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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.

P1140469.JPG

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.

P1110789.JPG

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.

P1110808

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.

P1110837.JPG

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.

P1110833  ©  DY  of  jtdytravels

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.

Screen Shot 2016-02-17 at 7.51.52 AM

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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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

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Map Sitkoh to Elfin Cove

Map Sitkoh to Elfin Cove

Overnight we sailed from Sitkoh Bay near Angoon (lower right of map) to George Island near Elfin Cove (top left of map). As you can see we were still not far from Juneau (top right)… our starting point! But we had explored and experienced so much that is never seen from the large cruise ships. Elfin Cove is at the entrance to the Inside Passage, so here we were not far from the Pacific Ocean, though sheltered by George Island.

George Islands

George Islands

We dropped anchor in the horseshoe shaped bay of George Island, sheltered from the ocean and only 4 km from the small fishing village of Elfin Cove.  Our morning activities centred on the rocky islands. The kayakers were to circumnavigate the smaller island while the walkers would explore the beach area and then climb up to a WWII gun site on the ocean side cliffs.

Rocky Foreshore © DY of jtdytravels; P1140005

Rocky Foreshore of George Island # 1 © JT of jtdytravels; P1140005

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Rocky Foreshore 2 © JT of jtdytravels; P1140010

Rocky Foreshore of George Island # 2 © JT of jtdytravels; P1140010

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George Island Rocky Foreshore 3 © DY of jtdytravels; P1110236

Rocky Foreshore of George Island # 3 © DY of jtdytravels; P1110236

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George Island beach © DY of jtdytravels; P1110228

The beach at George Island © DY of jtdytravels; P1110228

This small, sheltered beach was the starting point for our activities.

Preparations for Kayaking © DY of jtdytravels; P1110232

Preparations for Kayaking © DY of jtdytravels; P1110232

There was much excitement as the kayakers prepared to

circumnavigate the smaller island.

The Walking Party © DY of jtdytravels; P1110238

The walking group © DY of jtdytravels; P1110238

The first section of the walk was across a very stony beach.

Beach pebbles, large and small © DY of jtdytravels; P1110235

Beach pebbles, large and small © DY of jtdytravels; P1110235

Walking on stones such as these is definitely not like walking on sand!

Anthopleura xanthogrammica © DY of jtdytravels P1110239

Driftwood  © DY of jtdytravels; P1110239

There’s always something of interest on a beach, isn’t there?

The circumnavigation of George Island begins © DY of jtdytravels; P1110241

The kayakers and ‘Sea Lion’ © DY of jtdytravels; P1110241

Rain threatened as the kayakers began their paddling.

While watching the kayakers, the walkers explored some beach side rock pools.

Anthopleura xanthogrammica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110246

Anthopleura xanthogrammica © DY of jtdytravels; P1110246

Anthopleura xanthogrammica immediately caught the eye. These giant anemones are bright green when submerged in water, as in this rock pool.  But when not submerged, they appear dark green or brown because they close up covering the bright green tentacles and oral disc. However, they prefer sandy or rocky shorelines where water remains for most of the day.

These anemones tend to be solitary although occasionally they can be found in small groups. Once settled in a spot, they usually stay there even though they can move slowly. They have stinging cells on their tentacles which are used both as protection from predators and also for catching prey such as detached mussels, and there are plenty of mussels on these shores. They also feed on sea urchins, small fish, and crabs. 

Starfish in rock pool © DY of jtdytravels; P1110248

Pisaster Starfish with Fucus distachus  in rock pool © DY of jtdytravels; P1110248

 Fucus distachus is a brown alga that grows in olive-green to golden clumps in rock pools or in intertidal zones.  It holds fast to its base rock with what is called a basal discoid holdfast. The fronds, which can grow up to 30 cm, are flattened, not rounded, and have a prominent mid rib that extends the full length of the frond. When submerged, the plant is stiff and upright.

Pisaster Starfish have a spiny or warty skin that is supported by tiny bone-like plates. Numerous protruding spines on the skin keep most predators away. The most commonly encountered tide pool starfish in Alaska include both the purple and orange Pisaster.

In a groove underneath each starfish leg are paired rows of small tube feet which are used for both feeding and movement.  The maximum speed of most starfish is something like 3 cm per hour.  They pull themselves along by extending and withdrawing small suction cups on their feet. These suction caps have a powerful vacuum effect that’s also used to grip their prey and hold it fast. A starfish can break open a mollusc’s shell. It then extrudes its stomach out through its central mouth and digests its dinner. Not a pretty thought but that’s how it survives. They also feed on dead organisms and help keep the sea bed clean.

Starfish are predators and are not welcomed by fishermen when they get into nets or crab pots; they and the fishermen have conflicting interests!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110251

Starfish Piaster with Fucus distachus on a rock © DY of jtdytravels; P1110251

The Rockweed, Fucus distachus, although erect in water, can’t stay upright when out of the water, falling flat against the rocks until they are covered by water once more. Their fronds form a dense covering on these intertidal rocks, providing damp, sheltered spaces where small invertebrates like crabs and sea slugs can safely wait for a change in the tide.

Pisaster starfish have five or more legs and they have the amazing ability to regenerate lost arms or body parts. Sometimes fishermen, angry at finding starfish in their nets or crab pots, cut them in half, thinking that the starfish will die. But no! They regenerate and often there are twice as many starfish the next year! That’s not the fishermen’s desired result!

Each starfish arm has a pair of sexual organs; one for each sex.  In the early days of spring, pores in the arm release either eggs or sperm into the water. Once a fertilised egg hatches, it goes through several larval stages until, eventually, it becomes a tiny replica of its parents.

Fucus distachus © DY of jtdyravels; P1110244

Fucus distachus © DY of jtdyravels; P1110244

The fronds of this Fucus distachus are in their reproductive phase, swollen and bumpy. This is a slow growing Rockweed which lives for 2 to 5 years and becomes mature at 2 years.

Barnacles © DY of jtdytravels; P1110333 - Version 2

Barnacles © DY of jtdytravels; P1110333 – Version 2

The rock pools and intertidal zones are littered with barnacles.

Mussels, Barnacles and Rockweed © DY of jtdytravels; P1110337

Mussels, Barnacles and Rockweed © DY of jtdytravels; P1110337

Rockweed, Mussels and Barnacles co-habit on the foreshore.

Fragaria chiloensis © DY of jtdytravels; P1110247

Fragaria chiloensis © DY of jtdytravels; P1110247

Behind the water line and on the rocks of the cliff face there were some Coastal Strawberry plants, Fragaria chiloensis. Unfortunately, these strawberries were not in fruit, so there was no possibility of personal taste test. We were told that the strawberries on this plant are not large like the horticulturally developed ones that we see in our stores; and they are not even as large and juicy as the ones we may grow in our gardens at home. The fruit of this plant are small, red, and are just a delicious little ‘pop’ in the mouth, best eaten immediately after picking. The fruit can be made into jam and the leaves can be infused to make a tea.

As its name suggests, this strawberry is native to Chile but it’s common on sand dunes and bluffs, never far from the sea, right along the coast lines of South and North America.

 

Tidal Bay © DY of jtdytravels; P1110254

Tidal Bay © DY of jtdytravels; P1110254

After a delightful wander along the foreshore, it was time to turn inland and climb up through the forest to see a World War II gun emplacement on the rocky bluffs above the ocean .

More of that in the next posting.

.Jennie and David

All photographs copyright © JT  and DY  of  jtdytravels

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

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 While I mused on the story of the derelict Chatham Cannery village in Sitkoh Bay,

the walkers, including David, were ferried over to the opposite shore.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1130997

© JT of jtdytravels; P1130997

Some walkers chose to stretch their legs on a longer forest walk;

David chose a meander along the shore line.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110151

A natural rock garden of Plantago maritima © DY of jtdytravels; P1110151.

The shore here was much rockier than the other beach areas and it was rather more difficult to walk on than either pebbles or sand. But here David found a natural ‘rock garden’ which featured Sea Plantain, Plantago maritima.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110161

Plantago maritima © DY of jtdytravels; P1110161

Sea Plantain is also known as Goose-tongue.  This tap-rooted perennial grows in rocky areas that are immersed at high tide. It flowers throughout the summer season. The succulent, salty flavoured leaves are sometimes eaten as a green vegetable with fish.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110143

Glaux maritima © DY of jtdytravels; P1110143

Another plant commonly found growing by the sea shore, tidal flats and salt marshes is the lovely fleshy perennial, Glaux maritima. It’s  local name is Sea Milkwort because nursing mothers were given an infusion made from the plant to help increase their milk supply.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110146

Barnacles © DY of jtdytravels; P1110146

Barnacles are a common feature on the rocks in these inter-tidal areas.

Barnacles are crustaceans, related to crabs, prawns and lobsters. In fact they begin life as a tiny shrimp-like larvae swimming freely in water. But to become an adult, a barnacle must attach itself by a form of ‘cement’ to a hard surface such as rocks. That ‘cement’, released from the head end of this small animal, is a very strong adhesive which begins as a clear liquid. As it solidifies, it becomes opaque and rubbery. Once in position, the barnacle begins to secrete calcium-hard plates which totally encase it forming its cone shaped home. And that’s where it stays, head first on the rock, for the rest of its life.

This cone ‘house’ has a door which the barnacle closes when the tide goes out in order to save moisture.  When the tide comes in, as water covers the cone, the door is opened and the barnacle’s six pairs of feathery ‘legs’, feeding appendages, come out and wave in the water collecting plankton for the barnacle to eat.

Rocks covered in Barnacles © JT of jtdytravels; P1130932

Rocks covered in Barnacles © JT of jtdytravels; P1130932

The rocks at the intertidal zone here are covered in barnacles. And that’s just as well, as they need other barnacles to be very close by when it comes to reproduction… not an easy process when stuck to a rock. Most barnacles are hermaphrodites; they have both male and female sex organs. But their eggs must be fertilised by another barnacle. So how is this possible? Each barnacle has a special retractable tube containing sperm With that, it can reach out beyond its cone for several centimetres in order to fertilise a nearby barnacle. Tricky problem; amazingly simple and effective answer.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110147

Fucus sp. © DY of jtdytravels; P1110147

Extensive beds of Fucus sp., or Rockweed, are common in the mid intertidal zones. such an abundance of this seaweed indicates good water quality; as nutrient pollution increases, so the amount of seaweed declines.

Rock banks covered in Fucus sp. © JT of jtdytravels; P1130930

Rock banks covered in Fucus sp. © JT of jtdytravels; P1130930

Here along the shores of the islands of Alaska’s Inside Passage, where there are no houses. farms or fertilisers, Fucus can be seen on just about every shore. These rockweeds provide food, shelter, and spawning habitat for many sea and shore creatures such as crustaceans, juvenile mussels, snails and fish. These, in turn, attract feeding seabirds. There’s so much inter-dependence in nature, isn’t there!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110151

Ulva sp. © DY of jtdytravels; P1110151

Sea Lettuce, Ulva sp., is a green algae that has a fine, silky texture with waved or ruffled margins.  The delicate blades of Ulva are usually only 40 microns thick. This algae is usually found in the mid to low intertidal zones and grows from a ‘holdfast’ that keeps it moored to the rocks when the tide rises. It’s common name not only refers to its lettuce like look but also to the fact that it is sometimes eaten in soups or salads.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110155

Salicornia depressa © DY of jtdytravels; P1110155

Salicornia depressa,  commonly called Sea Asparagus is edible, and tastes like salty pickles. The stems are jointed, soft and are about as thick as pencils. They are enveloped in waxy leaves that wrap around the stem so tightly that it’s often hard to tell the leaf and stem apart. In June, when we were in this area, this plant was in it’s green phase. As the weather cools down, they will turn yellow, then orange, then red! How lovely this shore would look then.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110163 2

Rubus  parviflorus © DY of jtdytravels; P1110163 2

 Rubus  parviflorus is an upright shrub of the forest edges. It has multiple, thornless stems, or canes which can reach up to 2.1 m (7ft). The large five pointed leaves are somewhat like an oak leaf but are hairy and soft to the touch. The bark peels off in tiny fragments.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110164

Rubus parvifloris © DY of jtdytravels; P1110164

Rubus  parviflorus is called by some, the “Queen of the Berries”. The flowers form between May and early July and are pollinated by insects. The berries are first pink then scarlet and ripen very quickly if given a sunny day.  They are easy to harvest as the stems are thornless and the berries just fall off at the slightest touch. When fully ripe they soft and delicious… what a shame they were not in fruit in June!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110167

Veronica beccabunga ssp. americana  © DY of jtdytravels; P1110167

Veronica beccabunga ssp. americana, American Brooklime, one of the Speedwell family, is quite rare in the wild. It’s a rather weak plant that grows in gaps in the vegetation on or near the edges of streams, as the name Brooklime suggests. The lilac blue flower has 4 lobes and it has only 2 stamens. If the sun is shining, the flower spreads its petals out flat to attract bees and flower flies. However if the weather is damp, as it is often in this area, the flower only half opens and apparently self-pollinates. It can also propagate itself asexually when side shoots break off and float away during the growing season.

Brooklime is used by dragonflies to perch and view the world and also to lay their eggs; the larvae then use the stems to climb out of the water.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110168

Aruncus dioicus © DY of jtdytravels; P1110168

Aruncus dioicus, or Goatsbeard, is a clump forming perennial plant that likes to have damp roots but can survive in almost any soil, in sun or in light shade. It’s been used by the native peoples as a poultice for bee stings. A ‘tea’ made from its roots has been used to bathe swollen feet and rheumatic joints. We still have so much to learn about the uses of native plants.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110171

Toadstool  © DY of jtdytravels; P1110171

Toadstools are found down among the leaf litter.

And where there are toadstools, there are often slugs.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110170

Banana slug © DY of jtdytravels; P1110170

Slugs may not be everyone’s favourite creature but they are really the unsung champions of the forest, eating dead organic material and turning it into soil. This Banana slug,  Ariolimax columbianus, seemed to be enjoying a feed of toadstool.

Banana slugs have two sets of retractable feelers on the head; clearly seen in this photo.  The top ones detect light and the lower ones provide a sense of smell.  Remarkably, if these feelers are destroyed, they will simply grow back!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110179

Dark Coloured Banana Slug © DY of jtdytravels; P1110179

Banana slugs come in various colours, often depending on their diet. They have soft bodies and no obvious shell.  A single foot, that looks a little like a skirt, carries the slug via a system of rhythmic waves. To make sure that this foot doesn’t get damaged, the slug secretes a layer of slimy mucus and glides over the ground on that mucus.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110180

Light coloured slug © DY of jtdytravels; P1110180

On this very pale Banana slug, the breathing hole, the pneumostone, is open allowing the slug to collect moisture out of the air from which it extracts oxygen. However the lungs are tiny and the slug also has to use the mucus on its foot to help it to breathe. The slime keeps the skin wet so oxygen can be breathed through it.

And there’s yet two more important uses for that slimy mucus. One is in reproduction. The Banana Slug is a hermaphrodite which means that they contain female and male organs. When a slug is ready to mate, it leaves a special chemical in its slime which attracts other slugs. When mating, the two slugs form a heart shape and exchange sperm. Each of them will then lay about 70 eggs. The eggs are not cared for… the young are on their own!

The other use for that slimy mucus is to repel prey. Slugs don’t move fast and offer the promise of an easy meal to other forest creatures. Just one nasty taste can teach a lesson and the mucus leaves a numbing sensation in the mouth as well.  However, thankfully this is not a great deterrent to birds and lizards; otherwise the forest would be covered in slugs!

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110187

Ranunculus repens © DY of jtdytravels; P1110187

Here again is that introduced Creeping Buttercup, Ranunculus repens.

It seems to have found its way onto many of the shores in this area.

It is lovely, but….

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110193

Angelica lucida  © DY of jtdytravels; P1110193

Wild Celery or Sea-watch, Angelica lucida, in bud, with a boat-backed beetle.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1110196

Angelica lucida with bee © DY of jtdytravels; P1110196

Sea-watch, Angelica lucida, in full flower,with a native bee. This plant is just one of 60 species of the Angelica family which are spread across the northern hemisphere. The name comes from a legend that an archangel revealed to a man named Mattheus Sylvaticus, that this plant was a remedy for the plague and cholera. Both were deadly diseases that took many thousands of lives across Europe. It came to be believed by many that the plant has healing powers. This species, ‘lucida‘, with its pure white flowers is native to much of the west coast of Canada and USA, including Alaska.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1130998

© JT of jtdytravels; P1130998

Too soon, it was time to call an end to this wandering.

And once more, Nicky brought the walkers safely back to the ship.

Her work was not yet done; she still had to hoist the DIBs back onto the ship

and clean and check them ready for more adventures.

But for the rest of us…

photos were shared, stories were told over another delicious dinner

and plans were made for the next day.

More of that anon.

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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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After lunch on 24th June, the “Sea Lion” relocated further north up Chatham Straight to Sitkoh Bay which is a narrow inlet on the southern end of Chichagof Island and directly across the Straight from Angoon.

Sitkoh Bay map 1

Sitkoh Bay map 1

The story of this bay provides an insight into the consequences of the way resources are harvested and why it’s so important to understand and respect relationships in the environment. This is a story that wasn’t told to us on board the ship, but it probably should have, could have, been. It’s a story I’ve had to piece together from my own research.

Map of Sitkoh Bay Alaska

Map of Sitkoh Bay Alaska

This 8 km (5 mile) long bay is fed by the Sitkoh River which, in turn, is fed by a mountain lake. And that’s just the type of environment Sockeye salmon require in order to spawn. But this type of stream is comparatively rare in South East Alaska and, when man changes and spoils this pristine environment, so the numbers of Sockeye decrease markedly.

Summer Camps on Sitkoh Bay

Summer Camps on Sitkoh Bay *

The first humans known to come to this bay were groups of native Tlingits who made their summer camps along the edges of the bay. Tlingits had lived in South East Alaska for 10,000 years before the first white men arrived. They were subsistence harvesters of fish and they understood the importance of not over fishing and also the need to keep the environment clean for the fish to spawn. They fished according to their need.

Tlingit fishing canoe© JT of jtdytravels; P1140668

Tlingit fishermen with canoe ©  JT of jtdytravels; P1140668

Each year, the Tlingits harvested some of the Sockeye as they moved upstream. At that time, the fish were full of fat; good food but difficult to smoke for later consumption. These were eaten immediately. Fish caught after spawning, the ones that would die naturally anyway, were less fatty and able to be smoked for later use in winter. There was a healthy balance between man and resource.

Map of Sitkoh Bay

Sitkoh Bay in Relation to Sitka *

The first pressure placed on the numbers of Sockeye in the bay came after the Russians took the land around Sitka by force in 1804. Many Tlingits fled over the hills from Sitka to live in the Chatham Straight area. More people put pressure on the bay in summer and fights broke out between the different groups. But there were still sufficient Sockeye salmon for all.

© DY of jtdytravels; P1130991

Chatham Cannery Site © DY of jtdytravels; P1130991

This balance in nature changed dramatically in the years after the Chatham fish processing plant was built in 1900. It was set up to take advantage of the rich resources of Sockeye in this bay.  When the Tlingits expressed their views on the way the fish were being over-harvested, they were silenced by armed US guards. The price for good red Sockeye was high in the market and the Cannery made of the most of Sitkoh’s summer spawning runs.

While some Tlingits were employed by the cannery, at a very low rate of pay, the owners of the cannery continually refused to listen to them about the need to take fewer fish. As a result, by 1920, the numbers of Sockeye had begun to diminish markedly.  Eventually, the cannery closed in 1974 but not until the Sockeye had been almost totally fished out. 

Lake above Sitkoh Bay

Lake above Sitkoh Bay

The third pressure that beset the Sockeye salmon was forest logging around the mountain lake that fed their spawning stream. Logging took place in this pristine valley between 1969 and 1974 and, according to research reports, silt had a big effect on muddying the stream and on changing the water temperature. Since logging ceased, efforts have been made to clean up the water ways and the Sockeye are recovering in number. Fortunately, nowadays more is known about the interdependence of life in the wilderness and changes are being made.

© JT of jtdytravels; P1130988

Chatham Cannery Site  © JT of jtdytravels; P1130988

There’s not much left of the Chatham Cannery site and its village. When in use by the Cannery, the inhabitants were segregated into three areas; White owners, Asians and Tlingits. It’s still used by Tlingit peoples for summer harvest of salmon.

© JT jtdytravels; P1130989

© JT jtdytravels; P1130989

Much of the once bustling village is now derelict!

© JT of jtdytravels; P1130992

© JT of jtdytravels; P1130992

No-one uses this jetty anymore. It stands as a mute reminder of the days of the cannery and the consequences of not understanding the needs of a natural resource.

Jennie and David

* A good report and commentary on the story of Sockeye in Sitkoh can be found on:

http://www.arlis.org/docs/vol1/A/24172307.pdf

‘Use of Sockeye Salmon in Sitkoh, Alaska’

Technical Report Number 174

by

T F Thornton, R F Schroeder and R G Bosworth

.

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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.

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The famous American wilderness explorer, John Muir, once said, “To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.” And it is indeed amazing… especially when you have the priviledge, as I did at Pond Island, to just float quietly on still waters taking in the beauty that surrounds you. Let me share it with you.

Pond Island © JT of jtdytravels; P1130927

Pond Island © JT of jtdytravels; P1130927

Much of the time, as we moved slowly along the shoreline, we just enjoyed the peace and the beauty of the wilderness that surrounded us, especially the reflections in still waters.  That peace was only broken when we saw wildlife along the way. Then Jason would quietly tell us something about each one as we observed their behaviour in the wild.

P1130928

Shoreline reflection 1 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130928

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P1130930

Shoreline reflections 2 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130930

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P1130934

Kayaks afloat on Pond Island Bay ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130934

This was the first day on this expedition that the kayaks were in use.

The conditions were perfect for that activity.

P1130936

Kayaking fun ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130936

Some of our group, like David, had chosen to walk, some to kayak and some, like me, to explore by DIB. We all enjoyed the beauty of this wilderness area in our own way.

P1130939

Small island of conifers ©  JT  of  jtdytravels;  P1130939

At one end of the bay was a rocky island, a perfect example of a conifer forest surrounded by the deeper green of the much smaller Sitka alders.

P1130942

Pair of Bald Eagles ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130942

The island provided a great look out point for a pair of bald eagles. It’s hard to tell which is male and which female, they look so similar. The female is, in fact, slightly larger.

Bald eagles are the national bird of USA, indeed it’s the only bird unique to North America. Its scientific name is  Haliaeetus leucocephalus; from Greek hali “sea”, aiētos “eagle”, leuco “white” and cephalos “head”. About half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska so it’s not a surprise to see them here. In this bay, the eagles were on the look out for salmon as the annual salmon run was just beginning. They will eat both dead and dying fish.

It was good to watch the eagles in the wild away from human habitation. Further south in the ‘Lower 48’ states, bald eagles and other birds of prey such as kites and hawks, are vulnerable to toxic chemicals in the environment. Because these birds are at the top of the food chain, each link in that food chain tends to concentrate chemicals from the lower link. Here, in  the wilds of South East Alaska, they are free from that danger.

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Salmon run creek ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130944

We gradually made our way towards a small creek where salmon were beginning to congregate for the start of their annual spawning run. Five types of salmon occur in Alaska, easily remembered by looking at your fingers! Thumb = Chum; Pointer = Sockeye ( a bit obscure but it helps to have a bit of imagination!); Middle finger = King; Ring finger = Silver; and Pinky finger = Pink.  In general, adult salmon eat other fish, squid, eels, and shrimp. However Sockeye salmon has a diet that consists almost entirely of plankton.

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Indian Paintbrush flowers and grasses ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130950

Another small, rocky island had no trees,

just grasses and the delightful red paintbrush, Castilleja miniata.

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If we had been able to have a closer look at the red paintbrush plant, as David did while walking on the shore, we would have seen that the red parts are actually modified leaves, or bracts.  The flower is tiny, protected by the bracts.

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Nature’s abstract art ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130947

I loved the reflections of this island; another example of nature’s abstract art!

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Inside salmon pool ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130952

As we turned the corner, we came into a small pool where the salmon collect before their final spawning run. Alaskan salmon are anadromous, meaning they are born in freshwater (rivers or streams) before they travel to and live much of their lives in salt water. They then return to freshwater to spawn. It has long been believed that salmon return to the exact spot where they were born in order to spawn. Recent tracking studies have shown this to be mostly true although some do stray and spawn in different freshwater systems. Such homing behaviour is quite an amazing phenomenon and has been shown to depend on olfactory memory.

When the female reaches the place where she will lay her eggs, she makes a depression in the river or creek bed with her tail, and then deposits some of her eggs.  She then waits for males to fertilise the eggs before covering the depression. She then moves on to make another depression. Females will make as many depressions as they need in order to lay all of their eggs; that may be up to seven depressions.

After spawning, the adults die and thus provide more food for bears and eagles.

Young salmon will stay for six months to three years in their natal stream.  Only 10% of all salmon eggs are estimated to survive that period. As they prepare to leave the creeks for the ocean, their  body chemistry changes, thus allowing them to live in saltwater.  They will then spend about one to five years (depending on the species) in the open ocean.  There they gradually become sexually mature and prepare to return to the creeks of their birth. It’s another of the wonderful stories of nature.

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Shore reflections 3  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130962

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Mergus Merganser ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130967

As we sat quietly in this pool area, enjoying the reflections, we noticed movement. A female merganser was moving along beside the shore. She was very watchful of us, as we were of her! We stayed very still and she seemed to accept our presence.

Baby Mergansers © JT of jtdytravels; P1130969

Baby Mergansers © JT of jtdytravels; P1130969

She was followed by her brood of ducklings. They are similar to their mother except for a short black-edged white stripe between the eye and bill. They were wonderfully camouflaged against the barnacles, rocks and sea weeds. We stayed our distance and watched them.

These birds, Mergus Merganser, need nesting holes in the mature trees of these forests for breeding. The female lays usually 8 to 12 white to yellowish eggs and raises one brood each season. This one had five ducklings with her; maybe others had fallen prey to predators. As soon as the eggs hatch, the female takes the ducklings in her bill down to the pool or river. They feed on freshwater invertebrates and small fish fry. They are fully fledged when 60–70 days old but are not sexually mature until they are two years old.

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View back from salmon pool ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130971

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Island view ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130973

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© DY of jtdytravels; P1100253

Pair of marbled murrelets © DY of jtdytravels; P110025

Back out in the main bay we saw a pair of Marbled murrelets, very small sea birds with a very long Latin name: Brachyramphus marmoratus. They’re difficult to photograph partly because of their size and partly because they are very busy little birds, constantly diving to feed on sand eels, herrings and other small fish. They feed in pairs and we saw them often as we sailed in the waters of the Inside Passage where they are never far from a forest.

Old growth forests are especially important to Marbled murrelets. Unlike other sea birds, these little birds nest on the mossy branches of old trees, particularly the hemlock and the spruce so prevalent in these forests. This habit of nesting in trees, rather than on cliffs and rock ledges or in burrows like other sea birds, was not documented until 1974 when a tree climber found a nest. It was a rather remarkable finding and has had important implications for the logging of old growth forests in the area. In many places on their habitat range, this species of murrelet has declined in numbers because of logging.

Marbled murrelet (courtesy Wikepedia)

Marbled murrelet (courtesy Wikepedia)

Even without the pressure of the logging of their nesting trees, murrelets are hard pressed to succeed in the breeding process. After choosing a tree with lots of moss and lichen on the branches and with plenty of cover from predators, the female murrelet lays just one egg on a platform of lichen and moss. After a month of incubation, the chick hatches and is fed for about forty days until it’s able to fledge and fend for itself. Breeding success is low and chick mortality is high. We were entranced by these little birds each day of the expedition.

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Harbour Seal ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130977

Every now and then, a round grey head would pop up on the surface, have a quick look around and then slip quietly away again beneath the surface. This was a harbour seal. They don’t stay long on the surface and are hard to photograph in the wild because it’s not easy to predict when they will resurface. They stay down for quite a while as they seek fish, squid and shrimp. In 2010, an aerial survey of harbour seals in Southeast Alaska estimated that there were 60,000 harbour seals in these cold, fish rich waters. They are a delight to observe.

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Shore Reflections 4 ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130987

These are tidal waters, so the DIB drivers put out buoys to mark rocky areas that would become shallower as the day went on. The forest reflections were lovely.

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Return of the kayakers ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P113098.

Happy kayakers gradually came back closer to shore.

Their time afloat was almost over.

It would take some time to collect the kayaks and take them back to the ship.

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“Sea Lion”  ©  JT  of  jtdytravels; P1130977

Sadly, it was time for me to go back to the “Sea Lion”; the Dibs were needed for other tasks. Meanwhile, David was still on shore doing a beach walk while he waited his turn to return to the ship. So next time, we’ll wander along the shore here at Pond Island with him.

Jennie and David

All photographs copyright JT  of  jtdytravels

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