In the forest

While Tyra was visiting, we took a trip with The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies across Kachemak Bay to tour their field station in Peterson Bay. They have a house, a composting toilet complex and 4 yurts, where schools can bring classes for 3 to 5 day stays. There are a number of trails on the peninsula they occupy, as well as some spectacular tide pools.

Everything here in Homer is based on the tides. Cook Inlet and Kachemak Bay have the second highest tides in the world, next to the Bay of Fundy in Canada. Depending on where the moon is, low and high tide can differ by 28′! The best low tides are in the negatives, where the ocean recedes further than it usually does. We get a -4′ or -5′ tide every month or so, and everyone goes clam-digging since so much land is exposed.

All of that just to say: our low tide for this particular excursion sucked. It was, at its lowest, a +3.5′. So we took a hike in the forest with our naturalist guide, Dan. I learned an incredible amount on the hike, like the 4 different types of fern (Fox, Lady, Oak, Wood), elderberry leaves stink a lot and why the spruce beetle killing off huge swaths of trees isn’t a bad thing.

Fiddleheads unravelling to become ferns
I've been hoping to see this carnivorous plant since I learned they grow here, but I've never been able to find it. Dan had us get down on our hands and knees and search the sphagnum moss to find them. They're tiny! Smaller than a dime!
Fungus, ferns and wood
Some sort of seed case that was hanging from a small tree
Some sort of flower (obviously I didn't retain as much as I was hoping)
Some...other sort of flower. I think I need a review, Dan.
A lichen has taken over this dead tree.
All the standing dead spruce had these huge fungi all over them
Tyra was really excited about them
I didn't know fungus could sweat
This lichen, apparently somewhat rare, is called Fairy Barf by some lichen enthusiasts
We learned that a tree's second line of defence, after its bark, is to ooze sap everywhere. This one was putting up a good fight.
This spruce grouse let us follow it down the trail to take pictures

On Kachemak Bay

Our friend Tyra came up to visit last week, and we managed to do some pretty awesome things while she was here.

I have almost 30 photos to post, so I’m going to divide them up into separate entries to give them more attention.

First, photos taken on the water taxi rides.

Gull Island's arch
Gull Island's spire
Kittiwakes wonder why I'm taking pictures of their home
An otter snacks on mollusks
Red Faced Cormorants also wonder why I'm taking pictures of their homes
Pelagic Cormorants practice not looking at each other

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.

It’s not boring this year

One of the best and worst reasons to live up here is Kachemak Bay: best because it’s beautiful, and there are a million things to see and do on it, worst because most of the coolest stuff is across it. For a couple of n00b/broke mofo’s like we were last year, getting across the bay is prohibitively expensive.

All the best stuff is over here.

For the entire 12 months of 2009, we managed to get on or across the bay exactly twice. The first was a $10/person trip around Gull Island during the Shorebird Festival in May. The second was our Grace Ridge camping trip. Other than those two events, we just looked wistfully at the water and wondered about the secrets hidden on the far shore.

This year, things are different. We are slightly less broke, which is good for many reasons, one being we might be able to afford a trip or two across. Even better, we are far more integrated into the community. That translates directly into more opportunities.

As of today, I’ve been on the bay more times in the past 5 days than I had the entirety of last year. 3 trips so far since Thursday. Total cost: $0.

Thursday, I was sent by the Tribune to participate in and take pictures of the annual halibut tagging quest. Every year, Homer has a halibut derby, where fisherpeople can purchase a derby ticket for the day, and if they catch a tagged fish, they win fabulous cash and prizes. Skippy also participated for Era Aviation (her employer), so we spent the day catching fish and enjoying the weather (sunny, cloudy, snow, rain, sunny, really sunny, cloudy).

Yesterday and today, I volunteered with the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies to help teach marine ecology to school groups on a big tour boat as we cruised around the bay. We dropped a crab pot to catch tanner crab, caught plankton with jars attached to pantyhose, looked at said plankton under microscopes, tested the water for salinity and pH, learned about oyster farming in Kachemak Bay, and saw: otters, cormorants, murres, bald eagles, thousands of gulls and a pod of orcas.

Friday, CACS is sending Skippy and I over to video and photograph a group of local school kids as they explore the tide pools. Expect some interesting photos to be posted following that excursion!

We saw mountain goats along this bluff.