Newsletter – Wild Brother Wolf and Skiffyasaurus
Wild Brother Wolf visits on Trip #296 May 31 – June 7, 2017
Sometimes the quickest animal sighting stays with me the longest, especially when it comes to elusive wildlife. This past week while I was making coffee, I happened to catch some movement on the beach out of the corner of my eye. I paused the coffee grinder and looked with intent as a wolf ran along the shore.
“Where’s my camera, where’s my camera,” I whisper-shouted to Jeffrey. “What’s wrong?” Jeffrey answered back, not fully understanding my question so early in the morning. “Wolf. Beach. There.” I pointed out as I found and aimed my camera – clicking rapidly before the “wild brother” disappeared back into the forest.
The wolf trotted along. Stopped to sniff the ground several times before leaving. The whole encounter lasted not more than two minutes, but even now as I write a week later, I still get goose bumps knowing I got a glimpse of a wild wolf. For me, wolves are special. We rarely see them. In twelve years of running the David B, this is only the fourth time we’ve seen wolves. It was a treat, and one that I’m happy to share with you.
Surf Scoter, White-Winged Scoter, Common Loon, Arctic Terns, Boneparts Gulls, Marable Murrelets, Bald Eagles, Pacific Loons, Varied Thrush, Hermit Thrush, Swainsons Thrush, Pacific Wren, Junco, Stellars Jay, Red-Throated Loons, Harlequin Ducks, Pigeon Guillemots, Trumpeter Swan, Rufus Hummingbird, Raven, crow, Canada goose, Horned Grebe, robin
Wolf, Mountain Goat Humpback whales, Brown Bears (grizzly), seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, deer
Introducing the Skiffyasaurus!
Trip #293 Recap – April 27-30, 2017 – San Juan Islands
Trip #294 – San Juan Islands Trip Recap
Day 1) 26 April – Bellingham to Sucia Island – Echo Bay anchorage
- Nature hike to Fossil Bay with Christine
- Saw Bald Eagles, Camus in bloom, Banana Slugs, Pigeon Guillemots, Harlequin Ducks, Saskatoon Berries in Bloom
- Baked Sockeye salmon with a honey balsamic finishing sauce for dinner with homemade ice cream for dessert
- Lots of Eagles, pigeon guillemots and geese
- Creamy Scallop Risotto with Carnaroli Rice, over a bed of spinach, with oyster and shiitake mushrooms and brownies with ice cream for dessert
- A leisurely morning, spent reading and chatting on the boat and in the new Saloon
- Then Hiking at Bell Point and English Camp
- Pork tenderloin with black truffle and mushroom pan sauce.
- Christine’s amazing Croissants and Pain au Chocolat
- Exploring Rosario Historical Museum in the main mansion.
- Whisky crab soup for lunch
- Disembarking and fond farewells
Dalls porpoises riding on the David B’s Bow
Something I look forward to every year when we are running trips on the David B are the occasional visits by Dalls porpoises. These mid-sized sea mammals that looks deceptively like baby killer whales love to surf bow wakes. We often see them in the Inside Passage and Alaska. Usually they are foraging for fish, but sometimes, they turn their attention to the David B. It begins with seeing their characteristic rooter-tail splashing a ways off, and with surprising speed, they soon rush up alongside of the boat, and then they begin jockeying for the prime spot just in front of the boat’s stem. It’s a thrill to watch their speed and their agility.
Here’s a little complication of a few of the amazing experiences we’ve had with surfing Dalls porpoises.
Bowriders on the David B
Waiting for humpback whales
I always feel like there’s sort of a Jack-in-the-box element to watching humpback whales forage. When they are at the surface we can see them breathing, flapping their flippers, or slapping their flukes (tails), but when they dive, it’s anybody’s guess as to where they’ll surface next.
I like to think about the wait between surfacing as a time to refocus my attention on my surroundings. I know that they will be beneath the surface for 3-7 minutes. They’ll be rounding up forage fish and doing the things that whales do — the stuff we can’t see. In that time, I like to think about where they’ll come back up, or how funny it is that there are these enormous animals so close, (only a few hundred of feet away) and yet I can’t see them. I like to look into the water for passing jelly fish, or a tangle of kelp that slips along in the current. I watch the gulls for cues about where the whales are. On occasion when they swim right beneath us, the bubbles of their breath will bounce up along the David B’s planks –a reminder that somewhere, just a out-of-sight, but oh, so close, there are whales. I refocus my attention to the whales. I wonder how long ago they were under the boat. I wonder what direction they are going. I calculate the time. I lift my camera and wait. I wait for the thrill of hearing the explosive breath again and seeing these usually invisible giants. It’s like a Jack-in-the-box.
Listening to Crows
When people ask what I do for a living, I respond that Jeffrey and I run a tour boat in Alaska, and if that leads to a longer conversation, I usually continue on about how we spend lots of time watching humpback and orca whales, and how we have a couple of spotting scopes on the boat so we can watch bears forage on the beach. Rarely do I run on about how much I love watching crows and other common animals. This is partly because, like weeds, the virtues of crows remain undiscovered for most people.
I find crows fascinating. They help me fulfill my need for nature during the off-season at my urban home where there are no deep-wilderness animals to geek-out on. Sometimes the crows tell me what’s going on in the neighborhood. Like the time when a raccoon was out wandering during the day. I heard what I like to call a “crowmotion” a few block to the east. The crows were noisily and excitedly moving through yards and alleys. I stepped out the backdoor to see what all the fuss was about. As soon as I opened the door a raccoon came into my yard seeking refuge in a tall cedar tree. Unfortunately for the raccoon, there were already two other raccoons sleeping there and the poor thing was forced to move along. I watched it leave the tree and cross the street. I lost track of the raccoon as it ambled into the neighbor’s yard, but the crows continued their parade “cawing” and flying from tree to tree for several blocks.
I’ve learned a lot from observing crows and that with their help, they often lead me to exciting discoveries. One time I was kayaking close to shore in a cove in Alaska. It was a calm overcast day. I was looking for sea stars, crabs, and small schools of fish. I kept my attention focused on the water below my boat. After a while my ears picked up the sound of several crows in the bushes to my left. The crows were going on and on about something. I half listened thinking there was probably an eagle in a tree. I decided to look up. No eagle. I went back to skimming along the surface and searching the shallow water. They crows kept talking. I looked up again and decided to see if I could find the focus of their attention. I held my boat still by gently padding the water with my paddle. I watched. The crows were clustered low on the branches of spruce, hemlock, and alders. I looked at where they were looking. A branch moved. The tide was high and I was maybe 30 feet from the edge of the forest. I held still and smiled to myself as my eyes made out a dark fuzzy round shape with two more fuzzy round shapes on top. The animal was partially blocked by shrubs and very difficult to see. The crows had discovered a brown bear and wanted everyone to know. I had listened.
There have been many other times that the cues of common animals have increased my awareness. I’ve watched gulls flying in a straight line, then suddenly circle. Most of the time it’s a fish coming to the surface, but sometimes it’s a whale. One day I realized that I often say things like, “Oh, that’s just a crow”, or, “It’s just a gull,” when really, they are so much more than “just a.” They are communicators and lively participants in the ecosystems and habitats of which we are part. If we pause to listen to them, we might discover they know things that will truly enrich our lives.