Thursday, June 21, 2012

Outer Banks: June 2012

Pink and orange streaks spread from the sky to color the glassy still open waters of the marsh that are broken only by a snake swimming, head held high, from one bank slowly across to the reeds on the other side. Five wild horses- one chestnut, two blacks, and two palominos- smooth flanks and flaxen manes glowing in the evening light, graze peacefully, heads deep in the reeds. A frog breaks the silence, and suddenly an exuberant chorus is filling the evening with the music of the marsh, accented by the nearby singing of a Common Yellowthroat from atop his wax myrtle tree. The Yellowthroat, and another across the open water, continue proclaiming their territories in song, but the frog chorus waxes and wanes repeatedly during the time we spend on the boardwalk.
Swimming snake

In the morning, a little ways inland from the marsh, I see the bright yellow-orange colors and domed shell of an Eastern box turtle in the muddy undergrowth- the second I've seen while here this week. A female, I think, since the eyes are brown, not red. I love these slow moving denizens of the land, so vulnerable to habitat destruction, cars, and collectors that is a somewhat rare treat to see them these days. 
Box Turtle in the sand near our house here
Such a pretty pattern!
Walking further, Stephen and I are surrounded by loblolly pines and widely spreading, shade-casting live oaks, replete with birds-- Robins, Carolina Chickadees, a Red-eyed Vireo, numerous Pine Warblers singing their musical trill, and a red-bellied Woodpecker moving up a pine trunk. A young Boat-tailed Grackle in a treetop begs his parents for food and a Great Egret passes overhead, croaking deeply as he flies.

We step out of the woods to the marsh edge to see rusty red dragonflies zipping over the reeds, devouring mosquitoes. We love dragonflies! Looking across the sound, we see Monkey Island, an isolated island that hosts breeding Egrets and other birds-- a rookery. 
All those white spots are Great Egrets- hundreds of them!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Alaska: June 11

Last full day in Alaska (for now). It was misty and drizzly this morning-- perfect for me, since my face is rather sunburned and I'd prefer to stay out of the sun today. We hiked down to Horseshoe Lake- a short, easy hike-- this morning and again this evening. The whole time we've been in Alaska I've been hoping to see one of the other chickadee species than the Black-capped Chickadees we have at home. This morning at Horseshoe Lake we saw a pair of Boreal Chickadees and I was hoping to see them again this evening. They were hiding when we went back, but the reflections on the lake were worth the trip back. I had also been trying to find a Swainson's Thrush since our first morning here at Denali, and we saw one posing beautifully for us right at the trailhead of the Horseshoe Lake trail.

This time in Alaska has been a dream come true, and I suspect that after we're home, it will be hard to imagine that it was more than a dream. I have loved the cool temperatures, the rain and mist, the sunshine on the mountains, the snow- especially on the mountains, the friendliness of all the people, the spruce fragrance of the taiga forests, the gray color of the glacial streams, the variety of birds, the hiking, and so much more. Most of all, the time together with Stephen in these beautiful places has been wonderful; I am so thankful we have been able to do this!

Gray Jay

Swainson's Thrush
Spotted Sandpiper
Beaver dam
Arctic Ground Squirrel
Misty rock formation
Taiga forest- like a fairy land
 New birds today: Swainson's Thrush, Boreal Chickadee

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Alaska: June 10

"Congratulations on being alive!"

That's how a ranger greeted me when I stepped from the willow-filled river Savage River basin onto the road. Apparently there was a large grizzly moving rather quickly in our direction, as I sat by the river painting and Steve sat quietly nearby. "Quietly" was our mistake; we knew we needed to be making noise as we hiked, so that we wouldn't come upon a bear and surprise it, but apparently we also needed to make noise when sitting still, so that a bear wouldn't inadvertently come upon us and be surprised by our presence in his space. Thankfully we are here to tell the tale!

Savage River

A small glacier in the Savage River valley

Wolf Tracks along the high, narrow trail
Wolf track and my hand

Stephen on the steep slope
Trail on STEEP, HIGH slope
This V-shaped valley was carved by a river, hence the steep sides.
Tundra wildflowers beside trail


White-crowned Sparrow- they were ubiquitous
Willow Ptarmigan
Snowshoe Hare
Painting beside the Savage River in the U-shaped valley

This U-shaped valley was carved by a glacier, hence the broad, flat valley.
Stephen resting beside the Savage River

Grizzly bear track!
New bird today: Willow Ptarmigan

Friday, June 15, 2012

Alaska: June 9

I've been doing better with my fear of heights and can now climb pretty high on a ladder, hike on some fairly high, steep slopes, or go up on our roof. Today, though, my acrophobia was tested, and I think I nearly poked holes in the bus seat by clenching it with white knuckles, as we rode the shuttle bus (a school bus) through Polychrome Pass on our trip to Eielson Visitor Center and back on the Park Road. The road is narrow, gravel, and has shoulders that slope downward and outward, with no guard rails. Here is something I found online about Polychrome Pass at Denali National Park:

Once you cross the East Fork River at Mile 44 (there is great hiking out onto the flats from here), you begin your ascent of Polychrome Pass, one of the most spectacular and sphincter-clamping sections of the road. If you’re scared of heights or become frightened at the 1,000-foot drop-offs, just do what the driver does—close your eyes. 

Stephen on the Alpine Ridge Trail

I love the misty mountains!
Dall sheep on a high pasture
Dall sheep on rocky ledges

Caribou are some of my favorites here
Toklat River Valley
New birds today: Rock Ptarmigan, Golden Eagle
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