Taku 2023 - 3: Trail Work
July 20 - 23



Slough reflections

Photo Album

It's so mercifully quiet, the view out the window quite extraordinary, the sun behind the central cluster of spruces but still shining on half of the meadow and the glacier. It is supposed to be the last non-rainy day for a while, but we will see! The seas were pretty much calm, the loading and trip alarmingly uneventful. I got underway at 2:15, entered the river (Flat Point) at 3:30, picked up an ice berg a little further up, and arrived at the dock around 4:10. I never touched bottom, but definitely had to cross a sandbar in front of the glacier to get to the deep channel. I followed the shoreline up to the lower private parcel on Taku Point before heading out and it was deep along shore there, but I think to find the channel out to the glacier I need to head out at the first point just above the USFS cabin. Along the meadow I pretty much just followed a straight line toward the narrow bare rock strip as it didn't seem like a good idea to turn in along the bare rock section as I have before. Perhaps I was on a slightly different course. I passed one short section at three feet to get to shore but was otherwise comfortable on a 15' tide at about 20,500 cfs.

One light cart load and all the gear was at the cabin. I heard "buck" calls from the woods upriver, so as soon as I opened all the shutters and took everything inside, I headed out with camera and binoculars in the hopes of seeing the willow ptarmigan again. I didn't find them, so walked to the point to send an inreach message. While waiting, a pair of cedar waxwings flew in and perched, gleaming, at the top of a spruce tree! They perched together in a couple of trees before continuing downriver. Amazing. Two pairs of cedar waxwings in only a couple of weeks, in two different places (the other was on the avalanche area in Juneau). There were four of what I think were juvenile Lincoln's sparrows hanging out in the spruces over the river nearby, a fox sparrow I'd passed on the way in, three juncos, one of which was intermediate between juvenile and adult plumage, and a juvenile sandpiper walking along the beach who disappeared before I could get a picture of him. Based on his bobbing, perhaps spotted. It was a lot! Back at the cabin I wasn't sure what to do, so I fed Cailey, simmered some hummingbird nectar, then gathered binocs, camera, mosquito coil, wine, book, glasses and, eventually, hat, and sat on the porch getting mildly buzzed and soaking in the afternoon sun and the relief of being here. I have since dropped some beer, sodas, and a G&T in the river to chill, hauled the lumber up to the top of the landing, and eaten a simple dinner of Indian food and semolina toast, deciding that not heading out to work tonight would be a good idea. After all, I have two, almost three, days on my own to do whatever pleases me, including clipping all the branches I like. Tonight, Cailey and I can relax. But the beginning today was good, and I have hopes for many more bird, etc., encounters before the weekend is through.

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What a day! Looking back I can hardly believe what I did, though I am now, finally, feeling quite weary. I managed to sleep in a little and lounge around in bed, not getting up until quarter to nine. I ate some yogurt (ice cold from sitting on the melting glacier ice) with oatmeal followed by a cup of cafe francais with half a pack of instant coffee and some sugar to continue the leisurely morning. A downpour, followed by steady rain, had started at some point late in the night, so when I was ready to get moving, I suited up in raingear and dropped my binoculars and inreach in a pack. On the way back toward the meadow, I roughly measured the muddy section I meant to work on and found it almost exactly 32 feet--perfect for the four boards I'd brought--and only gently curving.

When I hit the meadow I turned onto the loop and started clipping back the willow, alders, blueberries, and occasional spruce boughs from the trail. It was satisfying work, surprisingly dense in some place, but never too difficult to execute. I tried to toss or carry the cuttings off trail, but there was so much, it is not always well placed. The bulk of the work was on the section between the end of the trail and the dense alders outside Crossroads; from there the work got easier as I'd already cut some of the limbs from there to the first real meadow, so it was half the work it might have been. It was immensely satisfying to walk back along the trail, clipping and tossing away a few items I'd missed, but overall walking comfortably without pushing past brush or dodging branches. There are a few alders that one has to step over that are too big for clippers, but even if those are left, it is a magnificent trail. I certainly gave them a lot to sniff next time they walk it if nothing else.

I made it back to the cabin around noon and took Cailey down to check on the boat, picking up a root beer from the river while I was there (I'd dropped several beers, root beers, and a G&T in the river to chill last night). Cailey is back on confinement after her Snettisham romping a week ago caused her to limp again. I hadn't leashed her thinking it was just a short walk, but that rambunctious pup ran half the time. She does love to move, but I will need to leash her if we walk any distance so she keeps resting that leg. When we got back I decided that a cold beer sounded better than a root beer, so I took the Pacifico that had been on the ice to the porch with a cookie and relaxed for a while, enjoying the light overcast day and reading a little. The rain had stopped around the time I'd left to work and I got so hot clipping that I'd quickly stopped and stowed my sweater in my pack, leaving me with only a tshirt on under my raincoat. Whether from water seeping through the jacket from pushing through brush or sweat or both, my tshirt was soaking, so I'd changed out of that and changed my mildly wet pants as well. As I got comfortable, I looked up at the two hummingbird feeders I'd put out the night before (the bottom fell out of a third one right outside the door) and thought how I wished at least one hummer would come by. With the fireweed only barely starting to bloom, it seemed early for those 15+ birds to have migrated already and surely someone was still around? As if on cue, one immediately stopped by. Though a little shy, he came back often and fed on most passes if I didn't move too much.

The beer and cookie fortified me pretty well, so I delayed eating lunch in favor of starting work on a water bucket cabinet for the back porch. While I was gathering materials, I noticed that the grease trap lid was off and, on further investigation, found that the main box was rotated out of its hollow and the inlet pipe was detached. I eased it back in place, replaced the pipe, inserted the inner baffle, and put the lid back on. Then, back to work. I decided on measurements (15" deep to match the length of the log walls jutting onto the edge of the porch and 20" high to give the larger tubs a few inches of clearance), marked the boards for cutting, moved the generator to the deck, and started making cuts. It went reasonably well and I set about building rectangular frames for either side. I put them in place and made sure they were square and plumb and left enough room to access the water line valves on the one side and to put plywood siding on the other side, between it and the door, if desired. I made sure they were the same distance apart and square, then cut three boards to place over the top of them. My mom had wanted a bench and darned if it doesn't look like a bench! The whole thing went quite well and there were no major hangups. Each side is screwed to the deck in two places and to the wall in one place and the 2x4s across the top are surprisingly sturdy to sit on. We can decide later how to secure the front, but I suspect a bear won't be motivated enough to pull something out from underneath there; still, we should make sure.

I cleaned up, put everything away, and stashed five water jugs in their new cabinet. This leaves three jugs without a home--one will be in use inside and I put the other two--one of which is the wash water jug--under the deck beneath the firewood with the plywood in front of them to discourage bears. Hopefully we'll always have enough water that those can remain there. At the moment, we only have one full white jug with drinking water, plus a mostly full one inside, plus a blue jug with the two or three gallons I drained from the olive barrel this morning. It was a bit disappointing, but at least it is holding water and we really haven't had very much rain since we were here three weeks ago, so hopefully that's the reason we don't have more.

It wasn't quite 3:30 and I still wasn't ready for a break, so I fetched the 4-wheeler key, was pleased when it started right up, and headed down to the landing to pick up the four 2x12s, placing two on each side of me. I dropped off two at the back porch and picked up the six 16" pieces of the 4x4 I'd cut earlier to support the boardwalk. The engine seemed to hesitate now and again but otherwise ran well and I soon had the first two boards laid over the muddy ground. Overlapping the second board with the first, I estimated the angle that needed to be cut in the end so it could curve with the path. Then I carried the first board to the third section and used it to estimate the next cut. To save trips, I decided to make both cuts on the same board, which I drove back to the back porch. Amazingly, the cuts went smoothly and left no awkward notches to remove. I drove that board and another uncut board back to the mud and this time the 4-wheeler died once along the way and it was more often thinking about stalling; I also had to stop twice as I lost boards when we turned corners.

I carried both boards over and the cuts looked like they would work. With the third in place, I took the first board into the place of the fourth and used that to estimate the cut I'd make to the final board back at the cabin. The ride back was a little rougher, but if I gave it consistent gas it seemed to maintain speed, so I decided to risk a last ride back to the slough with the final cut board. It stalled a couple of times and finally would not start again, objecting with a backfire. I shut it down and carried the board into place from there, maybe half way down the trail. The boards now look great and hopefully will just need some excavation of the 4x4s and some nails to finish the job. That was too much for today, though, especially with the sudden ferocity of the mosquitoes, so I walked back to the 4-wheeler to find that it would not start again and, when I tried, gave a very loud backfire. I put it in neutral and backed it up off the side of the trail, then fetched its tarp and Cailey, who I felt bad about leaving alone all afternoon, to walk back and cover it up. I hope I can get it going long enough tomorrow to put it away until someone with more knowledge can work on it. It still has the other problem my mom and I ran into last summer where it won't downshift into neutral while the engine is running, so I had to shut it off, turn the key on, down shift to neutral, and start the engine before I could put it into reverse. Thankfully, it will upshift from reverse to neutral to first gear.

And then I was very ready for a break. I cleaned up a little, fed my very hungry dog, and quickly made the same dinner as I did last night--Indian food and toast (three slices this time) with lettuce from my garden. The only snack I had between beer and dinner was a delicious nectarine. I ate on the porch again with Cailey on the bed next to me and lingered just a little while before deciding to take a walk upriver. Other than a little sprinkle, the whole afternoon had been pleasant and overcast and the sun was out at dinner, making me take my flannel off while I sat there. Leaving Cailey inside, I donned binoculars and camera and headed upriver on the very pleasant trail. The first birds I encountered were a flock of chatty chickadees in Spruce Alley; to my surprise, a couple of them repeatedly approached me, perching in the spruce boughs just a couple of feet away, peering at me and chickadee-deeing. Were they alarming at me, or were they curious and their vocalizations unrelated? They didn't seem upset. Either way, it was a delight for me and I caught some lovely photos. They kept plucking something yellow-brown from the spruces which I at first thought was a seed but later it looked like it moved a bit before being devoured. Soon two ruby-crowned kinglets and two Wilson's warblers joined the groups--both an adult and a fledgling I think. It was a cheery start and I continued a bird survey to Devastation Alley and back to the cabin. As I broke into the meadow, a Lincoln's sparrow started alarming from the edge of the spruces and soon a little fledgling flushed from the ground at my feet, laboriously flying into a small spruce up ahead, such an adorable little guy. His dad (presumably) sand from the other side of the narrow meadow.

Farther on, two yellow warblers joined the two hermit thrushes singing along with a second Lincoln's sparrow. I caught sight of a bird flying from Devastation Alley way and at first thought it was a warbling vireo, then realized the size of the supercilium and the short, stouter body meant it was probably a Tennessee warbler, no less exciting. I couldn't tell sex, but they were collecting green caterpillars for somebody. Funny that I haven't heard one sing there this year as I have the last two years.

I changed pants again when I got home, though they weren't nearly as wet as I would have imaged after the rainfall this morning, and here I am cozy inside. Although a fire would help dry out my clothes and gear, the temperature with a blanket is so pleasant I just don't need one. It's nearly 8:00 and I have no plans but X-Files and a book for the rest of the night.

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I managed to sleep in a little again and got up around the same time. I had been up about 12:30 and poked my head outside long enough to see that there were quite a few stars in the not-quite-dark sky. But thoughts of an early morning canoe went out the window when the rain started some hours later and was coming down pretty steadily when I got up. I didn't relish the idea of a wet canoe, so I had breakfast and read on the couch with Cailey until I was motivated enough to get going. Birdwatching is difficult in the rain and I didn't feel much like going for a wet tromp either, so I settled on finishing chores. So, all suited up, I carried my backpack, level, garden rake, hammer, and nails out to the new boardwalk and, starting on the far end, got all the 4x4s level and all the boards lined up. Actually, with the exception of the 4x4 that I placed intermediately between the first and second board, they required almost no work and were already level. Before I knew it, everything was nailed in and the job was done. It was almost so easy I began to question myself as to why I'd done it in the first place. It is a very mucky area, but did it really warrant $175 in lumber? Perhaps in September it'll seem more reasonable! It does look quite nice.

On the way back, I pulled the tarp off the 4-wheeler and climbed on, very pleased to find that it started right up. In fact, it ran so well that I didn't have to turn it off to go into reverse which I had to do twice in order to finish turning around. It ran beautifully and had only one hiccup on the way in, then started to sputter again. I did have to turn it off to put it in reverse to get into its garage. There I left it covered, with gratitude that we made it back. In short, my experience with it is that its symptoms get progressively worse the longer it runs.

Since that all went well and I was already wet and suited up, I loaded up with drill and screws and drivers and headed out to the signs along the southern border, adding two supports to the one closest to the mountain, one to the next one, and one to the last one (which didn't have any supports at that point), drilling holes and screwing them all together. With the two fence posts (one sporting a sign) that I'd found in the vicinity of the middle sign I worked on, I headed back to the cabin, arriving at 12:30, or about two hours after I left. I had a lunch of quesadilla and fresh guacamole and a Pacifico on the porch as the rain continued, then laid down on the couch with Cailey, read for a while, and then dozed off here and there. As much to dry my wet clothes--pretty much everything but what I'd changed into when I got back--than for warmth, I'd started a little fire.

At 3:30 I got up and headed out again as the rain had stopped and the day was brightening. Perhaps a canoe after all would be a good thing. Wearing my mom's raincoat since mine was still quite wet (in the cuffs), I headed out with the last two stakes to add to the sign on the island along with the drill and hardware to add screws to the corners of the signs themselves, which I should have done earlier but forgot. So I'd have to return to them after all! This has really felt like an endless project. I figured I'd do that on the way back, at which point I could pick up the mallet which I'd left on the ground somewhere in the Glen area.

While paddling out to the island with the sign, I realized that I needed that mallet to pound in the stakes I'd brought. And so I'd have to come back again! But, in the meantime, I did stop by and screw in the sign, then started a bird survey as I paddled toward the beaver lodge nearby, which I suspect is no longer occupied based on the lack of trails around it and the nearby dam in the tributary slough which has fallen apart on one end. That disarray allowed me easy access to the slough beyond, which immediately turned clear. I saw one 5" fish dart away as I entered. I first explored the slough branching to the right, which I didn't even remember was there, going until it narrowed and was overhung with roots or branches. On the way back I saw a dead fish lying on the bottom and investigated. It had a huge, rounded head, long, foot-like pectoral fins, small fleshy fins beneath, a long, low, spined dorsal fin, and round eyes. Probably a sculpin [maybe slimy], but not one I'm familiar with. He was probably 4" long.

The main slough was alive, as it had been earlier in the season, with small fish surfacing and often leaping clear of the water. I wondered if they are escaping predation or just really aggressively attacking insects on the surface? They were concentrated in certain areas but activity was all around. I peered into the water but saw nothing. Meanwhile, the birds were very scarce and the "survey" was starting to feel rather awkward. I did see a female duck with two ducklings, but they ducked into the sedge and I didn't want to flush them, so moved on. Around Yellowthroat Island, I had amazing looks at a flycatcher foraging and perching--I would guess an alder flycatcher, in which case this is the finest look I've ever had at one. Unfortunately he did not vocalize but I did get a few pictures with his very prominent wing bars shining. Near the second beaver lodge I heard fledgling/nestling buzzing and went ashore in time to see a song sparrow land with a beak full of green caterpillars who started alarming at me. I never saw the babies, but I did see two orange-crowned warblers and heard a few other birds. While there, I walked over to the northern boundary no hunting sign and screwed it in, falling no less than THREE TIMES in a matter of seconds on the way. I was not in the best of moods and some choice thoughts entered my mind.

Back on the water, the sun had come out and the birding picked up. A yellowthroat, yellow warbler, and Lincoln's sparrow were singing on and off in the distance, a couple of barn swallows were feeding, and two female/juvenile yellowthroats "stonechatted" me from the willows. About half way to the mountain, seven ducks erupted from their perch on the bank and scuttled into a tiny slough right next to them. While pulling quietly up along the bank to see if I could find them, a duck flushed right from my bow, flailed for a long time on the water, and then dove and disappeared. Meanwhile, the family had calmed enough and were peering at me from in the slough and I had a nice look at the pretty feathered ducklings and then mom looming nearby. She turned enough for me to see the blue-purple speculum and adjacent white on her wing--mallard. Then another duck erupted from in front of me--so close and I had no idea they were there. This one did the same long flailing flap on the water, then scuttled into the bank and disappeared.

By then it was 5:20 and I turned around, unfortunately chasing what was probably the first flushed duck ahead of me all the way. She could fly, but either not very well or chose not to, maybe molting, or maybe something else. I felt bad about it, especially when she finally flew more than a foot in the air and turned around to head back upslough just as I reached the landing and would have stopped harassing her. From there I headed to the middle sign (I'd done the mountain side one on the way in), only to have the battery on the drill die on me while drilling the last hole. So I'd have to come back to those as well... Oh well. So I went and fetched the mallet and headed home to a happy dog. While sitting on the porch with more toast and Indian food, a yellow-rumped warbler sang nearby and the place seemed alive with birds, so I started a bird survey to log him. Of course by the time I finished eating, most of the activity had moved on, but I decided to stroll around the meadow and finish anyway. I found three robins at the water's edge near the point, then a chipping sparrow flew into the trees that had fallen over the bank nearby with caterpillars in his beak to a lot of buzzing, though I never saw the young ones. It did make me wonder if those mystery sparrows from my first evening here were actually fledgling chipping sparrows?? A ruby-crowned kinglet came by and the sparrow flew off into a spruce tree (returning a couple of times later). I moved downriver and heard a telltale "buck" from the alders along the riverbank. The ptarmigan! I found him, hidden in the alders right at the bank, similar to the one I'd seen before but the light wasn't nearly as good so I wasn't yet sure about his rufous breast. I also saw some babies farther downriver so, after I tried to take photos of the adult without startling him (I surely didn't want any babies heading over the riverbank, or really to bother them at all), I crept downriver, circling around the spruce tree to come up on the other side of them. There I had wonderful looks at three little ones. Their feathering is amazing and their feet lightly feathered as far as I could tell. They were a warm beige and brown, just beautiful. Then I saw that there were two others behind an alder trunk and one of those had some white feathering on the belly. As I shifted to get a better look I discovered that this ptarmigan was considerably larger than the others! I had found mom, sitting quietly with the four babies while dad drew my attention. Marvelous. I had great looks and took photos as dad returned and then quietly led them away.

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It rained heavily again the next morning, but once I suited up and got out the door it was pleasant enough. Cailey wasn't interested in much of a walk, so I took her back to the cabin and left for the very quick task of finishing screwing in the no hunting signs, having charged the battery while doing chores around the cabin. While I was puttering around clipping spruces and alders from the meadow after I got back, I found myself in the middle of an enormous mixed flock of songbirds consisting, as far as I could tell, mostly of chickadees, both kinglets, and three kinds of warblers (Wilson's, Townsend's, and orange-crowned). There were also a bunch of siskins, chipping sparrows (adult and fledgling), and others. So I did a survey, then continued tidying up. All the little things take time: doing dishes, making nectar, ripping up the vermiculite box on the back porch, finishing filling the blue water jug and adding a gallon or so to the other from the rain that had fallen over the last couple of days, putting away the extension cord, etc. The glacier ice had melted a little outside the bowl I put it in, or it overflowed, so I wound up cleaning the fridge from the winter's mildew with that extra moisture and tidying it up.

While eating lunch, the rain stopped falling, but started again just as I suited up to head to Devastation Alley for a final stroll and bird survey. I found it surprisingly quiet and only logged two pine siskins--one urgently calling the entire time--a Lincoln's sparrow, and a snipe I flushed. I also saw another flycatcher. It was actually rather relaxing pursuing every birdy sound I heard and thoroughly walking through the whole area. I spent the rest of the afternoon writing and reading and cleaning up, starting the final routine around 4:30 and departing just after 5:00. Everything went so smoothly and calmly that again I had anxiety about what I must have forgotten to do! As it was, the whole ride home was incredibly pleasant; I could see that the water was coming up a little from the rain (it was at about 27,500 at that point), but it was still an hour and 15 minutes before the tide and I was thrilled to take the new channel and never see anything less than four feet of water. I carefully assessed my route in front of the glacier and now think I'll be able to find it better; very close to the glacier side all the way to the south end of the Norris River outlet, then to the first point above the USFS cabin; hopefully I can use that in reverse and avoid crossing the sandbar as I did this time. The seas were mild, the sky dry and clearing, and the only excitement was running over my first ever gillnet. That was a surprise! I pride myself in avoiding them, but I was looking for the buoy well in front of me when the cork line came up. I had enough time to put the engine in neutral but could not lift it fast enough. Thankfully, nothing caught. And, again, in the harbor, unloading and tying up was so easy it was alarming! At 7:30 I was on the couch, showered and dinnered.

Fledgling Lincoln's sparrow