As we started working our way back down the west arm of Glacier Bay we got a terrific surprise while coming into the evening’s anchorage – a wolf!I’ve been looking for wolves every year that we’ve lived up here and I’ve only seen one, once, for just a few moments. Supposedly there are three packs that live on Mitkof Island (where Petersburg is), but they are rarely spotted. This wolf was tan colored, blending in with the beach. He chased a river otter without success.A nearby sea otter was also too quick for the wolf, and in frustration he eventually picked up something from underwater and ate it on the beach.We got to watch him for about 15 minutes – a fantastic way to wrap up the day!
Sea otters were hanging around near the mouth of the bay……and one was clutching a pup – a “mini me”.As we headed into Icy Strait we saw a humpback in the distance, but as we started towards it we spotted a small pod of orcas so we had to choose which kind of whale to watch.The orcas won out because there was a mother and calf among the group… another “mini me”.It was a pretty exciting way to wrap up our time in the bay, and we were glad to pull into Hoonah to chill out for a day or two.
It’s always fun to visit the carvers, Gordon and Herb, as well as our friends Owen and Sherry who work with the log canoes.These Tlingit people are very special – so generous with their time and talent, patiently sharing history and culture with everyone.
We took some time to walk in the woods, marveling at how big the devil’s club leaves have grown so far this summer.Devil’s club, a relative of the ginseng family, is an important plant for the Tlingit people who harvest the roots for tea and the stalks to make a salve that’s good for the skin. It’s challenging to harvest because it’s covered in tiny thorns – you don’t want to fall into it!
I’ve had a few people ask me if they could receive an email whenever I post something new to the Blog. I’ve looked into it a few times but didn’t get it figured out until today – so the “Follow” feature is now live on the right hand column of the site.
What happens when a glacier retreats (as so many of them are)? What plants come first, and how long does it take for trees and other forms of life to take over the scoured landscape left behind? In Glacier Bay National Park, the Reid Glacier is a perfect little laboratory for plant succession after glacial retreat. In fact, the whole park is a living lab. But for today, we’ll focus on the Reid Glacier. We have anchored in the bight formed by the terminal moraine of the Reid many times, savoring the view of the glacier in sun, rain, mist or fog. Reid is very accessible, and we’ve enjoyed hiking to the edge of it to touch the ice and sometimes stand on it.The rocks carried by the glacier down from the mountains are a wild variety of types and colors, and I particularly like the rusty ironbound rocks.All along the shoreline, wildflowers are blooming – particularly dwarf fireweed, which is a “pioneer plant” – an early arrival after a fire or other catastrophic event. Fireweed helps to fix nitrogen into the soil, making it more hospitable for other plants. This year paintbrush and other flowering plants joined the dwarf fireweed.Bird life along the cobbles and gravel on the shore was plentiful and varied. At least this year I didn’t get poop-bombed by an angry gull!
Pelagic cormorants camped out on a lone rock just off the shore, and I’m sure there were other little birds that I never saw, camouflaged against the rocks. Life abounds! Willows and alder have grown noticeably taller in the five years we’ve been coming here, requiring a little bushwhacking to get through them when the tide is too high to hike the mud flats.
And the mud – slippery slimy stuff, held a faint paw print of perhaps a wolf, softened by a few cycles of the tide.We know wolves are around in the area – friends spotted one a little north of here.
As we were hauling up the anchor to continue our exploration, we saw a beautiful brown bear on the far shore. We were able to get the boat fairly close to him – quite a big bear.Thank you, Reid Glacier, for showing us how life returns after you’ve scoured the landscape clean. It is very sad to see such noticeable change from year to year, a powerful reminder of the dramatic changes to our planet’s climate.
We continued to head up the west arm of Glacier Bay, enjoying the sunny clear weather (though it’s a tad too warm for us, acclimated to cooler Alaskan temps).The compact little Kittlitz’s murrelets are plentiful in Glacier Bay, diving for fish in the cold deep water. Oddly, they actually nest high in the mountains on barren slopes during breeding time. We typically see the more common marbled murrelets in southeast Alaska, so the Kittlitz’s are a treat to see.Four of the best-known glaciers are at the head of the west arm of Glacier Bay: the showy Margerie that the cruise ships stop to see……and the Grand Pacific that is really the “mother” glacier – it covered the entire bay during the Little Ice Age in the mid-1700s, but now it is pretty flat and covered in rock grit – it doesn’t look much like a glacier anymore.A little to the south and around the corner is the approach to the Johns Hopkins Glacier – which I think is the most beautiful with its surrounding mountains.The approach was pretty clear until the last mile or two, then the brash ice was much too thick for us to get any closer.The Johns Hopkins Inlet is closed in May and June to give the seals some peace while they give birth to their pups, but we came after it was re-opened and got to see plenty of seals of all sizes.After loitering at the Hopkins glacier and looking at the various waterfalls from other hanging glaciers lining the sides of the inlet, we turned the corner and spent some time at the Lamplugh Glacier.As the glacier is retreating, a mud flat is forming just under its face – visible at low tide. Boulders of calved ice littered the flat, and with so little floating ice the seals were scarce. The Lamplugh has a lot of blue in it – each glacier has unique characteristics. Tomorrow I’ll show you the Reid Glacier and some of the flowers and birds that make the Reid interesting – it’s a living laboratory to see how life emerges as a glacier retreats.