Logo

Blog

Something's Not Right With This Ptarmigan!

Laura and I bounded through ferns and devil's club. We were running our daily loop of the Lost and Found Lake Trail, bear spray in hand, singing bear songs, trying to break our record of 19 minutes.  Laura rounded the bend near the spruce-bark-beetle clearing and stopped dead in her tracks. I nearly collided with her back. Oh dear, I thought, what does Laura see?!

Instead of backing away in fear, Laura motioned for me to hurry up and look. "Quick, before she flies away! It's a ptarmigan in the trail!" Sure enough, a brown ball of feathers was blocking our path, but she was not flying away. She was lowering one wing to the ground like an aggressive chicken and sashaying toward us.  Laura and I looked at each other. "Something's not right with this ptarmigan," Laura summarized.  We knew it couldn't hurt us, but an animal without fear is unnerving. Can ptarmigans get rabies?
 
Suddenly, a train of three peeping fluff-balls tumbled across the trail, from the higher, forested side to the lower, mossy patch. Their backs were striped to blend in with shadows from spruce bows, and their feet were so small they got caught in the sphagnum. The mother's strange behavior made sense: she was being a crossing guard!
 
Bobbing across the trail.
 
A frantic peeping wove through the bushes on the high side of the trail, and the fourth straggling chick emerged to join its siblings. Mama gave us the sideways-eye of a prey species (if you don't know what I'm talking about, stand on a porch above a flock of hens, lean over the railing, and watch them turn one side of their head straight up) and allowed us to pass. We happily watched the family amble through the underbrush. They sabotaged our 19-minute goal.
 
That night, I texted Laura's photos to my bird-verifier, Thomas, who politely pointed out that our "ptarmigan" was a spruce grouse. Makes sense, since our forest is 95% spruce, and ptarmigans live in tundra!
 
This photo was taken with no zoom to show how close Mama got to me.
 
When she made eye contact, I got the sense she was both intelligent and confident, entirely committed to her role of protector.
 
Five days later, I was clearing grass and blueberry bushes with a scythe when an indignant clucking interrupted my whacking. There, in the trail, stood Mama. This time, I watched for an hour as she strutted along a sunny log and her chicks dust-bathed in the middle of the path.
 
"This root is the perfect size for me!"
 
Spruce-shadow markings.

 

Look at those furry legs!

 

They'll become nicely feathered shanks, like Mama's.

 

This sun makes me sleepy...

Later that afternoon, as I finished the other side of the loop trail, the family emerged again! They had taken a short-cut through the forest. What draws them to the trail, I don't know, but I think the blueberries have something to do with it.

I haven't figured out how to get videos to work, but you can view the video on my YouTube channel here!

The next installment in the spruce grouse saga came yesterday, when I surprised the mother by coming around a bend too quickly, and she returned the surprise by flying within inches of my face, claws outstretched. Sorry, Mama!

Here's a video of the chicks jumping to reach seeds from some not-so-tall blades of grass.

This time, the family was spread out on an open slope beneath the mountain hemlocks. I counted the chicks, anxious that all four might not have survived the week, but my total came to FIVE. Props, Mama. Keep up the excellent work.

 
Crossing guard extraordinaire.

-Nina Finley

http://ninafinley176.blogspot.com

Hey, Bear!

"Do you guys get bears out here?"
 
 It's a frequently asked question to which I knew the answer before I arrived.
 
"Yes, but just black bears. No grizzlies."
 
 I wasn't at the Field Station 24 hours before I witnessed the answer firsthand. I was looking out over Lost and Found Lake, about a half-mile from the Station, with a group of visiting teachers when someone pointed out a black form on the opposite shore. (Lost and Found Lake might be more accurately termed a pond, mind you.)
 
Lost and Found Lake.
 
Binoculars went up, cameras clicked, and we had confirmation: the black shape was a black bear!  The bear saw us, but he didn't seem particularly interested. He padded a few feet away and lay down for a nap. That  was my first sighting of a bear from foot -- I saw a few from the car window with my mother on our Great Alaskan Road Trip last summer -- but it would not be my last.
 
What a robust nose!
 
Two days later, I emerged from the Low Tide Trail. My hiking partner pointed across the tidal lagoon, and there she was, a black bear balancing on driftwood for fun!
 
 
 
 
This black bear didn't seem worried about us, either. As long as we keep our distance, they keep theirs, and nobody gets surprised, we'll all be great friends.

I still haven't figured out how to insert videos successfully, so click on this link to see the bear balancing along driftwood.

One of the most imaginative tips I've recieved as a guide was a package of homemade bear jerky. Every Alaskan resident gets to shoot three bears a year, though of course most don't take up the offer. Our eight-year-old visitor had shot this jerky's black bear himself. And here I'd thought butchering my own rabbits made me cool.
 
I haven't seen a bear since my first three days at the Station, but I always carry bear spray. And when my friend Laura and I go running on the trails, we holler our rambunctious greeting at every turn: HEY, BEAR!!!
 
-Nina Finley

Spring Extravaganza

    The whirlwind that is the spring season at Peterson Bay, China Poot, and Kasistna Bay has come to a standstill.  The calm after the fun storm is a time to reflect and share the moments we will never forget.  Through sleet, snow, rain, rocks, plants, and low tides we explored the unique environments of Kachemak Bay.  Each site possesed a certain charm that made for great outdoor experiences.

Kasitsna Bay Sunset

Sunset at Kasitsna Bay

Continue Reading

Kickoff to CoastWalk Success!

A beautiful, heart-shaped bivalve we spotted on the beach! Seeing evidence of marine life reminds us of why we work so hard to keep the beaches clean.

As the days have grown shorter, and the mornings crispy, the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies has set out to tackle the trash of the beach. The month of September kicked off our 30th annual CoastWalk beach clean-up season around Kachemak Bay. Every September and October the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies gather volunteers, teachers, students, organizations, and businesses to clean Kachemak Bay beaches.  For the past 29 years these dedicated volunteers have picked up everything off the beach from a discarded toothbrush to half a fiberglass kayak.  Over the past 29 years, volunteers have collected thousands of pieces of debris, and in the process saved many of our seabirds, marine mammals, and fish from the devastating effects of marine debris.

Continue Reading

Summer WILL Come!

Summer will come

On a magnificent sweep of oceanfront land and maritime forest, Homer is a place filled with natural wonders. The unique and picturesque surroundings provide a spectacular setting for a rewarding experience you won't soon forget.

Continue Reading

Triplet Eaglets, Twin Colts, and Septuplet Ducklets

In case you haven't heard, spring is the season for babies.

Here at Peterson Bay Field Station, a pair of bald eagles is accomplishing an incredible feat: they are raising triplets!

The broken crown of a seaside spruce makes an ideal platform.

Even better, you won't want to miss this video of both parents and all three eaglets sharing a meal at the nest!

I'm taking photos every day to mark their progress. To the eagle experts out there: any idea how old these chicks might be?

On the Lost and Found Lake Loop Trail, which winds through a mile-and-a-half of Lutz spruce forest, I found the sign of an American robin's reproduction: the cracked shells of two sky-blue eggs.

Shell fragments.

 

A proud mom or a heartbroken orphaner?

I don't know if the eggs hatched or were pilfered by raven or raccoon.

On my day off here in Homer, I circumnavigated Beluga Slough through questionable tides, estuarine mud, and private property.

Kenai Mountains in the background.

 

Kachemak Bay on the horizon.
 
I ducked behind the tree line to read a chapter of Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac on somebody's hand-hewn log bench. Seven northern shovelers flew in as soon as I was out of sight.
 
Pendulous bills make for good shoveling.
 
I've never seen such an enormous hoof print. Moose were probably watching me follow their trail.


Further along, I discovered septuplet ducklets. Their species eluded me at first. Mallards have orange bills; green-winged teal have dark faces; gadwalls aren't common here.

What nice eyeliner you have. I always go for down-turned wings, too.

 

Is that a peek of blue speculum I spy?

But with enough patience and photographs, I got a look at her blue speculum, and I believe she is simply a dark-billed mallard mama.

Ahh, blue indeed!

On my walk home, I got a much closer view of a mother mallard with only two ducklings. She had a dark bill and a brilliant blue speculum, confirming my identification.

 
And her duckling took an adorable bath while practicing her dabbling! I wonder how even their down is waterproof?
 
 
A baby duck is a duckling (or ducklet, with poetic license). A baby eagle's an eaglet. What do you call a baby crane? Take a gander. (No, a gander is a male goose!)

I'll give you this one. A baby crane is called a colt!

Here is the video of crane parents and colts.

Watching them gambol through the grass makes clear the resemblance between filly and fowl. I couldn't get too close to the pair of colts this morning, but you can see their yellow fluff nudging mom or dad for food.

Fungi Emerge at the Wynn

During the summer months there are always stunning wildflowers at the Wynn – lupine and chocolate lilies, yarrow and star gentians, pyrola and goldenrod, Indian paintbrush and fireweed, and many more that progress through their flowering cycles at different times as the summer continues. Flowers, of course, are the reproductive organs of a plant that will eventually produce seeds for dispersal. Amongst the wildflowers, all in their different summer stages, we’ve also started to notice an abundance of something relatively new to the forest: the reproductive organs of another type of organism. With all the recent rain, the fruiting bodies of fungi have emerged, aka mushrooms! The forest is full of their great variety of forms and colors, and as the summer moves into autumn, more and more will surface. Come out to the Wynn to see our great diversity of fungus: the puffball (lycoperdon), red-capped russula, deadly amanita, latex secreting lactarius, and endless shelf fungi, like our beautiful chicken-of-the-woods.

 

SulfurShelf

Spirit of Alaska Women at Fantastic Friday

Alaskan women have a lot of amazing stories to share.  As a descendant of Alaskan homesteaders myself, I can really appreciate the unique conditions and experiences that can be told by women who have spent a good amount of time in this great state, some even before it was a state.  A book about their stories became the topic of a recent Fantastic Friday event at the Wynn Nature Center on Skyline Dr.  Ladies from the Homer chapter of Alaska Community and Adult Education, a former Cooperative Extension program, brought their new book filled with Alaskan tales to share with the public at this free event.  The storytelling women arrived in Alaska at various times between the 1950's and the 1970's and many had spent time living in the bush.  They told their own histories as well as read excerpts from the book on topics ranging from preparing salmon to the 1964 earthquake.  The stories were lively and well-told and through them the women exhibited why their newly published book was titled "Spirit of Alaska Women."  A special appearance was also made by long-time local, and namesake of the cabin at the Wynn Nauture Center, Daisy Lee Bitter.

Continue Reading

Across Kachemak Bay

Four days ago, I was fighting for a national championship with my ultimate team, the Whitman Sweets, at the National College Ultimate Championships in Raleigh, North Carolina. (We made school history and earned a silver medal!)

Three days ago, I was buying my first pair of Chacos in Seattle and stuffing polypropylene leggings into my waterproof duffel bag.

Two days ago, I was flying to Anchorage and then Homer, Alaska and settling in to my bunk room on the second floor of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies. I met an old friend and teammate for dinner (here in Homer, what wonderful coincidence) and fell asleep at 10:30 pm in broad daylight.

One day ago, I took a boat across Kachemak Bay to the Peterson Bay Field Station, a semi-remote campus of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies where I'll be living and guiding for the rest of the summer.

We passed Gull Island on our way to Peterson Bay Field Station.

 

Common murres were conspicuously absent in the water... and then we found them all huddled on top!

 

Black-legged kittiwakes coated the cliffs and generated a constant pulsing wail.

 

Tufted puffins bobbed near our boat.

And this morning, I woke up to gossip of boreal chickadees, the indignant peels of black oystercatchers, and the melody of robins.

A bald eagle perches in this snag every day.

A group of eight Alaskan school-teachers are visiting for a three-day Teacher Academy. They'll take back what they learn to provide outdoor education for the students in their classrooms. It's a perfect first group for me because I get to learn about this ecosystem alongside curious educators who ask creative questions and find joy in the mucky details.

Gull Island, a rookery for black-legged kittiwakes and a favorite lunch spot for eagles.

 

Otter Rock: can you see the geological sea otter on her back, paws in the air?

 

Low tide.

 

Can you identify this dead duck head?

 

Our steep ramp from the dock to the Field Station.

 

If you're heading to the beach, take the stairs.

 

Our drinking water comes thrice-filtered from this steam, but it's still imbued with a rich brown color from needle tannins.

Today we have a minus 3.2 tide at 7:30 am -- that's really low. We're off to Otter Rock to seek out the Fab Four Phyla and whatever else crosses our path!

By the way, I should introduce myself. This is Nina Finley, the 2016 Peterson Bay Field Station Naturalist Intern. I'll be blogging a lot from both sides of the Bay, so stay tuned for updates. If you enjoy these posts, feel free to check out my personal blog, Natural Selections, for more stories and photos from Alaska and beyond.

Until next time,

Nina

Visiting the Stars

Last week, I was lucky enough to head over to the Peterson Bay Field Station with Americorp coastal ecology educator Leah Thon for a mid-winter overnight trip.  Our primary purpose was to check out the much-beloved sea stars that inhabit the rocky intertidal at Otter Rock, China Poot Bay, and even the tidal lagoon right in front of the Field Station.

Two summers ago, a phenomenon caan example of a true star showing wasting symptomslled Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (or Disease) emerged on the west coast.  Similar unusual mortality events among sea stars had happened before, but this one is bigger and more widespread.  Alarmed by the severity of the outbreak in the Pacific Northwest, accounts of some suspicious lesions on sea stars at the Anchorage Museum, and a few distressed sea stars observed by naturalists on the Kachemak Bay beaches earlier in the summer, the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies contacted the MARINe program (Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network) through the University of California, Santa Cruz to learn more about their sea star monitoring efforts.  Working closely with them, we determined that the threat of sea star wasting syndrome could exist in Kachemak Bay and that it would be valuable to establish a set of permanent plots for monitoring, and did so in the summer of 2014.

Continue Reading

The products of Spring at the Wynn

It has certainly felt like summer lately, but at the Wynn we are still seeing the products of spring emerge and grow. What products, you may ask? Babies! The baby moose are on the move, seen here at the Wynn in the past few days by some of our guests. Stretching their gangly legs, navigating over roots, they follow their mother through the forests and meadows free and easy. Only rarely do they truly need to test the developing muscles in those long legs. Two weeks ago, we had the privilege to witness two calves and their mother chased across our wildflower field by a black bear – quite the exhilarating moment, and a resolute reminder that survival in Alaska’s wilderness is no easy task for any animal.

Another baby that’s out and about at the Wynn is the baby porcupine, also called the porcupette. Porcupines usually give birth to only one offspring per year, so seeing a dark-colored, short-quilled porcupette is a real honor. Earlier this week, one was spotted behind the Wynn cabin. Absorbed by the fresh fireweed it was munching, the seemingly soft ball of fast-hardening quills didn’t pay us much mind. When we got closer, however, it started to lumber off, doing its best to clear the way and part the tall grasses before it with endearing adolescent limbs.

Mammals aren’t the only ones to bring new generations into the wooded world. On a tour last week, a Townsend’s Warbler fledgling, testing its wings, awkwardly flew right across the trail to land on a branch three feet away. As it looked at the world from this new point of view, twitching its fuzzy, chubby head back and forth, up and down, we watched in awe. One of the parents soon flew up to it with some grub and shoved the food down the thin tilted throat, as birds are so efficient at doing. Refueled, the youngster took off again to revel in the feeling of the wind beneath its wings.

If you’re a lover of wildlife interactions, with creatures both big and small, the Wynn Nature Center is the place to visit. The forest is full of new life and quiet occurrences this summer. Come and see for yourself!

Spirit of Alaska Women at Fantastic Friday

Alaskan women have a lot of amazing stories to share.  As a descendant of Alaskan homesteaders myself, I can really appreciate the unique conditions and experiences that can be told by women who have spent a good amount of time in this great state, some even before it was a state.  A book about their stories became the topic of a recent Fantastic Friday event at the Wynn Nature Center on Skyline Dr.  Ladies from the Homer chapter of the Association for Family and Community Education, a former Cooperative Extension program, brought their new book filled with Alaskan tales to share with the public at this free event.  The storytelling women arrived in Alaska at various times between the 1950's and the 1970's and many had spent time living in the bush.  They told their own histories as well as read excerpts from the book on topics ranging from preparing salmon to the 1964 earthquake.  The stories were lively and well-told and through them the women exhibited why their newly published book was titled "Spirit of Alaska Women."  A special appearance was also made by long-time local, and namesake of the cabin at the Wynn Nauture Center, Daisy Lee Bitter.

Continue Reading

  • 1
  • 2

Contact Us

Email 
Message 
Please enter the following qmdulfkz
    

Daisy and Billie New sign

© 2006 - 2016 Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, 708 Smokey Bay Way, PO BOX 2225, Homer, AK 99603, (907) 235-6667