimed it and started it again, and this time water poured out. I attached the hose and, voila, there was water filling the tank. The engine ran perfectly, not a sputter or shudder! It ran so well that, when I came up to the cabin to make sure I could hear water filling the tank, I decided to stay and work on filling empty water jugs with what I was sure would be a full olive barrel. It certainly sounded that way when I tapped on it, but no water was coming out. I went inside then to check on the fire I'd started only to hear water pouring and remembered that I hadn't closed the valve under the sink. We really need to put a note on that in the fall. Thankfully, it had not yet filled the container under it and the one in the bathroom wasn't leaking, so all was well. I then went out and poked a wire through the olive barrel valve to see if I could loose an obstruction. That didn't work, so I walked back to check on the water pump and put away the pipe sealant and pipe wrench and filled the damaged water jug with water from the bucket I'd left under the eaves of Alder for future priming. While trying to revive the fire in the cabin I heard the water overflow and raced down to turn the pump off and cover it. A little water was leaking under the water tank from two places--I think one is from the overflow outlet, but the other is a mystery.

Not quite ready to quit, I fetched my little mower and mowed the path to the river, back up the cabin, and out to the point. Then I took clippers and cleared the path along the river to the landing and back up toward the cabin, removing most of the small blueberries in the middle of the path. I had been somewhat discouraged by the overhanding alders and devil's club and tall grass in the path on arrival and wanted it to look more homely and lived in for my mom. I was impressed by the mower and how well it did on the path. It looks and feels much better. Back at the cabin, I opened the emergency wine I'd brought, lit a few mosquito coils, and sat on the swing where I chilled with the view, read a little, and watched what I think was a warbling vireo collecting bugs from the spruce trees downriver. She was so accommodating that I even managed to take a bunch of pictures of her. There was also a hermit thrush, Swainson's thrush, ruby-crowned kinglets, and golden-crowned kinglets singing and I saw a fluffy yellow-rumped warbler in the spruce tree and thought I heard one sing. It was peaceful and overcast and wonderful. When I came inside I had Vietnamese pho and bread with peanut butter for dinner and made hummingbird nectar on the wood stove for the birds that have been coming into the empty feeders upstairs. Now I'm planning to round dinner out with some jiffy pop and perhaps a little X-Files to really relax. I feel like this might be the first really relaxed, full night of sleep I've had in a while.


It didn't exactly work out that way. It was a fitful night of sleep, but not for any good reason. At 4:30 Cailey alerted and woofed and we both went downstairs, but didn't see anything. I thought I'd heard steps on the porch and was relieved that the hummingbird feeder had not come down. She came back upstairs briefly, but went back down for the rest of the night.

I was up around 8:00 thinking it would be much later, a little out of sorts. I took Cailey out for a bird survey, thinking that we'd go to Debbie's Meadow, but I kept stalling while looking for birds and veered toward the meadow, only to turn back when Cailey seemed to want to. She was romping a lot, so I thought it best to put her back to rest if that was her inclination anyway. I checked on the boat and sent an inreach message to see what my mom was up to, then ate breakfast and had a cup of cafe francais while I waited until 10:00 when I'd suggested my mother respond. When she didn't, I texted Ezra for communication help, then carried four of the no hunting signs out to the meadow along with four long posts (one to get each started) in my backpack with drill, bits, nails, mallet, off, and gloves. My inreach was attached to a belt loop. I was unavoidably noisy so I didn't worry too much about looking for wildlife other than a brief glance up as I left the forest. I continued on until I reached the property boundary, then dropped everything at the fence post there and carried one sign a little farther on to a drier spot and started pounding it in.

I returned to my work, pounding in one stake to support the sign from a wind from the mountains, which seems to be how north wind/Taku winds manifest there, but wound up pulling it up because it was too far from the upright by the time it was in the ground. I did better trying on the other side, but it too was a little far out and, despite drilling a little hole, it was difficult to pound in the nail without it wanting to pop out. I decided to leave them until I had a better system and will probably screw them in. I crossed through the end of the glen woods and put up a sign there, then another out in the meadow toward the slough, then dropped one off at the paddles to be taken to the island later. It was good to return through the meadow, alive with bird song, unencumbered. It was almost noon and I had yet to get a message from anyone, so I sent one to Ezra and left the inreach on while I mowed paths on either side of the cabin. I soon heard my phone chime with Ezra's message that my mom and Roger were heading out in half an hour. I wrote back that I would meet them at the cliffs at 2:00 to take them through the channel.

I had a bit of time, so I ate a quesadilla for lunch and cleaned up a little, then packed a few essentials and headed for the boat, fueling up and launching without any issues. Only when I was underway did I look at my watch and see that it was 12:30 and not 1:30 and I was an hour early. Since I was already underway, I decided to scope out the channel again, taking it slow and getting more familiar with the landmarks for turning. When the water deepened to 10+ feet, I turned around and retraced my steps, heading back up to the Warbler Nest meadow where my mom and I had birdwatched last June and found the yellow-rumped warbler nest. The morning's overcast sky had turned mostly sunny and I landed the boat at a little beach, climbing on shore to a pile of driftwood in the vegetation which had stranded during high water. A family of four robins were quite concerned about my being there and three of them eventually left. A gorgeous fox sparrow flew into view, then started singing sweetly. Later, he flew into the big mountain alder patch with another, which might have been a fledgling. He or another was often in view, preening in plain sight. A yellow warbler and an orange-crowned warbler were collecting bugs, Lincoln's sparrows were singing, and a yellowthroat was in the distance. It was a very pleasant accidental birdwatch! When boats began to pass by and it approached 1:30, I headed back to the boat and made my way through the channel again and down along the cliffs, passing an airboat full of tourists checking out the view. A boat was heading at speed toward me from downriver, which I hoped but wasn't sure was the Kathy M until it got closer and I could see the blue hull. It was perfect timing. We conferred for a moment and then I headed up and led them through the channel, on step the whole way, only getting below 4' briefly as we turned toward the meadow.

While they tied up and unloaded the Kathy M, I anchored farther out in the channel and upriver, then reversed under power until I was about even with the Kathy M, backed over, and threw Roger a line to pull me in. Everything fit in one cart load but three garbage bags of linens and pillows which my mom and I carried while Roger took the cart. It was such a lovely, sunny, fine afternoon that I convinced everyone to sit on the porch, setting up three mosquito coils. My mom and I drank cold grapefruit G&Ts from Amalga Distillery and Roger later joined with a beer from the freezer. The dogs joined us and I got a bed out for Cailey, just like we do at Snettisham. Hummingbirds were swarming the feeder--at least 15--giving us endless entertainment. All were females or fledglings and we saw sometimes four or five at a time on a single feeder with so many more lingering behind or at other feeders. We stayed until we lost our shade and eventually scattered as my mom heated up turkey and stuffing and steamed veggies for dinner.

After dinner, while I was mid-sentence, I watched a Swainson's thrush collide with the picture window. I rushed outside and scooped her up, alive with a wing spread out. I held her while her wildly beating heart slowed and my mother prepared a tote with a towel in the bottom. We placed her inside and covered the tote and left her in the bedroom to rest, hoping and praying for her recovery. After that, the others went for a walk so I rallied and carried the rest of the "no hunting" signs and about half the rest of the stakes out to the canoe from which I'll deliver them tomorrow. When we were all back, my mom and I took the thrush outside, opened up the tote, and found her sitting comfortably on her belly. We decided to let her rest longer, but as I went to close it up, she hopped up and started flapping. I tried to scoop her up, but that wasn't working, so finally put the tote on its side and she flew into the spruce patch and disappeared. A good flight and we hope she can rest in safety tonight and make a full recovery. My mom and I have tentative plans to get out relatively early for a bird watch in Warbler Meadow. Conditions and timing are just too good to pass up, and I heard and saw but did not linger for so many birds out there today.


I woke to Jenny barking shortly before the fireworks started about 11:30; they didn't last long, but enough to terrorize Jenny and wake me up. Thankfully, Cailey slept through the whole thing and the scattering of fireworks that followed. I could not get back to sleep and eventually read a little before regaining unconsciousness around 12:30. At 6:30 everyone else was up, and I soon followed. I ate some oatmeal for breakfast and my mom and I headed out to Warbler Meadow around 7:40. To our surprise, it had rained a couple of times in the night and the morning was overcast--not the brilliant blue sky I was imagining, and the bird life was good, but not nearly as dramatic as it was last June. We had Lincoln's sparrows chipping at us the whole time and one fledgling was evident. A flock of about 60 siskins flew over, thrushes sang, and a kinglet and a few warblers made an appearance. Snipe winnowed and one flew by and, inexplicably, landed in the top of a tall spruce tree. After some time, we wandered out into the meadow to look for wildlife and encountered savanna sparrows and Lincoln's sparrows together on the dwarf spruces there and I regretted that I'd left my camera behind to pick up later. The photos could have been amazing.

I left my mom there and headed for the canoe, loading up the signs and stakes I'd left there and heading first for the front of the island where I pounded in one sign and two stakes. The slough was glassy calm and beautiful under the clouds, but I was a little out of sorts, perhaps from inadequate breakfast and/or lack of sleep. I set up a sign at the upstream boundary and lugged two more signs and stakes inland to the two places along Boundary Slough. I had shed my fleece in the humid morning but still wore my rain pants for the wet grass which was up to my nose in some places, so I was hot and sweaty and getting eaten up by bugs. I was exhausted and not in a great mood and it didn't help that I knew I'd have to come back to secure the stakes. I was weary of all the work, always dealing with one thing or another while out walking.

The slough was so enticing, though, that I paddled around the bend before returning, listening to the song sparrow at the boundary and a yellowthroat just there and back at the landing. I left the three recovered fence posts and two no hunting signs with the paddles to pick up later and headed back to the lodge where I ate a cookie and a yogurt before making quesadillas to supplement the black cod and crackers the others were eating. After lunch, I took Cailey for her first official off-leash walk. We went down the trail out back and I clipped back the vegetation toward the end while Cailey sniffed around. She seemed partly nonplussed by coming along, partly chill about it, and occasionally very happy. It was 25 minutes long and she curled up on the chair for a nap afterwards. My mom got to work cleaning out the toilet tank from years of our orange water buildup and in the hopes of stopping the leak to the bowl that had caused us to lose so much water. I read a little bit and began to feel sleepy, so I retired upstairs and had a beautiful nap of my own under the eaves.

When I got up, my mom and Roger were sitting on the porch swing and, feeling immensely better and much more optimistic, I headed out with a couple more stakes, clippers, and various other items upriver. To my enormous relief and appreciation, there was very little that needed to be trimmed back all the way to the meadow junction where new trees have fallen over. I cleared a reasonable path through the alders out to the meadow, then visited both no hunting signs in short succession, added the stakes, and secured everything including the signs with screws. On the way back, I clipped the path on the other half of the trail, eventually stopping just past crossroads to take a short bird survey to capture the Tennessee warbler singing boldly there that I'd first heard earlier with Cailey. And then hastened home to take a well-needed spit bath and put on a fresh shirt.

I made bison burgers for dinner and then we watched all the winter videos together.


I was up a little late reading, but slept well, then awoke around 5:45 and got up around 6:30, surprised to find that I was the first one up. My mom and I drank a cup of coffee ala Roger (i.e., lots of maple syrup and cream), then headed upriver around 7:40 again. The sky looked clear, but we were mostly in the shade until we broke out into the meadow and made it over to Devastation Alley; there the wildflowers were glorious in the on-and-off again sunshine from just above the mountain. The chipping sparrow came by soon, but only stayed briefly, and there were lots of siskins and a couple of orange-crowned warblers and a Wilson's back by the willows, but the place was totally dominated by the fox sparrows. We had wonderful looks at them and watched them sing (there were two nearby), tussle, and gather bugs. In the distance, there was near constant snipe calls. Toward the end, a thrush caught our eye just behind where we'd set the chairs and she graciously grabbed bugs and, twice, disappeared into a tangle of dead spruce branches from which a suspicious buzzing sound was coming. We thought it must be a nest, located in an incredibly sheltered area, totally surrounded by bent and broken trees and the pyres of branches around live ones. It was a serious tangle. I put my fleece back on for protection and we inched our way agonizingly into the middle where the thrush had gone, watching every step in case we stumbled onto a nest, peering around the tangle of two close trees where we'd seen her go. We found nothing, so sat quietly for a while, listening. The buzzing had stopped, but a fox sparrow was singly boldly just above us and drowned out quite a lot! I heard soft thrush calls on and off and finally saw someone come in, only to hear the buzzing sound in a different part of the tangle. They were fledglings, not nestlings! I should have thought of that to begin with. Still, it was pretty neat!

After perhaps an hour, we packed up and headed out down the loop and I had my mom lead to see if she could find her way through my cuts. She did pretty well, and it was oh so nice to stroll through former tangles. It was still hard going through the meadows of tall ferns and sweet gale, but I am heartened about the rest of it. We heard the Tennessee warbler and I caught a glimpse of him singing before he chased someone off--another Tennessee warbler?? Back at the cabin, I had a snack, packed up my stuff, and washed the dishes and am now contemplating returning to Devastation Alley where I left my hat on a small spruce tree. I'd take Cailey, who seems to be okay this morning, except for the dense meadow on the way which I'd just as soon avoid until I have no worries about her bounding through them. Or maybe I'll take her on a leash.


That's the last I wrote before we left. I swept up, rubbed down the bathroom, shook the rugs, filled the wood box, and otherwise packed and cleaned up, then did take Cailey to pick up my hat, leashing her on the way out which turned out to be a good move as two game birds appeared ahead of us near the horizontal spruce on the way to Debbie's Meadow. They took off in opposite directions and the one on the right side of the trail ducked low like a soldier and scampered through the forest parallel to us making soft "buck" calls. He paused and faced us often enough for me to get a nice look at his white eye ring, red above the eye, and speckled coat. Once, he walked into a bit of sun and his head, neck, and breast shone a brilliant, almost iridescent rufous red, a sharp contrast to his warm, brown specked feathers elsewhere. According to Sibley, this is unique, at least to this area, to willow ptarmigans! We continued on our way, hearing the other ptarmigan to our left, but we didn't bother her/them. I later let Cailey off leash until we got to the meadow, then kept her on a lead to keep her from leaping around. We retrieved my hat, took another good look around that beautiful place, and headed back to the cabin. Cailey did wonderfully the whole way and did not come up lame to my relief and pleasure.

We were finished packing early, still over an hour before high tide, and I hoped we'd relax a little bit. I had this dream of sitting down on the floats and reading my fantasy novel from my childhood by myself. No one else seemed eager to stay, but I begged for half an hour and scooted down there with some of my gear, leaving Cailey in the cabin. The river was calm with just a faint breeze blowing and I reveled in my little moment, reading only a short chapter. Twenty minutes later the cart and people showed up and I headed back to the cabin to fetch Cailey and lock up, thankful that I checked the propane tank which had not been turned off. Back at the landing, I pulled the Ronquil in, Cailey crossed over, we loaded my gear, and then I pulled anchor and took off. I followed the course according to my landmarks while Roger took his own course. The CFS was still in the mid-20000s, but with a 16' tide, and neither of us hit. I had meant to follow them in front of the glacier, but wound up trusting my fathometer instead, and later took my own route again across to the point above Scow Cove instead of their track, which was much farther downriver and worried me for the sandbar that had been just below the Forest Service cabin recently. I had between 4 and 16 feet of water, mostly around 8 and, about three quarters of the way across the river, I turned and cruised down to their route to see if they really were in a deeper channel. I don't know what it had been before, but there it was between five and ten feet.

They had stopped to wait for me at Scow and, as they were slow to speed back up, I overtook them and headed out into the inlet where I was soon overtaken myself as I faced the effects of that breeze that had started up. It got worse and worse as we went, particularly from Cooper on. They waited for me once and I urgently waived them on, as there was no point in slowing them down and it only stressed me out. It took me forever to cross to Salisbury and I was very relieved when they paused only briefly at the end of the channel before disappearing. The westerly that was driving two foot or more seas at me in the Open turned into a nasty little chop that slowed us down all the way up the channel, and what is usually an hour and a half in decent weather took us two and a half hours. Still, the day was fine, I'd been in a t-shirt the whole way, and Ezra was there to meet me, and prospects looked good for over a week in town including a full weekend.

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