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Archive for the ‘National Parks’ Category

The morning of our last day in the Tongass National Park wilderness was overcast and misty. There was talk of rain. We hoped not.

P1140473.JPG

P1140473 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

After breakfast, the clouds began to rise revealing the mountains.

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P1140469 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

The crew dropped the kayaks into the water and everyone geared up for our last day in this pristine, wonderful part of the world… walking, kayaking or floating about in the DIBS (inflatables known as Zodiacs in Australia).

P1140474

P1140474 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

What a beautiful place! There was great anticipation amongst the walkers (David included) that this might just be the day that they would encounter a bear on their walk. The area is known for its bears and the salmon run was about to start in streams around this bay.

P1110775 © DY of jtdytravels

P1110775 © DY of jtdytravels

Several interesting jelly fish floated by as we were preparing to climb into the DIBs to go ashore. This one was the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish, Cyanea capillata.

Like all jellyfish, this one is ‘diploblastic’ which means it has two primary layers: the ectoderm, the inner layer of tissue associated with the gut, and the endoderm, the outer layer, which includes the nervous tissue.  The animal’s radial symmetry allows it to reach out in all directions from the centre, assisting their feeding.

But this jellyfish has some specialised characteristics. It doesn’t have a brain or eyes so it has to rely on nerve cells to sense and react to either food or danger. Some of its eight lobes have organs used for sensing odor and balance. And at the end of some of the lobes there are primitive light receptors!  It’s understood that these sensing organs tell the jellyfish whether they are heading up or down, and into the light or away from it.

Most of us know to beware of jellyfish and their stings; and the Lion’s Mane jellyfish is no exception. As you can see in the photo, there are many tentacles. In fact these animals can have up to 8 clusters each with 150 tentacles; Now, how’s your maths? I make that add  up to  1,200 tentacles per jellyfish… AND… one researcher recorded a  Cyanea capillata‘s tentacle at almost over 6 metres (200 ft) long… AND every single one of these enormous tentacles are lined with large amount of cnidocytes, the stuff that stings if you touch it. That’s impressive! One of the effects of the venom of the Lion’s Mane is ‘hemolysis’; the destruction of red blood cells. So stay well clear of these beauties.

And we did; we watched and waited until they floated by. But they don’t really float. They propel themselves using special muscles called coronal muscles which are embedded on the underside of the bell. These muscles push water out of the hollow bell. Then, as water is pushed in one direction, the jellyfish moves in the opposite direction.

Learning about them from our marine biologist was fascinating.

 

 

P1110780  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110780 © DY of jtdytravels

By the time we got to shore, the kayaks were lined up ready for those wanting to paddle their way around the calm waters of this bay.

P1110782  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110782 © DY of jtdytravels

David and his group began their walk, going by this tree that was just clinging to the rock face.

P1110787  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110787 © DY of jtdytravels

Another tree had a squirrel’s cache of pine cones in a hole at its base.

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P1110789  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

Nearby was a lovely example of the Narrow Beech Fern;  Thelypteris phegopteris.

P1110794  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110794 © DY of jtdytravels

This Coralroot Orchid, Corallorhiza maculata, is named the spotted orchid for its spotted lip. But it’s named coral root because it has no roots; it has, instead, hard, branched rhizomes that look like coral. It’s a parasitic orchid deriving its nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi in the deep, damp humus and soils in the understory of coniferous forests.

P1110812  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110812 © DY of jtdytravels

An Native of the Alaskan mountain forests,  Clintonia uniflora is a member of the lily family. It’s common names are bride’s bonnet and queen’s cup… neither of which seem to be very apt to me. 

You have to look in the understory of the coniferous forests to find this delightful small white flower.  Two or three long, wide leaves are located at the base of the stem.

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P1110808 © DY of jtdytravels

This flower will be replaced by just one round, blue berry, up to one centimetre wide.

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P1110862  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

Dying petals look very delicate, almost translucent, adorned as they are with raindrops.

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P1110863  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

The forest canopy reflected in a raindrop; one of the joys of a walking in the rain!

P1110814  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110814 © DY of jtdytravels

As usual in these forests, fungi abound, some like this one are very ‘architectural’.

P1110815  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110815 © DY of jtdytravels

A rain collector!

P1110821  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110821 © DY of jtdytravels

While David wandered on his flower spotting way through the forest, I was meandering in a DIB around the streams that run into the bay.

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P111o837  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

Every now and then we spotted each other through the trees. These streams are spawning grounds for salmon and I was enjoying Jason’s stories of the salmon as we floated along.

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P1140513  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

It was a delightful way to spend my last day in the Tongass National Forest.

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P1140516  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

The reflections were perfect… if we sat still enough in the boat.

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P1140499  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

We found a pair of eagles to watch. They were watching for salmon!

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P1140528 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels

After a dive into the water (no fish on this occasion) it dried its wings.

We watched it… it watched us. We wondered what it thought!

They are such a magnificent birds !

P1110825  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110825 © DY of jtdytravels

David walked on further into the forest but still following the stream.

P1110831  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110831 © DY of jtdytravels

The delightful red paintbrush flower; we’d seen it several times before.

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P1110833 © DY of jtdytravels

Always well worth a closer inspection.

P1110839  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110839 © DY of jtdytravels

We had seen many example of the Black Lily or Chocolate Lily, Fritillaria camschatcensis, on our forest walks. The name denotes that it is native to Kamchatka on the far east Russian Peninsular where David had trekked a couple of years before. (Those stories are written up on www.dymusings.com)

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that this lily looks lovely but it has a really bad smell which it uses that to attract flies as pollinators. Before rice became available in quantity in these parts, the local native people of Alaska used the plant’s clusters of rice like, tiny white bulbs as food hence the other common names of Indian Rice or Eskimo Potato. Nowadays, the art of harvesting and cooking the lily roots has all but disappeared.   

P1110887  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110887 © DY of jtdytravels

A good example of bracket fungi, a woody fungi that grows on tree trunks.

P1110886  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110886 © DY of jtdytravels

Further upstream away from the larger pond, the walkers had to cross a stream.

P1110891  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110891 © DY of jtdytravels

And not long after that, they were stopped in their tracks. What are they looking at?

P1110895  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

P1110895 © DY of jtdytravels

A bear! Yes, they actually came across a bear. Stand still. Don’t move. That’s the rule.

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But the bear was not interested in them. It was looking to see if any salmon had come up the stream yet. The salmon spawning run was about to begin and this bear was ready!

And you can imagine the excitement back on the ship. Last walk. Last chance. A BEAR!

And so the forest walks ended on a very high, very satisfying note. But once the bear was seen, it was not wise to stay in that part of the forest, so it was back to the ship- quietly.

But once on board, the lunch room was a buzz of excited bear chatter. And after lunch, it was time to weigh anchor and sail for Sitka, our final port of call on this adventure through the waterways of the Tongass National Forest and the Inside Passage of Alaska.

More of Sitka anon

.Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass this site onto others

www.jtdytravels.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.dymusings.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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Welcome back to this site after our diversion to www.dymusings.com for photos and stories of David’s treks and explorations of parts of China and Mongolia. We hope our regular readers have enjoyed those posts and thank you for joining David for his journeys.

He’s having a rest from travel at the moment and will be off again later in the year.

So to keep all of our armchair travellers out and about and exploring the world, we’ll now return to my journey with David through Alaska’s Inside Passage adventure in June 2015 with National Geographic/ Lindblad expeditions on our small ship Sea Lion. Of course, as I write this from the heat of an Australian summer, Alaska is in the midst of deep winter. But no matter; we can still enjoy more of this amazing part of the world together. I will be posting on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for those who wish to follow these post.

In the last post that I published on this site, (#23 in this Alaskan series), we sailed north through Glacier Bay National Park towards the glaciers that give the park its name. In this post we’ll add photos of some of those majestic glaciers which can only be viewed from the ship… no landings are permitted within this National Park.

Glacier Map

Glacier Map

Glacier Bay needs a full day’s sailing to explore; it covers 3,280.198 acres and we only saw the part visible from our good ship as it meandered its way up through the mountains.

As we sailed, our National Park guide reminded us that when Capt. George Vancouver sailed the Alaska coast in 1794, Glacier Bay did not exist. It lay beneath a sheet of glacial ice several miles wide and thousands of feet thick. Since then, in one of the fastest glacial retreats on record, the ice has shrunk back the 65 miles of our sailing. As it has shrunk, it has unveiled new land and a new bay. It’s as if this area is returning to life after a long winter’s sleep.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110593

Approaching Margerie Glacier © DY of jtdytravels; P1110593

The first glacier we approached was the Margerie Glacier in the Tarr Inlet. This glacier is about 1.6 km (1 mile) wide and it’s height at the face is about 110m (350 ft) ; that includes the ice that extends underwater for a depth of 30m (100 feet). Although at this point the glacier still looked far away and not too large, it grew in grandeur as we approached. 

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140228

Margerie Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140228

Margerie Glacier extends up into the mountains for a length of 34 km (21 miles) to its source on the southern slopes of Mount Root.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1110602

Margerie Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1110602

We were able to clearly see the black lines of moraine… the dirt and rocks that are carried down with the ice towards the terminus.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110605

Margerie Glacier © DY of jtdytravels; P1110605

We were able to get close enough to see the deep blues in the fissures in the ice.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140231

Margerie Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140231

We were told that an iceberg’s colour often reveals its makeup; dense bergs are blue, while those filled with trapped air bubbles are white.

© JT od jtdytravels; P1140235

Margerie Glacier © JT od jtdytravels; P1140235

There were many wonderful ice sculptures to hold our attention.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140253

Margerie Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140253

Some seemed to be on the verge of breaking away to calve into the bay.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140255

Margerie Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140255

Ice has been a major force in the Glacier Bay region for at least the last seven million years. However, the glaciers we gazed at with such awe, are remnants of ‘ The Little Ice Age”… a general ice advance that began about 4,000 years ago.  The ice here reached its maximum extent about 1750, when general melting began.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140219

Margerie Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140219

This is a good example of the layering effect of a glacier… layer upon layer of ice with layers of moraine trapped in the ice for perhaps centuries.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140258

Margerie Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140258

We were lucky enough to see several calvings of ice from the face of the glacier. It’s just difficult to get your timing right for photos! You can be watching one end of the face, when with a loud creak and crash, the ice falls from another part. But you always hear them. When the ice hits the water it sounds like a cannon shot. “White thunder,” the Tlingit called it, ‘the awesome voice of glacial ice’.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140252

Margerie Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140252

The remains of a calving break up into various sized icebergs that float off down the bay. Blocks of ice up to 200 feet high sometimes break loose and crash into the water.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140294

John Hopkins Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140294

Without doubt, the most majestic glacier in Glacier bay National Park is the John Hopkins Glacier. It’s 19 km (12 m) long and cannot be approached too closely by ships… the bergs that carve here are too large for safety. And, anyway, this is a favourite safe haul out for harbour seals… well away away from predators, especially when they are pupping.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140303

John Hopkins Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140303

With a long distance lens, the ‘roads of moraine’ are clearly visible.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140299

John Hopkins Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140299

John Hopkins is one of the several huge tidewater glaciers that flow out of from these mountains and down to the sea.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140327

A retreating glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140327

Our guide told us that scientists come here regularly to study glacial retreat; this area is called by some “a living laboratory for the grand processes of glacial retreat, plant succession, and animal dynamics. It is an open book on the last ice age.”

As we sailed between glaciers, we saw that much of the very rugged, more recently deglaciated land was beginning to host some vegetation.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140324

A retreating glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140324

Several glaciers were continuing their retreat back into the mountains.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140353

Lamplugh Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140353

Lamplugh Glacier was my favourite of all the glaciers. It rises 45 to 55 m (150-180 ft) above the waterline and goes down 3 to 12 m (10-40 ft) below. The Lamplugh is immense; almost 1.2 km (3/4 ml) wide. It flows for 26 km (16 ml) from its source at a rate of 365 m (1200 ft) per year. They are pretty impressive statistics; but not as impressive as being there, right there… close up to such grandeur!

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140335

Lamplugh Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140335

While we were enjoying the spectacle of such a wonderful glacier, our guide gave us brief explanation of the formation of a glacier. Up in the high mountains, at the source of the glacier, it’s so cold that none of the snow melts even in the summer… so the snowfall exceeds snowmelt. Over time, that snow pack builds up until the weight of the upper, newer, layers of snow press down on previous layers of snow, deforming the flakes beneath and changing them into granular snow, like round ice grains. I was amazed to learn that individual crystals can sometimes grow the size of a football. Air trapped between the snowflakes is also frozen into the ice at this immense pressure.  Eventually the granular snow becomes solid ice, many, many meters thick.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140339

Lamplugh Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140339

The ice near the bottom of the glacier is under such tremendous pressure that it flows almost like plastic over the rock beneath. Friction between the glacier and the bedrock produces meltwater which also allows the ice to slide. In places, you can see a cave like section under the glacier where the lowest layer of ice has melted away.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140349

Lamplugh Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140349

It’s fascinating to watch large chunks of the ice calve off forming icebergs, some so large they might last a week or more as they deteriorate and melt way. Icebergs provide perches for bald eagles, cormorants, and gulls, as well as haul-outs for seals.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140352

Lamplugh Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140352

We heard the mighty crash and splash as more ice fell into the bay. Spectacular! But it was also a timely reminder that icebergs are in retreat in many places around the world… and that’s not a good scenario for rising sea levels.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140359

Lamplugh Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140359

Here, we were able to witness the start of an iceberg’s journey down towards the sea. Earlier in our journey, we’d had the privilege of getting up very close to icebergs in our inflatables. Then, we’d actually heard the crackles and pops as ancient, long-trapped air was released from the ice.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140314 2

Retreating Glacier © JT of jtdytravels; P1140314 2

Too soon, it was time to sail back south away from the glaciers. There, on slopes which had been deglaciated 50 to 100 years ago, we saw alder and willow growing in the moraine close down to the shore. Rocky areas and cliffs, exposed within the last 30 years, had patches of pioneering plant life such as mosses, mountain avens and dwarf fireweed. And on the crest of the view was the last vestige of yet another retreating glacier.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110591

Leaving the glacier zone © DY of jtdytravels; P1110591

The further down the bay we sailed, the more vegetation we saw. This new vegetation has created habitats for wolves, moose, mountain goats, black bears, brown bears, ptarmigan, and other wildlife; all in an environment less than 200 years old. Our park ranger guide told us stories of her camping trips in the wild here and of her contact with some of these animals… up close and personal! A little too close and personal for my liking!

The sea here also supports a wide variety of life; salmon, bald eagles, harbour seals, harbour porpoises, killer whales and humpback whales… and its the story of one particular whale that will be the centre of our next Alaska posting.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass this site onto others

www.jtdytravels.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.dymusings.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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A much anticipated day was our visit to Glacier Bay National Park.

Glacier Bay map

Glacier Bay map

This area, at the northern end of Tongass National Forest on the Alaskan Panhandle is very special. As far back as February 25th, 1925, the uniqueness of this area was noted. It needed to preserved as true wilderness. In a far sighted act, the then US President, Calvin Coolidge, proclaimed it a ‘National Monument under the Antiquities Act’.

In total, the wilderness area of Glacier Bay National Park covers 10,784 km² (4,164 mi²). There’s also a large extension to the park that’s called a preserve, where hunting can be undertaken, but only under special licence. I’ve never been able to fathom the need for people to hunt and shoot wild animals for ‘trophies’ but that’s the way it is in these parts.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140458

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140458

The entrance to Glacier Bay is close to the entrance of the Inside Passage. The big Cruise Ships come in from the Gulf of Alaska via Icy Strait, away from the rolling sea, as I remember it from my last visit here in 2001, and into much calmer waters. On this visit to Alaska, in 2015, I’d spent the night asleep on board our small ship ‘Sea Lion” in the calm waters of one of the nearby coves. In the morning, we only had to sail across the strait to the National Park  headquarters to pick up our guide, Nicole. Every ship, large or small, must take on board a Park Ranger. Their task is to check that no rules are broken and also to act as the NP guide for the day.

Many of the glaciers in this famous Bay, owe their existence to the largest of all mountains in the area, Mt Fairweather. Storms blow in from the ocean and dump their icy waters as snow on and over the Mt Fairweather area. Over centuries, glaciers form from the compacted snow.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140456

Tlingit Totem symbol © JT of jtdytravels; P1140456

In the 1800’s, this area became a fishing place for the native Huna Tlingit. Their name for the highest mountain in the area was Tsalxhaan.  When Captain James Cook saw it, on a fine day in 1778, he named it Mt Fairweather… not really an apt description as it’s not often seen for cloud and is not known for fair weather. Regardless of that, Cook’s naming has been kept.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140448

Glacier Bay in 1750 © JT of jtdytravels; P1140448

The story of Glacier Bay in recorded history is one of fast, spectacular retreat. In Tlingit memory, a huge glacier protruded out into Icy Strait. The first European to mention this area was French explorer La Perouse in 1786. Then, when George Vancouver’s expedition came this way in 1794, they found Icy Strait choked with ice…. hence the name. The area we now know as Glacier Bay was in fact just one tidewater glacier. By 1879, just 85 years later, the famous naturalist John Muir found that the glacier had retreated up the bay by 77km (48mi). And by 1916, the ‘Grand Pacific Glacier’ had retreated 105km (65mi) from the mouth of the bay. This was the fastest recorded iceberg retreat and has been studied by scientists ever since.

The most dramatic example of glacier retreat in the last century was that of the glacier named after John Muir. The calving face of Muir Glacier was 3.2 km (2mi) wide and 81 m (265 ft) high. By the 1990’s, it was no longer calving into the bay. It had retreated back into the ice sheet in the mountains. One wonders what Muir would have made of that!

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140452

Tlingit summer fishing camp © JT of jtdytravels; P1140452

In the late 1800’s, John Muir found the Tlingit people living in their summer camps near the mouth of the bay. They came here to fish and hunt. These people travelled in their dug out canoes throughout these waters, fishing, hunting and visiting other clans for weddings and for ‘potlatch’ ceremonies in which gifts were exchanged to keep peace between the various clans. Maybe we could learn something from this ‘potlatch’ tradition today to help maintain peace instead of resorting to seemingly endless wars! A tradition of giving rather than taking!

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140425

Tlingit canoe © JT of jtdytravels; P1140425

This example of a Tlingit canoe was built, in the traditional way using an adze, by craftsmen in 1987.  It’s made from a single spruce tree and is on show at the Ranger’s headquarters.

After picking up our Park guide Nicole and her understudy, Jenny, we sailed on into the bay in search of wildlife. This was the distinct advantage of being on such a small ship. The large cruise ships sail straight up the bay to see the glaciers and then straight back down again. We had the priviledge of taking our time, of exploring around small islands, of slowing right down when animals were sighted and of getting in close to bays and beaches and cliffs. But we stayed on board. There were no off ship excursions or activities. That was not permitted.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110474

Stellar Sea Lions hauled out on a rock © DY of jtdytravels; P1110474

Small rocks we passed were often covered in Steller sea lions. They are named after Georg Wilhelm Steller who first described them as a distinct type of sea lion in 1741. They are the largest of the eared seals and like other sea lions, they are thigmotactic; they like to cuddle up close together!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110503

Steller Sea Lions © DY of jtdytravels; P1110503

Steller sea lions are, for some as yet unexplained reason, declining in numbers in Alaska. They are the object of much debate by Alaskan scientists, fishermen and politicians. The reason for the decline is likely to be a complex web of factors including less available fish due to over fishing. With less fatty fish like herring available, sea lions eat more of the leaner fish like pollock and flounder. This limits the amount of fat in the diet, a necessary requirement for survival in these cold waters. Other reasons put forward for this decline in numbers are: shooting by fishermen who see the sea lions as a threat to their own livelihoods, changes in climate, contaminants in waters and increased predation by orcas. The latter I find hard to believe. We did not see one Orca on the whole expedition.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140041

Steller Sea Lion defending territory © JT of jtdytravels; P1140041

The big bull Steller sea lions constantly defend their chosen territory. They are polygynous but, unlike the sea lion species we had seen in Galapagos, these Stella sea lions don’t have harems of females. Instead the bulls control a space where females can come and go but no other male is welcome. We watched this big fellow see off several intruders.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110498

Cormorants © DY of jtdytravels; P1110498

These cormorants seemed to be doing the impossible; standing on a steeply sloping rock face. But they do more than just stand on the slopes; they nest on narrow ledges and shallow depressions on the steepest slopes they can find on the cliffs of rocky islands like this one. The nests are made of anything they can find such as marine algae, grass, moss, sticks and flotsam and debris. They use their excrement to cement these bits and pieces together. All that work is not wasted as the nests are reused year after year. These birds are great divers and feed mostly on bottom feeding fish and invertebrates.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140074

Puffin © JT of jtdytravels; P1140074

It was wonderful to see quite a lot of puffins in these waters near the small islands. But they are very small and so hard to photograph. And they are endlessly diving for small fish. Their large colourful bills are more colourful in the summer nesting season than in winter when the bill’s outer layers are shed. Their black and white plumage is referred to in their genus name  Fratercula, which is derived from the Latin meaning ‘little brother’. It was thought that their plumage resembles monastic robes. Once again, perhaps some imagination is required!

In general, puffins nest underground but at rocky sites like these islands, they do nest on cliff faces. The female lays just one whitish egg and then both parents take turns in the important tasks of incubating the egg and going out to fish. The chick is hatched in July or early August, and then the parents take turns in caring for and feeding the chick. At about five days old, the chick has to fend for itself on that ledge whilst both parents go out to find food.  As the colder weather comes in, the birds leave to spend the winter in the Ocean and never venturing back to the land until the next breeding season. So we were very lucky to see them at nesting time.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140105

Braided stream © JT of jtdytravels; P1140105

In several places we saw braided streams coming down through old glacial valleys. Here, the pioneer plants like Alder were in evidence, re-establishing land previously covered in ice.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140116

Snow and ice covered mountains ahead. © JT of jtdytravels; P1140116

Ice covered mountains came into sight the further north we sailed up the bay.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140147

Rocky cliffs scoured by glacial action © JT of jtdytravels; P1140147

Only lichens and mosses could grow on these cliff faces.

© JY of jtdytravels; P1140166

Grizzly Bear © JY of jtdytravels; P1140166

The cry of “BEAR! BEAR!” soon had everyone rushing to the side of the ship. Because we were on such a small ship, the captain was able to edge closer to the shore and hold position while we watched the bear graze and wander through the grasses. It took absolutely no notice of us.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110543

An old glacial valley © DY of jtdytravels; P1110543

We sailed by several of these very picturesque old glacial valleys, testament to the time when this bay was covered in ice… and that just over two hundred years ago… not millennia!

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140168

A beach of glacial murrain © JT of jtdytravels; P1140168

Gravel brought down by the stream from this mountain had formed a beach.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140204

Wolves © JT of jtdytravels; P1140204

And it was on that beach that we saw wolves (Canis lupus). This caused great excitement. Many of our crew had never seen them and the Captain said it was most unusual to find them in this area. They are usually much more secretive. But on this day, these two chose to wander along the beach and were in view for at least twenty minutes. We just slowly followed them along the beach… from the safety of the ship, of course.

These wolves had very dark pelts, much darker than those found in northern parts of Alaska where, I suppose, they need to be able to ‘melt into’ the colours of a very different landscape. But the pelt colour of Alaskan wolves ranges from black to nearly white, with every shade of grey and brown in between although grey or black wolves like these are the most common.

Wolves can be legally hunted and trapped in Alaska, outside of the area of the National Park. They are classified as both big game animals and as furbearers and are deemed to be not endangered in Alaska. We were told that between 1994 and 2005 more than 14,000 wolves were reported to have been killed or trapped by hunters… and probably as many as that were not reported. We were glad that these two had the protection of a National Park.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110565

Mountain goats © DY of jtdytravels; P1110565

Mountain goats (Oreamnos americanus), as their name suggests, inhabit rugged habitats. They are the only North American representative of mountain ‘ungulates’ or rock goats. And they need to live in an environment like this where wolves can’t easily get to them. To survive here, their hooves are specially designed for climbing on steep, slippery slopes. Their feet have a hard keratinous sheath with an imbedded soft pad which enables them grip the maximum surface area on even the smallest rock or crevice. It was fascinating to watch these three gamble about on this cliff, grazing, but ever watchful.

They have another survival adaptation that allows them to live in the extreme conditions of South East Alaska; in winter they grow a long, shaggy coat. They would need it!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110572

Sailing ever closer to those remaining glaciers © DY of jtdytravels; P1110572

We left our search for wild life and sailed on towards the glaciers,

still quite a way to go to the head of the bay.

So time out for lunch.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140314

The ice shelf visible above an old valley © JT of jtdytravels; P1140314

After lunch the terrain around had changed somewhat.

Now we could see evidence of the ice shelf in the heights above a valley.

Stunning scenery all around us.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1140322

Small ice flows in the water © JT of jtdytravels; P1140322

Finally, the glaciers were heralded by sightings of small ice flows in the water.

And the glaciers that ice came from is the subject of our next post.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.jtdytravels.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

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More of our travel photos are on

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Having explored the beach, the group now turned their attention to a walk that followed Fox Creek into the depths of the conifer forest. Here, they hoped to find plants that thrive in the under story in the moist, mossy areas alongside streams. This too, is the favourite haunt of grizzly bears, especially at the time of the salmon run in these creeks.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110400

Bear footprints © DY of jtdytravels; P1110400

As they entered the forest, the group soon found evidence of bears in the area.  Apparently, bears choose to regularly walk in these old bear prints. No-one really knows why. But, the size of the prints and the spaces between them show just how big these animals are! Hopefully none were out and about in the forest! But the thought always added an edge of excitement to forest walks in the Tongass. So, time out for bear drill!  Stay together. Talk while you walk. Bears don’t like to be surprised. And if you do see a bear? The first rule is simple, but it may be difficult; DO NOT RUN! A bear can reach speeds of 60km/h and you can’t. Stay still, slowly raise your arms to make yourself look taller, and slowly retreat. With luck the bear is more interested in berries than in you.

Now, what about those stream side plants?

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110401

Platanthera stricta © DY of jtdytravels; P1110401

Almost lost in the lush green undergrowth of the forest, the Slender Rein Orchid; Platanthera stricta, can easily be overlooked. It looks so elegant against the rough bark of a conifer.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110411

Boschniakia rossica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110411

Also in this moist, moss covered soil were several of the parasitic Northern Groundcone, Boschniakia rossica, which David had previously found growing under Alders. Here they were gaining their nutrients from Sitka Spruce.

© DY of jtdtravels; P1110405

Oplopanax horridus © DY of jtdtravels; P1110405

One plant to be especially wary of is the well named Devil’s Club; Oplopanax horridus.  Those thorns are horrid; the species name says it all! Despite that, this plant has been used by the native peoples for centuries for its medicinal properties. The roots and inner bark have been used to treat ailments such as arthritis and diabetes, ulcers and stomach upsets. Just getting to the inner bark must have been a daunting process. The stems were also used as fish lures. Some groups believed that charcoal made from burning the stems would protect the wearer from evil powers if used as face paint for ceremonial occasions.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110426

Oplopanax horridus © DY of jtdytravels; P1110426

The pyramidal terminal head of buds that forms the “Devil’s Club’ becomes a rather attractive head of white flowers. These are followed by bright red berries which aren’t edible for humans but are a favourite food for bears…. and this forest is known to be home to many bears.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110416

Arnica latifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1110416

Making a showy statement in the green of the forest was this bright and cheerful, yellow daisy, Mountain Arnica; Arnica latifolia. How can anyone resist the temptation to take a photo of such a flower? 

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110419

Arnica Latifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1110419

A closer look, shows many tiny flowers bursting out from buds which are clustered on the central disc. Those yellow bracts are strikingly veined. So intricate… and yet so many people often pass them by as ‘just a daisy’!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110421

A fallen tree over the creek © DY of jtdytravels; P1110421

A tree, fallen across the creek, its trunk now covered in moss, was surrounded by lush growth. When a tree falls, it opens up the canopy allowing light into the understory and that gives a chance for the forest floor plants to grow stronger.

Orthilia secunda © DY of jtdytravels; P1110422

Orthilia secunda © DY of jtdytravels; P1110422

A fairly common plant found growing in moss covered, moist soils alongside a stream is the delightful Orthilia secunda, an evergreen perennial with deeply veined elliptical leaves. These leaves contain an acid that has been used very effectively, we were told, to treat skin sores. The white to pale green, nodding bell-shaped flowers are all directed to one side of the plant. This has given the plant its common name, One-sided Wintergreen.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110425

The forest at Fox Creek © DY of jtdytravels; P1110425

This forest was the most dense and lush that David had experienced on the trip.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110428

Lysichiton americanum © DY of jtdytravels; P1110428

As usual in the wet areas of these forests, Lysichiton americanum, Skunk Cabbage, was in evidence. It also has the name of Swamp Lantern. Why?

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Swamp Lantern from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A search on images on the internet supplied the answer! Lovely, isn’t it?

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110430

Pinguicula vulgaris © DY of jtdytravels; P1110430

A close up of the flower of the carnivorous plant Common Butterwort, Pinguicula vulgaris. This photo clearly shows the 2-lobed upper lip and the 3-lobed lower lip with a white ‘path’ of spots in the throat to lead a pollinator into the flower.

It grows in damp environs such as bogs and swamps in places that have cold winters; in the northern parts of Russia, Canada and northern parts of the United States including in Alaska. At the beginning of autumn the plant forms winter buds so that it can survive being frozen.

(More about the carnivorous habit of this plant in #20 Georges Island walk.)

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110436

Aquilegia formosa © DY of jtdytravels; P1110436

One of my favourite wild flowers is Aquilegia formosa or Red Columbine. The common name apparently comes from the Latin, columbina, meaning ‘dove like’. The petals and spurs supposedly represent five doves gathered around a feeding spot. That thought had never occurred to me! The spurs attract sphinx moths, the plant’s main pollinators.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110440

Crossing Fox Creek © DY of jtdytravels; P1110440

Here, crossing the creek, was the most likely spot to encounter a bear.

But not on this walk.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110441

Tiarella trifoliata © DY of jtdytravels; P1110441

Tiarella trifoliata is a small perennial herb. The tall leafless, panicle of bell-shaped, white flowers rises above the basal leaves which are trifoliate. It always grows on a north facing slope in the understory.  Common names are many: Three-leaf Foam Flower, Lace Flower, False Mitrewort, Coolwort or Sugar Scoop; take your pick. The last name needs a bit of imagination! This is another example of the need to use scientific names.

Toadstools © DY of jtdytravels; P1110444

Toadstools © DY of jtdytravels; P1110444

Moist, mossy areas; toadstools and fungi are a common find.

Moneses uniflora © DY of jtdytravels; P1110447

Moneses uniflora © DY of jtdytravels; P1110447

The Shy Maiden; Moneses uniflora seemed to be present on every walk.

Moss © DY of jtdytravels; P1110451

Moss © DY of jtdytravels; P1110451

One of the many varieties of moss; each important to the ecology of the forest.

Back to the Beach © DY of jtdytravels; P1110453

Back to the Beach © DY of jtdytravels; P1110453

The creek path lead the group back to the beach.

This is obviously a much larger outflow when it rains heavily

or when the spring thaw brings water down from the mountains.

‘Sea Lion” was almost lost in the soft ‘mizzle’ that had begun to fall.

Heracleum lanatum © DY of jtdytravels; P1110454

Heracleum lanatum © DY of jtdytravels; P1110454

Alongside the creek, after leaving the cover of the forest, Heracleum lanatum, or Cow Parsley, grew amongst the grasses. This large perennial plant was used as a green vegetable by many native peoples. However, because handling Heracleum stems can cause severe skin problems and blisters, only the very young stalks and leaf stems were eaten and only after they had been peeled. They were also occasionally boiled.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110457

Rhinanthus minor © DY of jtdytravels; P1110457

Rhinanthus minor or Rattlebox was also growing amongst the grasses along the creek edge but outside of the fringes of the forest. The yellow flowers, protected by green bracts, have two lips; the upper one being hooded. This plant’s scientific name, Rhinanthus, comes from the Greek and refers to the unusual shape of the flower; rhin meaning snout and anthos meaning flower. The common name of Rattlebox refers to the noise that the numerous, winged seeds make as they rattle around in the seed box before they are expelled to the air.        

Potentilla anserina ssp. pacifica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110458

Potentilla anserina ssp. pacifica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110458

A delightful, small, ground hugging plant, Potentilla anserina ssp. pacifica, or Silverweed, grew in soft, wet, sandy spots beside the stream. This is the only one of the cinquefoils which has runners and single flowers borne on leafless flowering stalks. The roots of this plant are of two types; long fleshy taproots holding them firmly in the ground, and short curly roots near the surface. Although bitter to the taste, the roots were boiled as a vegetable.

The clouds descend! © DY of jtdytravels; P1110468

The clouds descend! © DY of jtdytravels; P1110468

As the ‘mizzle’ turned to drizzled and the clouds came down ever lower, it was time to return to the ship, dry out, enjoy some lunch and share stories of the day with new found friends.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110470

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110470

A quick look outside confirmed the decision to stay on board for the afternoon!

There was to be a lecture on current whale research

and a briefing about Glacier Bay National Park, our next destination.

More of that very special place anon.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.jtdytravels.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.dymusings.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1110352

A cloudy afternoon © DY of jtdytravels; P1110352

The weather looked decidedly unpromising as our Captain repositioned the ship from George Island back along Icy Strait and into another sheltered cove where Fox Creek enters the sea.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110353

The clouds begin to lift © DY of jtdytravels; P1110353

Fortunately, as everyone prepared for the afternoon on shore, the clouds lifted.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110356

Elymus mollis © DY of jtdytravels; P1110356

This was another rocky shoreline. It’s amazing the places plants find enough nutrients to grow. This elegant grass known as Dune Grass or Dune Wild Rye;  Elymus mollis,  is a native grass that only grows in coastal areas. It’s hardy with strong, erect stems up to 30cm (1ft) long which have been used by native peoples to make twine and bindings .

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110357

Elymus mollis © DY of jtdytravels;  P1110357

A close up of the inflorescence of the Dune grass show it to be very soft and hairy.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110358

Grass  © DY of jtdytravels; P1110358

This grass is not native to Alaska. It’s a European beach grass which is gradually dominating the coastal areas that were once the domain of the native Dune Grass, Elymus mollis.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110366

Kayak preparation © DY of jtdytravels; P1110366

Heavy skies but the crew goes ahead to prepare the kayaks.

Note the rocky beach; not easy walking.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110368

Kayak group © DY of jtdytravels; P1110368

The kayakers prepare for a paddle in this sheltered bay.

There’ll be no DIB exploring today.

© DY of jtdytravels ; P1110369

Senecio pseudo-arnica © DY of jtdytravels ; P1110369

The Beach Groundsel or Seaside Ragwort; Senecio pseudo-arnica, is a daisy… yet another member of the large Aster family. It’s stout stem is surrounded by luxuriant foliage of fleshy, large, oval leaves which are green above & fuzzy white below.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110370

Senecio pseudo-arnica  © DY of jtdytravels; P1110370

We were just too early in the season to see these Senecio pseudo-arnica flower heads burst open with bright yellow rays surrounding a darker yellow disc of flowers. These daisies are not native to Alaska; they’re abundant along the shores of the eastern and western Pacific and the western Atlantic. The common name of Groundsel seems to be derived from an Old English word grundeswylige which meant ground swallower! And, yes, it often becomes a weed.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110375

Honckenya peploides © DY of jtdytravels; P1110375

Beach Greens or Seabeach Sandwort; Honckenya peploides, is a low growing plant that is found on gravelly beaches near the high tide line. It can even survive being covered by sea water during an especially high tide. It’s densely covered with fleshy, pointed leaves. The flower petals are spatula shaped, shorter than the prominent green sepals.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110378

The beach walkers! © DY of jtdytravels; P1110378

It’s always pleasant to just wander along a beach to see what can be found.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110379

Mertensia maritima © DY of jtdytravels; P1110379

Mertensia maritima, is, as its species name suggests, a plant of the seashore. It has a circumpolar range on the northern beaches of the British Isles, Scandinavia, Greenland, and northern North America. It’s an attractive perennial herbaceous plant with a long spirally-twisted taproot that anchors the plant to the gravelly beach. One common name, Sea Bluebell, refers to the lovely blue bell like flowers. The clusters of flowers begin as pink buds before turning blue. Another common name is Oyster Plant. This name refers to the silvery blue-green, thick, oval leaves which, some say, taste of oysters.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110381

Mertensia maritima © DY of jtdytravels; P1110381

A shower of rain just added extra beauty to this Sea Bluebell flower.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110386

Lathyrus japonica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110386

The Beach Pea, Lathyrus japonica is also known as Lathyrus maritimus. It’s a lovely climbing or trailing plant that grows over other plants along the edges of gravelly beaches.  Flower buds are deep reddish purple gradually turning to a deeper purple.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110384

Lathyrus japonica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110384

Fully opened flowers of Lathyrus japonica, have intricately veined petals.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110385

Lathyrus japonica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110385

Beach Pea is native to temperate parts of Europe, Asia, North and South America. They ‘travel’ far and wide! The seeds, housed in long pods, have the amazing ability to remain viable while floating in the ocean for up to five years. Where-ever they wash ashore, the seeds germinate when the hard outer seed coat is bruised and opened by wave action on sand and gravel.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110387

Ranunculus repens © DY of jtdytravels; P1110387

Another world wide ‘traveller’ is the Creeping Buttercup; Ranunculus repens.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110388

Castilleja unalaschensis © DY of jtdytravels; P1110388

Unalaska Paintbrush; Castilleja unalaschensis, is similar to the red paintbrush we saw earlier at Pond Island, except it has yellow rather than red bracts surrounding the flowers. 

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110390

Platanthera dilatata © DY of jtdytravels; P1110390

The lovely White Bog Orchids; Platanthera dilatata, are probably the easiest orchids to identify because of their pure white flowers and sweet perfume. David found these on every walk here in the Tongass National Forest area. Yes, they might be common; but they are beautiful. This one had a very tall stem that did not fit into the photo. In the right conditions, the stems of these plants can be a meter in length with up to 100 flowers per stem.

Bog Orchids have been seen in their thousands in marshy spots beside roads and in forests in mountainous areas of the Pacific Northwest. What a sight that would be!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110398

Fritillaria camschatcensis © DY of jtdytravels; P1110398

Fritillaria camschatcensis, as its species name suggests, is native of the Russian Kamchatkan Peninsular, just across the sea from Alaska. This lily looks lovely but it has a really bad smell which it uses that to attract flies as pollinators. It has at least four common names; Black Lily or Chocolate Lily for the colour of its flowers. Indian Rice or Eskimo Potato are a little more obscure. They refer to the way native people used the plant’s clusters of tiny white bulbs which resemble rice and were used in much the same way as rice in times past. Now rice is plentiful in shops and the art of harvesting and cooking the lily roots has all but disappeared.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110415

Fritillaria camschatcensis © DY of jtdytravels; P1110415

Close up of the lily flower of Fritillaria camschatcensis.

The group now left the beach and turned into the forest to explore along Fox Creek,

a  forest that is a well known feeding place for grizzly bears.

Whether they came across a bear or not will have to wait until the next post.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.jtdytravels.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.dymusings.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels

 

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© JY of jtdytravels; P1130915

© JY of jtdytravels; P1130915

Ah yes! What a morning; waking up to this stunning view from our room … clouds reflected in a glassy sea inside a sheltered cove. Not a bad start to a day! And now we were up to Day 3 of our expedition exploring the islands and coves of Alaska’s Inside Passage aboard National Geographic/ Lindblad’s ship, “Sea Lion”. But where exactly were we?

Kelp Bay Map

Kelp Bay Map

Overnight we’d sailed, from Petersburg, north back up Frederick Sound, past where we had seen all those whales, turned west at Five Finger Lighthouse and sailed down the main shipping channel until we could turn north into Chatham Straight and on to Kelp Bay. We were still within the wilderness of the immense Tongass National Park.

Pond Island Bay

Pond Island Bay

Our activities for the morning would centre around Pond Island Bay.

P1110039

P1110039

This was the first day for kayaking and there were many excited people on board just waiting to explore the shore line on their own in a kayak. I had chosen to explore a little further afield by inflatable DIB and David had chosen to do another forest walk. Before anyone could take part in any of these activities, the kayaks had to be lowered from the roof and taken ashore.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1130920

© JT of jtdytravels; P1130920

David’s walking group, taken by Lee, was the first to go ashore.

That’s David in the blue jacket with his trusty brown backpack at the ready.

P1110044

P1110044

The need for boots is clear…

this was the usual style of wet landing in icy waters on a pebbly shore.

Tongass National Forest, Alaska

Tongass National Forest, Alaska

David’s walk was yet another walk and plant hunt in Tongass National Forest, the forest area that we had been exploring ever since we left Juneau.  Established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, Tongass is the largest National Forest in the USA. It covers approximately 80% of Southeast Alaska; 69,000 square kilometres, or almost seventeen and a half million acres, and it encompasses more than 5,000 islands and more than 16,000 miles of shoreline. In fact, it covers all of the area known as the Inside Passage except for the Glacier Bay National Park (which is the large white area just west of Juneau on the map).

P1110046

P1110046l

The Tongass is part of the world’s largest remaining coastal temperate rainforest even though, during the past century, substantial portions of the large tree, old-growth forest have been harvested. There is much discussion today about how to protect and conserve the remaining high-value forest; high value for the environment and all the wildlife within the the forest and its waters, but also high value timber for the foresting industry.

P1110053

Shelf fungus ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110053

As we have seen on David’s other forest walks, shelf fungus is not hard to find.

P1110045

Fungus  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110045

Wherever there’s debris from logging, or just from trees falling after big wind storms as happened here, mosses grow and, with them, fungi. This fungi, which forms quite a sculptural group, was missed by most of the walking group. Fortunately for those of us doing an armchair walk with David, he is very observant. People who actually walk with him are often amazed at what he sees, and photographs.

P1110051

Hypopitys monotropa  P1110051

One very small, strange looking plant that David saw, but most others missed, was growing down in the mosses. This plant is commonly known as Pinesap, and that maybe because it’s a saprophyte which ‘saps’ the juices of its host, in this case the pines under which it grows.  It’s scientific name is Hypopitys monotropa from the Greek hypos, meaning beneath, and pitys meaning tree. That all makes sense; but what about monotropa? That refers to the flowers which all face one way; and they do.

P1110052

P1110052

Here at Pond Island, many trees were unfortunately uprooted in a large windstorm. This is a natural phenomenon in forests. But in other parts of the Tongass, there has been a great deal of logging done over many years and the status of the Tongass will be degraded if logging continues unabated. So what are the pros and cons in the discussion about old-growth vs. second-growth? Our naturalists gave this answer.

In old-growth forests, uneven aged trees provide a broken, patchy canopy that permits sunlight to penetrate and support a healthy plant community on the forest floor. Any old-growth forests sustains the health of watersheds and aquatic systems, regulates water temperature and moderates flooding. Here in Alaska, this healthy water creates habitat for fish and wildlife.  The high quality water habitat supports many fish such as the five kinds of salmon, the mainstay of the local fishing industry. It also provides a healthy environment for harbour seals and sea birds as well as a high quality land habitat for brown bear, black bear, wolves, deer and squirrels to name a few of the forest dwellers. Dozens of bird species are also associated with old-growth forest habitats, including Bald Eagle and Northern Goshawk. Other birds such as woodpeckers,Marbled Murrelets and Brown Creepers nest in old growth tree cavities.

On the other hand, after harvesting old growth forest, the area is replaced by a dense even-aged stand that inhibits sunlight and thus understory growth, resulting in relatively sterile habitat that will not support many of these species. To log or not to log old growth? To me it’s what is known as a “no brainer”!

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Squirrel ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110083

And while we are talking about the need for old growth forests for forest dwellers… this cute squirrel is one of them. In spring, squirrels feast on the new tender buds of spruce, hemlock and alder. As is the case with all squirrels, they also feed on seeds and nuts.

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A squirrel midden ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110102

In autumn, they ‘squirrel’ away cones and seeds in chambers in their tunnels or in their forest floor middens. The midden is covered in holes where a squirrel has been busy planting its food treasures.  Not all squirrels have tunnels; some make nests in the trees or in holes in old growth trees. Although seeds and nuts are their main food source, squirrels also cut off fungi and take them up into trees to lodge in crotches of branches to eat later.

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Conifer forest ©  DY of jtdytravels; P1110061

Within these forests, as we have seen on these walks with David, there is a wide diversity of vegetation types, ranging from lichens, mosses, liverworts, and ferns to flowering plants and shrubs to large trees that can be centuries old; some more than one thousand years old.

We hope it remains so always for many more people like us to enjoy; and, more importantly, for all of the birds, flora, fauna and fish that are dependent on it for their well being; and for the health of the air that we all breathe.

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Tsuga heterophylla P1110060

Tongass National Forest is made up mainly of Conifers, cone-bearing trees such as hemlock, and spruce, cedar and shore pine with Alder on the forest edges. But two trees are the most abundant; Western Hemlock, 70%, and Sitka Spruce, 20%. So what’s the difference? 

The leaves of the Western Hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla, are are blunt-tipped, soft, shiny, and flat unlike the sharp needles of the spruce. Hemlock leaves are light green to medium green on top, with two whitish parallel lines beneath.  They grow from two sides of branch, parallel to the ground.

The cones of the Western hemlock are brown, oval-shaped, about 3 cm (1 inch) long and have thin, papery scales. They hang down at end of twig. These hemlocks can grow to between 45 and 60 meters  in height (100 to 150 feet) and .6 to 1.2 meters (2 to 4 ft) in diameter. If left unlogged, they can live anywhere from 200 to 500 years.

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Picea sitchensis P1110112

The cones of the Sitka Spruce, Picea sitchensis, are quite different; they are the usual conifer cone shape that most of us are familiar with.  They are light orange-brown, usually found in the top quarter of tree, hanging down from branches, with papery scales. 

The sharp needle like leaves of the spruce are dark green and grow on all sides of branches from woody pegs. This is a characteristic common only to spruce.

These trees may live between 500 and 700 years; some have been known to be 1,000 years old.  At maturity they reach between 46 to 67 meters (150 to 225 feet) in height and 1.5 to 2.5 meters (5 to 8 feet) in diameter. 

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The remains of a logged forest  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110100

This part of the walk is quite a mess after the storm.

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P1110096

Indeed, it was often more like a scramble than a walk;

climbing under and over logs…

it was for the fit and adventurous; not for the faint of heart!

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Corallorhiza maculata ssp. maculata © DY  of  jtdytravels;  P1110090

While scrambling through the forest, David found a rather lovely saprophytic orchid, known as Coralroot, Corallorhiza maculata ssp. maculata.  It’s similar to the white-lipped Corallorhiza maculata but this one has magenta spots on its lip, hence the variation in name.

These orchids derive their nutrients from the decaying matter in the rich humus of moist coniferous forests such as this one. Because they don’t need to make their own food, they lack the green colouring of most plants.

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Alnus rubra ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1110059

The Red Alder, Alnus rubra, is usually found on the edges of the forest and is quite different from either the spruce or the hemlock. It’s a fast growing deciduous tree that only lives for about 50 years. It helps to fix nitrogen into the soil and thus helps smaller plants to grow on the outer edges of the forest.

The leaves of the Red alder are broad, pointed at both the base and the tip and they seem to roll over. This is the difference between the Red alder and the more common Sitka alder which has sharp toothed leaves that are not rolled over. (David photographed the Sitka alder at the Mendenhall Glacier.)

The cones of the Red alder are small, hang down in clusters and they stay on the trees during winter. The cones contain winged nutlets that the squirrels enjoy.

Red alder wood is considered by many to be the best wood for smoking salmon and other kinds of fish; another reason for it to be logged. The wood is soft and is used for carving items such as feast bowls and masks. The red bark makes a red or orange dye;  the differences in colour can be attributed to either the age of the bark or the addition of substances like urine!

Pond Island Bay © DY of jtdytravels; P1110054

Pond Island Bay © DY of jtdytravels; P1110054

Finally, David and his fellow walkers emerged from the forest. They looked out into the bay where the kayakers were still having fun and where I was exploring the water’s edges in a DIB. More of that anon.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

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Muskeg bog plateau ©  JY  of  jtdytravels; P1130820

Muskeg bog plateau © JY of jtdytravels; P1130820

Once we had reached the border between the forest and the wet boggy Muskeg Plateau on the hill above Petersburg, the walking was much easier, the steps were not so steep and we had a different lot of plants to look for and photograph. The first one was obvious. All the way along the side of the path were the fluffy white seed heads of cotton plants, Eriophorum. 

Eriophorum chamissonis ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130833

Eriophorum chamissonis © JT of jtdytravels; P1130833

David and I have seen various cotton grass species in many wet boggy areas in Europe, especially in the peat bogs of Ireland.  Eriophorum chamissonis, is one of the two cotton grasses common in the muskegs of this part of Alaska. This species has a solitary spikelet at the tip of a rounded slender stem. The plant grows from spreading rhizomes, so if conditions are right, they can spread rather quickly.

In fact, cotton grass is so extensive on these muskegs that, in a good year, the whole plateau can look white like snow because of the fluffy heads.

Blechnum spicant ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130816

Blechnum spicant © JT of jtdytravels; P1130816

One of the plants growing just at the border between forest and bog was this upright fern commonly called Deer Fern; Blechnum spicant. I’ve read that some indiginous peoples used to chew the very young leaves as hunger suppressants! Others used the leaves to treat skin sores. Apparently, the people had noticed that the deer, who love to eat this plant, would rub their antlers on the leaves after their antlers had fallen off.

The problem for us as plant photographers here in the muskeg was that plants were often just tantalisingly out of reach; we couldn’t step off the boardwalk onto the grass to take photos as it was very, very wet; and, in any case, our footsteps would harm the environment.

Moose fotsteps in the bog ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130842

Moose footsteps in the bog © JT of jtdytravels; P1130842

Of course, the native animals didn’t use the boardwalk, as these moose footsteps show… at least we were told that they belonged to a moose. That’s all we saw of any moose.

Our naturalist, Caroline ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130828

Our naturalist, Caroline Jezierski © JT of jtdytravels; P1130828

A single file line up of walkers is not the easiest place to give a talk about muskeg bogs. However, our very knowledgeable and delightful naturalist, Caroline Jezierski, solved the problem… she found a dryish patch off the boardwalk so that she could talk to us all about this very different environment. So what is muskeg? The name is used in Western Canada and Alaska to describe peat bog that is formed, often over millennia, by an accumulation of slowly decaying matter in undrained or poorly drained land. Because of the wetness and lack of phosphates and nitrates in the soil, trees are scattered and generally stunted. 

The land behind Caroline clearly shows the line where the muskeg, on the plateau, meets the forest, on the downward slope of the hill. It’s all about drainage and decomposition.

Reflections in bog pool ©  JT  of  jtdytravels;  P1130821

Reflections in bog pool © JT of jtdytravels; P1130821

Muskeg forms in areas that have abundant rain, cool summers and very poor drainage. It’s permanently waterlogged with stagnant pools. The soil is acidic and relatively infertile, preventing the growth of the large trees to 33 m (100 ft) such as those we’d seen growing further down on the slope where drainage is more normal.

Down there, in the forest that we’d just walked through, the soil is drier and, when a plant dies there, it is attacked by bacteria and fungi and rots away relatively quickly. But here in this bog, dead plants decompose differently.  Cool temperatures and less oxygen in water-logged soils combine to cause bacterial and fungal growth to markedly slow down and so the whole process of decomposition is much slower; so slow that, over time, as plant debris gradually accumulates, it forms peat and eventually becomes a muskeg environment of specialised bog loving plants.

Bog plants ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130826

Bog plants © JT of jtdytravels; P1130826

It was hard to believe the notion of cool summers as the sun beat down on us that hot afternoon. But this was a dry summer; many of the bog pools were drying out and conditions were too warm and dry for a normal month of June. The roots of these bog plants would soon dry out if normal conditions didn’t soon return. The balance of nature is very much effected by changes in climate and June had been the driest month on record for the area.

Dry bog pool ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130852

Dry bog pool © JT of jtdytravels; P1130852

This ‘pool’ was already too dry to support any of the usual bog plants.

Dry, warm summers might be good for visitors to the area

but they are not good for muskeg plants.

Jake's Seat © DY  of  jtdytravels; P1130838

Jake’s Seat © DY of jtdytravels; P1130838

At this point in our walk, there was a small rest platform for which a number of us were very thankful. I was also grateful to the family of “Jake” who had placed a wooden seat on this platform. I took the opportunity to rest for a few minutes and take in the scenery.

Stunted tree ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130869

Stunted tree © JT of jtdytravels; P1130869

The main group continued with the walk across the plateau towards the higher slope where the forest began again. Someone thought they could see an eagle’s nest. With fewer people on the board walk, David took the chance to get some photos of the plants that he found growing in these boggy conditions. Good plant photography can’t be rushed and, with most bog plants growing so low to the ground, you really do need a bit of space to kneel. David’s results were well worth the effort as we shall see.

© DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100500

Eriophorum angustifolium © DY of jtdytravels; P1100500

The well named Arctic Cotton, or Cotton Grass, Eriophorum angustifolium is the other local species of Cotton grass plant on the muskeg. It, too, enjoys wet roots in peaty bogs. But,unlike the single headed  Eriophorum chamissonis, which I’d photographed earlier, this plant has 2 to 8 fluffy spikelets on each stem, drooping in a cluster.

©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100518

Fauria crista-galli © DY of jtdytravels; P1100518

This Deer Cabbage flower, Fauria crista-galli, had several small visitors!

David says he didn’t actually see the mites when taking the photo…

they are really very tiny!

©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100503

Drosera rotundifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1100503

My favourite muskeg plants were the Sundews; insectivorous plants that thrive here in the bogs where nutrients are low. These are Drosera rotundifolia, which are very small plants and you really do have to get down to see them clearly. But to see them was well worth the long, hot hike up that hill.

©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100502

Drosera rotundifolia © DY of jtdytravels; P1100502

A close up of the stunningly beautiful Round-leaved Sundew; Drosera rotundifolia. The leaves are covered with sticky gland-tipped hairs that capture and digest insects. How amazing is the evolution of plant species! I always delight in finding plants like these.

©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100508

Drosera anglica © DY of jtdytravels; P1100508

And this is another species of Sundew found in a nearby bog pool.

This one is the Great Sundew;  Drosera anglica.

It’s much less common than the Round-leaved Sundew; Drosera rotundifolia

©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100516

Drosera anglica © DY of jtdytravels; P1100516

A close up of a Great Sundew;  Drosera anglica.

Different shaped leaves but the same mechanism for catching insects.

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Linnaea borealis © DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100484

Another very low-growing plant is Linnaea borealis or Twin Flower. I enjoyed seeing this delightful pink flowering plant which David had seen on an earlier walk. It seemed quite at home growing amongst the sphagnum moss on the muskeg.

Sphagnum Moss ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130872

Sphagnum sp. © JT of jtdytravels; P1130872

Various types of sphagnum are the most common plants on the muskeg.

They are the original colonising plants of these areas and

they help to provide some nutrients for plants such as the Twin Flower.

Unknown flower ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100489

Unknown flower © DY of jtdytravels; P1100489

This is one flower we found that we haven’t been able to identify. Although David does know many plant names, when he is out of area in places like this bog in Alaska, many of the plants are new to him. We’ve had to search our books and the internet to name many of the plants in this Alaskan diary. We find that Images on Google is a great place to go to help in verification after a first effort at naming. Sometimes, however, we come up with a blank. If anyone can help with the correct naming of this flower, please leave a comment at the end of the post.

Platanthera dilitata ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100495

Platanthera dilitata © DY of jtdytravels; P1100495

The lovely White Bog-Orchid,  Platanthera dilitata, was much easier to identify. The waxy flowers of this orchid might be small but they are very fragrant, smelling, some say, of a mixture of cloves, vanilla and mock orange.  The plant is poisonous and extracts from it were used by some indigenous groups to act as bait for bears. Pretty but poisonous!

©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130848

© JT of jtdytravels; P1130848

While David was photographing all of these low growing plants,

I was enjoying the sculptural shapes of stunted trees.

And this one had a small visitor.

©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130859

Dragonfly © JT of jtdytravels; P1130859

A dragonfly; it seemed to take little notice of me or of my camera.

I was able to observe it closely and was delighted by those delicate, gauzy wings.

Sometimes it pays to be on your own… take time … and be still..

Linnaea borealis ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130873

Linnaea borealis © JT of jtdytravels; P1130873

Just as we left the plateau to make our way back down the hill, I noticed this patch of Twin flowers, Linnaea borealis. The small piece of wood beside them gives some idea of relative scale. They are tiny; but so beautiful.

Rubus pedatus ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100498

Rubus pedatus © DY of jtdytravels; P1100498

Back in the edges of the old growth forest, David found this perennial trailing plant that likes to grow on moss, Rubus pedatus, or Five-leaved Bramble. The leaves, as the name suggests, are divided into five toothed leaflets. They give the plant its species name, pedatus, or foot. The fruit forms a small juicy flavourful cluster, like a raspberry.

©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100519

Interesting leaf shapes © DY of jtdytravels; P1100519

More interesting leaf shapes caught David’s eye. A quick photo and after that there was no chance to photograph anything. The rest of the group seemed anxious to return to Petersburg and have time to explore there.

So it was a very quick and anything but an easy descent on those unevenly spaced and sized steps of the boardwalk. With my brand new bifocals, I was having a bit of trouble gauging the distances down the steps and there were no hand rails!  I was grateful to my companions, teenagers Alex and Rachael, who told me not to hurry and promised help if I should falter!

I was quite relieved to reach the level path in the lower forest that lead us back to the shore.

 

Back to the jetty ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100526

Back to the jetty © DY of jtdytravels; P1100526

While we’d been out walking, the tide had come in quite a way. At least the ramp down to the pontoon would not be nearly so steep, but still steep enough.

The view back to Petersburg ©  DY  of  jtdytravels; P1100527

The view back to Petersburg © DY of jtdytravels; P1100527

While waiting for our DIB, David took one last view of Petersburg and the mountains beyond.

No wonder they call it ‘little Norway”!

More anon

Jennie and David

All Photography copyright ©  JT and DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoyed this, please pass on the site to others.

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