Greetings from the glacier,
It’s been an interesting week at the glacier. With the long Fourth of July weekend we have seen many Juneau friends visiting here with their families. We have also seen many former Juneauites who returned for reunions and celebrated with the wonderful home-town parades. I was tickled to see a young 2.5 year old child won the Douglas sandcastle contest with a pineapple sand sculpture!
Meanwhile, we have had a few surprises ourselves. The Arctic Terns are still here and their calls are a delight to the ears, especially after no terns on the sandbar for the past two years. They will probably fly away by July 22, so come out to enjoy them soon! Their stunning aerial displays show the fine skills of the long distance migrators with 44,000 miles round trip each year between here and Antarctica. These handsome birds are streamlined and sleek. They are able to hover in flight and dive into the lake to retrieve a small fish. I have great respect for these long-lived birds who can find their way between summer and winter homes, and tenderly raise chicks that will follow them south soon.
Arctic Terns mob intruders. Yesterday an adult bald eagle came too close and the terns reacted, as expected when a major tern-chick predator flies over the nesting colony. The terns make a certain predator call that is recognizable to our ears, and I looked up when I heard it through an open window. The terns had chased the eagle eventually to a treetop where it continued to be harassed by the terns. The stealthy flyers dove and pecked at the eagle’s head.
Later in the day the eagle surprised all of us. Again I heard the sound to the terns mobbing but noticed the eagle was not in the air but was swimming in the lake. Eagles swim in a stroke we perform as the “butterfly.” This is not a usual behavior, but eagles will do it when they have a heavy item in their talons that they cannot carry in flight. We watched, fascinated, as the eagle swam toward a little island in front of the visitor center and climbed out with a full sized shiny bright salmon! The fish was about 12-14 inches long. The eagle tore into red flesh. Ah, we said, the sockeye are schooling near the mouth of Steep Creek where the eagle had caught the fish! But that shiny silvery fish had not yet dressed for dating. We expect them to be red and spawning in the stream around July 21-24. In 2011, the red salmon showed up in the creek after a heavy rain, but just for one day. They swam back to their favorite pond and waited another ten days before their real spawning run started.
As we have done for several years, today we closed the back side of Steep Creek Trail for the remainder of the summer to provide a buffer for bears. This improves bear viewing on the fenced and elevated portion of the Steep Creek Trail. With salmon arriving soon, many bears gather at the creek and need safe ingress and egress so they can avoid people and other bears. We mark the boundary for Dredge Lakes hikers with signs and yellow rope; each trailhead cautions people of the closure. On the visitor center side of the Steep Creek Trail, wildlife watchers encounter gates with snazzy new signs that explain why we preserve a special area. I’ve attached a photo of the gates. Also we install swinging gates that people can easily open but that might slow down bears from getting onto the elevated platforms. All the gates are in place today.
Porcupines are always a treat to observe. We have two mother-porcupette pairs. These delightful creatures know their defense systems allow them to be close to potential enemies, such as humans and dogs, without too much fear. Thus we can observe them in the trees as they nibble leaves. They have cute faces and we enjoy sharing sightings of the porcupines with all our visitors. The most common remark is, “I didn’t know the climbed trees.” See if you can discern which branches have been chewed by porcupines.
We have successfully endured four small jokulhlaups this summer. These Suicide Basin outburst floods have been small enough not to flood the Arctic Tern nesting area off Photo Point. It is a relief that this year’s broods might survive to grow strong. We have seen chicks and monitor their progress as well as we can through binoculars. The adult terns would mob and attack us, too, if we got too close.
Come visit soon! Your glacier awaits!