Basic Craning

Yes, I crack myself up.

You know it’s spring in Alaska when these creepy, slender dinosaur-like tall, majestic birds start popping up everywhere, uttering their signature menacing croak delightful trill. Standing between 4 and 5 feet tall, these Sandhill Cranes seem like they are straight out of Jurassic Park, as they stalk through your yard and jump up and down during their mating dance.

Apparently a pair have taken up residence in our neighbor’s little patch of woods, as I’ve seen them wandering around our street for the past few days. You’d think the abundance of free-roaming neighborhood dogs would deter the cranes from sticking around, but you’d be wrong.

Tomorrow marks the start of this year’s Shorebird Festival, so hopefully Skippy and I will get to do some fun stuff this weekend. Last year we took one of our two total trips out on Kachemak Bay to do a boat tour of Gull Island (yes, that’s where the seagulls nest, very good), so we’ll try something different this year.

See sea stars by the seashore

This past Friday, Skippy and I were sent across Kachemak Bay by The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, on assignment. Our task was to photograph and video the 4th grade class from West Homer Elementary as they explored the tide pools of Peterson Bay during a -3.5′ tide (that’s pretty low).

We rode over on a water taxi with Mike Allen, a CACS board member and also, since this a small town, a friend. We spent the first couple of hours carefully making our way around the slippery rocks, shooting photos and video, while listening to the guides talk about what was being found. Take a look:

A sunflower star

A Christmas sea anemone

Sea stars

An Ochre sea star

A nudibranch

How about this classroom, huh?

Another nudibranch

Barnicles and chitons

Even a baby octopus!

Afterwards, we hiked back to the field station where the kids had lunch, and we took a tour with Mike.

Peterson Bay Field Station

The kids reconvened for a final tally of creatures and a short lesson. Then, it was time for clean up. At Mike’s suggestion, we vacated the station and went for a hike on a trail that looped around to a lake and back.

Currently, we’re getting about 15 hours of sunlight a day. However, it is still only hitting the mid-40’s in temperature. In places where there are a lot of trees, that means there is still a good deal of snow.

Roughly half of our journey to the lake involved stepping though knee-deep or deeper snow. This snow was anxious to melt, so we punched through with every step, filling knee-high boots with ice, making the worst sno-cones ever. After a grueling 1.5 miles, we reached the lake. It was pretty. It was still mostly covered in ice.

Lost and Found Lake

On the way back, we hit a bare spot on top of a ridge, and it started raining. Also, the sun was shining. Across the next ridge, it looked like it was snowing. Alaska!

The view from up here.

We returned to the field station in time to help load up the dock with gear, and then hopped on board the Rainbow Connection for our ride back to Homer.

I mean it

This and the next are going to be picture heavy posts, to prove the thesis of my previous post. I had to wait to display more photos from the halibut tagging trip, as some had yet to be published in the newspaper. Three of them were put on the front page.

So, here are more from our day-long fishing excursion:

We were fishing at 160′ with 3 pound weights to sink the hook and bait, so it took a good 5 minutes of reeling to bring in a fish (or usually, the bait with a chunk missing or an empty hook). There were fewer smiles near the end of the day, so this was definitely a morning shot.

This is a tagged halibut. As of Saturday, if you go fishing and buy a derby ticket, and catch a tagged fish, you win a prize!

I think this is a sculpin, or maybe an irish lord fish. Either way, it wasn’t what we were hoping to pull up.

As requested, here is the best picture I could get of the mountain goats. I only took one lens, a 24mm, so unless I had jumped in the water and hiked up the bluff, this is as good as it could get. Can you make them out?

Here they are, Tenzin, cropped in close. They’re still just whitish blurs. Next time I’ll bring along a bigger lens.