Thursday, October 22, 2015

Life on the Docks

Winter in coastal Alaska has a bonus not enjoyed by someone living in — say — Delmar, New York (where I finished high school) or Brookfield, Wisconsin (where Karen grew up).  Like grizzled retirees from those same towns chasing the winter sun, waterfowl and shorebirds, fleeing iced-over ponds and marshes in interior portions of the continent, sashay down to our coast.  Here they happily spend the darkest months indulging in fresh seafood delicacies that dwell in our marine waters.  They join larger members of the animal kingdom whose “wings” just aren’t powerful enough to enable them to fly — except through the water.

                            A pair of Common Loons newly arrived after interior lakes began to freeze over

Barely more agile on land than a bowling ball and even less so in the air, this Harbor Seals epitomizes grace when it "flies" through the water.

This is particularly true at the northern end of Wrangell Narrows, the site of the city of Petersburg, where harbor seals and Steller’s sea lions are joined by thousands of gulls, ducks and shorebirds.  Here upwelling seawater nourishes an ecosystem filled with enough species of marine worms (yum) and fish to keep “everyone” happy with the added bonus of tasty ground-up seafood processing waste from our local canneries.  

A Common Loon wrecks the day of a fish -- but can it swallow that big of a victim without a set of wolf-like choppers?

                                                                     No Problem!  Well, maybe just a little.

For the record, one local cannery’s permit required wastes to be discharged in waters somewhere around 30 or 40 feet below sea level.  Wellllllll…..I once joined inspectors diving on that outfall.  While we navigated to the site, the diver made his final preparations.  Oxygen tanks filled— check.  Dry suit on— check.  Regulator functioning — check.  Tank valve open — check.  A couple of test breaths — check.  Weights on — Check.  Get ready, we’re closing in.  STOP!  REVERSE ENGINE!  WATCH OUT!  DON'T HIT THE PIPE!  If he had jumped over the side of the boat at a deep spot he might have gotten his knees wet.

I never saw the final inspection report.  However, I couldn’t help but notice that currents are so fast at the site that the discharge is well diluted.  Instead of looking like a biological wasteland around the outfall — as sterile as Mars but less colorful — the area looked more like a Hawaiian coral reef.  It’s a great place to cast a fishing lure during higher tide levels.

This week Karen took her new Canon Powershot SX50 camera out on the docks to give it another test run.  The first day, as she slowly crept up on several sleeping seal lions, she paused.  “Why do I have this uneasy feeling?”  The dock began rocking and bobbing accompanied by the increasing volume of a gurgling sound.  Suddenly a geyser of water reminiscent of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful erupted as it gushed out of a standing pipe -- the one under which she was hiding.  Karen had been creeping from pipe to pipe using them as photographic blinds — if one can use a standing pipe as camouflage.  Only Karen would take a shower on the docks — without a towel.  Most others seek out more private facilities.

Nevertheless, brave Karen returned the next day, this time using her navigational skills to avoid that “trap.”  She went to a different dock.

                                                 Steller's Sea Lions know the meaning of comfort.

                                           So who's keeping track of whose flippers belong to who?

            Black Turnstones and Surfbirds seem to sense that Karen is a softy when it comes to predatory instincts.

Petersburg's upside down Harbor Seal cruises through the harbors in it's own style.  Don't knock it until you've tried it.

                                                                           It's downright addictive.

A short-billed Dowitcher proved a challenge in deciding if it was the short-billed species or the long-billed version.  Here's hoping we got it right.  The surfbird was an easy call.

This Bonapartes Gull is unlikely to stick around all winter, but will be another harbinger of spring in five or six months.  Just the thought of that makes us think it's on to something.

                                             You know, there's more than one way to fly.  I wonder......

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Surprise Thanksgiving

Every American knows that Thanksgiving falls on the last Thursday of November.  The salmon trollers, gill netters and seiners have lashed their boats to the dock.  So, too have the halibut and black cod long liners, crabbers, etc.  The harbor is pretty much full, the seas — less so.  The tourists have retreated to more southerly climes.  It’s also a terrific time to kick off Christmas sales.  Yes, the Pilgrims knew exactly what they were doing.

But were they the first?  If you have a calendar you might notice that Canadian Thanksgiving falls on the second Monday in October while the US Thanksgiving doesn’t roll around until the fourth Thursday in November.  Could it be?

          Fall colors brighten an aspen grove along British Columbia's portion of the Yellowhead Highway.

Just one year ago we were reminded why Canadian Thanksgivings are a primo time to drive through southern and central British Columbia. The reason?  Autumn splendor.  The only down side is the closure of some of Canada's number one tourist attractions -- thrift stores.  OK -- Karen is not the kind of girl attracted to the Wallmarts, Disneylands and theme parks of this world.  Neither am I.  Karen’s quest for the ultimate bargain cannot be belittled.  After all, she once spent 50 cents to buy a beat up box filled with prints by some artist we never heard of.  Back home we discovered those prints are valued at somewhere around $5,000.  

     Fall colors at the base of some aspens -- just as "delicious" as any New England sugar maple grove.

Oops, Karen, Are you sure this is the Yellowhead Highway ?  I'm not sure it's the kind of road that connects Prince Rupert, BC with Winnipeg, Manitoba.

During that autumn of 2014 our final day on the road fell on Canadian Thanksgiving.  Adding to the woes of closed thrift stores, we steamed straight into our first encounter with serious rain of that trip.  Blazing golds and reds of central British Columbia gave way to muted ochres and crimsons, then as we closed in on the coast, to the dull browns of sodden alder leaves.   Our spirits sagged knowing the drawing card of fall travel was in it's final throes.

       I don't think we're ever driven past Seeley Lake without stopping and taking at least a dozen photos.

Karen, what are all those little dots on that beaver pond?  They don't look like trout chasing bugs to me.

                            Let's think of it as a demonstration of the power of the sun to recycle water.

However, checking into Tall Trees Bed and Breakfast in Prince Rupert changed everything.  "I'm having a party tonight,”  Andrea, our hostess, announced.  "It's Thanksgiving and you're invited to join us." 

And, so, Karen and I had turkey dinner among an eclectic group of Canadians — Andrea’s “orphan” friends who hailed from all over Canada.  Our spirits soared as we filled our bellies with turkey and all the trimmings, met new friends and then played a game, just like we do at home, until well past our intended bed time.   We had a 3:30 AM check in for our ferry the next day, but Thanksgiving celebrations trumped sleep.  After all, it was Thanksgiving.

   OK, it wasn't pumpkin pie, but we didn't complain.  We just hoped there'd be some left for a second helping.

Andrea's assistant.  Any B&B with a dog automatically gets a 5 star rating with Karen.  Of course Tall Timbers would still get one anyway.

Here are two bonus shots.  On Thanksgiving eve -or was it the eve of Thanksgiving eve,  Either way check out Spotted Lake next time you're traveling in the Osoyoos, BC area.  We heard about it from a friendly Canadian customs agent.


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Karen's New Camera

Karen needed a new camera.  Her Canon Powershot SX20 developed an issue after somewhere around 230,982 shots (give or take one or two).  Turn it on and it would whirr, rasp, grate, and screech as the lens extended.  Same when she zoomed in for one of her fabulous telephoto shots.  Stellers jays scolded in protest as they tried to cover their ears with their wings.  Squirrels fled to their tree-top refuges and threatened to throw spruce cones at her.  Porcupines, too.  She shot the baptism of friends children and the Pastor had to stop mid-sentence while he waited for Karen’s camera each time she zoomed in or out..  The final blow came in August.  Karen’s birthday!  I wanted to give her something special, something more romantic than a bag of lime flavored Tortilla chips.  Ah, a new camera!

Using my well-honed skill in pulling off surprises, I asked Karen what kind of camera she might like, subtly suggesting an upgrade of her Canon Powershot SX20 might be worth considering since she had already mastered the skill of turning it on.

                                                       Karen tests her new camera on muskeg vegetation.

Enter the research phase of our pre-August 19th activities.  Karen spent hours pouring over videos, reviews, analyses and camera comparisons between various models, certainly enough to earn a Masters degree, if not a PhD on the subject.  The latest version, the SX60 sounded like it would better serve as a sinker to keep your bait near a halibut.  The SX50 sounded great for shooting videos while running from a grizzly bear while shooting videos over your shoulder, but not so much so if you didn’t want to change batteries twice during the chase.  Ah, but the SX40.  Yes, the SX40.

With a decision “in hand,” off I went shopping on the internet.  Alas, I soon found that any reputable camera dealer carried the SX50 and SX60, but the SX40 — that model achieved fame back in the days before fire was invented.  Naturally!  OK, Karen, “what is the name of the outfit where you cornered the market on Charles Wysocki puzzles?”

“Oh yeah, eBay.”  And there it was.  The perfect camera, one of what were probably the only three brand new Canon Powershot SX40’s left north of Antarctica.

Now, about that time Karen began preparations for a trip to Iowa to visit her cousin, with the scheme that the two of them would drive up to Wisconsin as soon as Karen recovered from a plane trip that included a flight from Seattle to Denver via Los Angeles — only 800 extra air miles to enjoy staring at the back of the seat in front of her from a distance of approximately 3 inches — close enough to smell the perfume on the lady in the next seat forward — or was it the one in the seat in front of her?

Whichever, I checked on when the order could arrive.   Yes, the expected date of delivery was the day Karen would arrive in Iowa.  Perfect!  I placed the order as Karen and I celebrated.   We talked of the joy she would have getting acquainted with her birthday gift as she lazed on the dock at Wisconsin’s Four-Mile Lake.

As Karen headed south I began tracking the camera order.  Oh oh, all it said was the USPS had received notice there was something for them.  Days passed.  No change.  Finally, the words flashed on our computer screen.  The USPS received Karen’s camera in Brooklyn, NY, the day she and cousin Connie were driving to Wisconsin.  OK, at least Karen was coming back to Petersburg via Iowa so could pick it up on her way back.  She still could use her whirring. rasping, grating and screeching SX20 to terrorize Wisconsin’s chipmunks and jays.

Alas, Karen really did get a surprise for her birthday.  Upon returning to Iowa, she opened the box containing her dreamed of Canon Powershot SX40, and there, nestled in the packing material and grinning back at her was — a Canon Powershot SX50 — the model she had rejected because she didn’t want to be able to take videos over her shoulder of a bear chasing her and have to change batteries twice during the chase.  She knows perfectly well that you don’t run from a grizzly, you leave your husband behind to deal with it.

After much pondering and ruing and everything pensive, Karen brought the camera home.  After another week of pondering and ruing and everything pensive we decided to keep it.  If Karen didn’t like it, then I would use it and we would replace it with a Lumix or Nikon or Olympus or anything besides a Canon Powershot.

Which brings me to this blog post.  This week Karen began playing with her new treasure — her first forays with her brand new Canon Powershot SX 50.  

The test -- Does Karen's adopted red squirrel prefer the SX50, the SX20 or does it matter as long as free peanuts are included?

                                    This saucy Steller's jay agrees with the squirrel.  Peanuts trump noisy cameras.

Another test -- a hike around Man-Made-Hole, a gravel extraction site the USFS connected with an adjacent stream to form a pond complete with an inviting trail around it.

                                                                                An alder leaf over the trail.

                                                                                  And one on the pond.

                                                   A Sitka Blacktailed Deer likes the quieter camera, too.

                              Meanwhile several coho salmon in "fall" spawning colors have something else on their minds.

                                                               Crab apple leaves on the bank above the salmon.

 Bunchberry, also known as Canadian dwarf dogwood leaves lend a splash of color to a muskeg during another test.

                                                                             As do these bog cranberries.

Somehow Karen got so absorbed in shooting close-ups, she forgot about testing the camera on distance shots.  Next time.  Meanwhile, her ever skillful husband managed to reformat the camera to a square format.  Now I have to figure out how to get it back to our preferred rectangular shape.  The testing continues.